Many organizations that use Amazon Web Services (AWS) initially used AWS Lambda, Amazon’s Function-as-a-Service product, to automate workflows around running and scaling code. While this service does save time for developers, many companies have found challenges using AWS Lambda with more complex applications.
To address these issues, Amazon launched AWS Step Functions, a serverless function orchestrator that simplifies the process of managing and sequencing Lambda functions. With AWS Step Functions, businesses can improve application resiliency, leverage other powerful AWS services, write efficient code, and much more.
In this post, we take a look at those AWS Lambda challenges and then explain how AWS Step Functions plugs those gaps. Our aim is to give you a stronger appreciation for AWS’s new serverless function orchestrator and highlight how the service can benefit your cloud operations.
Challenges Using AWS Lambda
Despite everything it does well, many users have challenges with AWS Lambda in two primary areas: executing longer jobs and managing state.
On the execution front, AWS Lambda can only run functions for up to 15 minutes. After that, the service times out, leaving any unfinished tasks...unfinished. Obviously, this doesn’t work for organizations with complex applications that rely on long-running jobs (e.g., processing large video files). On top of that, users can’t go back and rerun code that fails.
It is feasible to add containers through a tool like Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS) to execute these longer jobs, but what happens when containers are busy with other tasks? You have to add state.
The problem is that AWS Lambda isn’t built to manage state efficiently. Developers have to write code into their applications for state, which makes everything harder to manage and increases processing times. Consequently, users are forced to choose between running demanding applications and ensuring enough state exists for peak usage.
Fortunately, AWS Step Functions makes it easy to get around these roadblocks.
The Advantages of AWS Step Functions
AWS Step Functions helps organizations improve application resiliency, leverage other AWS services, and maintain complex applications with less code. All three of these benefits are critical in today’s fast-paced, cloud-driven world.
The service improves application resiliency in a multitude of ways. For example, developers can implement checkpoints and restarts to ensure application tasks execute in order and as expected. They can use built-in try/catch capabilities to deal with errors and exceptions automatically, and even set their own retry handling parameters around backoff rates, max attempts, and error equals.
Furthermore, AWS Step Functions integrates seamlessly with other AWS services. Developers can set AWS Step Functions to run in parallel with other tasks, hold for external workflows, or wait for other internal jobs to finish. Users can incorporate machine learning programs into their applications with AWS SageMaker, batch computing capabilities with AWS Batch, serverless ETL through AWS Glue, and much more.
What makes AWS Step Functions truly special is that it requires less code to accomplish everything above. Engineers can create standardized processes around handling failures, retries, and parallelization that free developer resources for other higher-value activities. They can remove complex state handling using multi-service management and improve cumbersome application development processes.
With AWS Step Functions’ visual workflow interface, developers can easily add, move, swap, and reorder Lambda functions without having to make changes to existing business logic. This abstraction makes it incredibly easy to improve application performance without adding new code.
Together, these advantages make AWS Step Functions a compelling tool for any organization on the AWS cloud platform to consider.
Learn More From Our AWS Step Functions Webinar
At a high level, AWS Step Functions enables you to focus on your business logic rather than on the “plumbing” of your applications. You can zoom out and orchestrate automated workflows around your company’s cloud computing needs without adding complexity to your IT infrastructure.
Recently, one of our solutions architects led a 15-minute webinar in which he goes into more detail on the value of AWS Step Functions. Watch the full webinar here to learn more about the service from one of our most experienced cloud experts.
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