10 min read

Serverless computing is a growing trend that lets software developers focus more on code than the back-end processes. While there are a lot of serverless computing platforms, in this article we will focus on Microsoft’s Azure serverless computing platform, which provides its users with  fully managed, end-to-end Azure serverless solutions to boost developer productivity, optimise resources and expedite the development processes.

To understand the nitty-gritties of Azure Serverless, we got in touch with Lorenzo Barbieri, a cloud-native application specialist who works at Microsoft’s One Commercial Partner Technical Organization and, Massimo Bonanni, an Azure Technical trainer at Microsoft. In their recently published book, Mastering Azure Serverless Computing, they explain how developers with Microsoft’s Azure Serverless platform can build scalable systems and also deploy serverless applications with Azure Functions.

Sharing their thoughts about Azure serverless and its security the authors said that although security is one of the most important topics while designing a complex solution, security depends both on the cloud infrastructure as well as the code. They further shared how Powershell in Azure Functions allows you to combine the best language for automation with one of the best services. Sharing their experiences working at Microsoft, they also talked about how their recently published book will help developers master various processes in Azure serverless.

On how Microsoft ensures complete security within the Serverless Computing process

Every architecture should guarantee a secure environment for the user. Also, the security of any Serverless functions depends on the cloud provider’s infrastructure, which may or may not be secure. What are the certain security checks that Microsoft ensures for complete security within the Serverless Computing processes?

Lorenzo: Security of Serverless functions depends both on the cloud provider’s infrastructure and the application code. For example,  SQL Injections depends on how the application code is written; you should check all the inputs (depending on the trigger) to avoid these types of attacks. Many other types of attacks depend on application code and third party dependencies. On its side, Microsoft is responsible for managing and patching servers and application frameworks, and keeps them updated when security updates are released. .”

Massimo: Security is one of the most important topics when you design a complex solution, and in particular, when it will run on a cloud provider. You must think about it from the beginning of your design. Azure provides a series of ot-of-the-box services to ensure the security of the solutions that you deploy on it. For example, Azure DDoS Protection Service is an Azure service you have for free on every solution you deploy, and especially if you are developing Azure Functions triggered by HTTP trigger. On the other hand, you must guarantee that your code is safe and that your third party dependencies are secure too. If one of the actors of your solution chain is unsafe, all your solution becomes potentially not secure.

On general availability of PowerShell in Azure Functions V2

The Microsoft team recently announced the general availability of PowerShell in Azure Functions V2. Azure Functions is known for its speed and PowerShell for its automation; how will this feature enhance serverless computing on Azure Cloud? What benefits can users or organizations expect with this feature? What does this mean for Azure developers?

Lorenzo: GA of PowerShell in Azure Functions is a great news for cloud administrators and developers that can use them connected for example with Azure Monitor alerts, to create custom auto-scale rules or to implement mitigation for problems that could arise.

Massimo: Serverless architecture gives its best for event-driven solutions. Automation in Azure is, generally, driven by events generated by the platform. For example, you have to do something when someone creates a storage, or you have to execute a task every hour.

Using Powershell in an azure function allows you to combine the best language for automation with one of the best services to react to events.

On why developers should prefer Azure Serverless computing

Can you tell us some of the pre-requisites expected before reading your book? How does your book prepare its readers to master Azure Serverless Computing and to be industry ready?

Lorenzo: A working knowledge of .NET or other programming languages is expected, together with basic understanding of Cloud architectures. For Chapter 7 [Serverless and Containers], basic knowledge of containers and Kubernetes is expected. The book covers all the advanced features of Azure Serverless Computing, not only Azure Functions. After reading the book, one can decide which technology to use.

Massimo: The book supposes that you have a basic knowledge of programming language (e.g. C# or Node.js) and a basic knowledge of Cloud topics and architecture. Moreover, for some chapters (e.g., Chapter 7), you need some other knowledge like containers and Kubernetes.

In your book, ‘Mastering Azure Serverless Computing’, you have said that Containers and Orchestrators are the main competitors of Serverless in terms of Architecture. What makes Serverless architecture better than the other two? How does one decide while migrating from a monolith, which architecture to adopt? What are some real-world success stories of serverless migration?

Lorenzo: In Chapter 7 we’ve seen that it’s possible to create Containers and run them inside Azure Functions, and that’s also possible to run Azure Functions inside Kubernetes, AKS or OpenShift together with KEDA. The two worlds are not mutually exclusive, but most of the times you choose one route or another.

Which one you should use? Serverless is more productive, it’s really easy to scale and it’s better suited for event-driven architectures. With Orchestrators like Kubernetes you can customize every aspect of your infrastructure, you can create complex service connections and dependencies, and you can deploy them everywhere.

Stylelabs, a leading Belgium/US-based marketing software company, successfully integrated Azure Functions into its cloud architecture to benefit from serverless in addition to traditional solutions like VMs and App Services.

