Kubernetes vs. Serverless: Choosing the Right Approach For the Holiday eCommerce Rush

As the holidays approach, so does the highest-selling period of the year for ecommerce businesses. While this is a welcome surge in sales for online retailers, success is dependent on having a robust technology architecture that can support these peaks in traffic.

Many ecommerce players are faced with the decision between Kubernetes and a Serverless approach to support their systems. This crucial choice must consider the anticipation of high-demand periods, such as the holidays, ensuring robust performance during these pivotal times. Each approach has its strengths and limitations depending on the nature of the retailer’s infrastructure and business model, so businesses must carefully evaluate this choice to make the best decision for them. What is the difference between Serverless and Kubernetes?

The Holiday Season Brings Challenges for Ecommerce

During the 2022 holiday season, ecommerce spending reached $211.7 billion in the US, up 3.5% from the year prior.

In times of such high traffic, ecommerce players need a robust infrastructure. In a typical scenario, they may face a load 10 times higher than regular traffic in a given period.

However, the customer still expects a smooth and reliable user experience, just like any other day of the year. Online retailers must therefore manage critical elements such as stock availability and payment authorization without large hiccups that could sacrifice sales. Smooth transaction experiences are key to maintaining customer trust, and losing this is a surefire way to send customers heading for their competitors.

At the same time, it’s crucial to prevent system errors or downtime which could interrupt the user’s shopping process. Ecommerce businesses must also efficiently manage the delivery of goods and interactions with third-party systems, such as last-mile delivery services, to ensure they can handle the increased demand.

Building the Right Architecture to Handle the Holiday Surge

In an ideal scenario, an ecommerce company’s underlying infrastructure would be completely elastic. The system would scale seamlessly to meet demand and provide a smooth shopping experience similar to a regular shopping day. A mature sales model would help the business in predicting demand and preparing the infrastructure accordingly.

So, for an ecommerce company looking to thrive – and not merely survive – during a peak sales event, which is better – a Kubernetes- or Serverless-based architecture? Let’s break it down.

Kubernetes: Advantages, Disadvantages and When to Use

Kubernetes is a powerful open-source system often used by online platforms to allow them to automate the deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications.

Benefits of Kubernetes

For ecommerce businesses, Kubernetes enables more accurate budget forecasting, as the number of nodes required and the cost per node are clear. This allows them to allocate financial resources accordingly.

Online retailers also benefit as Kubernetes monitors performance, automatically redistributing workloads if a part of the system fails. What’s more, Kubernetes provides high availability and reliability, ensuring that the application is always running and performs optimally.

Disadvantages of Kubernetes

Kubernetes has a fixed number of nodes, so the workload capacity is limited to what the predetermined servers can handle. That means it cannot scale infinitely. Businesses have to predict and decide how many nodes they will need to have up and running. This also means that when the workloads are low, the business still has to pay for the active nodes.

Because Kubernetes requires a certain amount of manual adjustment to the underlying infrastructure, businesses require a DevOps team to handle times of peak traffic and ensure they have the necessary nodes available.

When is Kubernetes a good idea?

Any business that is migrating from an on-premise system to the cloud would benefit from Kubernetes, as it helps them achieve compatibility with the past. If a business is not based on an event-driven architecture, i.e., if it works on batch processing, it must go with Kubernetes.

With Kubernetes, businesses are more easily able to avoid vendor lock-in (where a company cannot easily switch to another provider) than with Serverless. It’s also easier for them to run part of their systems on-premise.

It's worth noting that choosing Kubernetes requires a strong DevOps team to ensure effective implementation and operation, a necessity not demanded when using Serverless solutions. However, if a business needs certainty around cost expenditure and can predict how much traffic it will receive, Kubernetes is a good option.

Serverless: Advantages, Disadvantages and When to Use 

With Serverless architectures, the cloud provider dynamically manages the allocation and provisioning of servers. Developers can write and deploy code without worrying about the underlying infrastructure.

Benefits of a Serverless approach for ecommerce

Serverless allows for infinite scaling, and businesses only use and pay for the resources they need at a given time. With AWS (the recommended cloud provider for Serverless) handling the servers and backend infrastructure, businesses don’t need to worry about manually increasing resources to account for higher traffic.

With Serverless, it’s easy to add a new functionality, update existing ones, or change part of the system. And because there’s no need to manage the underlying infrastructure, businesses don’t need to invest in a specialized DevOps team.

Disadvantages of Serverless

But there are limitations. Serverless makes it more difficult to predict costs, as the system will automatically scale to accommodate however much traffic a platform receives.

Serverless demands more effort if a business is migrating existing on-premise systems to the cloud, and the degree of vendor lock-in is greater than with Kubernetes. Some businesses, especially those handling sensitive information, may be concerned about security and data privacy when relying wholly on a cloud provider. If a business does not run on an event-driven architecture, Serverless is not an option.

If a business doesn’t know how much traffic it will receive, Serverless is the better option, due to its infinite scaling capabilities. And if the team wants to avoid having to manage the underlying infrastructure and doesn’t have strong DevOps training, then a Serverless approach would be more suitable.

What’s more, if a business would prefer a pay-as-you-go model where it pays only for what it uses, then Serverless is the way to go. In general, it is a good option for companies seeking extremely high availability and a fast time-to-market, thanks to the level of automation and management provided by the cloud company.

Kubernetes vs. Serverless: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Choosing between Kubernetes and Serverless is a nuanced decision that should be made on a case-by-case basis, depending on the business model, developer expertise, and technological setup of the company.

One approach’s strength is often the other’s limitation. In this way, Kubernetes and Serverless complement each other, and each serves a different kind of business. Legacy companies who are migrating from on-prem and have a good idea of how many sales to expect may do better with Kubernetes. Meanwhile, a recently launched startup that’s already cloud-native and cannot predict its traffic might fare better with Serverless. Be sure to learn more about how cloud-native architectures are driving business transformation.

However, neither Kubernetes nor Serverless is a silver bullet, and any business will have to recognize and address the limitations of that approach as they relate to its needs.

Interested in how intive can help you set up an architecture that supports your ecommerce business’ growth? Get in touch today.

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