An exploration of serverless edge functions
Edge functions bring code closer to the user, reducing latency and capable of delivering new experiences
October 12, 2023 9 min read
With lightning-fast processing and plenty of use cases, edge functions are changing the way developers deliver online experiences. Because of growing interest, it’s helpful to understand the inner workings of edge functions, potential use cases and the many benefits it offers.
What are edge functions?
Edge functions, often referred to as serverless computing or Functions-as-a-Service (FaaS), are an innovative technology that allows developers to run code directly at the network’s edge. In short, these functions enable the execution of specific tasks closer to the end-users, resulting in faster response times and improved overall performance.
Traditionally, applications rely on centralized servers or data centers for processing requests and delivering content. However, this approach can lead to latency issues and bottlenecks as data travels long distances between users and servers. Edge functions address these challenges by distributing computational workloads across multiple locations on the edge of the network, ensuring that user requests are processed rapidly and efficiently.
The concept of edge computing isn’t new, but recent advancements in cloud infrastructure and networking technologies have made it more accessible than ever before. By leveraging modern tools like content delivery networks (CDNs) and globally distributed data centers, developers can now deploy their code effortlessly across geographical boundaries.
Why use edge functions?
In essence, edge functions provide a flexible and scalable solution for running application logic without worrying about managing underlying infrastructure. This empowers developers to focus on writing code while benefiting from reduced latency, enhanced security, cost optimization and an overall better user experience.
One of the biggest benefits of edge functions is their ability to minimize latency by processing requests closer to end users. This ensures faster response times and improved performance.
The reduced latency also enables real-time data processing and analytics by executing tasks directly at the source of data generation, such as IoT devices or sensors. This allows businesses to gain valuable insights instantly and make informed decisions based on up-to-date information.
Decreased cold start boot times
Edge functions typically follow a pay-as-you-go model, so organizations pay only for the resources consumed during execution. The distributed nature also helps decrease cold start boot times compared to traditional serverless environments. This eliminates the need for pre-allocated infrastructure or idle servers, resulting in substantial cost savings while ensuring optimal resource utilization.
Edge functions simplify development processes by abstracting away infrastructure management concerns, allowing developers to focus on writing code and implementing business logic. Moreover, integration with modern DevOps practices makes deployment quick and efficient across multiple locations.
By leveraging edge functions’ low-latency capabilities, developers can create highly personalized and context-aware experiences for users. This enables tailoring content based on factors like location, device type and user preferences, enhancing overall user experience.
Example use cases of edge functions
With a wide range of applications across various industries, edge functions allow businesses to optimize their processes and deliver exceptional user experiences. Here are some compelling use cases that showcase the versatility and potential of edge functions:
Content personalization and optimization:
They can dynamically adapt content based on user preferences, location and device type, ensuring a tailored experience for each visitor. This includes adjusting image resolutions, serving multilingual content and even customizing product recommendations in e-commerce platforms.
Video streaming and gaming:
Edge functions significantly improve video streaming and gaming experiences by reducing latency and buffering issues. By processing requests closer to users, these services can deliver high-quality content with minimal delays, ensuring smooth playback and immersive experiences.
Security and authentication:
Edge functions strengthen security measures by performing authentication checks and filtering malicious traffic at the network’s edge before it reaches the application’s core infrastructure.
Serverless APIs and microservices:
Developers can build serverless APIs and microservices using edge functions that automatically scale with demand while maintaining low-latency responses. This approach simplifies development processes while ensuring efficient resource utilization.
Edge functions also enable businesses to conduct A/B testing and run experiments on their websites without impacting the overall performance. This means they can quickly gather insights to optimize their online presence by processing user interactions at the edge.
These examples represent just a fraction of the potential use cases for edge functions. As this technology continues to evolve, expect even more innovative applications that harness the power of edge computing to deliver exceptional performance, scalability and user experiences for diverse industries.
Edge vs. serverless functions
While edge functions and serverless functions share some similarities, they are not the same thing. It’s essential to understand their differences to determine which approach best suits the project's needs. Here are the key distinctions between these two functional approaches:
|Edge Functions||Serverless Functions|
|Location||Operates at the network’s edge, closer to end-users. Deployed using CDNs or distributed data centers.||Runs in cloud-based environments managed by third-party providers like AWS Lambda or Google Cloud Functions.|
|Latency||Significantly reduces latency due to proximity to users, ensuring faster response times and improved performance.||Offers auto-scaling and resource management but may not provide the same low-latency benefits as edge functions.|
|Data Processing||Excels at processing data locally without sending it back and forth between centralized servers.||Can handle various workloads but may not be optimized for processing large amounts of data in real-time.|
|Use Cases||Ideal for content personalization, video streaming, gaming, IoT data processing, real-time analytics, security enhancements and other scenarios where low latency is crucial.||Well-suited for building APIs, microservices, event-driven architectures, background tasks processing (e.g., image resizing), and other scenarios where geographical distribution and ultra-low latency are less critical.|
Both options offer unique advantages depending on an application’s requirements. Edge functions are the go-to choice for scenarios where low latency, real-time data processing and geographical distribution are crucial. On the other hand, serverless functions provide a flexible and scalable solution for various workloads that don't necessarily demand edge computing capabilities.
