Stateless Architecture: The Future Of The Cloud Era


The digital world is constantly evolving, and unless you work as a software engineer, you may not have heard the term stateless in reference to computing before. Stateless is the term used to refer to the unique way software architecture is designed. 

In order to understand what stateless is, first, we must define state in the context of networking, typically called stateful architecture. State information is used in various ways in networking, and, in simple terms, state is the status of something right now. State information is typically used for routing, traffic management, and security, as well as many other processes. 

However, the trouble with stateful architecture is that the information is that each network device has to keep track of its own state; for instance, your router would track your open connections. Since stateful architecture is maintained in each network device, the devices are challenging to upgrade and maintain, which is why many businesses are looking to stateless architecture as the solution. In this article, we will focus on what stateless architecture is and what you need to know about the future of the cloud era.

What Is Stateless Architecture?

When looking at what stateless architecture is, it is difficult to do so without also looking at stateful architecture. Stateful and stateless describe whether a computer or program is designed to record and remember preceding interactions with a user, computer, program, device, or other outside elements.

  • Stateful: This means the program or computer tracks the state of interaction, typically by inserting values in a storage field that has been designated for that purpose.
  • Stateless: This means that there are no records of previous interactions and that each future interaction will be handled entirely on information that comes with it. 

An example of a stateless interaction is the internet’s basic protocol, Internet Protocol, typically referred to as IP. The data sent over IP is called a network data packet, and each packet travels through the network without reference to any other packet. In simple terms, when you request to view a page on a website, the request travels in one or more network data packets, and each request is independent of other data packets within the IP.

As stateless describes a process or function that does not require information to be stored about the status of the network, the fundamental way networks operate has changed. Stateless architecture is fault-tolerant, can be scaled when needed to suit business operations, and can be upgraded while still in services meaning there is no longer a need to take processes or functions offline while upgrades are commencing. If you’re learning more about stateful vs. stateless, check out Virtasant and this article.

Why Isn’t Everything Stateless?

You may be curious as to why many networking devices are still being built using stateful architecture, and this is because, in order for processes like routing to operate efficiently, it needs to have the ability to read and write state information quickly. For instance, suppose you have a route that is running on a moderately fast network using a data rate of one Gbps. It would take approximately seven nanoseconds to read one byte, and a network data packet typically contains 1,000 bytes which would take seven microseconds for the router to read the entire packet. In short, your router would need to have the ability to process and forward each network data packet at an average speed of seven microseconds to keep up with the one Gbps data rate. To complete the process, the RAM inside your computing device has a twenty nanosecond delay when reading and writing data, which is only fast enough if the router is using stateful architecture to keep the state information inside the routing program.

If you want to separate the state information and have it stored in a database, you need to consider how long it will take to read and write from the database. A typical database can run the read and write operation in approximately 1,000 microseconds or at least 150 times the amount of time it takes for a network data packet to be read. This is far too slow for businesses to run smooth operations as there is too much latency to allow packets to be processed fast enough. This is where stateless architecture comes in as it can process packets at the same high speeds as the router example and is able to use distributed database to store state information. 

Stateless architecture applies the latest cloud-native software development techniques, including the use of parallel processing and database query batching as well as the use of a RAM-based database named RAMCloud which can return database queries in five microseconds. Combining modern software design techniques and the speed of RAMCloud provides cloud architects with a tool that can be used to construct and develop networks using stateless architecture.

The Benefits Of Stateless Network Functions

While stateless network functions are a relatively new type of tool for building networks, it is immensely more flexible, cost-effective, and faster than other traditional techniques. You could build networks using older tools, or you could use a stateless network functions platform. Both methods would produce a similar construct; however, choosing stateless architecture will provide the added benefits of speed, scale-out, end-to-end visibility, flexibility, increased resilience, and multi-tenancy.

  • Speed: You can use, configure and manage only the functions you need at a faster rate.
  • Scale-out: Stateless allows you to scale-out your networks, and a single cluster can handle thousands of interconnections.
  • End-to-end visibility: As well as handling the thousands of interconnections across the stateless network functions as a single traffic flow, you can view the entire flow and all functions contained within it.
  • Flexibility: You will be able to adjust, scale, or remove functions on-demand to suit your needs which allows you to define how your network functions and interconnections operate.
  • Incredible resiliency: As stateless networks are always on and available, you will benefit from no disruptions during updates, as well as built-in protection from hardware or software failures.
  • Multi-tenancy: Even your tenants can have tenants with stateless as it provides per tenant, data plan, and control plane isolation.