Susan Potter
software: Created / Updated

The Pitfalls of Serverless Hosting

It has been a hot minute since I wrote about my experiences delivering applications using serverless stacks so I wanted to recount them in one place with the most critical pitfalls, so I don't need to rewrite this over and over again.

In the world of software development, trends come and go, promising revolutionary advancements that will transform the way we build and deploy applications. One such trend that gained significant attention in recent years is serverless hosting. Serverless stacks promised scalability, cost-efficiency, and ease of deployment out-of-the-box, but as with any new technology, the reality often comes with its own set of pitfalls.

In a prior post from June 2020, I broke down a production AWS serverless production deployment costs with context about the usage.

Here we delve into the realm of serverless hosting and shed light on my specific complaints. By understanding these issues, you can make informed decisions about your hosting strategy.

Cold start latency: The Hidden Hiccup

When a function lies dormant for a certain period, it needs to be re-initialized upon receiving a new request. The cold start delay can significantly impact the application's performance and user experience. Even though this problem has been "fixed" multiple times in different cloud provider serverless stacks, the issue reappears in new subtle ways, never truly solved once and for all, sometimes pushing developers to use different settings than is ideal for their budget, use case or forcing them to implement a workaround directly and carry around that baggage.

Vendor lock-in: Freedom at a Price

While serverless architectures can provide convenience and some level of abstraction, they often come with the price of vendor lock-in and less reusability. Each cloud service provider offers its own implementation and proprietary features, making it challenging to switch providers or migrate to a different hosting paradigm.

Debugging and Testing Woes: The Maze of Distributed Systems

The distributed and event-driven nature of serverless architectures can pose challenges in terms of debugging and testing. Developers often find themselves grappling with issues that span multiple functions and services. These complexities demand robust testing strategies and careful consideration of debugging mechanisms to ensure the reliability and resilience of your applications which are not offered with the same level of introspection as native Linux or BSD dynamic tracing tools typically used in traditional infrastructures.

Limited Execution Time and Resource Constraints: The Bounds of Functionality

Serverless functions typically have limitations on execution time and resource allocation as well as streaming capabilities. This can restrict the viability of certain long-running or resource-intensive tasks, compelling developers to seek alternative architectural choices or workarounds.

Lack of Visibility and Control: Unveiling the Veiled Infrastructure

Serverless architectures abstract away much of the underlying infrastructure, which can result in reduced visibility and control over the execution environment. This limited control can hinder performance optimization, efficient resource management, and fine-tuning specific configurations.

Scaling Challenges: Balancing Act

While serverless architectures excel at scaling automatically based on demand, certain applications with unpredictable or bursty traffic patterns may face challenges in scaling efficiently unless you spend a lot of time fine-tuning the auto-scaling parameters, however, not all parameters are well documented and not all cloud providers offer the kinds of levers every application will need.

Cost Management: Navigating the Budgetary Maze

Serverless architectures can be cost-effective for many workloads, but they can also lead to unexpected expenses if not properly managed. Granular monitoring, optimizing function execution times, and judiciously managing resource usage become essential to avoid cost surprises and maintain budgetary control but stand in opposite to those aims but serverless vendors charging an arm and a leg for tracing or requiring yet another vendor to provide the solution.

In summary…

Serverless hosting promised a utopian landscape of scalable, cost-efficient, and effortless deployment yet as we've explored above, there are critical challenges that demand attention to detail. By understanding and acknowledging the common complaints associated with serverless architectures, you can make informed decisions and navigate the bumpy road to success whether you remain on the serverless track or deviate as your application evolves. Keep an open mind.

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