Serverless Tip: Don’t overpay when waiting on remote API calls

Our serverless applications become a lot more interesting when they interact with third-party APIs like Twilio, SendGrid, Twitter, MailChimp, Stripe, IBM Watson and others. Most of these APIs respond relatively quickly (within a few hundred milliseconds or so), allowing us to include them in the execution of synchronous workflows (like our own API calls).  Sometimes we run these calls asynchronously as background tasks completely disconnected from any type of front end user experience.

Regardless how they’re executed, the Lambda functions calling them need to stay running while they wait for a response. Unfortunately, Step Functions don’t have a way to create HTTP requests and wait for a response. And even if they did, you’d at least have to pay for the cost of the transition, which can get a bit expensive at scale. This may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but depending on your memory configuration, the cost can really start to add up.

In this post we’ll look at the impact of memory configuration on the performance of remote API calls, run a cost analysis, and explore ways to optimize our Lambda functions to minimize cost and execution time when dealing with third-party APIs.

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re:Capping re:Invent: AWS goes all-in on Serverless

Last week I spent six incredibly exhausting days in Las Vegas at the AWS re:Invent conference. More than 50,000 developers, partners, customers, and cloud enthusiasts came together to experience this annual event that continues to grow year after year. This was my first time attending, and while I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, I left with not just the feeling that I got my money’s worth, but that AWS is doing everything in their power to help customers like me succeed.

There have already been some really good wrap-up posts about the event. Take a look at James Beswick’s What I learned from AWS re:Invent 2018, Paul Swail’s What new use cases do the re:Invent 2018 serverless announcements open up?, and All the Serverless announcements at re:Invent 2018 from the Serverless, Inc. blog. There’s a lot of good analysis in these posts, so rather than simply rehash everything, I figured I touch on a few of the announcements that I think really matter. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first I want to point out a few things about Amazon Web Services that I learned this past week.

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Aurora Serverless Data API: A First Look

On Tuesday, November 20, 2018, AWS announced the release of the new Aurora Serverless Data API. This has been a long awaited feature and has been at the top of many a person’s #awswishlist. As you can imagine, there was quite a bit of fanfare over this on Twitter.

Obviously, I too was excited. The prospect of not needing to use VPCs with Lambda functions to access an RDS database is pretty compelling. Think about all those cold start savings. Plus, connection management with serverless and RDBMS has been quite tricky. I even wrote an NPM package to help deal with the max_connections issue and the inevitable zombies 🧟‍♂️ roaming around your RDS cluster. So AWS’s RDS via HTTP seems like the perfect solution, right? Well, not so fast. 😞

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Takeaways from ServerlessNYC 2018

I had the opportunity to attend ServerlessNYC this week (a ServerlessDays community conference) and had an absolutely amazing time. The conference was really well-organized (thanks Iguazio), the speakers were great, and I was able to have some very interesting (and enlightening) conversations with many attendees and presenters. In this post I’ve summarized some of the key takeaways from the event as well as provided some of my own thoughts.

Note: There were several talks that were focused on a specific product or service. While I found these talks to be very interesting, I didn’t include them in this post. I tried to cover the topics and lessons that can be applied to serverless in general.

Update November 16, 2018: Some videos have been posted, so I’ve provided the links to them.

Audio Version:

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What 15 Minute Lambda Functions Tells Us About the Future of Serverless

Amazon Web Services recently announced that they increased the maximum execution time of Lambda functions from 5 to 15 minutes. In addition to this, they also introduced the new “Applications” menu in the Lambda Console, a tool that aggregates functions, resources, event sources and metrics based on services defined by SAM or CloudFormation templates. With AWS re:Invent just around the corner, I’m sure these announcements are just the tip of the iceberg with regards to AWS’s plans for Lambda and its suite of complementary managed services.

While these may seem like incremental improvements to the casual observer, they actually give us an interesting glimpse into the future of serverless computing. Cloud providers, especially AWS, continue to push the limits of what serverless can and should be. In this post, we’ll discuss why these two announcements represent significant progress into serverless becoming the dominant force in cloud computing.