Massimo: I think that there isn’t a better tool to implement something. As I always say during my technical sessions (even if I seem repetitive and boring), when you choose an architecture (e.g. microservices or serverless), you choose it because that architecture meets the requirements of the solution you are designing. If you choose an architecture because it is popular or “fashionable”, you are making a serious mistake that you will pay when your solution will be deployed. In particular, Microservice architecture (that you can implement using Container and Orchestrator) and Serverless architecture meet different requirements (e.g. Serverless is the best solution when you need an event-driven architecture while one of the most important characteristics of the microservices architecture is high availability and orchestration), so I think they can be used together.

A few highlights of Microsoft Azure Functions

What are the top 5 highlights of Azure Functions that make it a go-to serverless platform for newbies and professionals?

Massimo: For the Azure Functions, the five best features are, in my opinion:

  • Support for a number of programming languages and also has the possibility to support any other programming languages, which are not currently available;
  • Extensibility of triggers and bindings to support your custom data sources;
  • Availability of a number of tools available to implement Azure Functions (Visual Studio, Visual Studio Code, Azure Functions Tools, etc., etc.);
  • Use of the open-source approach for runtime and tools;
  • Capability to easily use Azure Functions with other Azure services such as Event Grid or Azure Key Vault.

Lorenzo and Massimo on their personal experiences working with Microsoft Azure services

Lorenzo, you have a specialization in Cloud Native Applications and Application Modernization. Can you share your experience and the challenges you faced with the Cloud-native learning curve? You have also been using Azure Functions since the first previews. How has it grown from the first preview?

In the beginning it was difficult. Azure includes many services and it’s growing even faster. In the beginning, I simply tried to understand the big picture of the services and their relationship. Then I started going deeper in the services that I needed to use. I’m thankful to many highly skilled colleagues, who started this journey before me. I can say that two years of working with Azure and the experience you gain is the minimum time to master the parts that you need.

Speaking of Azure Functions, the first preview was interesting, but limited. Azure Functions v2 and the upcoming v3 are great platforms, both in terms of features and in terms of scalability, and configuration.

Massimo, you are an Azure Technical Trainer at Microsoft, can you share with us your journey with Microsoft. What were the projects you enjoyed being involved in? Where do you see microservice and serverless architecture in the next five years?

During my career, I have always worked with Microsoft technologies and have always wanted to be a Microsoft employee. For several years I was a Microsoft MVP, and, finally, three years ago, I was hired. Initially, I worked for the business unit that provides consulting to customers and partners for implementing solutions (not only Cloud oriented). In almost three years of consulting, I worked on various projects for different customers and partners with different Azure technologies, specially Microservice architecture, and during the last year, serverless. I think that these two architectures will be the most important in the next years specially for enterprise solutions.

When you are a consultant, you are involved in a lot of projects, and every project has its peculiarity and its problems to solve, and it isn’t simple to remember all of them. The most important thing that I learned during these years, is that those who design solutions for the Cloud must be like a Chef: you can use different ingredients (the various services offered by the Cloud) but must mix them in the right way to get the right recipe. Since three months, I am an Azure Technical Trainer, and I help our customers to better understand Azure services and use the right one in their solutions.

About the Authors

Lorenzo Barbieri

Lorenzo Barbieri works for Microsoft, in the One Commercial Partner Technical Organization, helping partners, developers, communities, and customers across Western Europe, supporting software development on Microsoft and OSS technologies. He specializes in cloud-native applications and application modernization on Azure and Office 365, Windows and cross-platform applications, Visual Studio, and DevOps, and likes to talk with people and communities about technology, food, and funny things.

He is also a speaker, trainer, and a public speaking coach and has helped many students, developers, and other professionals, as well as many of his colleagues, to improve their stage presence with a view to delivering exceptional presentations.

Massimo Bonanni

Massimo Bonanni is an Azure technical trainer in Microsoft and his goal is to help customers utilize their Azure skills to achieve more and leverage the power of Azure in their solutions. He specializes in cloud application development and, in particular, in Azure compute technologies. Over the last 3 years, he has worked with important Italian and European customers to implement distributed applications using Service Fabric and microservices architecture.

Massimo is also a technical speaker at national and international conferences, a Microsoft Certified Trainer, a former MVP (for 6 years in Visual Studio and Development Technologies and Windows Development), an Intel Software Innovator, and an Intel Black Belt.

About the book

Mastering Azure Serverless Computing will guide you through using Microsoft’s Azure Functions to process data, integrate systems, and build simple APIs and microservices.

You will also discover how to apply serverless computing to speed up deployment and reduce downtime. You’ll also explore Azure Functions, including its core functionalities and essential tools, along with understanding how to debug and even customize Azure Functions.

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A Data science fanatic. Loves to be updated with the tech happenings around the globe. Loves singing and composing songs. Believes in putting the art in smart.