What Is Serverless Computing?

by on March 15, 2022

What is Serverless Computing

Does it makes sense for your app to be serverless? As with most development decisions, the answer is: it depends. What does serverless really mean? In this article, we’ll break it down for you.

In its most traditional sense, “serverless” is technically a misnomer. (Just as the term “backendless” is a common misnomer assigned to backend as a service platforms; backendless apps still very much have a backend.)

A serverless application still relies on servers to run its backend, but the application developer does not own those servers or keep them on-premises. Serverless apps are cloud native applications that utilize cloud servers rather than on-premise physical servers for backend computing resources.

Table of Contents
1. What Does Serverless Computing Mean?
     1.1 What is serverless architecture?
     1.2 What are serverless databases?
2. Is Serverless More Expensive Than In-House Or Cloud Servers?
     2.1 Operational Cost
     2.2 Opportunity Cost
3. Serverless vs. Cloud Servers
     3.1 Elasticity vs. Scalability
4. Disadvantages of Serverless Computing
     4.1 Resource Limits
     4.2 Monitoring and Debugging
     4.3 Security
     4.4 Privacy
     4.5 Vendor Lock-In
5. What About Kubernetes?
6. Conclusion
7. FAQs
     7.1 What does serverless mean?
     7.2 What is the use of serverless computing?
     7.3 What is the difference between cloud computing and serverless computing?
     7.4 Is serverless the same as function as a service?
     7.5 Does serverless mean no servers?
     7.6 Is serverless the same as infrastructure as a service?


What Does Serverless Computing Mean?

Serverless computing is a type of cloud computing that relies on third-party services to manage servers. This contrasts with traditional cloud computing, in which customers provision, manage, and operate their own servers.

Serverless computing can be used to build serverless applications and services or to extend the functionality of existing non-serverless applications and services.

In essence, serverless computing is a form of cloud computing in which the cloud provider runs and maintains all servers. The result is that developers can focus on building the business logic for their backend and assume there will be physical resources to execute it. In other words, serverless doesn’t mean “without a server”, but instead “without a specific server”.

The serverless provider manages the allocation of machine resources. This means the provider ensures that serverless functions and business logic on the server are executed at a consistently fast operating speed by serving from additional servers when needed.

Serverless computing suits development teams of all sizes that are looking to build and deploy quickly without the distraction of server maintenance. Although serverless computing comes at a cost – the price typically fluctuates based on the quantity of resources consumed – it is often still far more affordable than internally managing your own servers.

What is serverless architecture?

Serverless architecture, also referred to as function as a service, is a term that describes a pattern for building applications and services without provisioning or managing servers.

In serverless architecture, the cloud provider runs the server, and the customer pays only for the resources required to run their code, making it an on-demand service. This means customers can scale their serverless apps or services up or down as needed without any engineering resources.

A serverless function is a piece of serverless code that is executed in response to an event. Serverless functions are usually stateless, meaning they do not maintain any persistent data.

Stateless serverless functions are often used for event-driven applications or microservices, where each function performs a single task and is invoked in response to an event.

Event-driven architectures are well-suited for serverless applications because they rely on discrete, asynchronous events to trigger function executions.

In a microservices architecture, small, modular services are divided into individual applications that can be deployed and managed independently. This separation of concerns makes it easier to scale individual services, and it also allows developers to specialize in a single service.

What are serverless databases?

Several serverless databases have emerged in the last few years. These systems extend the serverless execution model to the RDBMS, eliminating the need to provision or scale virtualized or physical database hardware.

Backendless Database with the Backendless Cloud service is a serverless database. Backendless Database enables you to collect, manage, and query relational data visually without managing your own servers.

Is Serverless More Expensive Than In-House Or Cloud Servers?

To expand on the previous point, one of the great benefits of serverless is the ability to scale freely. With in-house servers, you will typically carry far greater server capacity than you need most of the time. This is to ensure your app doesn’t crash during periods of heavy activity.

Thus, times at which those servers are unused (idle) or only lightly used becomes a sunk cost; you’ve paid for those servers whether they are in use or not.

Similarly, with cloud-based server hosting such as AWS, Google Cloud, and Azure, someone within your organization will be required to monitor server usage and spin up additional server instances when demand requires it. Otherwise, you will need to set up more instances than you need in order to be covered during peak usage times.

However, unlike in-house servers that you own regardless of demand, this manual management can be automated with a cloud architecture.

With serverless, on the other hand, you only pay for the server resources you actually use. This may be described as pay-as-you-go. Additionally, serverless providers will build-in the costs associated with the servers’ operating systems, such as licenses, installation, dependencies, and patching.

Computing Resource Allocation

When considering the cost of in-house servers vs. cloud servers vs. serverless computing, you not only need to consider the costs related to the machines, but also the cost of team members managing your servers. This cost comes in two forms: operational cost and opportunity cost.

Operational Cost

Simply, this is what you must pay directly to employ, train, and cover benefits for an employee (or multiple employees) to manage your servers.

In the early stages, a company may be able to handle server management with minimal effort from a developer. However, this still subtracts from the time that said developer can spend working on the application.

While some server management can be automated, there is still great value to having the flexibility to manually adjust server resources when necessary.

Additionally, if the application is available internationally or allows 24/7 access (as most apps do), then you will want to have someone available to handle potential outages at all times. This becomes a significant drain to personnel resources.

On the other hand, most serverless providers offer 24/7 monitoring and support. Most also include an “uptime guarantee”, meaning that they guarantee the servers will be functioning as close to 100% of the time as possible.

Opportunity Cost

Serverless is valuable for dev teams of all sizes. Whether that team is one individual or a large group, taking app development time away from a team member and dedicating it to server management is rarely the ideal use of their time.