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🚀 Project Update:

Lambda API: v0.8.1 Released

Lambda API v0.8.1 has been released to patch an issue with middleware responses and a path prefixing options bug. The release is immediately available via NPM. Read More...

An Introduction to Serverless Microservices

Thinking about microservices, especially their communication patterns, can be a bit of a mind-bending experience for developers. The idea of splitting an application into several (if not hundreds of) independent services, can leave even the most experienced developer scratching their head and questioning their choices. Add serverless event-driven architecture into the mix, eliminating the idea of state between invocations, and introducing a new per function concurrency model that supports near limitless scaling, it’s not surprising that many developers find this confusing. 😕 But it doesn’t have to be. 😀

In this post, we’ll outline a few principles of microservices and then discuss how we might implement them using serverless. If you are familiar with microservices and how they communicate, this post should highlight how these patterns are adapted to fit a serverless model. If you’re new to microservices, hopefully you’ll get enough of the basics to start you on your serverless microservices journey. We’ll also touch on the idea of orchestration versus choreography and when one might be a better choice than the other with serverless architectures. I hope you’ll walk away from this realizing both the power of the serverless microservices approach and that the basic fundamentals are actually quite simple.  👊

Audio Version:

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Serverless Security: Locking Down Your Apps with FunctionShield

I’ve written quite extensively about serverless security, and while you don’t need to be an expert on the matter, there are a number of common sense principles that every developer should know. Serverless infrastructures (specifically FaaS and managed services) certainly benefit from an increased security posture given that the cloud provider is handling things like software patching, network security, and to some extent, even DDoS mitigation. But at the end of the day, your application is only as secure as its weakest link, and with serverless, that pretty much always comes down to application layer security.

In this post we’re going to look at ways to mitigate some of these application layer security issues by using some simple strategies as well as a free tool called FunctionShield.

Audio Version:

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Managing MySQL at Serverless Scale

“What? You can’t use MySQL with serverless functions, you’ll just exhaust all the connections as soon as it starts to scale! And what about zombie connections? Lambda doesn’t clean those up for you, meaning you’ll potentially have hundreds of sleeping threads blocking new connections and throwing errors. It can’t be done!”  ~ Naysayer

I really like DynamoDB and BigTable (even Cosmos DB is pretty cool), and for most of my serverless applications, they would be my first choice as a datastore. But I still have a love for relational databases, especially MySQL. It had always been my goto choice, perfect for building normalized data structures, enforcing declarative constants, providing referential integrity, and enabling ACID-compliant transactions. Plus the elegance of SQL (structured query language) makes organizing, retrieving and updating your data drop dead simple.

But now we have SERVERLESS. And Serverless functions (like AWS Lambda, Google Cloud Functions, and Azure Functions) scale almost infinitely by creating separate instances for each concurrent user. This is a MAJOR PROBLEM for RDBS solutions like MySQL, because available connections can be quickly maxed out by concurrent functions competing for access. Reusing database connections doesn’t help, and even the release of Aurora Serverless doesn’t solve the max_connections problem. Sure there are some tricks we can use to mitigate the problem, but ultimately, using MySQL with serverless is a massive headache.

Well, maybe not anymore. 😀 I’ve been dealing with MySQL scaling issues and serverless functions for years now, and I’ve finally incorporated all of my learning into a simple, easy to use NPM module that (I hope) will solve your Serverless MySQL problems.

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Jeremy goes to AWS re:Invent 2018

It’s official! I’m going to AWS re:Invent 2018. 🙌

My goal from this trip is to learn, learn, learn… and then share, share, share.   There are over 30 sessions that talk about serverless, plus 40,000 other people there to meet and learn from! I’m so excited. 🙃

I know that many of you will be there, but for those of you who can’t be, I’ll do my best to share insights, tips, how-tos, best practices and more. I’ll even have a drink for you if you’d like 🍺 (no arm twisting necessary)!

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