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Serverless infrastructure demands new roles for IT admins

Serverless technology is going to disrupt the data center, and IT administrators will need to shift their expertise from management to configuration and from servers to services.

Serverless infrastructure promises to eliminate the administrative overhead involved in supporting application...

workloads in virtual servers, but IT administrators can find a place leading serverless operations.

Serverless computing abstracts servers, so only the cloud provider manages servers and resource allocation. Under the right circumstances, the serverless model offers a number of advantages, particularly in terms of cost. Rather than having to pay a fixed rate for ongoing resources, organizations pay only for the computing power they need when they need it. Developers also benefit, because they can deploy applications themselves without worrying about provisioning resources or trying to track down someone in IT to do it for them.

But virtual servers have been a staple in data centers since server virtualization was born; deploying and managing virtual server environments have kept admins busy. Managing virtual infrastructures can be a complex undertaking, because it requires top-notch system engineers to keep everything running. Even if a cloud platform hosts the VMs, admins must still configure, maintain and integrate them with other systems.

Serverless environments, such as AWS Lambda, threaten to eliminate the need for these tasks altogether.

Serverless ops benefit from automation and abstraction

Data center trends point toward abstracting the underlying infrastructure and automating operations, while shipping off much of the remaining work to the cloud. Although reality hasn't caught up yet, organizations evaluating the bottom line often view operations as overhead that requires minimization.

With serverless infrastructure, virtual servers are no longer part of the discussion, and the administrator's role gets a little unclear.

One of the goals of the serverless model is to make software delivery as efficient and free from administrative overhead as possible. Serverless ops teams will not need to deploy servers, set up hypervisors, spin up VMs, patch OSes, configure policies or complete a thousand other tasks. With serverless infrastructure, virtual servers are no longer part of the discussion, and the administrator's role gets a little unclear. In theory, serverless computing would eliminate the need for traditional IT operations, but legacy systems and the virtual servers that support them will likely remain for quite some time.

Additionally, not all applications are suited to the serverless model. Serverless computing is great for large-scale, high-throughput applications, such as web-based and internet-of-things services, but some applications suffer under the serverless approach. For example, an infrequently used application would require newly allocated resources each time it ran, resulting in performance and latency issues.

Serverless computing is sometimes considered a more secure approach to computing, because systems are not susceptible to the same types of attacks as traditional server and VM environments. But serverless computing introduces other security concerns: It hosts the code on a shared infrastructure. This creates a much larger attack surface, because it runs many more application components at the same time.

Serverless infrastructure offers opportunities

The trend toward application deployments that require fewer IT resources will force admins to do what they've always done: Evolve into new roles and take advantage of the opportunities they offer.

Serverless computing tasks are more numerous than they might seem, because serverless computing lacks the tools to properly monitor and manage application health. Components are constantly created and destroyed, so troubleshooting configuration issues becomes an enormous undertaking. IT teams will have to figure out ways to maximize performance while safeguarding data.

Teams must also create methods to test and deploy applications, while ensuring costs don't exceed budget. For example, a function with a runaway loop that calls up other functions could result in resources being spun up and run indefinitely, creating enormous and unexpected fees. Admins can also use serverless infrastructure to address issues such as business continuity and disaster recovery, which the serverless world hasn't paid much attention to yet.

Admins must learn new skills and gain new knowledge that goes beyond virtual server environments. Most admins already wear many hats, but new technology demands they wear a few more. Serverless infrastructure won't eliminate IT operations. Serverless ops demand a new mindset -- one that thinks in terms of services, rather than servers. By adapting old skills and learning new ones, IT admins can lead their organizations to the best strategies, rather than reacting to changes foisted on them.

This was last published in July 2018

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