Serverless v4 will start charging users, but that’s a good thing

Yan Cui

I help clients go faster for less using serverless technologies.

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The Serverless Framework remains a top choice for serverless development, as evidenced by the recent State of Serverless report [1]. Yet, its appeal has waned over time due to the lack of innovation in recent years, prompting users to explore other options.

Recently, they announced [2] significant updates for Serverless v4:

  • Fees will be introduced for organizations with over $2M in annual revenue.
  • There will be a new way to extend the framework with Serverless Framework Extensions.
  • Extension authors will enjoy an 80% revenue share.
  • FaaS & container switching.

The proposed pricing structure includes some exemptions. Open source projects, independent developers, educational institutions and organizations making less than $2M a year don’t have to pay. Neither do consultants working on behalf of a client, or those in the new partner program.

Furthermore, previous versions of the framework will remain free, ensuring existing projects remain unaffected.

The shift towards a more sustainable model is a pragmatic move and I’m all for it.

The Upsides of the New Model

Financial stability for Serverless Inc.

Generating revenue from larger organizations ensures that Serverless Inc. has the resources to continue improving and innovating the framework.

As paying customers, I imagine these organizations would also receive better support from Serverless Inc. as well.

Meanwhile, the framework remains free to use for the rest of us.

Encouraging better extensions

The v4 announcement promised no breaking changes. So I expect existing plugins would continue to work alongside the new extensions mechanism.

Anyone who’s worked on open-source projects would know that it’s often a thankless job that comes with no pay. The same plague of open-source burnout means many popular Serverless framework plugins are no longer actively maintained and updated.

The revenue share model should give authors a stronger incentive to create and maintain higher-quality extensions.

Points of Consideration

While I’m generally excited about the upcoming change, many details are not yet available publicly. Including the exact pricing structure.

With this in mind, here are a few points we should consider.

Enforcement might be difficult

Enforcement of the revenue-based pricing could be challenging, as it largely depends on self-reporting.

Additionally, the exact tiered pricing structure remains undisclosed. So far, we know the 1st tier starts at $49/month and it depends on the no. of deployed environments and extensions.

A deployed environment (or instance, as they call it) is the set of “service”, “stage” and “region” parameters within your deployed serverless.yml.

Thankfully, fees only occur for environments that are at least five days old. So it doesn’t affect the practice of using ephemeral environments [3].

Enterprises don’t like variable pricing

The usage-based pricing is bread & butter in the serverless world. It’s what Simon Wardley wrote about [4] back in 2016 when he coined the term FinDev.

But the new business models around worth based development and the collision of finance and development will literally knock your socks off. Which is why the moniker “FinDev”. Beyond the initial investment in coding, I can create an almost variable cost business model and redirect investment to maximise returns in ways that most of you have never experienced. I know, I’ve been there. — Simon Wardley

However, enterprises often prefer predictable costs, making the variable pricing model a potential obstacle. As Slobodan Stojanovic mentioned in our conversation about FinDev [5].

Enterprise procurement…

The procurement process in enterprises can be tedious, which might deter some from adopting the Serverless Framework. It can often take a team weeks or months to get sign-off to spend $49/month on a new tool.

I hope Serverless Inc. will allow customers to pay through AWS Marketplace. I’m not sure how feasible it is, but it will pave a much easier adoption path with enterprise customers.

Will extensions be available to paying users only?

It’s not clear whether extensions would be available only to paying users.

What will happen to the existing plugins?

Plugin maintainers will have an interesting dilemma of where to invest their time. Do they put time towards a popular free plugin, or do they prioritize an extension that is monetized?

More importantly, would this lead to even more plugins going into disrepair?

Wrap up

The adage, “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product” rings true.

We all pay for the “free” social media platforms with our privacy and attention and society has become worse for it. We all pay for “free” open-source libraries with our time and labour because the maintainers can’t invest the necessary time to maintain and improve them.

For critical open-source projects, our current model is unsustainable.

We overly rely on the goodwill and free labour of the contributors, who often don’t receive the appreciation they deserve. Or we are at the whims of a corporate backer who has their agendas and we are perpetually one decision away from having to abandon ship.

Open source is not a business model [6], at least not a sustainable one.

I’m glad to see Serverless Inc. attempting to monetize the Serverless framework. What I have seen of their proposal thus far makes sense and seems fair. They need to find the right balance between monetization and serving the existing community.

I wish them all the best.

For anyone who’s asking “Wouldn’t this push more people towards CDK?” my answer is this: being free hasn’t stopped people from moving to other tools, and being free is not gonna bring them back, but being better might. To be better, they need to invest in the team and they need a sustainable business model to safeguard their long-term existence.

Let’s hope this is the first step towards that.

Links

[1] State of Serverless 2023 by Datadog

[2] Serverless Framework V4: A New Model

[3] Serverless Ephemeral (Temporary) Environments Explained

[4] Why the fuzz about Serverless by Simon Wardley

[5] Real-World Serverless #17: FinDev and Wardley Mapping with Aleksandar Simovic and Slobodan Stojanovic

[6] Screaming in the Cloud #61: Open Source is not a business model

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