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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Securing Serverless: A Newbie’s Guide

So you’ve decided to build a serverless application. That’s awesome! May I be the first to welcome you to the future. 🤖 I bet you’ve done a lot of research. You’ve probably even deployed a few test functions to AWS Lambda or Google Cloud Functions and you’re ready to actually build something useful. You probably still have a bunch of unanswered questions, and that’s cool. We can still build some really great applications even if we only know the basics. However, when we start working with new things we typically make a bunch of dumb mistakes. While some are relatively innocuous, security mistakes can cause some serious damage.

I’ve been working with serverless applications since AWS launched Lambda in early 2015. Over the last few years I’ve developed many serverless applications covering a wide range of use cases. The most important thing I’ve learned: SECURE YOUR FUNCTIONS! I can tell you from personal experience, getting burned by an attack is no bueno. I’d hate to see it happen to you. 😢

To make sure it doesn’t happen to you, I’ve put together a list of 🔒Serverless Security Best Practices. This is not a comprehensive list, but it covers the things you ABSOLUTELY must do. I also give you some more things to think about as you continue on your serverless journey. 🚀

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How To: Reuse Database Connections in AWS Lambda

Update 9/2/2018: I wrote an NPM module that manages MySQL connections for you in serverless environments. Check it out here.

I work with AWS Lambda quite a bit. The ability to use this Functions-as-a-Service (FaaS) has dramatically reduced the complexity and hardware needs of the apps I work on. This is what’s known as a “Serverless” architecture since we do not need to provision any servers in order to run these functions. FaaS is great for a number of use cases (like processing images) because it will scale immediately and near infinitely when there are spikes in traffic. There’s no longer the need to run several underutilized processing servers just waiting for someone to request a large job.

AWS Lambda is event-driven, so it’s also possible to have it respond to API requests through AWS’s API Gateway. However, since Lambda is stateless, you’ll most likely need to query a persistent datastore in order for it to do anything exciting. Setting up a new database connection is relatively expensive. In my experience it typically takes more than 200ms. If we have to reconnect to the database every time we run our Lambda functions (especially if we’re responding to an API request) then we are already adding over 200ms to the total response time. Add that to your queries and whatever additional processing you need to perform and it becomes unusable under normal circumstance. Luckily, Lambda lets us “freeze” and then “thaw” these types of connections.

Update 4/5/2018: After running some new tests, it appears that “warm” functions now average anywhere between 4 and 20ms to connect to RDS instances in the same VPC. Cold starts still average greater than 100ms. Lambda does handle setting up DB connections really well under heavy load, but I still favor connection reuse as it cuts several milliseconds off your execution time.

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An Introduction to Serverless Architecture

I’ve been building web applications for nearly 20 years, and the most difficult problem has always been scaling the architecture to support heavy load. With the advent of cloud computing with services like Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform, the cost of scaling has been dramatically reduced, but the same underlying problems of scaling still exist. When dealing with data, you still need to build complex methods of efficiently accessing records. These are challenges fit for cloud engineers, but not for your average group of developers. Several months ago Amazon Web Services released two new services. These services create a new paradigm that not only make it easier to create scalable applications in the cloud, but essentially eliminates any server maintenance. It has been coined, Serverless Architecture, and it could be the future of cloud computing.

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