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Next-generation serverless: three ways enterprises can benefit

As we reflect on the past year, Heraclitus' phrase “The only constant in life is change” has never rang more true. With the pandemic, companies had to shift operations, launch new products and adapt to extreme demand patterns, sometimes within a matter of weeks.

To respond to customer needs faster and more efficiently, many companies turned to serverless technology, designing applications with real-time signals and intelligence built in. From apps and sites for healthcare appointments and vaccinations, public-sector employment benefits, contact tracing, retail logistics, curbside delivery, hotel and travel booking—you name it, companies built it with serverless.

Redefining serverless

The world changed, the market changed, our lives changed and we here at Google Cloud also changed, introducing new products to meet our customers’ needs and grow with them.

Serverless technology, in particular, has changed a lot since it was first introduced. Google first launched serverless compute in 2008 with the launch of App Engine, helping customers scale their applications faster and seamlessly. We then added the ability to run Functions as a Service with Cloud Functions, giving customers a simple developer experience with integrated telemetry and observability. In parallel, we also introduced innovations to the container market with Kubernetes. Pretty soon, customers started asking us if we could combine the awesome serverless attributes of auto-scaling and developer experience with the flexibility of containers. 

Enter Cloud Run, the next generation of serverless. Serverless is now no longer just about event-driven programming or microservices. It’s also about running complex workloads at scale while still preserving a delightful developer experience. In fact, serverless with Cloud Run is about having a true developer platform with the flexibility to run any language, any library, any binary.

There are three capabilities that make Cloud Run the next-generation of serverless, and not the same ‘serverless’ you find elsewhere:

  • A great developer-centric experience

  • Versatility: expanding to a broader set of containerized apps

  • Built-in DevOps and security

Let’s take a look at the attributes in greater depth.

A great developer experience

Being developer-centric comes from having fully-managed self-operating infrastructure and a great developer experience. We want everyone to be able to develop smart applications and for that we have to make it easy. We also want to be sure we are bringing your technical talent closer to where you generate your business value. 

To make things easy, last year we introduced buildpacks, which creates container images directly from source code. No need to learn Docker or containers. Although there are containers underneath, they’re transparent to the developer.

To simplify things further, we also introduced a single “gcloud run deploy” command to build and deploy code to Cloud Run. These types of features are some of the reasons why 98% of Cloud Run users deploy an application on their first try in less than 5 minutes. 

In fact, in the past year alone, we added over 25 new features and services to our serverless stack, making development of complex apps easier. One of our main launches was Workflows, which lets you combine Cloud Run with any Google Cloud product or any HTTP-based API service. As a developer, this is very useful when automating complex processes, or integrating GCP’s analytic services across a variety of systems. 

Taken together, all these new features make the Cloud Run developer experience far easier than its competitors’, according to a recent report by User Research International.

report by User Research International.jpg

Versatility

Next-generation serverless is also about versatility. It supports a wider variety of applications and caters to enterprise requirements. Functions and web apps of course, but also heavyweight applications, and in the fullness of time, also brownfield and third-party containerized apps. This versatility is enabled by the container primitive, which removes restrictions on languages, run times, and hardware. 

Being able to run a greater variety of apps on our serverless stack means you can optimize for predictable usage. Today, we announced new spend-based committed use discounts for Cloud Run. Enterprises with stable, steady-state, and predictable usage can now purchase committed use contracts directly in the billing UI. There are no upfront payments, so these discounts are a perfect way to reduce your spend by as much as 17%. 

Another way we provide versatility is with support for WebSockets and gRPC in Cloud Run. With these new additions, you get the benefits of serverless infrastructure to build responsive, high-performance applications. We also added the use of min instances with Cloud Run. This feature allows you to cut cold-start times and run latency-sensitive applications on Cloud Run! At the same time, you can still scale to zero, or keep a minimum amount of compute available, for example when running brownfield Java applications.

Built-in DevOps

Serverless doesn’t just make it faster for developers to set up their apps—it also helps once the application is up and running, taking a big management load off of operations teams. Notably, serverless systems take care of “scaling” an application up or down. That means that if your application suddenly starts fielding a lot of traffic, the serverless platform automatically spins up more resources to handle the load. No more dreaded timeouts, wheels or hourglasses—or work for your operations team. Likewise, as soon as demand goes down, the platform takes care of decommissioning resources, i.e., scaling down, so that you’re not paying for resources that you no longer need. Want to run your service globally with low latency, without an operations team, and zero stranded costs? Cloud Run takes care of global load balancing and autoscaling to zero for you in every Google Cloud region.

Further, features like support for gradual rollouts and rollbacks allow developers to experiment and test ideas quickly, as well as sophisticated traffic management in Cloud Run. Likewise, Cloud Run provides access to distributed tracing with no setup or configuration, allowing developers to find performance bottlenecks in production.

Next up: serverless security

As part of DevOps best practices, we build in security for your serverless applications at every layer: deployment time, runtime and networking. For example, built-in vulnerability scanning ensures you only deploy artifacts you trust. 

Today, we are announcing Cloud Run support for Google Secret Manager and customer-managed encryption keys (CMEK), making it easy to protect data at rest and store sensitive data. We’re also integrating Cloud Run with Binary Authorization, which lets you enforce specific policies to make sure only verified images make it to production. And finally, we added a new integration with Identity-Aware Proxy, support for VPC-SC, and egress controls that you can use to enforce a security perimeter, limiting both who can access specific services and what resources can be accessed when these services run in production. You can read more about these security enhancements here

In summary, the next generation of serverless combines the best of serverless with containers to run a broad spectrum of apps, with no language, networking or regional restrictions. The next generation of serverless will help developers build the modern applications of tomorrow—applications that adapt easily to change, scale as needed, respond to the needs of their customers faster and more efficiently, all while giving developers the best developer experience. Learn more by attending The Power of Serverless, a two-hour virtual event where we’ll lay out our vision for serverless compute, and where serverless subject matter experts will present on in-depth serverless development topics. Hope to see you there!

Want to learn even more about serverless and cloud-native application development? Check out the upcoming Modern App Dev & Delivery workshop, and our Ask the Experts roundtable.