Tag Archives: lambda

Top Amazon Lambda questions for hiring a serverless expert


If you’re looking to fill a job roll that says microservices or find an expert that knows all about serverless computing, you’ll want to have a battery of questions to ask them.

Join 33,000 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.

For technical interviews, I like to focus on concepts & the big picture. Which rules out coding exercises or other puzzles which I think are distracting from the process. I really like what what the guys at 37 Signals say

“Hire for attitude. Train for skill.”

So let’s get started.

1. How do you automate deployment?

Programming lambda functions is much like programming in other areas, with some particular challenges. When you first dive in, you’ll use the Amazon dashboard to upload a zipfile with your code. But as you become more proficient, you’ll want to create a deployment pipeline.

o What features in Amazon facilitate automatic deployments?

AWS Lambda supports environment variables. Use these for credentials & other data you don’t want in your deployment package.

Amazon’s serverless offering, also supports aliases. You can have a dev, stage & production alias. That way you can deploy functions for testing, without interrupting production code. What’s more when you are ready to push to production, the endpoint doesn’t change.

o What frameworks are available for serverless?

Serverless Framework is the most full featured option. It fully supports Amazon Lambda & as of 1.0 provides support for other platforms such as IBM Openwhisk, Google Cloud Functions & Azure functions. There is also something called SAM or Serverless Application Model which extends CloudFormation. With this, you can script changes to API Gateway, Dynamo DB & Cognos authentication stuff.

If you’re using Auth0 instead of Cognito or Firebase instead of Dynamodb, you’ll have to come up with your own way to automate changes there.

Also: Is the difference between dev & ops a four-letter word?

2. What are the pros of serverless?

Why are we moving to a serverless computing model? What are the advantages & benefits of it?

o easier operations means faster time to market
o large application components become managed
o reduced costs, only pay while code is running
o faster deploy means more experimentation, more agile
o no more worry about which servers will this code run on?
o reduced people costs & less infrastructure
o no chef playbooks to manage, no deploy keys or IAM roles

Related: Is automation killing old-school operations?

3. What are the cons of serverless?

There are a lot of fanboys of serverless, because of the promise & hope of this new paradigm. But what about healthy criticism? A little dose of reality can identify a critical & active mind.

o With Lambda you have less vendor control which could mean… more downtime, system limits, sudden cost changes, loss of functionality or features and possible forced API upgrades. Remember that Amazon will choose the needs of the many over your specific application idiosyncracies.

o There’s no dedicated hardware option with serverless. So you have the multi-tenant challenges of security & performance problems of other customers code. You may even bump into problems because of other customers errors!

o Vendor lock-in is a real obvious issue. Changing to Google Cloud Functions or Azure Functions would mean new deployment & monitoring tools, a code rewrite & rearchitect, and new infrastructure too. You would also have to export & import your data. How easy does Amazon make this process?

o You can no longer store application & state data in local server memory. Because each instantiation of a function will effectively be a new “server”. So everything must be stored in the database. This may affect performance.

o Testing is more complicated. With multiple vendors, integration testing becomes more crucial. Also how do you create dev db instance? How do you fully test offline on a laptop?

o You could hit system wide limits. For example a big dev deploy could take out production functions by hitting an AWS account limit. You would thus have DDoS yourself! You can also hit the 5 minute execution time limit. And code will get aborted!

o How do you do zero downtime deployments? Since Amazon currently deploys function-by-function, if you have a group of 10 or 20 that act as a unit, they will get deployed in pieces. So your app would need to be taken offline during that period or it would be executing some from old version & some from new version together. With unpredictable results.

Read: Do managers underestimate operational cost?

4. How does security change?

o In serverless you may use multiple vendors, such as Auth0 for authentication, and perhaps Firebase for your data. With Lambda as your serverless platform you now have three vendors to work with. More vendors means a larger area across which hackers may attack your application.

o With the function as a service application model, you lose the protective wall around your database. It is no longer safely deployed & hidden behind a private subnet. Is this sufficient protection of your key data assets?

Also: Is the difference between dev & ops a four-letter word?

5. How do you troubleshoot & debug microservices?

o Monitoring & debugging is still very limited. This becomes a more complex process in the serverless world. You can log error & warning messages to CloudWatch.

o Currently Lambda doesn’t have any open API for third party tooling. This will probably come with time, but again it’s hard to see & examine a serverless function “server” while it is running.

o For example there is no New Relic for serverless.

o Performance tuning may be a bit of a guessing game in the serverless space right now. Amazon will surely be expanding it’s offering, and this is one area that will need attention.

Also: Is the difference between dev & ops a four-letter word?

