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AWS Lambda Limitations in Real-Life Applications

published Oct 05, 2023

The colorful spiral as a metaphor for the interconnection between the benefits and the limitations in AWS Lambda.

In an age where cloud-based applications reign supreme, Amazon Web Services (AWS) Lambda has emerged as a go-to solution for developers seeking scalable and efficient computing power. At Serverless, we've harnessed the potential of AWS Lambda in numerous projects, some of which you can explore in our case studies. Our journey with AWS Lambda has unveiled both its capabilities and, perhaps more importantly, its limitations in real-life applications.

AWS Lambda, with its promise of event-driven serverless computing, has transformed the landscape of application development. It allows developers to execute code in response to various events, without the need to manage servers or infrastructure. This serverless paradigm has undoubtedly reshaped how we build, deploy, and scale applications.

Yet, like any powerful tool, AWS Lambda has its constraints, which we'll explore in detail in this article.

Understanding the Significance of AWS Lambda

While AWS Lambda does have its limitations, it's essential to highlight its numerous advantages that have made it a popular choice for modern cloud-based applications:

  • Event-Driven Flexibility: AWS Lambda excels in handling event-driven workloads. Whether it's responding to changes in data, triggering actions based on user interactions, or managing IoT events, Lambda seamlessly fits into these scenarios. Its ability to integrate with various AWS services and external event sources makes it a versatile choice.
  • Scalability: Lambda's automatic scaling ensures that your application can handle sudden spikes in traffic without manual intervention. This elasticity is a significant cost-saver, as you only pay for the compute time used, making it ideal for applications with fluctuating workloads.
  • Cost-Efficiency: With the pay-as-you-go model, you don't need to provision or maintain servers continuously. Lambda bills you based on the actual execution time, which is particularly advantageous for applications with varying usage patterns. This cost-effectiveness extends to startups, enterprises, and everything in between.
  • No Server Management: Lambda abstracts server management, allowing developers to focus on writing code and building features. This serverless approach reduces operational overhead, including patching, scaling, and maintenance tasks.
  • Microservices and Serverless Architectures: AWS Lambda plays a pivotal role in microservices and serverless architectures. It enables the decomposition of monolithic applications into smaller, manageable components that can be independently deployed and scaled. This architectural shift fosters agility and faster development cycles.
  • Integration with AWS Ecosystem: Lambda seamlessly integrates with various AWS services, making it an integral part of the AWS ecosystem. This interoperability simplifies complex workflows, allowing you to orchestrate processes across different AWS resources effortlessly.
  • Real-Time Processing: Lambda's ability to process events in real-time is invaluable for applications that require instant reactions to data changes. Whether it's updating dashboards, sending notifications, or analyzing streaming data, Lambda can process events with minimal latency.
  • High Availability: AWS Lambda is built on AWS infrastructure, benefiting from its high availability and redundancy. Your functions can be configured to run across multiple Availability Zones (AZs), ensuring fault tolerance and minimal downtime.
  • Easy Development and Testing: Developing and testing Lambda functions is straightforward, thanks to a variety of supported languages and comprehensive debugging and monitoring tools. This agility accelerates development cycles and facilitates DevOps practices.
  • Security: AWS Lambda offers robust security features, including Identity and Access Management (IAM) for fine-grained access control, encryption options for data protection, and AWS Key Management Service (KMS) integration for key management.
  • Global Reach: Lambda functions can be deployed in multiple AWS regions, allowing you to bring your application closer to end-users and reduce latency.
  • Community and Third-Party Support: AWS Lambda benefits from a vibrant community and extensive third-party tooling, further expanding its capabilities and integration options.

In summary, AWS Lambda's strengths lie in its event-driven, serverless architecture, automatic scalability, cost-efficiency, and seamless integration with the AWS ecosystem. While its limitations should be considered, these advantages make AWS Lambda a compelling choice for a wide range of applications and use cases.

Now that we've established the importance of AWS Lambda, let's explore its limitations, which become apparent when integrated into real-life applications. These limitations span various aspects, including execution duration, resource allocation, and architectural considerations. In the sections that follow, we'll delve into these constraints and discuss how they impact the practical use of AWS Lambda.


