Takeaways from Programming AWS Lambda by Mike Roberts and John Chapin

Recently, Symphonia co-founders Mike Roberts and John Chapin wrote a book called Programming AWS Lambda: Build and Deploy Serverless Applications with Java. I personally abandoned Java long ago, but I knew full well that anything written by Mike and John was sure to be great. So despite the title (and my past war stories of working with Java), I picked up the book and gave it a read. I discovered that it’s not really a book about Java, but a book about building serverless applications with the examples in Java. Sure, there are a few very Java specific things (which every Java developer probably needs to read), but overall, this book offers some great insight into serverless from two experts in the field.

I had the chance to catch up with Mike on a recent episode of Serverless Chats. We discussed the book, how John and Mike got started with serverless (by building Java Lambda functions, of course), and what are some of the best practices people need to think about when building serverless applications. It was a great conversation (which you can watch/listen to here), but it was also jam packed with information, so I thought I’d highlight some of the important takeaways.

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Making the Case for Serverless Use Cases

For quite some time, there was a running joke that “serverless” was just for converting images to thumbnails. That’s still a great use case for serverless, of course, but since AWS released Lambda in 2014, serverless has definitely come a long way. Even still, newcomers to the space often don’t realize just how many use cases there are for serverless. I spoke with Gareth McCumskey, a Solutions Architect at Serverless Inc, on a recent two part episode (part 1 and part 2) of Serverless Chats, and we discussed nine very applicable use cases that I thought I’d share with you here.

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Takeaways from the State of Serverless Report

On a recent episode of Serverless Chats, I spoke with Stephen Pinkerton and Darcy Rayner of Datadog to dig into The State of Serverless report, which was released at the end of February 2020. After frequently fielding customer questions about the topic, Datadog looked at its data and customer use cases, and examined how they were using serverless. Datadog’s report is a way to break it all down, but it’s also an opportunity for its customers (and serverless users alike) to see how other people are using serverless in a data-driven way. I discussed methodology, findings, and key takeaways with Stephen and Darcy, and thought it’d be worthwhile to consolidate and share that insight.

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The Dynamic Composer (an AWS serverless pattern)

I’m a big fan of following the Single Responsibility Principle when creating Lambda functions in my serverless applications. The idea of each function doing “one thing well” allows you to easily separate discrete pieces of business logic into reusable components. In addition, the Lambda concurrency model, along with the ability to add fine-grained IAM permissions per function, gives you a tremendous amount of control over the security, scalability, and cost of each part of your application.

However, there are several drawbacks with this approach that often attract criticism. These include things like increased complexity, higher likelihood of cold starts, separation of log files, and the inability to easily compose functions. I think there is merit to these criticisms, but I have personally found the benefits to far outweigh any of the negatives. A little bit of googling should help you find ways to mitigate many of these concerns, but I want to focus on the one that seems to trip most people up: function composition.

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🚀 Project Update:

Lambda API: v0.10 Released

Lambda API v0.10 adds the ability for you to seamlessly switch your Lambdas between API Gateway and Application Load Balancers. New execution stacks enables method-based middleware and more wildcard functionality. Plus full support for multi-value headers and multi-value query string parameters. Read More...

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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