Report: Serverless now a critical part of many software stacks

by Joseph K. Clark

Serverless isn’t just a fad; it’s here to stay. According to Datadog’s State of Serverless 2021 report, AWS Lambda functions were invoked 3.5 times more often than in 2019. The company explained this indicates that teams are making serverless a critical part of their software stacks, not just experimenting with it. AWS Lambda invocations are also much faster than just a year ago. In 2020 the median Lambda invocation took 60 milliseconds, which Datadog says is half the time it took in the previous year. One possible reason is that more organizations are following Lambda’s best practices and designing functions specific to their workloads. 

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According to the report, the tail of latency distribution is long. This indicates that Lambda isn’t just powering short-lived jobs but powering more computationally intense use cases. The adoption of Azure Functions and Google Cloud Functionsise are also gaining momentum. Over the last year, the share of Azure companies running Azure Functions increased from 20% to 36%. Nearly a quarter of companies using Google Cloud are using Google Cloud Functions. 

“What we saw in this report, and last year’s, is that serverless is here to stay and that it’s growing super fast,” said Stephen Pinkerton, product manager at Datadog. “What we see is serverless is kind of in every type of organization, and people use it to solve various problems.”


AWS Step Functionsares also becoming important for those practicing serverless. AWS Step Functions allows developers to build workflows that involve multiple Lambda functions and AWS services. It can coordinate error handling, retries, timeout, and other application logic, helping to reduce operational complexity as applications scale. According to the report, the average Step Functions workflow contains four Lambda functions. This number continues to grow month over month, according to Datadog. 

Two types of workflows can be executed by Step Functions: Standard and Express. Datadog believes that since over 40% of workflows are being conducted in under a minute, organizations are likely using Express workflows to support high-volume event processing workloads.

In addition, while many Step Functions workflows execute quickly, others run for a long time. The longest workflows run for over a week, according to the report.  

Developers are turning to Lambda for edge computing as well. According to the report, a quarter of organizations that use Amazon CloudFront use Lambda@Edge, which can be used for tasks like transforming images based on user characteristics or serving different versions of an application for A/B testing

The report found 67% of Lambda@Edge functions run in under 20 milliseconds, possibly indicating that serverless edge computing has the potential to support even the most latency-critical applications. “As this technology matures, we expect to see more organizations relying on it to improve their end-user experience,” the report stated

Datadog also found that organizations are overspending on Provisional Concurrency, an AWS feature designed to reduce the delay in execution of functions, otherwise called a “cold start.” Over half of the parts use less than 80% of their Provisional Concurrency, while 40% use their entire allocation, leaving them open to still encountering cold starts. 

“We see overallocation… and so I think this is just a sign that people are getting very sophisticated with serverless and running applications here, but there’s still a lot of learning that we all have to do on how to use the tools best,” said Pinkerton. 

Python is the most popular Lambda runtime in large environments by far. Fifty-eight percent of deployed Lambda functions use Python, an increase of 11% since last year. Another 31% run Node.js, down 8% from last year. However, Node.js is used more often than Python when looking at small AWS environments only. The remaining runtimes, Java, Go, .NET Core, and Ruby, are used in less than 10% of Lambda runtimes in large organizations.   

The Serverless Framework seems to be the top deployment tool among options like AWS Cloud Development Kit (CDK) and AWS Serverless Application Model (SAM). According to the report, ninety percent of CloudFormation members use the Serverless Framework, 19% use vanilla CloudFormation, 18% use AWS CDK, and 13%useg AWS SAM.

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