Kyrylo Kozak

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Limitations of AWS Lambda

AWS Lambda offers remarkable advantages, but it's not without its limitations. Let's explore some of the constraints and considerations when using AWS Lambda in real-life applications:

  1. Execution Time:
    • Description: AWS Lambda has a maximum execution time limit per invocation, typically set at 900 seconds (15 minutes). This constraint means that tasks requiring longer processing times may not be suitable for Lambda functions.
    • Impact: Operations such as extensive data processing, batch jobs, or lengthy computations may need to be reconsidered or divided into smaller, manageable tasks.
  2. Function Limitations:
    • Description: Lambda functions are constrained by their deployment package size and the number of libraries and dependencies that can be included. Additionally, there's a limit on the number of functions per account and per region.
    • Impact: This limitation can affect complex applications with numerous functions or those requiring extensive external dependencies.
  3. Layer Limitations:
    • Description: AWS Lambda Layers, which allow you to manage in-function libraries and custom runtimes, have size and versioning constraints. The maximum size for a layer archive is 50 MB (uncompressed), and there's a limit on the number of layers per function.
    • Impact: Managing libraries and dependencies efficiently within these Lambda limits can be challenging for complex applications.
  4. Memory Limitations:
    • Description: AWS Lambda allows you to allocate memory to a function, with corresponding CPU power. There's a range of memory sizes available, but this choice affects both performance and cost. Memory allocation also impacts the maximum execution time.
    • Impact: Selecting the appropriate memory size is crucial for optimizing function performance and cost-effectiveness.
  5. Pricing Limitations:
    • Description: While AWS Lambda offers a cost-effective pay-as-you-go model, it's important to be aware of the associated costs. Function execution duration and memory allocation directly impact pricing. Frequent invocations and resource-intensive functions can result in higher costs.
    • Impact: Budget considerations are essential to avoid unexpected charges, especially in scenarios with high usage or resource-intensive workloads.
  6. Cold Starts:
    • Description: AWS Lambda functions may experience latency during "cold starts" when a function is initialized for the first time or after significant changes. Cold starts can impact response times for time-sensitive applications.
    • Impact: Applications with strict real-time requirements may need to implement workarounds, such as warming functions, to minimize cold start delays.
  7. Stateless Nature:
    • Description: AWS Lambda functions are inherently stateless, which means they don't retain information between invocations. Storing and managing persistent data may require additional services like Amazon S3, DynamoDB, or AWS RDS.
    • Impact: Designing stateful applications may involve more complex architectures and data management strategies.
  8. Local Development and Testing:
    • Description: Developing and testing Lambda functions locally can be challenging, especially for complex scenarios or when dealing with AWS-specific services. Setting up a suitable local development environment can be time-consuming.
    • Impact: Streamlining the development and testing process may require additional effort and tools.

While AWS Lambda offers remarkable capabilities for various use cases, it's crucial to consider these limitations when designing and deploying applications. Understanding these constraints will help you make informed decisions and leverage AWS Lambda's strengths effectively.

For some cases EC2 may be more suitable. You can find out more about the differences between AWS Lambda and EC2 from this article.

Workarounds and Best Practices for AWS Lambda

Despite the limitations of AWS Lambda, developers have devised clever workarounds and best practices to make the most of its capabilities. Here are some strategies to optimize AWS Lambda usage in real-life applications, addressing key AWS Lambda limitations:

For Managing Execution Time:

Workaround: For tasks that approach the AWS Lambda execution limit, split them into smaller, parallelizable units. Use AWS Step Functions to orchestrate multiple Lambda functions and handle complex workflows.

Best Practice: Regularly monitor function execution times and consider optimizing code and dependencies to reduce processing time.

For Function Limitations:

Workaround: If your application requires a large number of functions, organize them into well-structured microservices frameworks. This approach improves modularity and simplifies function management, mitigating Lambda limitations.

Best Practice: Keep functions small and focused on specific tasks to enhance maintainability and reduce complexity.

For Layer Limitations:

Workaround: To work around limitations of Lambda AWS, carefully manage dependencies to minimize layer size. Prioritize essential libraries in layers, and be mindful of layer versioning to ensure backward compatibility.

Best Practice: Regularly audit and update layers to maintain optimal performance and security.

For Memory Limitations:

Workaround: To address AWS Lambda function limitations related to memory, choose memory allocation based on function requirements and performance testing. Higher memory settings can improve execution speed and are often more cost-effective.

Best Practice: Perform memory profiling to identify optimal settings for each function.

For Pricing Limitations:

Workaround: Implement cost controls and monitoring using AWS Cost Explorer, AWS Budgets, and AWS Lambda's built-in metrics. Set up billing alarms to avoid unexpected charges, effectively addressing limitations of AWS Lambda.

Best Practice: Implement efficient code, minimize unnecessary invocations, and use provisioned concurrency to manage costs effectively, mitigating Lambda AWS limitations.

For Cold Starts:

Workaround: Address Lambda limitations related to cold starts by employing techniques like scheduled warm-up events, where idle functions are invoked periodically, to reduce cold start latency.

Best Practice: Design applications with cold start considerations in mind, such as asynchronous processing to minimize user-facing latency while tackling AWS Lambda execution limit.