When to use edge vs. serverless functions
Deciding whether to use edge functions or serverless functions depends on the application’s specific requirements and priorities. Here are some guidelines to help determine which approach is the best one for the job:
Use edge functions when:
Low latency is crucial: If an application demands real-time interactions, fast content delivery or immediate data processing, edge functions are the ideal choice due to their proximity to end-users.
Geographical distribution matters: For companies with global user bases that need to ensure consistent performance across various locations, edge functions can provide better results by leveraging CDNs or distributed data centers.
Real-time data processing is required: Applications that involve IoT devices, sensors and real-time analytics can benefit from edge functions’ ability to process large volumes of data locally without sending it back and forth between centralized servers.
Security enhancements are needed: Edge functions can strengthen security measures by performing authentication checks or filtering malicious traffic at the network’s edge before it reaches the core infrastructure.
Use serverless functions when:
Scalability and flexibility are essential: Serverless functions automatically scale with demand, making them suitable for applications with varying workloads that do not necessarily require ultra-low latency or geographical distribution.
Infrastructure management should be minimal: If developers want to focus on writing code without worrying about managing the underlying infrastructure, serverless functions offer a streamlined development process with third-party providers handling resource allocation and maintenance.
Cost optimization is a priority: With a pay-as-you-go model, serverless functions only charge for the resources consumed during execution, eliminating the need for pre-allocated infrastructure or idle servers.
Building APIs and microservices: Serverless functions are well-suited for creating APIs, microservices, event-driven architectures and background tasks processing (e.g., image resizing) where geographical distribution and ultra-low latency are less critical.
In considering these factors, developers can make informed decisions about the best option for their projects. Remember that each approach offers unique advantages and the best choice ultimately depends on the project’s specific requirements.
How to get started with edge functions in the serverless cloud
Embracing edge functions in the serverless cloud can significantly enhance an application’s performance and user experience. Below are some essential tips, platforms to use and best practices for implementing edge functions.
Tips for getting started with edge computing
First of all, determine if the application truly needs low-latency processing, real-time data analysis or geographical distribution. This will help determine whether edge functions are the right solution for the project.
Meanwhile, it’s important for developers to familiarize themselves with the concepts of edge computing and how it differs from traditional server-based architectures or serverless functions.
Choosing an edge platform
Selecting the right platform is crucial for successfully implementing edge functions. Consider factors such as ease of use, language support, pricing model, integration with existing infrastructure or services and community support.
Here are some popular options:
AWS Lambda@Edge: A service by Amazon Web Services (AWS) for running Lambda functions at AWS Edge locations using the Amazon CloudFront CDN.
Best practices for edge functions
Finally, when implementing edge functions, be sure to follow development best practices. This includes ensuring code is efficient and lightweight since it’ll run across multiple locations at the network’s edge. Avoiding unnecessary dependencies and minimizing resource consumption can help in this regard.
Other best practices include:
Cache strategically: Leverage caching mechanisms provided by the edge platform to reduce latency further and minimize the number of requests to origin servers.
Monitor and log: Implement monitoring and logging solutions to track the performance of edge functions, identify potential issues and optimize resource usage.
Secure functions: Follow security best practices, such as validating input data, handling errors gracefully and protecting sensitive information from unauthorized access.
Test thoroughly: Test edge functions across various scenarios, including different locations, devices, network conditions and user behaviors to ensure consistent performance.
Embracing the future of serverless and edge computing
A growing number of companies are adopting a serverless-first strategy, recognizing the numerous advantages offered by serverless architectures. These benefits include cost savings, scalability and increased productivity — all of which are fully embraced by industry leaders.
To stay ahead in this rapidly evolving landscape, consider exploring additional resources such as AWS Training and Certification, Google Cloud Training and other platforms that focus on serverless and edge computing. By investing in knowledge and skills, developers can harness the full potential of these cutting-edge technologies to drive innovation and success in their projects.
If you’re interested in leveraging edge computing to shape the future of technology, browse Capital One’s open tech positions.