Get more. Grab our exclusive monthly Scalable Startups. We share tips and special content. Our latest Why I don’t work with recruiters

30 questions to ask a serverless fanboy

Everyone is hot under the collar again. So-called serverless or no-ops services are popping up everywhere allowing you to deploy “just code” into the cloud. Not only won’t you have to login to a server, you won’t even have to know they’re there.

As your code is called, but cloud events such a file upload, or hitting an http endpoint, your code runs. Behind the scene through the magic of containers & autoscaling, Amazon & others are able to provision in milliseconds.

Join 32,000 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.

Pretty cool. Yes even as it outsources the operations role to invisible teams behind Amazon Lambda, Google Cloud Functions or Webtask it’s also making companies more agile, and allowing startup innovation to happen even faster.

Believe it or not I’m a fan too.

That said I thought it would be fun to poke a hole in the bubble, and throw some criticisms at the technology. I mean going serverless today is still bleeding edge, and everyone isn’t cut out to be a pioneer!

With that, here’s 30 questions to throw on the serverless fanboys (and ladies!)…

1. Security

o Are you comfortable removing the barrier around your database?
o With more services, there is more surface area. How do you prevent malicious code?
o How do you know your vendor is doing security right?
o How transparent is your vendor about vulnerabilities?

Also: Myth of five nines – Why high availability is overrated

2. Testing

o How do you do integration testing with multiple vendor service components?
o How do you test your API Gateway configurations?
o Is there a way to version control changes to API Gateway configs?
o Can Terraform or CloudFormation help with this?
o How do you do load testing with a third party db backend?
o Are your QA tests hitting the prod backend db?
o Can you easily create & destroy test dbs?

Related: 5 ways to move data to amazon redshift

3. Management

o How do you do zero downtime deployments with Lambda?
o Is there a way to deploy functions in groups, all at once?
o How do you manage vendor lock-in at the monitoring & tools level but also code & services?
o How do you mitigate your vendors maintenance? Downtime? Upgrades?
o How do you plan for move to alternate vendor? Database import & export may not be ideal, plus code & infrastructure would need to be duplicated.
o How do you manage a third party service for authentication? What are the pros & cons there?
o What are the pros & cons of using a service-based backend database?
o How do you manage redundancy of code when every client needs to talk to backend db?

Read: Why were dev & ops siloed job roles?

4. Monitoring & debugging

o How do you build a third-party monitoring tool? Where are the APIs?
o When you’re down, is it your app or a system-wide problem?
o Where is the New Relic for Lambda?
o How do you degrade gracefully when using multiple vendors?
o How do you monitor execution duration so your function doesn’t fail unexpectedly?
o How do you monitor your account wide limits so dev deploy doesn’t take down production?

Also: Are SQL databases dead?

5. Performance

o How do you handle startup latency?
o How do you optimize code for mobile?
o Does battery life preclude a large codebase on client?
o How do you do caching on server when each invocation resets everything?
o How do you do database connection pooling?

Also: Is Amazon too big to fail?

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5 surprising features in Amazon’s Lambda serverless offering

Amazon is building out it’s serverless offering at a rapid clip. Lambda makes a great solution for a lot of different use cases including:

o a hybrid approach, building lambda functions for small pieces of your application, sitting along side your full application, working in concert with it

o working with Kinesis firehose to add ETL functionality into your pipeline. Extract Transform & Load is a method of transforming data from a relational or backend transactional databases, into one better fit for reporting & analytics.

o retrofitting your API? Layer Lambda functions in front, to allow you to rebuild in a managed way.

o a natural way to build microservices, with each function as it’s own little universe

Join 32,000 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.

Great, tons of ways to put serverless to use. What’s Amazon doing to make it even better? Here are some of the features you’ll find indispensible in building with Lambda.

1. Versioned functions

As your serverless functions get more sophisticated, you’ll want to control & deploy different versions. Lambda supports this, allowing you to upload multiple copies of the same function. Coupled with Aliases below, this becomes a very powerful feature.

Also: When hosting data on Amazon turns bloodsport

2. Aliases

As you deploy multiple versions of your functions in AWS, you don’t want to recreate the API endpoints each time. That’s where aliases come in. Create one alias for dev, another for test, and a third for production. That way when new versions of those are deployed, all you have to do is change the alias & QA or customers will be hitting the new code. Cool!

Related: Are you getting errors building lambda functions?

3. Caching & throttling

Using the API gateway, we can do some fancy footwork with Lambda. First we can enabling caching to speedup access to our endpoint. Control the time-to-live, capacity of the cache easily. We’ll also need to invalidate the cache when we make changes & redeploy our functions.

Throttling is another useful feature, allowing you to control the maximum number of times your function can be called per second on average (the rate) and maximum number of times (burst limit). These can be set at both the stage & method levels.

Read: Is Amazon too big to fail?

