Serverless Computing: Federal Managers Must Explore Benefits and Risks

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Serverless computing, the next evolution in cloud computing, offers Federal agencies the opportunity to increase productivity while reducing costs. Still evolving in the Federal sector, serverless computing incorporates event-driven utilities and functions that are coded. Instead of having a full application running, the process will on-demand spin up code that executes the function and then shuts it down. Consequently, organizations pay based on the actual amount of resources consumed by an application.

“We are starting to see more of a shift towards serverless in some agencies, not all. It is still relatively nascent,” said Dan Tucker, vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, who leads the company’s Digital Platform capability team.

According to an article written by Deloitte Insights analysts, “Today, serverless computing is an umbrella term for a spectrum of cloud-based options available to organizations wishing to get out of the business of managing servers. At one end of this spectrum is the platform-as-a-service model in which customers buy always-on access to a database. At the other end is the function-as-a-service (FaaS) model, which offers a fine-grain pricing model, substantiating and running code only when a customer needs it. As such, customers pay for only the requests they make.”

“The [FaaS] process helps drive down costs, although there is an engineering cost to build serverless features,” Booz Allen Hamilton’s Tucker noted. “We are seeing some positive cost implications,” he said, noting that BAH is working with a few Federal agencies on serverless computing.

Cloud service providers offer native frameworks to support serverless computing-based FaaS.

The eGlobalTech firm is also implementing serverless architecture with its Federal engagements. The information technology management and cybersecurity consulting company collaborated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to migrate a mission-critical system to an AWS cloud platform. The company is now modernizing portions of the system that were identified as good candidates for event-driven and serverless functions. The aim is to provide massive scalability improvements over the existing solution.

“Serverless computing must strengthen applications without making serverless applications incompatible with its ecosystem,” according to eGlobalTech. Developers and architects are still trying to understand all the opportunities and challenges associated with their initial findings. Although serverless computing offers increased productivity while reducing costs, it has practical and real-world challenges, according to eGlobalTech. A few of those issues include:

  • The technology behind serverless computing is still nascent, so there is limited documentation on ideal usage and best practices. In some cases, it is trial and error for teams utilizing the technology.
  • Serverless technology may require rework of some code. Code that is stateful and that does not follow common web application best practices would have to be rewritten.
  • The programs supporting serverless computing are not yet approved by FedRAMP, however, the approval will happen soon.

Grand View Research also points out several other potential risks involved in deploying serverless architecture. As cloud service providers control the underlying infrastructure, users cannot customize or optimize the infrastructure to suit specific needs of an enterprise and developer. “Moreover, as the organization has no control over the infrastructure, adding multiple customers on the same platform may raise security concerns.” The research company emphasizes the need to conduct penetration tests and vulnerability scanning on infrastructure underlying the serverless offerings.

Serverless computing is no doubt, a growing trend – Grand View predicts the global market to reach $19.84 billion by 2025. However, Federal technology managers must be cognizant of the challenges and risks in order to reap the productivity and cost benefits.

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