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For those who are yet unfamiliar, Google Cloud Functions is a serverless environment that is used by a wide variety of developers. It enables programmers to write simple functions and attach them to events related to their cloud infrastructure. It’s a fully managed environment, which means there is no need to allocate servers or other equipment in order for your functions to run.

However, as great as it is, Google Cloud Functions is not without competition. In fact, many competitors are out there. Some of which, have taken note of the features and capabilities that Google Cloud Functions lacks, and used their formula to make an even better solution. Here’s a look at serverless environments, an overview of Google Cloud Functions, and an alternative worth considering.

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Photo from Flickr by Josh MacDonald
Photo from Flickr by Josh MacDonald

Understanding the Concept of Serverless

The solutions featured here all work on the same premise. They are all based in the cloud, without servers. Here’s an explanation of the terminology you’ll come across when seeing these services described.

  • Functions: A function is a simple code snippet that serves just one purpose. Functions get associated with events.
  • Events: A service will set off an event when something has changed states.
  • Triggers: Events will happen regardless of whether developers define functions and triggers. But the trigger is what connects the function to the event.

This brings us to the five principles that should guide any developer who’s adopting a serverless environment.

1. Execute Code on Demand Using a Compute Service

 

Regardless of the type of serverless environment you choose, all of them serve the same purpose: executing code. With a cloud environment, you will not have to run your own virtual machines (VMs), servers, or containers. Everything stays in the cloud.

In the case of open source architecture, you can run the compute service in your public, private, or hybrid cloud environment. Alternatively, you can pay a vendor monthly and run your cloud environment as a FaaS (function as a service), which means focusing solely on custom code. The vendor handles the cloud and coding environment for you.

2. Write Stateless Functions That Serve a Single Purpose

The single responsibility principle (SRP) should guide your work in a serverless environment. You should focus on writing functions, or code snippets, that serve just one purpose. That’s because functions are easier to create. This explains the shift to function-based thinking, as it allows for much easier testing and debugging.

Compared to the development of single functions to the traditional approach of trying to develop an entire app or container all at once, it is an easier process. The focus on microservices allows for greater agility. This granular workflow puts your focus on specific actions, enabling developers to test and launch sooner. In turn, this approach increases efficiency.

3. Design Pipelines Driven by Events

In these environments, developers build pipelines driven by events, allowing even the most complex computing tasks to run easily. The main purpose of a serverless environment is to allow you to create code that connects various services. These pipelines allow you to do just that, giving you the capacity to make different services interact to give you the results you want.

With an event-driven pipeline that’s set up to be push-based, there should be minimal (if any) human intervention. The process should be as hands free as possible. This makes for less involvement on behalf of the users. So, it streamlines the workflow.

4. Create a Powerful Front End Interface

If you’re creating an entire system that consists of both a back and front end, and plan on hosting it in a serverless environment, then this principle is also important. On the other hand, if you find yourself building a pipeline meant to transform a file or some other type of system, you might not need to worry about a front end.

However, in situations where a front-end interface is applicable, the idea is to make it as smart as possible. This requires developers to allocate as much logic as they can to the front-end interface. In other words, this front end should interact directly with services. In turn, this will work to decrease how many serverless functions you need to run in the environment.

Obviously, there will always be situations where you cannot or should not set up direct communication with services. Security and privacy are some major examples of why that might be the case. In those situations, it’s best to use the serverless functions for these particular actions. With that said, when you can put something on the front-end, you should definitely opt to.

5. Use Third-Party Applications and Services

The beauty of a serverless environment is that you can connect a variety of third-party applications and services to reduce how much custom code you have to create. Obviously, this saves developers a great deal of time. By connecting other services, you’re able to leverage the code they’ve already created and use it for certain elements of your application.

Of course, when using third-party apps, always run tests and consider the disadvantages of doing so. Typically, using a third-party app means giving up control to make things faster. There is always a trade-off in some form. And this may prove worth it in many situations, but the goal is to make the right decision to best suit your serverless environment.

Photo from Flickr by Marcho Verch Professional
Photo from Flickr by Marcho Verch Professional

Choosing a Cloud Environment

If you think a serverless environment is the right fit for your development, the first decision you have to make is which provider to opt for. There are many available, but Google Cloud Functions has quickly become one of the most well-known. Despite having just joined the market in 2017, Google Cloud Functions is one of the most widely used.

Amazon was actually the one to introduce the idea of a serverless cloud environment, back in 2014 when the company released of Amazon Web Services (AWS) Lambda.

Obviously, these services come with a number of benefits, including added flexibility and reduced cost. But choosing Google Cloud Functions will lead to some disadvantages and challenges, too. At the top of the list is the risky business of vendor lock-in along with the cost, and documentation (or lack thereof).

To help you decide which of the main providers might be the right fit for your business, here’s an overview of Google Cloud Functions next to IronFunctions, a popular alternative.

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Overview of Google Cloud Functions

Google describes Cloud Functions as an, “event-driven serverless compute platform.” It’s touted as the easiest way to get your code up and running within a cloud environment. Since it’s based in the cloud, it’s also easy to scale and extra reliable. There aren’t any servers to manage, either.

Like other cloud software, you only pay for what you need. In the case of Google Cloud Functions, you’ll only pay for the resources it takes to run your code. The cloud also makes it easy to extend functionality through the connection of other cloud-based services.