4. Stage variables

Creating multiple stages, for dev, test & production means you can separate out and control environment variables with more granular control. For example suppose you have access & secret keys to reach S3. You can set environment variables for these to avoid committing any credentials or secrets in your code. Definitely don’t do that!

Allowing multiple copies of stage variables, means you can set them separately for dev, test & production.

Also: How to deploy on Amazon EC2 with Vagrant?

5. Logging

You can enable logging in your Lambda function configuration. This will send error and/or info warning messages out to CloudWatch.

You may also choose the log all of the request & response data. This is controlled in the API Gateway settings for individual stages.

Also: Is Amazon RDS hard to manage?

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Are you getting errors building Amazon lambda functions? Don’t fret I got you!

aws lambda python

Why does Amazon make lambda functions so hard to create? Well my guess is that when you live at the bleeding edge you should expect to get scrapes!!

Everybody is trying to build lambda functions these days. And it’s no wonder. Once you get them running, Amazon takes care of all the infrastructure drudge work! So cool.

Join 32,000 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.

I’ve been spending some time trying to get answers out of AWS support, and let me tell you it’s no fun. Yes all this stuff is new technology, and nobody has expertise in it in the way say you might in Linux or Oracle or another technology that’s been around for a decade.

Still you’d hope the techs would have some clue. In the end it was a slog dealing with support, and I think I was the one teaching them!

I did find Matt Perry’s howto which is pretty good.

Hopefully my own notes can help someone, so read on!

1. No lambda_function?

The very first issue you’re gonna run into is if you name the file incorrectly, you get this error:

Unable to import module 'lambda_function': No module named lambda_function

If you name the function incorrectly you get this error:

Handler 'handler' missing on module 'lambda_function_file': 'module' object has no attribute 'handler'

On the dashboard, make sure the handler field is entered as function_filename.actual_function_name and make sure they match up in your deployment package.

If only the messages were a bit more instructive that would have been a simpler step, but oh well!

Also: Is Amazon too big to fail?

2. No module named MySQLdb

This is a very tricky one. I mean after all you just spent all this time building your deployment package specifically for lambda, so what gives??

"Unable to import module 'lambda_function': No module named MySQLdb"

Turns out when you use a virtualenv, files will be installed into proj/lib/python2.7/site-packages/ or lib64. However Lambda wants them in the root proj/ directory! So move them there. I know I know. Weird, but that’s what they want.

Related: When hosting on Amazon turns bloodsport

3. Can’t find libmysqlclient

If you’re using the MySQLdb library like I was, you’ll eventually bump into this error:

Unable to import module 'lambda_function': libmysqlclient.so.18: cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory

Turns out that /usr/lib/libmysqlclient.so.18 needs to be COPIED from /usr/lib. Don’t do “mv” or your system won’t have the mysql lib anymore!

Related: Are SQL databases dead?

4. Use the Amazon Lambda environment

One thing the support pointed out is that AWS as *supported images* for lambda development.

After all the errors above were resolved, it’s not clear to me that the supported AMI’s are truly required. However if you’re hitting intractable problems building a properly lambda deploy, you might wanna look at building one of these boxes.

Read: Why dropbox didn’t have to fail

5. Build your lambda deploy package

Now let’s roll it all together. Here’s are all the steps to build your deploy package.

- SSH to the instance
- mkdir test
- virtualenv test
- source proj/bin/activate
- sudo yum groupinstall 'Development Tools'
- sudo yum install mysql
- sudo yum install mysql-devel
- pip install MySQL-python
- cd test
- emacs -nw lamdba_function.py
- add your code to that file
- save the lambda_function.py
- mv proj/lib/python2.7/site-packages/* proj/
- mv proj/lib64/python2.7/site-packages/* proj/
- rm -rf proj/lib (don't need dist-packages in the deploy pkg)
- rm -rf proj/lib64 (don't need dist-packages
- zip -r proj.zip *

Also: How to hire a developer that doesn’t suck?

6. Upload your code

Uploading your code via the AWS dashboard is fine when you’re first testing things. But after a while it’ll get tiring going in the front door.

Create a new lambda function by specifying the basics as follows:

aws lambda create-function \
--function-name testfunc1 \
--runtime python2.7 \
--role arn:aws:iam::996225510001:role/lambda_basic_execution \
--handler lambda_function_file.handler_name \
--zip-file file://proj.zip

And when you want to update your function, do the following:

aws lambda update-function-code \
--function-name testfunc1 \
--zip-file file://proj.zip

Also: How to deploy on EC2 with Vagrant

Good luck with lambda. Once you get past Amazon’s weak documentation it’s pretty cool to be in a serverless computing environment. Happy deploying!

Get more. Grab our exclusive monthly Scalable Startups. We share tips and special content. Our latest Why I don’t work with recruiters