For Stateless Nature:

Workaround: To work around AWS Lambda function limitations regarding statelessness, use external storage solutions like Amazon S3, DynamoDB, or AWS RDS to persist data between Lambda invocations. Design applications to be stateless and idempotent.

Best Practice: Implement data caching and efficient data retrieval to minimize external dependencies, addressing limitations in Lambda AWS.

For Local Development and Testing:

Workaround: Leverage AWS SAM (Serverless Application Model) or local development environments like AWS Cloud9 to simulate Lambda functions for testing and debugging, mitigating AWS Lambda limitations.

Best Practice: Invest time in setting up a robust local development environment to streamline the testing process while tackling limitations in Lambda AWS.

By applying these workarounds and best practices, developers can navigate AWS Lambda limitations effectively and build resilient, efficient, and cost-effective serverless applications. AWS Lambda remains a powerful tool in modern cloud computing, offering unparalleled flexibility and scalability when harnessed optimally despite its AWS Lambda limits.

Lambda Use Cases</a> and Examples

and Examples

While AWS Lambda does come with its set of limitations, it continues to empower organizations across various industries with its serverless computing capabilities. Let's explore real-world examples where we used Lambda, demonstrating its flexibility and effectiveness despite certain limitations:

Data Transformation and ETL

We were approached by a platform that allows users to extract data from various third-party analytical sources to later transform and visualize it according to their requirements. Their product was already quite solid, but their architecture design hindered scaling and failed to accommodate the growing user base. So, to help them work out all of the issues, we turned to Lambda.

We redesigned their monolithic architecture using multiple independent Lambdas, which helped us to ensure seamless functionality and isolate failures, resulting in improved performance and scalability.

Approach: Lambda functions process incoming data streams, ensuring data accuracy, compliance, and timely decision-making.

More about that in our article covering the serverless ELT on AWS Glue.

IoT Event Handling

Milnorway — a leading Norway manufacturer of climate-control appliances, approached us for a newer and cheaper solution IoT that could handle the growing demands of their customer base. Here, we used Lambda functions to manage incoming sensor data, triggering alerts and maintenance requests, resulting in faster processing and lower downtime.

Approach: Lambda-based event-driven architecture ensures immediate responses to potential issues, reducing downtime and maintenance costs.

Bots and Natural Language Processing

Thoughtful AI provides custom bots that analyze data and generate invoices and reports based on it. Lambda helped us to power up the NLP capabilities behind these bots.

Approach: Lambda functions process and respond to user queries, speeding up the processes by providing instant assistance and resolving issues promptly.

Serverless Web Applications

CampaignMeister, a leading cross-channel campaign management tool, needed to support separate environments for development, staging, and production, enabling seamless testing and deployment processes. Here, we used Lambda as the backbone for handling dynamic content generation, authentication, and database interactions.

Approach: Serverless architecture powered by Lambda allows the product to scale effortlessly, focusing on innovation instead of infrastructure management.

These real-world examples showcase Lambda's versatility and adaptability, demonstrating its value in addressing a wide array of business challenges. Of course, it’s only a small part. Lambda can also be used for data pipeline orchestration, real-time analytics, security automation, and more.

We believe, that by using Lambda's serverless capabilities, businesses can innovate, scale, and maintain agility so much faster while effectively addressing AWS Lambda limitations.

Conclusion: Leveraging AWS Lambda for Innovation

AWS Lambda, despite its limitations, stands as a catalyst for innovation in cloud computing. Real-world examples have demonstrated its versatility in scenarios ranging from image processing to real-time analytics.

Rather than stumbling blocks, Lambda's constraints are opportunities for ingenious solutions. By understanding its strengths and adhering to best practices, Lambda can fuel your digital initiatives.

Our team is ready to guide you through Lambda's potential and help you overcome its limitations. Give us a call, and, as a serverless development company, we’ll to provide you with a solution for your particular need.


What are the execution time limitations of AWS Lambda functions?

AWS Lambda functions have a maximum execution time limit of 900 seconds (15 minutes).

Are there any workarounds for AWS Lambda's memory limitations?

Developers can optimize their code and memory allocation to mitigate AWS Lambda's memory limitations.

How can organizations effectively manage AWS Lambda function limitations in real-world applications?

Employ best practices such as optimizing code, using AWS Step Functions, and leveraging AWS Lambda layers to address limitations.

What are the pricing limitations associated with AWS Lambda?

AWS Lambda pricing is based on the number of requests and the duration of execution, which can vary depending on application design and usage patterns.

Can AWS Lambda functions be used for long-running processes despite their execution time limitations?

AWS Lambda is not intended for long-running processes; alternative AWS services like AWS Fargate or EC2 are better suited for such scenarios.

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Kyrylo Kozak
Kyrylo Kozak
founder, CEO