A future without servers?

Whilst the world is still coming to terms with all the immediate benefits of Cloud computing, technology is already moving on to the next best thing. The pace of change is not just relentless but seems to be accelerating; no pausing for breath whilst those at the back catch up.

The next big step for our futures, appears to involve fewer servers, as businesses look to build and run applications or services without them.

This ‘Serverless Architecture’ or ‘Serverless Computing’ as it is also known, allows organisations to undertake their operations with high availability applications without a thought for server provision; all that is left to the cloud service provider.

A technical definition

Microsoft describes ‘serverless computing’ as the abstraction of servers, infrastructure and operating systems. In other words, making it all simpler and leaving businesses to concentrate on innovation and developing and developing apps faster.

Serverless computing is defined by reactions to events and triggers that happen in almost real time in the cloud. Developers are charged according to the resources they consume, or the time taken to run their code – no server management or capacity planning.

In fact, as the functions only occur when requested in serverless computing, many describe the new approach as Functions as a Service (FaaS) and the next logical step from Platform as a Service (PaaS).

You will not even be paying for space on a server, but just the small amount of space or time allocated to the function you choose to run – then it’s removed, permanently.

Critically, serverless computing scales flexibly and quickly. From nothing, it allows tens of thousands of functions to be handled within seconds, all running at once, without a thought given to a server configuration.

Think apps not infrastructure

Initially, the concept of serverless computing has been welcomed by developers and the possibilities it offers them. Previously, cloud developers had to use machines, which were labour intensive and time consuming. Serverless allows developers to run tests and productions within minutes.

Now you can focus on building great apps to analyse data, Azure Functions provides a fully managed computer platform with high reliability and security. With scale on demand, you get the resources you need, when you need them.

The really interesting aspect to this new direction is that while developers can build great apps, there is already a great range of functions available that you can tailor to your needs simply and easily.

Respond to comments

For example, you can create a functional application that monitors the Twittersphere for specific words or combinations of words, like your company name, or a product or service you supply.

Now as we all know, the various Social Media channels are the chosen route for many consumers to comment on your business, products and services – some good, some not so good. In the past, your customer service line may have received a complaint call, but you controlled the relationship.

Things have changed and now consumers know they have the power. It is crucial you are aware of all comments related to your business, so you can react appropriately, or at the very least be seen to be reacting to adverse comments or genuine complaints.

Using Azure Logic Apps, you use a workflow to select the function you want, like monitoring Twitter (almost all the other popular social media channels are also available) and using drop down menus, set the trigger event.

Set Azure to scour the Twittersphere for tweets containing your business name or brand, e.g., ABC Insurance, with the words customer and service.

You can set this as a one-time search, perhaps following some good or bad publicity or a continuous search, if you really want to learn what consumers think of you and your products or services.

The search will be completed in near real-time and you can have variousĀ things happen once messages are found with the appropriate text you were looking for. You might want a notification by email, so you can respond personally to anything bad or just to keep an eye on the number of messages.

Respond automatically to up your game

The really clever bit is that you can set any number of responses to be triggered automatically, without you having to get involved at all; well on the way to real artificial intelligence.

The messages found containing the terms you were looking for can be graded according to the nature and tone of the message, on a scale from 0.0 to 1.0. In simple terms, 0.0 to 0.4 are degrees of negativity, 0.5 is neutral and 0.6 to 1.0 is degrees of positivity.

If the tweet for example said; “never using ABC Insurance again, cover terrible, customer service worse…” then it would be in the 0.0 to 0.4 range, probably down around 0.1.

But if it said; “good job ABC Insurance, cover within 30 minutes when desperately needed…” it would be graded in the positive range.

Perhaps in response to a British outlook on life, Azure is using machine learning to better understand sarcasm, so a tweet saying; “well done ABC Insurance, good job, who needs cover straight away anyway…” would be graded as a negative comment, despite the outward signs of positivity.

Whilst all this is clever, the real benefits only become apparent, when these events trigger automatic responses that intervene in bad situations or accept the praise when offered.

When negative tweets are identified, you or a customer service representative can be notified by email, but a tweet can be sent direct to the original tweeter in response to their message – you can have a different response for every grade from 0.0 to 1.0 if that works best for you and your business.

If the app finds a really negative tweet, you can respond in kind saying how shocked you are that the individual is upset with the service they received and that you will look into it personally, whilst reassuring them of the solid service 99% of consumers receive.

This swift response, gives you the opportunity to take the conversation offline and mitigate any further brand damage. Remember the old adage, every complaint is a second chance to impress.

Likewise, if you receive numerous positive tweets, you canĀ react automatically, thanking those concerned for their kind words and possibly offering a gift to help build brand awareness and positivity. These captured tweets can also be shared around your business to boost morale.

Do it yourself

That example is one small snapshot of what is possible. Whilst developers will make the most of this new consumption-based approach, where only the function is paid for, with no need to be concerned with server provision, you too can benefit.

There are a host of functions that can be tailored to your business and not just in the social media space. All designed to help you be more productive and use data more effectively to help you make better informed decisions.

This is not the future. It is the here and now and with a little help you could unlock an exciting world of apps, functions and triggers. If you want to know more, please get in touch and we’ll talk you through the world of Logic Apps, large and small and howĀ they can benefit your business.

Paul Tozer, Head of Cloud Services, Quiss Technology plc

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