Serverless vs. Containers for Microservices: What should you choose

Muly Gottlieb
Muly Gottlieb
Jul 25, 2023
Serverless vs. Containers for Microservices: What should you chooseServerless vs. Containers for Microservices: What should you choose


Microservices have emerged as a powerful paradigm for building scalable, maintainable, and agile applications. In many cases, developers can design and build microservices in two ways:

  1. Containers
  2. Serverless

You can choose one of the two and build your microservice. But, it's important to understand that each approach has its own set of trade-offs. Therefore, selecting the right approach is crucial as this design decision - along with its pros and cons - will most likely accompany your project in the long run,

This article will aim to explore the strengths and weaknesses of Containers and Serverless for building microservices while exploring various use cases to help determine their suitability.

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Microservices with containers

Microservices implemented with containers offer a powerful and flexible approach to building modern applications.

If you're not familiar, a container is a unit of software that packages code and its dependencies so the application runs quickly and reliably across computing environments.

Benefits of using containers for building microservices

1. Isolation and Portability: Containers offer strong isolation and portability by encapsulating an application and its dependencies, ensuring each microservice runs independently in its own container. This isolation enhances security and stability, while the portability allows seamless deployment across different environments, maintaining consistency and reducing platform-specific issues.

2. Flexibility and Scalability: Containers offer flexible and scalable microservices architecture. Each microservice runs within its container, allowing easy replication and horizontal or vertical scaling based on workload demands. Horizontal scaling distributes the workload for improved performance, while vertical scaling adjusts allocated resources to meet varying levels of demand, optimizing resource utilization and responsiveness.

3. Easier Maintenance and Updates: Containers offer easier maintenance and updates due to their modularity. Each microservice runs in its own container, enabling independent changes and testing without affecting others. This streamlined process results in faster deployments, minimal downtime, and enhanced application agility, fostering rapid development cycles.

Use Cases and Scenarios Where Containers Shine

While Containers offer a wide array of benefits, how do they compare to Serverless Functions in various use cases and scenarios?

1. Complex and Diverse Applications: Both Containers and Serverless Functions are suitable for complex applications, but Containers may have an edge in managing applications with diverse functionalities and services due to their greater flexibility in terms of resource allocation and runtime environment customization.

2. Long-Running Services with Consistent Resource Needs: Containers excel in handling long-running services with consistent resource needs. Unlike Serverless Functions, which are designed for stateless and short-lived tasks, Containers provide persistent runtime environments, reducing the overhead of frequent cold starts and resource provisioning.

Microservices with Serverless Functions

Microservices implemented with Serverless Functions offer a different approach to building scalable and event-driven applications.

Serverless computing allows developers to focus solely on writing and deploying functions. These functions are short-lived, stateless, and execute in response to specific events, such as HTTP requests, database changes, or scheduled events.

Benefits of using serverless for building microservices

1. Automatic Scaling and Resource Allocation: Serverless Functions automatically scale based on the incoming workload. Each function instance is ephemeral, meaning it spins up when triggered by an event and shuts down when the execution completes. This automatic scaling ensures that resources are allocated only when needed, optimizing cost and efficiency.

2. Reduced Operational Overhead: With Serverless, developers don't have to worry about provisioning or managing servers. The cloud provider manages the infrastructure, including scaling, patching, and monitoring. This reduces the operational burden and allows developers to focus on writing application logic.

3. Event-Driven Architecture Advantages: Serverless Functions excel in event-driven architectures, where services communicate through events. Events trigger the execution of specific functions, making it easier to build decoupled and highly responsive microservices applications.

Use cases and scenarios where Serverless is suitable

Serverless Functions are particularly well-suited for specific use cases and scenarios:

1. Event-Driven Applications: Microservices architectures that rely heavily on events, such as real-time data processing, IoT applications, or chatbots, can benefit from Serverless Functions. The ability to trigger functions in response to events simplifies the implementation of event-driven workflows and fosters a more reactive application design.

2. Infrequently Used or Sporadic Tasks: For microservices that experience irregular or infrequent usage patterns, Serverless Functions offer cost advantages. Since resources are allocated per invocation, functions that are rarely triggered incur minimal costs, making Serverless an economical choice for certain workloads.

Containers vs Serverless Functions

When considering whether to choose Containers or Serverless Functions for microservices, various factors come into play.

These considerations will impact your application's performance, scalability, and development processes.

By understanding the strengths and limitations of each approach, you can make an informed decision that suits your application's specific requirements. I've included a table below that aims to give you all the information necessary to help determine the right approach for the task.

Choosing Between Containers and Serverless for Microservices

Choosing the right implementation method for your microservices architecture is a critical decision that can significantly impact your application's performance, scalability, and cost.

Therefore, it's important to consider these key factors before choosing between Containers and Serverless Functions for your microservices architecture.

