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escharian_stairs_fbtl;dr: Colleagues at Berkeley and I have a new paper on the state of serverless computing that will appear at CIDR ’19. It celebrates the arrival of public-facing autoscaling cloud programming, but critiques the current serverless offerings for thwarting the hallmarks of what makes the cloud exciting: data-centric and distributed computing. We hope the paper will start a constructive discussion on how to expose the right programming APIs and runtimes for the cloud.

I’ve been fascinated by the potential of cloud computing for a decade now, prior to starting the Berkeley Orders Of Magnitude (BOOM) project. The cloud is the machine of a dream: more data and computing power than anyone could ever need, available to everyone.

Since the beginning, I’ve felt that a new platform like the cloud needs new programming languages that suit its “physics”. Once that is achieved, unexpected innovation will follow from the creativity of a world of developers. In the case of the cloud, the physical reality is a deeply data-rich, massively distributed, heterogeneous computing environment with the ability to grow and shrink consumption on demand. We have never had a computer with this power or this programming complexity.

After 10 years of people writing cloud programs in legacy sequential languages like Java, the public cloud providers are finally proposing a  programming model for the cloud. They are calling it Serverless Computing, or more descriptively “Functions as a Service” (FaaS). As an interface to the unprecedented potential of the cloud, FaaS today is a disappointment. Current FaaS offerings do provide a taste of the power of autoscaling, but they have fatal flaws when it comes to the basic physics of the cloud: they make it impossible to do serious distributed computing, and crazy expensive/slow to work with data at scale. This is not a roadmap for harnessing the creativity of the developer community.

I sat down with colleagues at Berkeley to write what we think is a tough but fair assessment of where Serverless Computing is today, and describe the changes we think are needed to provide a programming model that matches the cloud’s physics and unlocks its potential. The paper will appear at CIDR 2019 in January, but a preprint is available on arXiv. We’re looking forward to the conversation that ensues.

We also have constructive research ongoing in this domain … watch this space for more!