In the world of serverless computing, Azure Functions has emerged as a powerful tool for building event-driven applications and microservices. It provides the ability to execute small, discrete units of code (functions) in response to events or triggers. With the introduction of Azure Durable Functions, developers now have a new option for building complex workflows and managing long-running processes.

In this blog post, we'll explore the differences between Azure Durable Functions and normal Azure Functions, highlighting their unique features and helping you make an informed decision on which one to choose for your specific use case. We’ll help you understand where Azure Functions might be able to enable your business logic and workflow patterns.

What are Azure Functions?

Azure Functions offer a simple yet efficient way to write code that runs in response to events. They are well-suited for short-lived tasks that are executed in a stateless manner, making them ideal for tasks like processing HTTP requests, responding to queue messages, or handling timer triggers. Azure Functions excel at providing quick, lightweight, and easily scalable code execution. They allow you to write functions in multiple programming languages, including C#, JavaScript, Python, and more. Key features of functions include:

  • Event-driven execution: Functions are triggered by events such as HTTP requests, timers, queues, or events from other Azure services.
  • Stateless execution: Functions operate independently and do not maintain any state between invocations.
  • Easy scalability: Azure Functions automatically scale based on the workload, ensuring efficient resource utilization.
  • Simple development and deployment: Azure Functions provide a straightforward development experience and easy integration with other Azure services.
  • Pay-as-you-go pricing: You are billed based on the number of executions and the resources consumed during the execution time.

What are Azure Durable Functions?

Azure Durable Functions take the capabilities of Azure Functions to the next level by introducing a stateful programming model. They enable you to build complex workflows and manage long-running processes by orchestrating multiple functions together. With Durable Functions, you can create durable entities that maintain state across multiple function invocations, allowing you to handle scenarios that require coordination, human interaction, or long-running processes. Key features of Azure Durable Functions include:

  • Stateful orchestration: Durable Functions provide an elegant way to define and manage workflows that involve multiple function invocations and durable state management.
  • Human interaction: Durable Functions allow you to build workflows that involve human interaction, such as approvals or user interactions.
  • Durable timers: You can use durable timers to schedule function invocations or delays within a workflow.
  • Replay and error handling: Durable Functions provide built-in support for managing retries, timeouts, and exception handling within workflows.
  • Function chaining and fan-out/fan-in patterns: You can easily chain functions together or parallelize the execution of multiple functions within a workflow.

Choosing the Right Tool

When deciding between Azure Durable Functions and normal Azure Functions, consider the following factors:

  • Complexity: If your application requires managing complex workflows, long-running processes, or human interactions, Azure Durable Functions are the better choice.
  • Stateful orchestration: If you need to maintain durable state and coordinate multiple functions, Azure Durable Functions provide the necessary capabilities.
  • Short-lived tasks: For simple, stateless tasks that execute quickly, normal Azure Functions are more suitable and provide a lightweight execution model.
  • Scalability: Both Azure Durable Functions and normal Azure Functions offer scalability, but the scalability patterns may differ based on the workload. Consider the specific scalability requirements of your application.

Eastwall has helped several organizations leverage Azure Functions and Azure Durable Functions as part of critical business logic & application workflows. Use cases included:

  • Data processing and ETL: Azure Functions are commonly used for data processing tasks such as extracting, transforming, and loading (ETL). Our team has written functions to process incoming data streams, perform calculations, aggregate data, then transform it into a different format (such as log splicing/filtering). This is particularly useful in scenarios like real-time analytics, log processing, or data enrichment.
  • IoT event processing: Azure Functions are well-suited for processing events from Internet of Things (IoT) devices. We have created functions to handle incoming telemetry data, perform real-time analytics, trigger alerts based on certain conditions, then store the datapoint in a data lake. Azure Functions enables scalable and responsive IoT solutions.
  • Webhooks and API integrations: Perhaps one of the most original or top-of-mind solutions, Azure Functions can be used to process incoming webhooks or API calls. This allows you to integrate with external services or trigger actions based on events. For example, we have built solutions where Azure Functions receive notifications based on financial invoicing, aggregate data from that notification and then send out confirmation emails & publish new visuals.

These are just a few examples of how Azure Functions can manage to support API integration, data processing & storage, IOT and messaging events and can even be extended to video processing, chatbot integration or scheduled automation. Often an Azure Function can handle complex workflows that may not need a fully featured application ecosystem.

Working with a trusted partner is key. Eastwall has worked with dozens of leading software organizations to define new application workflows & logic patterns that can rapidly be enabled by Azure Functions. We help design, build, and operate innovative cloud solutions on the Azure platform. Please contact us for a free consultation on how various developer strategy & Azure cloud services can help transform your business.

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