Using AWS Step Functions for Serverless Orchestration

Using AWS Step Functions for Serverless Orchestration

The estimated value of market size for serverless architecture was US $ 8.93 Billion in 2022 and is expected to grow by a CAGR of 22.45% to reach US $ 55 Billion by 2030. This surge is due to the growing preference among developers and organizations to leverage this cost-effective and less demanding technology.  Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers one of the most popular serverless platforms, and developers are frequently faced with the need to understand how the platform's different serverless processes work together to power the delivery of effective apps. One of these is serverless orchestration. 

In this article, we look at Step Functions, the AWS serverless orchestration tool. How does it work, and how do you use it to achieve optimal serverless orchestration? 

We start with a few, perhaps obvious, but important definitions.

What is serverless orchestration?

Serverless orchestration is the newest craze in IT and DevOps, it means bringing together multiple pieces of tech tools so that they work in unison in an application in order to deliver the desired result for the end user. In the traditional sense, you needed a server to get things moving when working on applications. But modern technology has given us the serverless route, where you really need not bother about setting up and managing a server -  it's already figured out. 

And so serverless orchestration means the process of putting together different functions and services that are necessary to deliver a fully functional application workflow without the need for a physical or virtual server. In the context of AWS, serverless orchestration refers to the ability to direct various AWS services so that they collaborate seamlessly with your app’s workflow. 

What is a workflow?

An application workflow is a process that one should follow to make a task, such as how to enter data into an automated system or how to find a sales record code in your company's warehouse, more efficient. It consists of several basic steps used for similar tasks in order to save time and achieve optimal results. These steps are usually defined by the individual with more expertise than the person requesting a workflow. 

Example: Business problem: Mary, a customer service representative (CSR) in a call center, is asked to help a customer find a historic sales record for an item that has gone out of stock. She is not sure how to handle the request. Solution: A workflow is created between Mary and her supervisor that describes the process for requesting and finding out about historical sales data. The two tweak the workflow until it works best for them and their customers.

What is AWS Step Functions?

Step Functions is the AWS visual workflow service for distributed apps, making it the perfect platform for serverless orchestration. Using AWS Step Functions makes it simple to coordinate multiple AWS services, for example, Lambda functions, into reliable and adjustable workflows. This way, you can keep your functions clear of extraneous logic, as Step Functions will trigger and monitor each step of the app. With Step Functions, developers can construct distributed applications, automate multiple tasks, sequence microservices, as well as design data and ML pipelines. 

How AWS Step Functions work

AWS Step Functions works by allowing developers to define the workflow of their applications using a JSON-based language called Amazon States Language (ASL). ASL allows for tasks such as iterating over an array, calling Lambda functions and checking conditions. The goal is to combine multiple services into one cohesive application, helping developers to save time and money while also achieving more complex functionality.

Using AWS step functions for serverless orchestration

A typical application takes some deep coordination of different functions or services to meet the end user goal. If you are going to build your application on the AWS serverless platform, Lambda, then you'll need to orchestrate different functions within this serverless architecture. The AWS service that makes it possible to achieve this orchestration is what is known as AWS Step Functions, already defined above. Through this service, the workflow of your entire application is visualized as a series of small steps that are driven by events.

Tasks are responsible for all the work done in the Step Functions state machine (workflow). A task works by using an activity, Lambda functions, or by passing parameters to the APIs of other supported AWS integrations with Step Functions.

Here is a summary of the key things worth knowing:

  • AWS Step Functions makes it possible to coordinate tasks in a visual workflow, allowing you to quickly build or update apps

  • A task works by coordinating a service within AWS or an application that may be hosted elsewhere

  • Each step in a workflow is known as a state.

  • Each workflow is known as a state machine.

So the way AWS Step Functions work is that you start by defining your workflow and the Step Functions console auto-generateauto-generates the code for the workflow you’ve just defined. Alternatively, you can also code the workflow by yourself.

Next is to specify the resources that will be required in your workflow, for example, Amazon SNS (Simple Notification Service), Lambda functions, etc.

Finally, you execute the code to check that the workflow steps are working as they should. This also includes debugging accordingly. 

AWS step function orchestration with Lambda

We are assuming you want to build an application on the AWS serverless architecture and so you’ll rely on a number of Lambda functions to accomplish the intended goals of the app. The app can be about any common operation. You  will need the following to get started:

 Follow are the general steps to complete the orchestration:

Step 1: Create IAM role (Identity and Access Management)

AWS IAM keeps your AWS account secure by enabling you to create and manage users, assign roles, and control who is allowed to access specific resources. In this case, the role you’ll be creating is for the specific orchestration project.  

Step 2: Create a state machine/workflow

Here, you are simply creating a series of tasks that can be repeated. The workflow will give a visual view of all the tasks within your app and how they should coordinate with other services. For example, one task in the workflow can call a Lambda function to accomplish a specific objective. Another task can call another Lambda function to accomplish another different objective, etc. The workflow can also cause the different functions that have been called to exchange data when necessary in order to check the status of each objective. 

Step 3: Create the required Lambda functions

Create all the functions that you’ll need to utilize in order to accomplish all the goals in your workflow. 

Step 4: Populate the workflow

Use the Lambda functions created above to populate the tasks in the workflow. Again, you can do all this from the AWS Step Functions console.

Step 5: Execute the workflow

After population, the workflow is ripe for execution. There are various ways to do this. The most common is to execute through the AWS Step Functions console. But you can also execute the workflow through Step Functions API actions, the AWS CLI or AWS SDKs. Both the input and output of the execution process is in JSON format. 

Amazon has a great  resource demonstrating these steps with a real-life example for a call center. Please check it out.

Advantages of serverless orchestration with AWS step functions

1. You can easily define long-running and complex workflows

2. Easy integration with other AWS services as well as third-party APIs

3. Built-in retry logic for automated recovery from errors

4. Scalability to handle peak workloads without additional effort on the user’s part

5. A visual workflow editor for intuitive control over larger projects

6. Alerting via Amazon CloudWatch and integration of various monitoring tools

7. Permissions management to control who has access to sensitive services

8. Versatility across multiple programming languages

9. Analytics capabilities that result in powerful insights

10. Controlled costs as you only pay for resources used.  Each feature helps cloud developers build successful serverless applications while remaining financially responsible and reducing time spent on tedious programing details.

How can BeCloud help with serverless orchestration?

As a modern IT company, BeCloud is devoted to aiding organizations transition to a serverless setup and making the most of the cost-effectiveness and scalability that serverless technology has to offer. With BeCloud's significant expertise in serverless orchestration, including AWS step function orchestration, you'll incur fewer expenses on development costs plus free up your internal resources for more valuable tasks- giving you an advantage in this highly competitive era, regardless of your industry. 

The team of experienced developers is confident that serverless is the future of development, and with an ever-growing pool of resources, including technical skills, you can expect reliable serverless orchestration from BeCloud. 


It’s evident that using AWS Step Functions for serverless orchestration is an excellent way to streamline and manage complex applications. Not only does it provide a robust platform for managing and coordinating multiple functions, but it also allows developers to save time and money by creating more efficient workflows. 

The platform offers an array of features such as versioning support, visibility into running operations, error tracking, integration with other AWS services, and more, giving developers the flexibility to tailor the AWS step functions workflow around specific needs.

James Phipps 30 December, 2022
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