IBM Expands Bluemix OpenWhisk to Better Connect Data to Serverless Apps

OpenWhisk expansion enables developers to expose serverless actions as secure and controlled APIs on the cloud, ostensibly making it quicker to build IoT and cognitive solutions.


The concept of a “serverless” application, as ethereal as it sounds, can be easily misunderstood—perhaps because the sound of it borders on fake news.

“Obviously, ‘serverless’ doesn’t mean there are no servers anymore; it means you don’t have to worry about servers anymore,” IBM’s Michael Behrendt told eWEEK.

Then perhaps we should call it “worryless” computing. “That may express the value proposition better!” Berendt said.

Behrendt knows what he’s talking about; he’s a Distinguished IBM Engineer and the company’s chief architect for Serverless and Event-Driven Apps, IBM Watson and Cloud Platform.

Connects Event-Driven Programming to Outside Data Streams

All of this is relevant because IBM on April 27 announced it has added new capabilities to Bluemix OpenWhisk, its serverless computing platform that uses Docker containers, to help developers securely connect event-driven programming into outside data streams.

This expansion of OpenWhisk enables developers to expose serverless actions as secure and controlled APIs on the cloud, ostensibly making it quicker to build IoT and cognitive solutions. This is enabled by a new API gateway on OpenWhisk that acts as gatekeeper between an external source–such as an uploaded image–and a corresponding OpenWhisk action–such as Watson Visual Recognition tagging that image.

Traditionally, developers that use serverless often must configure and secure external endpoints manually. The latest evolution of IBM’s serverless offering does this for developers automatically, helping them to more easily embed cognitive intelligence, cloud data services, and IoT sensor data within apps. 

OpenWhisk’s expanded user experience also tracks and analyzes usage data for each serverless action invoked, helping teams to better understand when and why different cloud services are used.

Open Whisk One of Few Serverless Platforms from Open Source Community

IBM Bluemix OpenWhisk is a commercial extension of the Apache OpenWhisk project and one of the few serverless platforms developed largely by the open community. Running on the foundation of Bluemix, IBM’s cloud platform, it allows developers to execute code and cloud services–such as cognitive intelligence and IoT tools–automatically and on-demand, and without the need to manage and configure infrastructure.

“The point here is that in the past, we’ve been running applications as low-run processing. So you set up processing in a virtual machine or container or elsewhere, and it’s sitting there running, waiting for a request to be served, waiting for an HTTP request, et cetera. You need to pay for the capacity you bought instead of the capacity that was used,” Berendt told eWEEK.

“Serverless basically takes down many of those disadvantages by only running code when a request needs to be served. You may need the code to run for only 83 milliseconds, for example. You don’t need to make it HA (high availability). So it has several advantages in this by-request behavior, instead of pre-allocating capacity.”

To date, OpenWhisk adoption has seen traction across a number of startups that are building serverless systems that tap into cognitive, internet of things and data services to build new apps.

New Functions Now Available

Current OpenWhisk use cases include:

--Abilisense, which provides Smart Home Safety, using a technology which interprets sound into alerts. AbiliSense IoT sensors are triggered by OpenWhisk to automatically categorize and correlate incoming sound, helping Abilisense to improve the responsiveness and accuracy of their systems and to alert relevant parties.  

--BIGVU allows anyone to make videos like a pro with merely a smartphone and without any video editing skills. Companies can scale video creation in-house for training, social media, content marketing and internal communications. Using OpenWhisk, the BIGVU apps trigger new videos to be transformed into multiple resolutions, automatic chroma-key background change and sound editing.

--GreenQ is transforming how cities sustainably collect waste with an Internet of Garbage (IoG) solution, which tracks and optimizes garbage collection via scheduling, routing and vehicle fleet management – saving cities up to 50 percent of their waste expenditures. Using OpenWhisk, the GreenQ sensors installed on garbage trucks help to recognize patterns and correlations which optimize these operations.

--NeuroApplied reveals consumers’ thoughts about brands. The marketing startup’s platform engages users with quick, fun and easy online games, turning to OpenWhisk to handle bursts of user activity and create different game content for each user.

What IBM Has Added Since GA in 2016

OpenWhisk offers connections into services such as Watson APIs and the Watson IoT Platform, in addition to an expanding ecosystem of partner tools, such as Kong’s open API connector and PubNub’s data stream network for real-time applications.

Since the general availablity of OpenWhisk in late 2016, IBM has added the following functions:

--support for API gateway at no additional cost to developers;

--web action support to quickly program backend logic for web apps;

--support for OpenWhisk’s integration with Message Hub, allowing binary data, such as real-time intelligence from IoT sensors, to be easily integrated into OpenWhisk apps. This also can now be used with any Kafka-based deployment.

--an improved serverless framework to simplify moving apps between cloud providers and keep the development environment consistent.

--support for additional programming languages, including Python 3, as well as for a growing range of container platforms, including Docker, Mesos and Kubernetes.

Bluemix features more than 150 advanced technologies and services, including cognitive intelligence, blockchain, Internet of Things tools, security and DevOps.

For an overview of IBM Bluemix OpenWhisk, go here. For more information around the open community building OpenWhisk technology, go here.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he has...