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Podcast: Ben Kehoe, Cloud Robotics Research Scientist, Discusses Serverless @iRobot

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Article originally posted on InfoQ. Visit InfoQ

On this week’s podcast, Wes Reisz talks with Ben Kehoe of iRobot. Ben is a Cloud Robotics Research Scientist where he works on using the Internet to allow robots to do more and better things. AWS and, in particular, Lambda is a core part of cloud enabled robots. The two discuss iRobot’s cloud architecture. Some of the key lessons on the podcast include: thoughts on logging, deploying, unit/integration testing, service discovery, minimizing costs of service to service calls, and Conway’s Law.

Key Takeaways

  • The AWS Platform, including services such as Kinesis, Lambda, and IoT Gateway were key components in allowing iRobot to build out everything they needed for Internet-connected robots in 2015.
  • Cloud-enabled Roombas talk to the cloud via the IoT Gateway (which is MQTT) and are able to perform large file uploads using mutually authenticated certificates signed via an iRobot Certificate Authority. The entire system is event-driven with lambda being used to perform actions based on the events that occur.
  • When you’re using serverless, you are using managed infrastructure rather than building your own. So that means, when they exist, you have to accept the limitations of the infrastructure. For example, until recently Lambda didn’t have an SQS integration. So because of that limitation, you have to have inventive ways to make things work as you want.
  • Serverless is all about the total cost of ownership. It’s not just about development time, but across on areas that need to support operating the environment.
  • iRobot takes an approach of unit testing functions locally but does integration testing on a deployed set of functions. A library called Placebo helps engineers record events sent to the cloud and then replay them for local unit tests.
  • For logging/tracing, iRobot packages up information that a function uses into a structured record that is sent to CloudWatch. They then pipe that into SumoLogic to be able to trace executions. Most of the difficulties that happen tend to happen closer to the edge.
  • iRobot uses Red/Black deployments to have a completely separate stack when deploying. In addition, they flatten (or inline) their function calls on deployment. Both of these techniques are used as cost optimization techniques to prevent lambdas calling lambdas when not needed.
  • Looking towards the future of serverless, there is still work to be done to offer the same feature set that more traditional applications can use with service meshes.

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