Cloud Functions has many use cases, including backends for serverless applications where you can run the backends for your IoT and mobile applications, plus integrate third-party APIs and services. You can also use it for real-time data processing to process files and streams, and use extract, transform, and load (ETL) functions on an event-driven basis.

Additionally, this environment can function as a foundation for intelligent applications. With it, you can set up and run many smart apps, like virtual assistants and chatbots for your business. You can also take advantage of image, video, and sentiment analysis.

The core philosophy behind Cloud Functions is that developers should begin focusing more on small, individual features that they can deploy independently rather than building an entire container or application at once. This is similar to other cloud-based development tools.

Overview of IronFunctions

IronFunctions is a direct competitor of Google Cloud Functions. This open-source environment also allows for serverless computing with the same capabilities of Cloud Functions. One of the main highlights is that it allows users to avoid vendor lock-in. That’s because IronFunctions works on any cloud, whether public, private, or hybrid.

You can also implement Functions directly into any application you are building. Its design purposely allows for seamless and simple integration into your environment. You’ll find that you’ll spend less time working on tasks thanks to advanced job processing. Plus, good job management allows you to focus on building better software.

Functions enables you to better use the infrastructure you already have. You can also easily integrate other tools you want to use, whether they’re commercial or open source. It supports Docker Swarm, Kubernetes, Mesosphere, and countless other popular applications.

To set up Functions, simply implement it into your app and quickly establish the infrastructure and job processing you need to handle. You can then focus on building your software as tasks that typically overload your CPU to run seamlessly in the background.

It’s a simple and free serverless environment. But cost isn’t the only area where IronFunctions competes with Google Cloud Functions. As such, comparing them side by side is a must in order to determine which is right for your business. If you are interested in learning more about IronFunctions click here.

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Deciding What’s Right for You

There are many pros to using a serverless environment. The main advantage is that it enables developers to focus on the application they’re trying to build instead of worrying about the infrastructure in which they’re running it.

Most developers spend a significant amount of time implementing, maintaining, and fixing their environment in between application development. The notion is that, by running a serverless environment, all of that legwork is no longer needed. Thus, developers have more time to focus on what they do best: developing apps.

The scalability of a serverless, cloud-based environment also makes it very useful appealing and functional. That’s why the likes of Netflix, AOL, Reuters, and countless other companies already run serverless environments. Fortunately, thanks to its scalability (in either direction), the cloud is also very accessible to smaller companies and even individual developers.

In fact, the reduced cost of operating in a serverless environment is one of its most highly sought-after features. The price of a serverless environment depends entirely on how many executions you run. There’s no pre-purchasing capacity and overpaying. You’ll only pay for what you need. Plus, without needing to manage servers, there is no cost to keep people active 24/7 managing and fixing said servers when things break.

Another major advantage of operating inside of a serverless environment is that it’s very easy to create multiple environments for development. You can do it in just a click. This is refreshing when compared to traditional environments that take planning, developing, staging, and test runs prior to being able to use the new architecture.

With all of this in mind, here’s a look at the primary options on the market for running a serverless environment.

Determining which serverless environment is right for your applications can prove overwhelming. Here’s a simple run-through to help you decide.

Photo from Flickr by Nenad Stojkovic
Photo from Flickr by Nenad Stojkovic

Pricing

Cloud Functions runs on Google’s infrastructure. This means you have to pay to use it. Meanwhile, IronFunctions is open source. It’s made to run in any environment, be it public, private, or hybrid. That said, IronFunctions is also hosting some serverless environments for select customers who request it.

If you choose to use Google Cloud Functions, your cost will depend on the number of invocations (flat rate of $0.40 per million), compute time ($0.00001 per GHz-second), and networking (flat rate of $0.12 per GB). When deploying, you’ll need to specify how much memory your function requires.

With this in mind, you can experiment with Google Cloud Functions for free using the introductory tier. This is a good way to see for yourself whether or not it will work for you before committing a large portion of your budget to it.

Programming Languages

When it comes to supported programming languages, Google Cloud Functions has limited options. It was one of the last serverless environments to join the game, and it shows. The platform continues to support only Node.js 6, Node.js 8 (Beta), and Python 3.7 (Beta).

Meanwhile, IronFunctions leverages containers. This enables you to use any language that Linux or Windows supports. Plus, you can use AWS Lambda format and import any Lambda functions you’ve created before. The CLI tool also makes it easy to create and deploy new functions.

Support

As it’s an open-source project, IronFunction has extensive documentation. There is also a community of developers always happy to help if you post your issue or question online.

Google Cloud Functions, on the other hand, has limited documentation. Many have also complained about its community support, or lack thereof, in many reviews. With that said, the paid support for Google Cloud Functions is highly reliable.b

User Interface

When it comes to the user interface of either solution, both Google Cloud Functions and IronFunctions have a great layout. With that said, Google Cloud Functions can sometimes feel a bit disjointed as you go about using it.

BigQuery, for instance, uses a slightly different user interface, which can make it feel detached from the core features. StackDriver, the logging feature for Google Cloud, suffers from the same ill design.

The Bottom Line

IronFunctions allows you to take advantage of all the perks of a serverless environment without being committed to one vendor or paying hefty fees. You can run it in your own environment, on your own terms. It’s also highly flexible and allows for deep integration so you can produce the best apps possible.

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