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Lightbend 2022 Predictions: 3 Predictions for Serverless Computing and Development in 2022

vmblog predictions 2022 

Industry executives and experts share their predictions for 2022.  Read them in this 14th annual series exclusive.

3 Predictions for Serverless Computing and Development in 2022

By Jonas Bonér, founder and CEO, Lightbend

As 2021 winds to a close, the market demands that served as the impetus for creating our Akka Serverless platform have only become more insistent. Those trends will continue to force developer teams to turn to the serverless model to overcome the challenges of building reliable, scalable, and available cloud-native applications while managing the complexities of cloud infrastructure and distributed systems. Particularly when tackling the most robust applications today-such as IoT platforms, real-time financial services, modern eCommerce systems, streaming media, internet-based gaming, factory automation, telemedicine, and more. With that reality as our guide, here are my 2022 predictions around distributed state and compute, serverless and edge computing, and more.

Distributed State in Serverless Goes "Mainstream" 

Serverless computing services, which let developers focus on building code while having cloud firms like Google Cloud and AWS manage the underlying computing resources, have steadily increased from a $7.6 billion market in 2020 to an estimated $21.1 billion in 2025. As robust as this prediction appears, the true potential of serverless remains untapped, and its ability to hit these growth targets will be severely hampered unless multiple challenges are addressed.

Today's serverless offerings are severely limited in the types of applications they can support efficiently due to challenges related to state management at scale. By "state," we mean the original condition of the data combined with the changes made to it over time. A system is stateful if designed to remember preceding events or user interactions. This designation is critical for the kind of real-time systems being built today; whether they might be payments made, auction bids, items in a shopping cart, streaming videos, matching sellers with buyers, online FPS gaming, or the direction selected by a vehicle, the list is endless-what these use-cases have in common is the need for keep data close to where it is currently being used, to provide a convincing real-time experience for the user. 

Current serverless offerings-Function-as-a-Service (FaaS)-are primarily stateless, meaning the "stateful" information is stored elsewhere, most often a database. While being an excellent choice for powering inherently stateless use-cases-e.g., data pipelining with "embarrassingly parallel" workloads-FaaS is a poor choice for building general-purpose cloud-native applications. 

Modern cloud-native applications are often composed of many, often quite different, use-cases ranging from stateless data processing to data-centric, real-time, stream-oriented, and event-driven services requiring stateful designs to meet the SLAs in a cost, and resource-efficient manner. For these types of applications, we need many tools in our toolbox.

Any enterprise that wishes to leverage the benefits of the serverless model for truly business-critical real-time and data-centric applications needs to understand how to effectively and intelligently manage distributed state-ensure that the application state is adaptively and physically co-located with compute, yet durable and consistent. It also requires being able to choose the optimal consistency model for each specific data set-which often varies, ranging from strong, causal, to eventual consistency-since adding more guarantees to the data than it actually requires to meet your business needs means putting an unnecessary ceiling on scalability, availability, and performance.

Currently, these concepts are still poorly understood by most enterprises. However, as CIOs continue to push their developer teams, these obstacles will increasingly come to the forefront, and these enterprises will be actively looking for solutions. I believe that Akka Serverless will be one of them, but other solutions will inevitably enter the market as the model becomes more mainstream. 

The Serverless Model comes to Edge Computing

2021 was the year edge computing came into its own. Even George Sherman, J.P. Morgan's CIO of global tech infrastructure, has stated he thinks edge computing is the next big thing. So what will the future of the edge look like for us as developers, particularly when it comes to serverless? We have excellent infrastructure nowadays, but that only solves half of the problem. The serverless developer experience shows the way, but it's clear that FaaS is not the final answer. We need a programming model and developer UX that takes full advantage of the new cloud and edge infrastructure, allowing us to build general-purpose applications without needless complexity.

Proven models for managing distributed state at scale combined with serverless is the answer that edge computing developers will turn to in 2022. Think about it. What if you only had to think about your business logic, public API, and how your domain data is structured, not worry about storing and managing it? What if you could become "databaseless" and forget about databases, storage APIs, OR-mapping, caches, and message brokers?

Services, powered with this "data plane" of application state-attached to and available throughout the network-can run anywhere in the world: from the public Cloud to 1000s of PoPs out at the edge of the network, in close physical approximation to its users, where the co-location of state, processing, and end-user, ensures ultra-low latency and high throughput-this is the future of serverless with the edge. 

That said, serverless applications in an edge environment won't just be about low latency but equally much about high reliability and availability. Stateful edge computing means that we can build applications that can continue to function without disruption in the face of failure. Applications that are composed of multiple autonomous services all working independently with local data -data that is always right there, co-located with the end-user-where services can communicate with each other out at the edge directly, in a point-to-point fashion, not being dependent on an always-up connection back to the central cloud (so-called local-first cooperation). This allows for building extremely resilient systems, systems that must run 24/7 without stopping and that can adaptively detect, react to, and cope with failure of its parts; examples include emergency services, trading systems, manufacturing IIoT systems, autonomous vehicles; the list is significant and growing. 

Sustainability in the Cloud Becomes a Priority

In the wake of increasingly dire climate projections and global natural disasters from fires to floods, the 2020s have seen a sharp focus on sustainability in all levels of infrastructure. Unlike the "greenwashing" of data centers in the early 00s, which mostly touted limited efforts at conservation, efficiency and sustainability need to be built into today's cloud infrastructure in terms of power, cost, geographic footprint, and more. If businesses expect to continue to compete effectively and still meet the many restrictions that, if they are not already in place, are most definitely coming soon-they need to implement strategies for sustainability today.

One of the most potent and immediate tactics enterprises can employ is shifting their cloud-based applications and services to a serverless architecture. Doing so not only enables companies to scale their applications and services easily, but it can dramatically decrease the amount of hardware and thus the power required to meet their computing needs; in some cases, exponentially so. The "pay as you go" model of serverless ensures that the hardware is used as efficiently as possible; you only pay what you use, and when you are not using it, then someone else is. It also means that running and operating the system is delegated to cloud vendors that have the advantage of being able to look broadly across all of their applications running in the data center and optimize the resources in ways that a single organization cannot. In 2022, we're going to see real-world examples from some of the world's most successful brands demonstrating how IT is meeting its sustainability goals while simultaneously scaling its services for the future. 


We will have to check back in December 2022 to see if my prescience is accurate or not. No matter what happens, it's guaranteed to see a season of growth for mission-critical applications at scale. The world has had its appetite whetted, and it will be up to us, as an industry, to satisfy these demands with innovations leveraging the serverless model.



Jonas Boner 

Jonas Bonér is CEO and co-founder of Lightbend, and the creator of the Akka event-driven middleware project. Previously he was a core technical contributor at Terracotta, working on core JVM-level clustering technology, and at BEA, as part of the JRockit JVM team. Jonas has also been an active contributor to open source projects including the AspectWerkz Aspect-Oriented Programming (AOP) framework and the Eclipse AspectJ project. He is an amateur Jazz musician, passionate skier and holds a Bachelors of Science from Mid Sweden University.

Published Monday, December 13, 2021 11:00 AM by David Marshall
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