This is not limited to startups and small companies, either. Many enterprises have application development teams tasked with building new applications, new features for existing apps, or internal-use applications.

While the enterprise may already have internal servers and teams that manage them, it may still be more cost-effective to host the app’s development and testing environment with a serverless provider. That way, the enterprise’s internal resources are reserved for more essential functions, such as supporting apps that are already live and in use.

Serverless vs. Cloud Servers

Just because a server is hosted in the cloud does not mean it is serverless architecture. On the contrary, many cloud providers like AWS and Microsoft Azure have a basic setup that is practically identical to keeping servers on-premises.

This is because you are still responsible for all of the server setup, software maintenance, and load-balancing required. The only thing the provider covers is maintenance of the physical hardware itself.

In short, serverless enables automatic scaling and automates resource utilization to maximize server efficiency. For companies looking to optimize costs, a serverless platform is often the way to go.

Many cloud providers also include serverless software. For example, AWS Lambda is fully serverless. With AWS Lambda, you upload your code and the provider takes care of all the necessary infrastructure, including server setup, load balancing, and software maintenance. Other similar examples include IBM Cloud Code Engine and IBM Cloud Functions, Google Cloud Functions, and Azure Functions.

If a cloud platform enables serverless computing, then you can utilize their cloud infrastructure to execute serverless functions and develop serverless apps as cloud native applications. Cloud applications are designed to run on the public cloud and take advantage of all its features.

Elasticity vs. Scalability

Not all scaling solutions are created equal. In-house servers are said to be scalable because you can add additional servers to meet your needs as you grow.

On the other hand, serverless computing is said to be elastic because it enables you to both increase and decrease your machine resource usage depending on your needs.

Disadvantages of Serverless Computing

Serverless computing does come with some potential drawbacks that should be considered when choosing your server architecture.

Resource Limits

Some applications simply require too much computing power for a serverless provider to handle. Providers may have stipulations regarding the workload that they will allow serverless apps to put on the servers. It may also simply be cheaper to bulk-provision the servers in-house for such workloads.

Monitoring and Debugging

It may be more difficult to identify the source of latency within your application when using a serverless provider. You may not have the same ability to use debuggers or other testing tools. You also may not be able to completely replicate the performance characteristics in a local environment due to proprietary elements of the server environment.


Hosting your application in a shared environment can create the potential for additional exposure to security breaches not possible with an in-house setup. It is important that you find a serverless provider that does not expect to be absolved from all responsibility in the event of a breach.

Some serverless providers, including Backendless, offer the ability to run your application on dedicated servers. This can help you avoid such a risk, at an additional cost.


Many serverless providers use proprietary cloud environments. Thus, you may have to allow the provider’s employees access to your own proprietary code that you deploy on their servers for maintenance purposes.

Vendor Lock-In

Because serverless computing is provided by a third-party, migration must be considered. If you reach a point where you want to change providers or switch to in-house hosting, you will have to navigate the migration process which can be quite cumbersome.

Backendless offers excellent support for migrating your backend from another service or host to our platform.

What About Kubernetes?

In the context of this article’s topic, Kubernetes (also known as k8s) can be thought of as a way to make on-premise servers serverless. Allow us to explain.

Kubernetes is an open-source container orchestration system. In simple terms, it is a system designed to replicate a server environment and setup across multiple servers. This serves two primary purposes:

First, with some simple automation rules, Kubernetes allows for easy automated scaling by distributing server demand horizontally among all servers included in the cluster. Second, Kubernetes serves as a failsafe for applications in that no functionality is tied to one particular server. Thus, if any one server goes down, all other servers in the cluster are capable of replicating that server’s functionality.

Backendless Pro uses Kubernetes to support easy scaling for businesses looking to maintain and manage their server infrastructure in-house.


Choosing the server architecture that best fits your business needs can a complicated task. Our goal with this article is to help you better understand the differences between serverless, cloud, and in-house hosting.

Once you understand these different approaches, you can decide which best fits your business’s and application’s needs. Backendless Cloud is our primary serverless option. Backendless Pro is designed primarily for in-house server management. Managed Backendless is the best of both worlds.

We hope that this provided some clarity about the meaning of the term serverless. If you’d like to see if Backendless is the right backend platform for your application, you can start with Backendless Cloud for free here or install Backendless Pro on your own machine for a free trial.

Be sure to read our other cloud-related articles including: “What is API as a Service?” and “What is Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS)?”

Frequently Asked Questions

What does serverless mean?

Serverless computing is a way of using cloud-based infrastructure to host applications without the need for traditional servers. Rather, the provider takes care of all server management tasks, leaving the customer free to focus on their application.

What is the use of serverless computing?

Serverless computing is a way to host applications without the need for traditional servers. It can also help developers avoid some of the common problems with traditional hosting, such as:

  • Lack of scalability
  • Vendor lock-in
  • Privacy concerns
  • Maintenance and security responsibilities

What is the difference between cloud computing and serverless computing?

Cloud computing is a way of using remote servers to store, manage, and process data. Serverless computing is a way of using cloud-based infrastructure to host applications without the need for traditional servers. Serverless computing can be seen as a subset of cloud computing.

Is serverless the same as function as a service?

Function as a service (FaaS) is a model of serverless computing where the provider manages and runs your code in response to events or triggers. FaaS is one possible implementation of serverless computing.

Does serverless mean no servers?

No, serverless does not mean no servers. Serverless simply means that the customer does not need to worry about managing or configuring the servers themselves. The provider takes care of all of that for them.

Is serverless the same as infrastructure as a service?

No, serverless is not the same as infrastructure as a service (IaaS). IaaS is a model of cloud computing where the customer manages and configures their own servers. Serverless is a way of using cloud-based infrastructure to host applications without the need for traditional servers.

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