Why Blissfully decided to go all in on serverless

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Serverless has become a big buzzword of late, and with good reason. It has the potential to completely alter how developers write code.

They can simply write a series of event triggers, while letting the cloud vendor worry about providing whatever amount of compute resources are required to complete the job. It represents a huge shift in how programs are developed, but it’s been difficult to find companies who were built from the ground up using this methodology because it’s fairly new.

Blissfully, a startup that helps customers manage their Software-as-a-Service usage inside their companies, is one company that decided to do just that. Aaron White, co-founder and CTO, says that when he was building early versions of Blissfully,  he found he needed quick bursts of compute power to deliver a list of all the SaaS products an organization is using.

He figured he could set aside a bunch of servers to provide that burst of power as needed, but that would have required a ton of overhead on his part to manage. At this point, he was a lone programmer trying to prove his SaaS management idea was even possible. As he looked at the pros and cons of serverless versus traditional virtual machines, he began to see serverless as a viable approach.

What he learned along the way was that serverless offers many advantages to a company with a bursty approach like Blissfully, scaling up and down as needed. But it isn’t perfect and there are issues around management and tooling and handling the pros and cons of that scaling ability that he had to learn about on the fly, especially coming in as early as he did with this approach.

Serverless makes sense

Blissfully is a service where serverless made a lot of sense. It wouldn’t have to manage or pay for servers it wasn’t using. Nor would it have to worry about the underlying infrastructure at all. That would be up to the cloud provider, and it would only pay for the bursts as they happened.

Serverless  is actually a misnomer, in that it doesn’t mean there are no servers. It actually means you don’t have to set up servers in order to run your program, which is a pretty mind-blowing transformation. In traditional programming you have to write your code and set up all the underlying hardware ahead of time, whether it’s in your data center or in the cloud. With serverless, you just write the code and the cloud provider handles all of that for you.

The way it works in practice is that programmers set up a series of event triggers, so when a certain thing happens, the cloud provider sees this and provides the necessary resources on demand. Most of the cloud vendors are offering this type of service, whether AWS Lambda, Azure Functions or Google Functions.

At this point, White began to think about serverless as a way of freeing him from thinking about managing and maintaining infrastructure and all that entailed. “I started thinking, let’s see how far we can take this. Can we really do absolutely everything serverless, and if so that reduces a ton of traditional DevOps-style work you have to do in practice. There’s still plenty, but that was the thinking at the beginning,” he said.

Overcoming obstacles

But there were issues, especially getting into serverless as early as he did. For starters, White needed to find developers who could work in this fashion, and in 2016 when it launched there weren’t a large number of people out there with serverless skills. White said he wasn’t looking for direct experience so much as people who were curious to learn and were flexible enough to deal with new technology, regardless of how Blissfully implemented that. – Read more

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