AWS Firecracker was announced at AWS re:Invent in November 2018 as a new AWS open source virtualization technology. The technology is purpose-built for creating and managing secure, multi-tenant container and function-based services. It was described by the AWS Chief Evangelist Jeff Barr as “what a virtual machine would look like if it was designed for today’s world of containers and functions.”

What is AWS Firecracker?

Firecracker is a Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) exclusively designed for running transient and short-lived processes. In other words, it helps to optimize the running of functions and serverless workloads. It’s also an important new component in the emerging world of serverless technologies and is used to enhance the backend implementation of Lambda and Fargate. Firecracker helps deliver the speed of containers combined with the security of VMs. If you use Lambda or Fargate, you’re already receiving the benefits of Firecracker. However, if you run/orchestrate a large volume of containers, you should take a look at this service with optimization in mind.

How AWS Firecracker Creates Efficiencies

AWS can realize the economic benefits of Firecracker by creating what they call “microVMs”, which allows them to spread serverless workloads around multiple servers thus getting a greater ROI from its investment in the servers behind serverless. In terms of customer benefit, using Firecracker enables these new microVMs to launch in 125 milliseconds or less, compared to the seconds (or longer) it can take to launch a container or spin up a traditional virtual machine. In a world where thousands of VMs can be spun up and down to tackle a specific workload, this will constitute a significant savings. And remember, these are fully fledged micro virtual machines, not just containers.The micro VM’s themselves are worth a closer look as each includes an in-process rate limiter to optimize shared network and storage resources. As a result, one server can support thousands of microVMs with widely varying processor and memory configurations.\

There is also the enhanced security and workload isolation only available from Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVMs) – more secure than containers, which are less isolated. One particularly valuable security feature is that Firecracker is statically linked, which means all the libraries it needs to run are included in its executable code. This makes new Firecracker environments safer by eliminating outside libraries. Altogether, this offering and the combination of efficiency, security and speed created quite the buzz at the AWS re:Invent launch.

Will Firecracker make a “bang”?

There are a few caveats related to the still novel aspects of the technology. In particular, compared to alternatives, such as containers or Hyper-V VMs, it is prudent to confine to non-production workloads as the technology is still new and needs to be more fully battle-tested for production use.

However, as confidence, adoption, and experience grow in the use of serverless technologies it certainly seems like Firecracker can offer a popular new method for provisioning compute resources and will likely help bridge the current gap between VMs and containers.

About Andy Richman

Andy Richman is the Product Manager at ParkMyCloud.

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