As a Startup, Should I Be Using a Serverless System?

At GKD, we use a serverless system, AWS Lambda, to run our API’s because, as a startup, it provides us with a number advantages that using a server simply cannot provide. If you’re weighing the benefits of whether or not to use a serverless system yourself, consider the following:

Server Costs

When using a server system, the cost structure is less flexible, and a company pays for use based on time, rather than on clicks. With a serverless system like Lambda, the cost is dependent upon requests and request duration, which almost always ends up providing a greater value. Furthermore, all of the hardware components involved in building a complete server system can add up and become very expensive, very quickly.

 

HIPAA Compliance

As a healthcare startup, complying with certain industry standards requires a lot of time, energy, and resources. But a serverless system simplifies this process for us immensely, as AWS Lambda is already compliant with the medical information privacy standards: HIPAA. Building a system in-house would require many man-hours dedicated to creating security systems and encryptions, followed by constant monitoring of the system, all of which would take an entire software development team to build and maintain. The more manageable option to meet necessary standards and ensure effective upkeep for most startups is to use an AWS Lambda serverless system, as this method provides a higher level of security without the demand of significant security resources.

 

Technical Control

For most companies, security is paramount. But security requires resources, patience, and time to set up and maintain. By using a serverless system like AWS Lambda to manage all security essentials, startups can concentrate their internal manpower solely on building their own code. In addition to minimizing costs, leveraging an AWS system allows companies to reduce the risk associated with human error by limiting overhead, which also frees up the team to focus on product development.

One of the biggest pain points in managing servers is the constant maintenance and upkeep. In a classic server environment, there is a constant need to be applying security updates and managing the creation and deployment of new servers. In a serverless environment, this overhead is taken away from you and handled by the serverless system provider. You do lose some flexibility by having your system managed externally, but AWS Lambda’s layers and custom runtime can be leveraged to negate most issues related to creating a more custom environment than what AWS provides by default.

When is a serverless system right for you?

The decision around whether to use a serverless versus an in-house server system depends upon each company’s unique situation. For example, if a startup has the means of adhering to the parameters of an AWS Lambda system, then a serverless system might be beneficial. Though it’s important to understand that taking on less risk results in less control, and a company employing a serverless system will have less power to change specific parameters of their system. The only way to have complete control is to have your own server, but it is unusual for a startup to exceed the memory and run-time parameters that come with using AWS Lambda, so it remains the best choice for startups the vast majority of the time.

As GKD continues to grow, we will reach a point where being serverless may no longer be the best option. This transition would necessitate a certain level of growth, as the time and expertise required to operate a server system can become quite demanding. So the question is, when is the right time to move to an in-house server? To understand the level of growth needed to make an EC2 system more beneficial than an AWS Lambda serverless system, refer to our chart below.

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While we’re still investigating and constantly improving our online activity strategy, utilizing an AWS Lambda serverless system is one way that GKD is able to minimize overhead and mitigate risk, while maintaining a safe, secure, and constantly up-to-date system. From our perspective, it’s beneficial for most startups to employ a serverless strategy, at least at first, until it becomes possible and fiscally reasonable to take control of your server, manage the risk associated and cover the added cost. 

 

If you’d like to hear our thoughts on in-house manufacturing for startups, see our related blog post here.

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