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Lightbend Launches 'Stateful' Serverless Akka Platform

Lightbend, the company behind the Scala JVM language and developer of the Reactive Platform, today unveiled "a unique, first-of-its-kind Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offering" for cloud native application development.

I put quotation marks around that marketing phrase (it's a reflex), but the newly available Akka Serverless does look to be a unique offering.

Akka Serverless is based on a new architecture that removes limitations that have, historically, prevented the development of general-purpose applications using the serverless model. With those limitations removed, the new PaaS enables the creation of cloud native apps using any programming language and eliminates the need for databases in deploying business-critical applications.

Brad Murdoch, Lightbend's EVP of Strategy, talked with me about the concept of a "stateful serverless" developer platform.

"The challenge with stateless, of course, is that, to build certain classes of applications, you need state," Murdoch said. "And you need state management at scale, and you need state to be a first class citizen, and you need your data available in real time, and all of those great things that are basically not possible to do in a stateless serverless model today.

"We're changing that, but we're not just sort of adding state to serverless. We've built a declarative API-first programming model where the developer basically defines the API contract and the data they want their function to be able to operate on at runtime. Then Akka, under the covers, delivers that data to the function at runtime automatically."

What this does, effectively, is to remove whole swathes of middleware and database concerns from the developer, Murdoch said. And with Akka "under the covers," this model scales, so the developer doesn't need to worry about that, either.

"The big change here is that we're kind of reversing the paradigm, so that instead of the developer needing to understand the complexities of distributed computing in order to take advantage of it for scale and performance, now we've got a service on the cloud that can do all that for you," Murdoch added.

Akka Serverless also delivers on a goal of the company that dates back to its origins as Typesafe: it is a fully polyglot platform that can support any programming language that can talk to the API.

The other big change with this announcement is that Jonas Bonér, Lightbend’s CTO and founder, inventor of the Akka Project, and co-author of the “Reactive Manifesto,” has also taken the helm of Lightbend as CEO.

“Until now, the challenges of dealing with state at scale have meant that a serverless approach has not been able to address many more complex applications, such as IoT platforms, real-time financial services, modern eCommerce systems, streaming media, internet-based gaming, factory automation, telemedicine, and more,” Bonér said in a statement. “What is needed is a data-centric backend application architecture that can handle the volume of data required for today’s applications at extremely high performance. Akka Serverless is the first to achieve these capabilities and I’m excited to continue Lightbend's growth leveraging this superior model for cloud native development.”

Bonér, a Swedish programmer who had built compilers, runtimes, and open source frameworks for distributed applications for vendors such as BEA and Terracotta, was frustrated by the scale and resilience limitations of CORBA, RPC, XA, Enterprise JavaBeans, SOA, and the Web Services standards and abstraction techniques Java developers used at the time. He turned to the Actor Model, which emphasizes loose coupling and embracing failure in software systems and dataflow concurrency, used by the Erlang and Oz languages.

Bonér developed the concept of the Akka Actor Kernel (later shortened to Akka) in 2009 and shared the first public release of Akka 0.5 on GitHub. It would eventually become the de facto model for concurrency in the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). Today Akka is used by PayPal, LinkedIn, and Capital One, among many others, to handle billions of transactions at massive scale in their cloud-native systems. It’s also used by the popular online game Fortnite.

Akka Serverless was two years in the making, Murdoch said, and is now available in open beta, with general availability expected later this year. Developers can learn more about Akka Serverless and become a beta participant today.

Posted by John K. Waters on June 10, 2021