All your serverless are belong to us

“No vendor lock-in!” is a popular sales slogan, but it turns out it’s not why customers buy. I’ve written about this before and won’t belabor the point here. The slogan is not only somewhat inaccurate (the minute you make a commitment to any enterprise software, you’re locked in because the cost of changing course is never zero), but worse, it overlooks enterprise priorities. Yes, it’s great to have options to change course more easily if a given technology choice doesn’t work out, but the reason enterprises have embraced open source and cloud has nothing to do with what they’re trying to avoid and everything to do with what they’re trying to get: convenience, performance, flexibility.

Don’t believe me? Just look at serverless adoption.

Serverless shackles all the way down

If you’re a particular brand of open source warrior, serverless is your kryptonite. Years ago, then-CEO of CoreOS Alex Polvi called serverless “one of the worst forms of proprietary lock-in we’ve ever seen in the history of humanity.” OK, then. 

The reason, he went on, is because with serverless the “code [is] tied not just to hardware … but to a data center,” meaning “you can’t even get the hardware yourself. And that hardware is now custom fabbed for the cloud providers with dark fiber that runs all around the world, just for them.” In other words, the code in serverless is so inextricably linked to a cloud provider’s technology and operations, that the freedom to port the software elsewhere is effectively meaningless.

Sure, there are ways to minimize “lock-in” with serverless. Wisen Tanasa of Thoughtworks offers a few suggestions, like choosing a cross-vendor programming language and picking good architecture patterns to minimize the costs of migrating unit tests. But as important as it is to be looking for the exit when choosing a new platform or technology, it’s even more important to consider why you’re choosing it in the first place. This is where serverless shines.

Leading Edge Forum researcher Simon Wardley shares an example of a global insurance company that adopted serverless: “During the time it took for the vendors to come back with quotes to the RFP, we had the system built in serverless, in production, and reducing cost per transaction from $20 to eventually 8 cents,” said one of their executives. “You can have a serverless team focused and taking on reducing costs of transactions, speed of claims, and the tasks at hand, or you can have a team focused on the intricacies of container distribution. We’re an insurance company. We care about customer outcomes, not infrastructure clusters.”

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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