1. Development Team Expertise: Assess your development team's skill set and familiarity with both Containers and Serverless technologies. Choosing a technology that aligns with your team's expertise can streamline development and reduce the learning curve.

2. Application Requirements and Characteristics: Analyze the specific requirements and characteristics of your microservices. Consider factors such as execution time, resource needs, statefulness, and event-driven nature to determine which technology best suits your application's needs.

3. Performance and Scalability Needs: Evaluate your application's performance and scalability requirements. Determine whether your microservices demand constant resource allocation or if they experience fluctuating workloads that can benefit from Serverless auto-scaling.

Additionally, it's also important to understand that each approach has its own sets of challenges and trade-offs that you need to consider when determining the right tool to use.

Limitations and Challenges of Serverless and Containers

1. Serverless Limitations: Serverless Functions have execution time limits, which may affect the performance of long-running tasks. Cold start overhead can introduce latency in event-driven architectures, impacting responsiveness.

2. Container Complexity: Containerized microservices may require more upfront effort in setting up and managing the infrastructure. Handling complex applications with varying resource needs can be challenging.

Hybrid Approach: Combining Containers and Serverless

In some cases, a hybrid approach that combines both Containers and Serverless Functions can be advantageous. By leveraging the strengths of each technology, you can create a more robust and cost-effective microservices architecture. For example, using Containers for long-running, resource-intensive services and Serverless Functions for event-driven components can optimize resource utilization and responsiveness.

Containers: The Ideal Choice for Most Business Applications

Containers emerge as the ideal choice for deploying microservices in most business applications due to their simplicity, cost-effectiveness, easier monitoring, and suitability for various use cases.

Advantages of Containers for Common Business Use Cases:

  1. Simplified Deployment with Dockerfile
  2. Easier Monitoring and Observability
  3. Greater Control Over Infrastructure and Resources

Cost Comparison: Containers vs. Serverless Functions for Typical Business Applications

Containers are often more cost-effective than Serverless Functions.

Serverless Functions may offer cost advantages for sporadic or infrequently used microservices. However, containers present a predictable pricing model that is favorable for steady-state workloads and long-running services while allowing efficient resource management. This allows organizations to make the most of their infrastructure investment.

Real-World Examples of Successful Containerized Microservices Architectures

  1. Spotify: The popular music streaming platform uses containerized microservices to deliver a seamless music streaming experience to millions of users worldwide. They have adopted a microservices architecture based on Docker containers and Kubernetes for orchestration. This approach allows them to scale individual services independently and deploy updates without disrupting the entire application.
  2. Uber: Uber has embraced microservices and containers to power its global transportation platform. They use Docker containers and Kubernetes to deploy and manage their microservices. This architecture enables Uber to handle millions of ride requests daily, ensuring real-time responsiveness and efficient resource utilization.

How can you build containerized microservices with ease?

Building microservices with containers is not a simple task. It often requires a lot of configuration for container files and requires some expertise. This is where tools like Amplication come in.

Amplication is an open-source development platform that empowers developers to accelerate the creation of microservices-based applications. With its user-friendly interface and automated workflows, Amplication streamlines the development process, reducing the time and effort required to build complex microservices architectures.

Leveraging Dockerfile and Helm Charts Plugin for Containerization

1. Dockerfile Generation: Amplication automatically generates a Dockerfile for each microservice, saving developers time and reducing misconfigurations. Dockerfiles define the application's runtime environment, dependencies, and configurations, enabling consistent containerization across development, testing, and production environments.

2. Helm Charts Plugin: Amplication offers a Helm Charts plugin that simplifies the deployment of containerized microservices on Kubernetes clusters. Helm charts provide a templated approach to defining Kubernetes resources, making it easier to manage the deployment process and ensure consistency across different environments.

By doing so, Amplication adds several benefits to building containerized microservices:

1. Rapid Development: With Amplication's automated workflows and code generation, developers can create microservices quickly, reducing the time to market for new features and applications.

2. Simplified Containerization: Amplication's Dockerfile generation and Helm Charts plugin simplify the containerization process, enabling developers to focus on application logic rather than infrastructure management.

3. Scalability and Flexibility: Amplication's microservices architecture allows for scalable and flexible application development, empowering teams to iterate and adapt their solutions to evolving business needs.

Wrapping up

Both Containers and Serverless Functions have their advantages and use cases. Containers emerge as the preferred choice for most business applications due to their simplicity, cost-effectiveness (in most use cases), and greater control over resources.

With Amplication's development platform seamlessly integrating Docker and Helm, developers can unleash the full potential of containerized microservices, streamlining development and enhancing scalability and portability.

By carefully considering the specific needs of your application, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your business objectives, empowering you to build robust and efficient microservices-based applications.