CME Group’s Conall Bennett shares the latest developments in serverless technology

  • As Technical Specialist in Test at Chicago Merchantile Exchange (CME Group), Conall has over 20 years of experience testing software in Northern Ireland.

    Q. Serverless Days, an annual software community conference focused on the movement of the industry towards serverless and modern cloud technology returned to Northern Ireland in February this year. How important are events like these to the local NI tech sector?

    These events are vital for the local tech sector and represent a great opportunity to showcase the strength and depth of technical talent available locally, as well as providing a platform to highlight how and why the software engineering industry is thriving in Northern Ireland. These events are an ideal opportunity for the sector to come together and share the latest developments in Cloud and Serverless technology and demonstrate how these are driving change and innovation for the companies we work for.  

    Q. For those unfamiliar with cloud computing, what are the key differences between serverless and cloud?

    You don’t strictly have to be in the cloud in order to explore serverless technologies, but for the most part serverless is becoming synonymous with cloud platforms and cloud services. Most cloud vendors are investing heavily in making it easier for businesses and technology professionals to access, use, build and operate serverless tech, because it’s a very attractive way to run your IT and build products.

    The shift to serverless is usually driven by two objectives, the most important one I believe is product time to market. Serverless is about being able to dramatically speed up the time between coming up with an idea for improving or creating your business and getting the software needed into production in front of customers, with as little digital friction as possible. Serverless technologies help by enabling engineers to really focus on building solutions faster and more robustly.

    The second goal is reducing the time and cost any organisation has to spend procuring, connecting, securing, housing, powering, maintaining and patching, replacing and recycling the server hardware and infrastructure needed to build and deploy the software that powers their business.

    Q. Can you give us a few examples of the types of serverless services offered by cloud providers?

    Probably the most well-known and popular is ‘function as a service’ (FaaS), like AWS Lambda, which is used to power all sorts of products people use today. Google Nest and Amazon Alexa are examples of products which are powered by serverless technology like FaaS. Each cloud vendor has their own equivalent of this,  for example GCP functions.

    FAAS solutions like these are known as “ephemeral” services, meaning your serverless software isn’t always up and running on some server. An ephemeral service will only run for as long as it is being used or invoked by someone or something, and then it shuts itself down when there is no usage.

    The advantage is that rather than paying to rent a server from the provider, when using a lambda or FAAS you pay per invocation of your software, that is to say how many times a customer or consumer or user tries to use your software. You are not charged for anything if your software isn’t used, whereas if you rent a server you have to pay for that regardless of the level of usage, and you have to maintain and patch that server which is an additional cost.

    A serverless service also has the ability to auto-scale based on usage, if you have a sudden surge in traffic or usage the serverless technology automatically detects and creates more instances of your software in order to handle the surge. If you don’t use a serverless technology, you need to figure out how to do that auto-scaling yourself, which usually means a lot more work for the engineering teams. This kind of FaaS model is what is powering more and more cloud provider services, like Google BigQuery and Dataflow or AWS’s Athena and Lake formation services, which we currently use and have used a lot internally at CME Group.

    Q. This year’s theme was  ‘The fantasy and reality of Serverless - Building Serverless teams and making it real’ As a main speaker at the event can you give our readers a brief overview of what you covered?

    We covered how the teams we work with in our organisation are adopting serverless technology on the Google platform to help drive solutions for our business, as well as some of the organisational change we’re going through to make that journey successful. We touched on themes like “what does low latency in the cloud mean” as well as our thoughts on infrastructure as code and how to think about adapting engineering and product teams to the change. There were quite a few Game of Thrones references and memes as well.

    Q. In such a fast-paced industry, what do you think will be the main trends for serverless technology in the coming years?

    It’s always hard to predict where technology will go next. Reducing complexity, lowering cost and barriers to usage are always safe bets. For serverless, I’d guess being able to help businesses retire or re-platform legacy monolithic software and expanding the use of serverless technology to more tailored use cases for specific business domains and providing more features which enables environmentally sustainable or “green” development.

    Q. What are the ideal qualifications and experience required to forge a successful career in the serverless sector?

    Many of the same core skills that make good engineers such as curiosity, a drive to innovate and experiment to build robust solutions. One key thing which stands out more in Serverless is the need to better understand the business you want to use the technology for and to understand customers or stakeholders better.

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