Serverless vs Managed Services: Which One to Choose

  • Articles
  • October 10 2022
  • 4 min read
An image showing the difference between serverless and managed services


When you decide to build an application in the cloud, you need to consider several factors. One of the most important questions to address is whether or not your application will be built using serverless or fully managed services in the cloud. Both these terminologies are loosely defined terms.

So there can be services in the cloud that fall somewhere in between and some that are both at the same time. Let’s explore these two terms in detail and decide which one to opt for.

Serverless: Explained

Serverless is a cloud-native development methodology that allows developers to build and run applications. There is no need to worry about managing servers.

But servers are still there in serverless. Only that they are separated from the application development process. Cloud provider takes care of establishing, maintaining and scaling the server infrastructure. Developers can wrap their code in containers for deployment.

Serverless applications respond to demand and autonomously scale up and down as required once launched. Moreover, public cloud providers’ serverless provisions are metered on on-demand with the help of event-driven execution approach. Because of which a serverless function does not lead to any expenditures when it is idle.

Managed services: Explained

A managed service lets the end user emphasise upon using a service rather than setting up the service which doesn’t mean that the cloud provider can read your thoughts. Rather it means that the input the service requires happens through a user friendly form.

Managed services come under Platform as a Service and Amazon’s Elastic Beanstalk is one of the classic examples. Here, you set up parameters, provide Docker image, and the rest will be taken care of. Things like virtual machine, web server, monitoring and logging infrastructure, semi automated configuration, load balancing, and scaling amongst others will be handled by it.

Mostly you won’t be able to access and tinker around with them. Otherwise, it is not a managed service; you are the manager. Basically, an abstraction of a non-managed service is what a managed service is. The abstraction is usually interfaced via web forms and as a user, you don’t have to be worried about updates, patches, and so on and so forth.

Pros and Cons

Both serverless and managed services have their set of benefits and limitations. Let’s have a closer look at them.

An image displaying the pros and cons of serverless and managed services

When it comes to serverless, the machines that are being used to run your applications are shielded from you. There is no server management to be done. And, usually, you need to pay for only what your application uses as per translation or per request or per usage.

There are disadvantages to not hosting your server or controlling your server side logic in addition to cloud providers imposing strict limitations on how their components can be interacted with. Also, giving up control of key parts of your IT stack puts you at the risk of vendor lock-in as well.

On the other hand, in managed services, you can choose the number of machines that are being used to run your application in addition to being able to leverage the advantage of fully managed and automated service. That is, you don’t have to set up any machine, the management, patching backup are mostly all taken care of. And, you pay for however long you run the machines and other resources that your application uses.

On the flip side, your fully managed service provider may impose strict security restrictions that stop you from configuring or customising the hosted environment as you see fit. Different cloud providers can offer different performance, cost, support quality, and service availability, so you will have to choose the best one for your business needs and objectives.  

Also, fully managed service may be better for large enterprises with less expertise operating safe government cloud hosting environments. And, for those who want that peace of mind through an all-inclusive cloud management team on their side.

Serverless or Managed services? Or the best of both worlds?

In both managed services and serverless computing you are not managing servers. They play a unique role in optimising your resources and minimising overhead:

  • If you are new or planning on moving to the cloud, managed service is a great choice for your organisation as a managed service provider can provide the expertise you need, when you need it, at a fixed monthly rate.Allowing a third party to troubleshoot certain aspects of your business will let you shift your focus to running your business and meeting core objectives along the way. 
  • In case if you are already in the cloud and are ready to take the plunge into cloud native, then serverless is for you. Not only does serverless computing minimise your dependency on servers and the costs linked to them, but also allows for greater elasticity, scalability, faster time to market and increased productivity within your organisation.

You don’t necessarily need to choose one over the other. Both managed services and serverless can be used simultaneously to take your business to the next level of cloud maturity.

Let’s look at an example. AWS Aurora is a managed database compatible with MYSQL and PostgreSQL. There are two flavours of Aurora. First is the managed option where you set up a database using a form. 

It brings up a few virtual machines and takes care of their health. Here, you just concentrate upon deploying a good database schema.

In this managed method, the database is running 24/7. This provides high availability.

Then we have the serverless option where Aurora is set up in a serverless way. That is, you have the storage deployed 24/7 and you cannot have serverless storage which is contradictory. Nevertheless, the processes that perform data manipulations on your data like fetch and update can be easily converted to serverless functions.

Aurora serverless also costs less as the data manipulations run on an as-needed basis but if the database is fairly occupied, it can lead to higher costs as well. Therefore it is better to use Aurora serverless when your workload is intermittent and unpredictable.

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Both serverless and managed services have a lot of overlap yet they serve different purposes. As you think about what approach is right for your organisation, analyse the capabilities of your existing data stack as well as your data strategy to make sure that your plans are aligned with your business objectives.


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