Friday 24th January saw the first ever Belfast edition of the Serverless Days conference and I, along with several of my colleagues, went along anticipating a great day of discussion around the benefits and challenges of this paradigm shift in how we build digital solutions. We were not disappointed. The event was exceptional from organisation, venue, catering through to the presentation content itself so a massive kudos to the organising committe Garth Gilmour, David Anderson, Gillian Armstrong and our very own Peter Farrell!

Serverless is currently and will continue to revolutionise how we think about creating digital solutions but also how clients finance these solutions. By letting a platform provider take care of almost everything except your specific business logic, and paying only for the execution of that logic, solutions are not only cheaper to run (generally) but you can also get incredibly detailed and real time views on which parts of your services are cost effective and any suggested changes can also be validated against this. The disruption potential this provides is enormous and benefits not only new builds but also makes the case for migrate and modernise style projects much more compelling. However, enough spiel about how great serverless can be, what happened on the day?

The pace of change is relentless

The big cloud vendors do a great job of continually pushing themselves and each other to release features and drive down costs. Are you ensuring your organisation is staying on top of these changes? What if it can wipe 1, 2 or 20% off your recurring IT spend or development costs? Digital delivery organisations like ourselves spend a lot of time making sure our technologists keep up to date with what’s possible now, but equally what’s likely to be possible in the near future to ensure we are delivering the maximum possible value while getting rid of the undifferentiated heavy lifting. Speaking of tracking what’s possible….

Wardley Mapping is here to stay

Simon Wardley’s techniques for identifying landscape awareness are an incredible tool for checking that you understand what it is you are trying to do, where you operate and, crucially in this space, where you should not be spending effort. I can only see this becoming a default part of the toolset for any architect, designer or engineer to ensure that we put our effort into the right things while being aware of what we should pick up from a platform or minimise effort until a platform inevitably turns it into a trivial configuration. It’s also worth noting that Simon Wardley’s attitude to promoting mapping as a community rather than a trademarked, certification based, framework is a refreshing change and undoubtably key to the increasing popularity and quality.

Serverless does have limits

Unsurprisingly, serverless is not a silver bullet. Like any technology choice, it comes with drawbacks which need to be factored in to decision making. Jeremy Daly, who hosts the podcast Serverless Chats spoke about issues such as concurrency not being infinite, functions having timeout and memory limits as well as everyone’s favourite limitation, the speed of light. There are mixtures of solutions and workarounds for these, all of which need to factor into deciding if serverless is right for your use case, and in what architecture. Of course, based on my first point, it’s likely that cloud providers will bake in lots of these solutions over time, hence the importance of understanding what’s possible to avoid spending effort on a workaround which is no longer needed.

The Commodore64 is back

Martin Woodword demonstrating using a serverless approach on Azure DevOps to deploy to a Commodore64 emulator in the browser. That’s just awesome!

Serverless as a business differentiator

Sheen Brisals took us through LEGO’s journey from a site collapsing under Black Friday demand to one for which massive traffic spikes are a non-event. By breaking off chunks at a time and converting them to serverless approaches, they were able to ensure that the technology will support whatever demand comes their way but equally will flex cost downwards during low demand periods (as if that’s ever a thing for LEGO…..)

Serverless can assist with Inclusion efforts

I absolutely loved this from Farrah Campbell. As a huge supporter of diversity and inclusion changes and someone generally fed up with the inequality that exists in an industry which has so much to offer, this was a take on serverless that I hadn’t considered but was a real eye opener. By removing a lot of the underlying historic knowledge around lower level computing parts and protocols, serverless can dramatically reduce the barrier to entry as well as combat some of that snobbiness around ‘paying your dues with punch cards’ or some other archaic nonsense that still persists. Getting started with delivering digital services has never been easier and this will help get a wider range of people into the industry, improving our overall knowledge and ensuring we have a much broader range of perspectives informing how, what and why we build. Amazing!

And much more!

I haven’t even covered half the talks from this fantastic event, others included a mind bending serverless Rube Goldberg machine, common mistakes that development teams make with serverless and the pitfalls on the road to serverless. Do check out the website for more details and links to videos of the talks when available, it’s well worth your time. We’re already looking forward to next year!