Software Architectures: Serverless and Server (Traditional)

There are two basic types of software architectures: serverless architectures and on-premise server or traditional architectures. It’s important to note that “serverless” doesn’t actually mean there’s no servers involved. Serverless means that you don’t need to have a physical server on hand (on-prem).

What Does Serverless Mean?

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Cloud Computing (Serverless) Image from Susanne Tedrick

The term serverless is a bit of a misnomer. It seems to imply that we can build an app without servers. However, the actual truth of the matter is that being serverless just means we don’t have servers on-prem. Serverless architectures are built on the cloud. We’re using the internet to manage tasks on a virtual server. The actual physical server is abstracted out of the process.

Pros of Serverless Architectures

One of the biggest pros of serverless technologies is the removal of the barrier to entry to create a software company. Cloud technologies allow anyone to create, upload, and host software on the cloud. Anything that used to require a server, like hosting a domain, creating a website, or creating an application that needs connection to the internet, can now be done without a server.

Lower production costs aren’t the only advantage of serverless technologies. Serverless technologies are also easy to scale. The core concept of serverless is using a third party cloud that handles the infrastructure needs for you. Traditionally, if you wanted to handle more traffic, you’d need to bring in more servers. However, with your servers in the cloud, you can easily scale without having to physically buy and connect more servers.

A third advantage of having a serverless architecture is that it allows you to access your data and application anywhere in the world. You are no longer tied to a physical location. You can now have a team that spans the world and work anywhere you want. Remote work is getting more and more popular, especially since the COVID pandemic showed us how much easier remote work can be.

Cons of Serverless Architectures

The biggest drawback of using a serverless architecture is you have no idea what’s happening with the servers. Using a serverless architecture means you inherently have to give up some control. You also lose some information about the servers. For example, the servers may go down and you may not know why.

Another drawback of serverless architectures is that you must have an internet connection to access them. If you can’t access the internet, you can’t access your cloud servers. This could be trouble if your internet connection. On rare occasions, the internet for the cloud service provider’s internet connection may also go down.

The good news about both the drawbacks for serverless architectures is that both cases are rare. In today’s world, cloud server providers have strong security for their servers and strong internet. We also have internet access almost anywhere we go.

What is an On-Premise or Traditional Server Architecture?

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Server room Image from Flickr

An on-prem or traditional server architecture is what people used to build online applications for decades before cloud computing came along. Having a traditional server architecture simply means that you have a physical server on-site. If you’ve ever heard of the term “server room” this is where that term comes from. 

Pros of Server Architectures

One of the biggest advantages of having a server on-prem is that you have full control over it. You know exactly what’s going on inside. If a server goes down you can go check it out. You don’t need to rely on a third party for your server related infrastructure. You can also quickly fix, install, or alter any software that you use.

Another big advantage of having a traditional server architecture is security. All your critical data is stored on the servers. Less out-of-house data transfer, especially across servers, means that your data is less exposed to the outside world. That means that it’s less likely to be watched, stolen, or lost.

Finally, another advantage of a traditional server architecture is that it does not require an internet connection for development. This one is kind of a toss up because most developers nowadays require an internet connection for development. Most apps nowadays are also internet connected apps, but in theory, you don’t need to be connected to the internet to develop on an on-prem server.

Cons of Server Architectures

One of the major drawbacks of a server architecture is the cost. Servers are quite expensive and have a huge overhead cost. With on-premise servers you have to a) have space for the servers, b) keep the servers running all the time, and c) maintain the servers. This means you have to pay for space, power, and maintenance costs. All of this combined means a pricey starting point to just get your app online.

Along with starting costs, having a server architecture could also mean pricier scaling and slower scaling. It could also mean that scaling becomes more of a headache. You need more servers to accommodate more traffic, but you can’t just snap your fingers and get servers on hand and online. You need to order them and allow time for them to arrive and to set them up. This means you’ll have to predict lead times for traffic numbers.

The downsides of a traditional server architecture are mainly cost, headaches, and difficulty of upkeep. This was the only way to build applications and put them online for a while. Serverless architectures are a recent phenomena. They’ve seen quick adoption over the last few years, 40% of tech companies are fully serverless in 2020. Almost all new tech startups are serverless because of the ease of implementation and lower barrier to entry.

On-Premise vs Serverless Head to Head Comparison

Ease of ImplementationServerless
AvailabilityServer – kind of a toss up because serverless servers are usually available 99.999% of the time
Ease of AccessServerless
Serverless vs Server architectures head to head

When Should You Use a Serverless Setup?

You should use a serverless architecture setup when you’re starting a new software business. The lower barrier of entry through lower costs, abstracted infrastructure, and third party support makes serverless perfect for this use case. Other use cases that would be ideal for serverless setups are for companies looking to reduce their operational costs, companies looking to scale quickly and more easily, and companies looking to modernize.

It’s important to note that if you need full control over your servers or have secret, critical data, a serverless architecture is less than ideal for you.

When Should You Use a Traditional Server Setup?

A traditional server setup is best for companies that need full control over their server access, data, and server availability. Even if you’re starting a new software company, if you are planning on storing and using private data, you should go with a traditional server setup. A traditional server setup is more costly, but provides much needed security for some types of companies. Industries that could fall into this category include government, health care, and some areas of finance.

Summary of Traditional Server Architectures vs Serverless Architectures

Serverless vs Server Image by Author, Sources: serverless, vs, server

In this post we learned about serverless architectures and what server architectures are. We also learned about the pros and cons of both serverless and server architectures. Then we did a head to head comparison and discussed which architecture to use under which use-cases.

Key Takeaways

  • Server architectures provide more control and security but are more expensive.
  • Serverless architectures have lower costs, easier scalability, and third party support but lack insight into what’s going on with the server infrastructure.
  • You should use server architectures when dealing with sensitive data.
  • You should use serverless architectures when speed and ease of implementation are your main concerns.

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