Serverless vs Codeless in the Microsoft Integration Platform

While chatting to Jeff Holland on integration Monday this evening I mentioned some thinking I had been doing around how to articulate the various products within the Microsoft Integration Platform in terms of their codeless vs Serverless nature.

Below is a rough diagram with me brain dumping a rough idea where each product would be in terms of these two axis.

(Note: This is just my rough approximation of where things could be positioned)

If you look at the definition of Serverless then there are some obvious things like functions which are very Serverless, but the characteristics of what makes something Serverless or not is a little grey in some areas so I would argue that its possible for one service to be more Serverless than another. Lets take Azure App Service Web Jobs and Azure Functions. These two services are very similar, they can both be event driven, neither has an actual physical server that you touch but they have some differences. The Web Job is paid for in increments based on the hosting plan size and number instances where as the function is per execution. Based on this I think its fair to say that a lot of the PaaS services on Azure could fall into a catchment that they have characteristics of Serverless.

When you consider the codeless elements of the services I have tried to consider both code and configuration elements. It is really a case of how much code do I need to write and how complex is it that differentiates one service from another. If we take web apps either on Azure App Service or IIS you get a codebase and a lot of code to write to create your app. Compare this with functions where you tend to be writing a specific piece of code for a specific job and there is unlikely to be loads of nuget packages and code not aimed at the functions specific purpose.

Interesting Comparisons

If you look at the positioning of some things there are some interesting comparisons. Lets take BizTalk and Logic Apps. I would argue that a typical BizTalk App would take a lot more developer code to create than it would to do a Logic App. I don’t think you could really disagree with that. BizTalk Server is also clearly has one of the more complex server dependencies where as Logic Apps is very Serverless.

If you compare Flow against Logic Apps you can see they are similar in terms of Serverless(ness). I would argue that for Logic Apps the code and configuration knowledge required is higher and this is reinforced by the target user for each product.

What does this mean?

In reality the position of a product in terms of Serverless or codeless doesn’t really mean that much. It doesn’t necessarily mean one is better than the other but it can mean that in certain conditions a product with certain characteristics will have benefits. For example if you are working with a customer who wants to very specifically lock down their SFTP site to 1 or 2 ip addresses accessing it then you might find a server base approach such as BizTalk will find this quite easy where as Logic Apps might not support that requirement.

The spectrum also doesn’t consider other factors such as complexity, cost, time to value, scale, etc. When making decisions on product selection don’t forget to include these things too.

How can I use this information?

Ok with the above said this doesn’t mean that you cant draw some useful things from considering the Microsoft Integration Stack in terms of Codeless vs Serverless. The main one I would look at is thinking about the people in my organisation and the aims of my organisation and how to make technology choices which are aligned to that. As ever good architecture decision making is a key factor in the successful integration platform.

Here are some examples:

  • If I am working with a company who wants to remove their on premise data centre foot print then I can still use server technologies in IaaS but that company will potentially be more in favour of Serverless and PaaS type solutions as it allows them to reduce the operational overhead of their solutions.
  • If I am working with a company who has a lot of developers and wants to share the workload among a wider team and minimize niche skill sets then I would tend to look to solutions such as Functions, Web Jobs, Web Apps, Service Bus. The democratization of integration approach lets your wider team be involved in large portions of your integration developments
  • If my customer wants to that that further and empower the Citizen Integrator then Flow and Power Apps are good choices. There is no Server-full equivalent to these in the Microsoft stack

The few things you can certainly draw from the Microsoft stack are:

  1. There are lots of choices which should suit organisations regardless of their attitude/preferences and reinforces the strength and breadth of the Microsoft Integration Platform through its core services and relationships to other Azure Services.
  2. Azure has a very strong PaaS platform covering codeless and coding solutions and this means there are lots of choices with Serverless characteristics which will reduce your operational overheads

Would be interesting to hear what others think.