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Who has the serverless advantage?

A Cloud Guru News
A Cloud Guru News

AWS Lambda vs GCP Cloud Functions vs Azure Functions

An updated version of this article is available: Who has the best serverless platform?

Serverless is about building event based applications on a function by function basis without worrying about traditional “servers”.

When thinking about serverless — which product or framework comes to mind first? Most likely, it’s AWS Lambda.

AWS was first to market during with functions in 2014, and Lambda continues to be synonymous with the concept of serverless. It was until 2016, when Google introduced Cloud Functions — and shortly afterwards, Microsoft released Azure Functions.

It’s been over 3 years since functions were introduced and now each of the major cloud providers offer compelling services — but serverless is still a buzzword and the ecosystem is fairly immature.

AWS Lambda
Lambda supports a range of runtime environments including NodeJS, Python, Java and C# and has some advanced features like request chaining and edge processing. The product is quickly evolving towards mobile and IoT based use cases.

Google Cloud Functions
Cloud Functions stagnated quite a bit between the Alpha release in Feb 2016 and the Beta release in March 2017. The service still only supports a single runtime environment using NodeJS.

Cloud Functions seems to be suffering from App Engine syndrome — big announcements of Alpha/Beta features, followed by silence/minimal progress until the next big announcement the following year. The focus of Google’s serverless ambitions seems to be Firebase, not Cloud Functions.

Microsoft Azure Functions
Azure Functions launched with a variety of supported runtimes including JavaScript, C#, Python and PHP. Azure’s approach is to provide a functional IDE in their portal to help you prototype and deploy functions. Note the similarities between their machine learning studio product, a product philosophy which ties in nicely with Visual Studio.

What Matters Most
Once your core runtime requirements are met, the differences between the cloud provider services aren’t particularly important. Indeed, serverless.com has appeared as an abstraction layer to make choosing between AWS, Google and Azure almost irrelevant.

What really matters is the availability of and consumption of other services to within the cloud provider ecosystem.

Being able to execute functions in response to events is only as useful as what you can actually do within the execution pipeline. This is where the services differ — their ability to to pass data to backend services, perform calculations, transform data, store results, and quickly retrieve data.

AWS benefits from being the leader in cloud by the sheer size of its product portfolio. The core services of compute, storage and networking are commodities — the differentiation is what’s built on top of them.

In that sense, AWS is the clear winner as the result of their range of products you can integrate with your Lambda functions. Azure is a close second since their cloud portfolio starting to become just as full. Google is quite far behind here. Their services are very high quality and well architected — they just don’t have as many … yet.

One way to predict the evolution of the Functions as a Services (FaaS) from each of the providers is to observe how they are eating their own dog food.

While Google is relying on machine learning and Kubernetes (as Borg) internally, how are they leveraging Cloud Functions? In contrast, AWS is heavily using Lambda for higher-level services such as their voice platforms. The maturity of their product and rapid feature development is evidence.

Yet for all three, there are still challenges around debugging, monitoring, deployment and version management. Without servers to manage, instrumentation relies on the cloud provider offering the right hooks. At Server Density, our team is working to improve these gaps with services that automate operational visibility.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on which FaaS solutions has the serverless advantage — drop a comment below!

An updated version of this article is available: Who has the best serverless platform?

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