Aurora Serverless: The Good, the Bad and the Scalable

Amazon announced the General Availability of Aurora Serverless on August 9, 2018. I have been playing around with the preview of Aurora Serverless for a few months, and I must say that overall, I’m very impressed. There are A LOT of limitations with this first release, but I believe that Amazon will do what Amazon does best, and keep iterating until this thing is rock solid.

The announcement gives a great overview and the official User Guide is chock full of interesting and useful information, so I definitely suggest giving those a read. In this post, I want to dive a little bit deeper and discuss the pros and cons of Aurora Serverless. I also want to dig into some of the technical details, pricing comparisons, and look more closely at the limitations.

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A Tale of Two Teams

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness… ~ A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

There is a revolution happening in the tech world. An emerging paradigm that’s letting development teams focus on business value instead of technical orchestration. It is helping teams create and iterate faster, without worrying about the limits or configurations of an underlying infrastructure. It is enabling the emergence of new tools and services that foster greater developer freedom. Freedom to experiment. Freedom to do more with less. Freedom to immediately create value by publishing their work without the traditional barriers created by operational limits.

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How To: Tag Your Lambda Functions for Smarter Serverless Applications

As our serverless applications start to grow in complexity and scope, we often find ourselves publishing dozens if not hundreds of functions to handle our expanding workloads. It’s no secret that serverless development workflows have been a challenge for a lot of organizations. Some best practices are starting to emerge, but many development teams are simply mixing their existing workflows with frameworks like Serverless and AWS SAM to build, test and deploy their serverless applications.

Beyond workflows, another challenge serverless developers encounter as their applications expand, is simply trying to keep all of their functions organized. You may have several functions and resources as part of a microservice contained in their own git repo. Or you might simply put all your functions in a single repository for better common library sharing. Regardless of how code is organized locally, much of that is lost when all your functions end up in a big long list in the AWS Lambda console. In this post we’ll look at how we can use AWS’s resource tagging as a way to apply structure to our deployed functions. This not only give us more insight into our applications, but can be used to apply Cost-Allocation Tags to our billing reports as well. 👍

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Thinking Serverless (Big and Small)

I’ve been reading and writing a lot of about serverless lately, and one of the things I realized, is that most articles talk about how SCALABLE serverless architectures are. This, of course, is one of the major benefits of using serverless to build your applications. The ability to scale to thousands of concurrent requests per second without needing to manage your own servers, is simply amazing. 🙌

However, not needing to manage any servers has other benefits beyond the capabilities to achieve web scale. Having on-demand compute space also make serverless the perfect candidate for smaller workloads. In this post, let’s discuss how we can utilize serverless to handle our “less than unicorn 🦄” services and the benefits this can bring.

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Lambda Warmer: Optimize AWS Lambda Function Cold Starts

At a recent AWS Startup Day event in Boston, MA, Chris Munns, the Senior Developer Advocate for Serverless at AWS, discussed Lambda cold starts and how to mitigate them. According to Chris (although he acknowledge that it is a “hack”) using the CloudWatch Events “ping” method is really the only way to do it right now. He gave a number of really good tips to pre-warm your functions “correctly”:

  • Don’t ping more often than every 5 minutes
  • Invoke the function directly (i.e. don’t use API Gateway to invoke it)
  • Pass in a test payload that can be identified as such
  • Create handler logic that replies accordingly without running the whole function

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15 Key Takeaways from the Serverless Talk at AWS Startup Day

I love learning about the capabilities of AWS Lambda functions, and typically consume any article or piece of documentation I come across on the subject. When I heard that Chris Munns, Senior Developer Advocate for Serverless at AWS, was going to be speaking at AWS Startup Day in Boston, I was excited. I was able to attend his talk, The Best Practices and Hard Lessons Learned of Serverless Applications, and it was well worth it.

Chris said during his talk that all of the information he presented is on the AWS Serverless site. However, there is A LOT of information out there, so it was nice to have him consolidate it down for us into a 45 minute talk. There was some really insightful information shared and lots of great questions. I was aware of many of the topics discussed, but there were several clarifications and explanations (especially around the inner workings of Lambda) that were really helpful. 👍

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Mixing VPC and Non-VPC Lambda Functions for Higher Performing Microservices

I came across a post the in the Serverless forums that asked how to disable the VPC for a single function within a Serverless project. This got me thinking about how other people structure their serverless microservices, so I wanted to throw out some ideas. I often mix my Lambda functions between VPC and non-VPC depending on their use and data requirements. In this post, I’ll outline some ways you can structure your Lambda microservices to isolate services, make execution faster, and maybe even save you some money. ⚡️💰

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5 Reasons Why Your Serverless Application Might Be A Security Risk

There has been a lot of buzz lately about serverless security. People are certainly talking about it more and sharing great articles on the topic, but many serverless developers (especially new ones) are still making the same critical mistakes. Every time a serverless function is deployed, its unique security challenges need to be addressed. Every time. I’ve researched and written extensively about serverless security (see Securing Serverless: A Newbie’s Guide). I’ve read countless articles on the subject. And while there is no shortage of information available, let’s be honest: developers are busy building applications, not pouring through hundreds of articles.

I know, it sounds boring, but I would encourage you to do your research on serverless security. Serverless applications are different than traditional, server-hosted applications. Much of the security responsibility falls on the developer, and not following best practices opens you (or your company) up to an attack. But I know you’re busy. I totally get it. So rather than forcing you to read a bunch of long articles 😴 or watch a plethora of videos 🙈, I’ve whittled it all down to the five biggest serverless security risks for you. Sure, there are a lot of other things to consider, but IMO, these are the most important ones. Nothing here hasn’t been said before. But If you do nothing more than follow these principles, your serverless applications will be much more secure. 🔒

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Serverless Consumers with Lambda and SQS Triggers

On Wednesday, June 27, 2018, Amazon Web Services released SQS triggers for Lambda functions. Those of you who have been building serverless applications with AWS Lambda probably know how big of a deal this is. Until now, the AWS Simple Queue Service (SQS) was generally a pain to deal with for serverless applications. Communicating with SQS is simple and straightforward, but there was no way to automatically consume messages without implementing a series of hacks. In general, these hacks “worked” and were fairly manageable. However, as your services became more complex, dealing with concurrency and managing fan out made your applications brittle and error prone. SQS triggers solve all of these problems. 👊

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Event Injection: A New Serverless Attack Vector

As more and more developers and companies adopt serverless architecture, the likelihood of hackers exploiting these applications increases dramatically. The shared security model of cloud providers extends much further with serverless offerings, but application security is still the developer’s responsibility. There has been a lot of hype about #NoOPS with serverless environments 🤥, which is simply not true 😡. Many traditional applications are frontended with WAFs (web application firewalls), RASPs (runtime application self-protection), EPPs (endpoint protection platforms) and WSGs (web security gateways) that inspect incoming and outgoing traffic. These extra layers of protection can save developers from themselves when making common programming mistakes that would otherwise leave their applications vulnerable. With serverless, these all go away. 😳

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