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Redefining Application Development with Serverless Compute using Azure Functions

Posted by Rajiv Dattani on 6/8/21 12:58 PM

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Whether you are a developer who wants to create a cloud-native application but unsure of where to start or a system administrator who wishes to automate Azure resources management, Azure Functions is a great tool to help you out. 

With serverless computing becoming a rage in recent times, Azure Functions (recently launched by Microsoft Azure) serves as a modern serverless architecture committed to delivering event-driven cloud computing and configured to comply with various application development needs.

It offers you the flexibility in deploying applications and creating easy automation. Upgrading to Azure Functions is an excellent option if you are modernizing your application from on-premises server infrastructure.

In this post, we explore more about this serverless concept and learn about various features and components of the Azure Functions.

What is Azure Function?

Azure Functions is primarily a serverless compute service that allows users to run event-triggered code without managing infrastructure. Using this, you can easily author and execute snippets of code in the cloud without the hassle of managing containers or web servers. Since it is a trigger-based service, it runs a script (a piece of code) in response to various events.

Among some of the key benefits that one would get using Azure Functions include-

  • Allows you to code your functions right from your Azure management portal directly
  • The event drives and executes only when the event is fired
  • Enables rapid development and deployment of small components to Azure Functions. This means that as a developer, you would not require to write the code related to using the Azure services
  • Serverless and does not require any Web server setup in the cloud
  • Requires you to only pay for the execution minutes of your applications
  • Easy to use and maintain 

When to Use Azure Functions?

Azure functions service is an extraordinarily lightweight and serverless compute service with its own use. 

Among some of the common use cases of Azure functions include-

  • Reminders and notifications
  • Sending background emails
  • Lightweight Web API
  • Running background backup tasks
  • Scheduled tasks
  • Doing backend calculations

As a service, Azure functions are ideal for smaller apps with events that can work independently of other websites. Some standard azure functions start back up, order processing, task scheduling, such as sending notifications, messages, IoT data processing and database clean-up.

Features of Azure Functions

One of the critical aspects of Azure Functions is that it gives you the added advantage of both IaaS and PaaS and the convenience of cloud infrastructure as the highlight. Among the main features of Azure Functions include-

Multiple Programming Languages

With Azure Functions, the developers have the liberty to choose the programming language of their choice. The service accepts multiple programming languages, including Python, PHP, C#, Java or F#. Developers can use the programming model for various activities such as communicating with other servers, orchestrating complex workflows or building HTTP-based API.

Supports Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) for Application Development Insights 

Although Azure Functions is a serverless architecture, it still supports continuous delivery (CD) and continuous integration (CI) as per the developers' needs. This is typically done through Microsoft Visual Studio Team Services, GitHub and other development tools such as Eclipse and Xcode.  

Below are the steps in Azure Functions deployment -

  • Build the code and run unit tests
  • Publish all the artefacts for the release

Once the Azure Functions is deployed, it will work like below-

  • Performing continuous integration (CI)
  • Running unit tests and provisioning/configuring Azure infrastructure
  • Performing integration tests and deploying the Azure function app

Compute On-demand Model

The compute on-demand delivery model of Azure Functions ensures that resources are available to the users as per their respective demands. The user's cloud service provider generally maintains the resources here. Also, for users, there is no need to worry about provisioning or managing them anywhere.

No-code Integrations With Other Services for Faster Development and Deployment

Another valuable feature of Azure Functions is its ability to immediately execute the code after writing it in the Functions Editor. This helps developers see development, spot bugs, and run tests as they go, thus speeding up the overall deployment and development process.

Further, you also get the advantage of no-code integrations with other services such as Microsoft OneDrive, SendGrid, Dropbox and more, to quickly get input into or output from Functions.

Super-intuitive, Browser-based User Interface

With Azure Functions, you can easily write code in the easy to use web interface or can use any other development tool to build and debug. Its intuitive and browser-based user interface responds to events generated by HTTP requests, Timers, Events Hubs, Table Storage, Azure Storage and more.

Workflow in Azure Functions-Durable Functions

While in most cases, working with functions requires keeping them stateless as you do not have to worry about sharing/storing resources, there are times when you would need to access it and distribute between various instances of your functions.

In such cases, e.g., scheduling a task to be done or orchestrating a workflow), a preferred option would be to leverage the capabilities of Durable Function- an extension to the main runtime- to bring a change in your way of working. Azure Functions enables you to resume from where the execution was paused/stopped and offers the possibility to take the output of one function and pass it as input. 

Put simply; Azure Durable Functions is an extension of Azure Function that can be used to write Stateful Functions. It consists of an entity function and an Orchestrator function that can be defined as a workflow. As a robust state-based service, it enables checkpoint and restarts from and supports various programming languages such as JavaScript, C# and F#.

Trigger-based Executions

Another feature of Azure Functions is that it gets executed depending on the configured triggers. It supports multiple triggers such as Event Hub Trigger, HTTP Triggers, Queue Trigger and more.

The Bottom Line

Azure Functions is primarily designed to speed up the process of application development and make it fast and straightforward. Unlike the traditional app development process, which is very costly, time-consuming and requires complex IT infrastructure, this model helps to improve the process significantly.

With Azure Functions' serverless architecture, you can stop fretting about the infrastructure requirements and simply focus on creating and implementing proper code.

Another key highlight of Azure Functions is that it allows you to write the code in easy-to-use web interfaces and build/debug them on any machine of your preference locally. Besides, it also lets you leverage the same function code on other targets such as Cloud Service, Azure Stack, IoT Edge and more.

If you are interested in Azure Functions to run your applications, TRN Digital can help you do just that. Get in touch with us today and get started with Azure Functions.

Topics: Microsoft Azure, Microsoft, Azure Functions

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