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DigitalOcean sets sail for serverless seas with Functions feature

Might be something for those who find AWS, Azure, GCP overly complex

DigitalOcean dipped its toes in the serverless seas Tuesday with the launch of a Functions service it's positioning as a developer-friendly alternative to Amazon Web Services Lambda, Microsoft Azure Functions, and Google Cloud Functions.

The platform enables developers to deploy blocks or snippets of code without concern for the underlying infrastructure, hence the name serverless. However, according to DigitalOcean Chief Product Officer Gabe Monroy, most serverless platforms are challenging to use and require developers to rewrite their apps for the new architecture. The ultimate goal being to structure, or restructure, an application into bits of code that only run when events occur, without having to provision servers and stand up and leave running a full stack.

"Competing solutions are not doing a great job at meeting developers where they are with workloads that are already running today," Monroy told The Register.

For this reason, Monroy, who previously worked on Microsoft Azure Functions before joining DigitalOcean, says ease of use, pricing predictability, and the ability to integrate serverless functions into existing applications were major considerations when bringing DigitalOcean Functions to market.

The service is built on Nibella's serverless tech, which DigitalOcean acquired last year. The platform is optimized for a variety of Jamstack and API workloads, though we're told additional functionality, including scheduled functions, is planned for a future release.

"If you want to build a static website that is powered by some functions on the backend, DigitalOcean Functions is a great product for that specific use case," Monroy said. While there are compelling opportunities for running serverless workloads at the edge, Monroy argues those functions still need to work with existing datacenter infrastructure.

"Even the serverless edge components require workloads that are running in a traditional data center," he said. "This idea that everything is just going to run on the edge is not rooted in the applications of the real world."

In addition to running standalone serverless apps, DigitalOcean is also positioning the service as a way to augment existing workloads.

According Monroy, many fall into the trap of believing new technology will supplant the old. "Containers replacing virtual machines, virtual machines replacing on-premise servers, serverless replacing containers. In reality, the new technology just gets added to the old."

DigitalOcean Functions provides customers with a way to extend new functionally to their existing applications without having to rebuild them, he claimed.

"Let's say that you're running a Ruby on Rails or Django application, and you want to add a new API to the application. You can just write some serverless functions and publish those serverless functions as an API," running alongside the existing container and/or managed database.

"Asking developers to incrementally add value to existing applications using new technology in a serverless vein is a much easier sell," he added.

DigitalOcean Functions is available now on a consumption based pricing model, with the first 90,000GB-seconds of memory use provided at no cost. ®

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