What are AWS Step Functions ?

Before diving deep into AWS Step Functions, you should probably get familiar with what AWS is in a nutshell if you haven’t already.

AWS or Amazon Web Services is a cloud computing platform provided by Amazon that provides infrastructure for developing, testing, and deploying applications.

The infrastructure is scalable, reliable, and low-cost, making it the optimal platform for developers and several companies to integrate cloud into their businesses.

This article will guide you through the in-depth process of the AWS Step Functions and everything you need to know about them to give you a head start, whether you are a developer or a beginner. 

What are AWS Step Functions and what are its main components?

AWS Step Functions is a cloud service that allows developers to build and coordinate Lambda functions into workflows for business operations using a drag-and-drop visual console.

It is created to assist businesses in integrating various AWS services while also enabling them to manage each independent microservices separately.

In a nutshell, AWS Step Functions makes the process of building applications seamless. It prevents developers from completely re-coding the application line for line and endangers its stability.

AWS Step Functions has several key components that you should know, and they include:

  • Workflow Integration

    Workflows in AWS Step Functions are defined as state machines. It helps in transforming complex code into easily comprehensive diagrams and statements.

  • Workflow abstraction

    Utilizing AWS Step Functions you can have a strong separation between your application’s logic and implementation. You can change the order of the steps and move the steps without altering your business logic. This helps in gaining workflow scalability, and code reuse.

  • Primal built-in services

    AWS Step Functions provide you with ready-made steps for your workflow which are called States. It can be removed if it does not suit the logic of your application.

    States are easy to handle as they can pass data to other alike states and microservices, and also handle exceptions, timeout, and make decisions.

  • Integration of AWS services

    One primal thing that you should know about AWS Step Functions is that you can seamlessly integrate AWS services using the AWS Step Functions Service Integration. 

    It enables its users to call over 200 AWS services, including AWS Lambda, Amazon ECS, Amazon EKS, and AWS Fargate. It also integrates messaging services such as Amazon SNS and Amazon SQS. I know, it's quite heavy words on here.

    Recently, developers can also start to integrate data processing and analytical services, machine learning services, and Amazon API Gateway.

  • Reuse of Components

    This feature allows you and businesses to organize the current Lambda functions and microservices into reliable applications, enabling a swift rewiring of them into new compositions.

    It encourages workflow tasks to be executed everywhere, such as on servers, containers, and mobile devices.

Steps on how to create and run AWS Step Functions

To grasp the fundamentals, we need to set an example or a scenario. In our example here, you are a developer who is given a task to build a server-less application for credit card transactions with one main functionality, which is cash deposit or withdrawal.

While currently, you have one Lambda function calling the other, you are concerned about managing several connections as customer transactions can become sophisticated.

In addition, you are worried about how even minor changes would end up in writing the same code over and over again.

To overcome this, you decide to use AWS Step Functions. Below is the step to step guide on how to create and run AWS Step Functions with Lambda Function:

  1. 1

    Create a Lambda Function: You can do that either by using AWS Management Console or the AWS command line. You could seemingly name the function "processWithdrawal".

  2. 2

    Create a Step Function role: From the IAM Management Console, create a default role which is Step Function, and assume the naming you put as “StepFunctionRole” for the Step Function to invoke our Lambda Function.

  3. 3

    Create a state machine: From the AWS Step Function Management Console create a state machine to start designing your workflow. Name your state machine seemingly as “transactionProcessStateMachine”.

  4. 4

    Start workflow execution: Upon confirming your Role and creating a state machine, you can start executing your workflow. But before executing you need to set a random ID which is optional and depends on your choice.

  5. 5

    Once executed, you will be able to view the visual workflow in your Step Function Management under Graph Inspector with real-time updates. Finally you can actually see your work!

AWS Step Functions integration: Examples and use cases 

For you to get an even better insight and understanding of AWS Step Functions, let us cultivate Step Functions integration examples and use cases. Stated below are some examples of Step Functions and their processes:

1. Coordination of multi-step data processing:

AWS Step Functions is used to manage and organize a data processing and analysis pipeline that involves multiple steps, such as data integration, data transformation, data analysis, and data visualization.

For example, if your role is data analyst, then you might use the Step Functions to manage the process of collecting, transforming, and analyzing data from various sources.

2. Business process automation, such as order processing or claim management:

For instance, if you are in a customer service business or integrating with a customer service platform, then your company might use Step Functions to manage the process of handling inquiries, and closing resolved cases.

3. Workflow organization for server-less applications:

For example, if you are a developer in an e-commerce platform, then you might integrate Step Functions to manage the process of adding items to a shopping cart, calculating tax, shipping, and payment processing. 

4. Parallel batch processing:

You can use AWS Step Functions to coordinate and orchestrate parallel batch processing, which is dividing a large batch of data into smaller chunks and processing each chunk in parallel. 

For instance, a data processing team might use Step Function to manage the process of dividing the large dataset into smaller chunks.

5. Event-driven workflows:

AWS Step Functions can also be used for event-driven workflows, meaning workflows that are triggered by an event, such as the completion of a task or the receipt of a message.

For instance, you might use Step Functions if you are integrating messaging platforms and managing the process of sending a message, waiting for a response, and taking action based on the response.

6. Multi-step micro-services workflows:

AWS Step Function is used to compose a complete application in which services are independent and loosely coupled.

A multi-step microservices workflow might involve several services, such as an authentication service, a payment gateway, and a shipping service,

AWS Step Functions vs. AWS Lambda: A cost comparison

When talking about Step Functions and AWS Lambda in a sentence, there is always a debate ongoing. Tech researchers, writers, and developers alike debate why, when, or how they integrate.

One primal point you should keep in mind is that AWS Step Functions is based on Lambda functions as a natural extension to the process. Hence, their price points solely depend on their usage.

  • Price for AWS Step Functions

    AWS Step Functions charges a fee for each transition of state made in a workflow. For each step, a monthly free tier of 4,000 state transitions is offered.

  • Price for AWS Lambda

    As for the AWS Lambda subscription, it charges for the number of requests needed for your functions as well as the computing time necessary to run them. The first 1 million requests and 400,000 GB-seconds of computing time per month are provided for free. 

Overall, for longer and complex workflows AWS Step Functions can be more cost-effective, while on the other hand, AWS Lambda is more cost-effective for short-lived, and infrequent functions. 

To get an accurate estimate of your specific use case, you can also use the AWS Pricing Calculator. 

Pros and Cons of using AWS Step Functions

Before you can start to adopt the AWS Step Functions services, it is primal to look into some of the pros and cons that the Step Functions have. This will ultimately help you weigh down the true cost of implementing Step Functions. 

AWS Step Functions pros include: 

  • The serverless infrastructure of AWS, so you don't need to manage any servers.

  • Easy visualization of workflow editor making it easy to design and debug workflows.

  • It helps you coordinate and organize multiple AWS services and functions into a single, and multi-step workflow.

  • Decouples your workflow logic from your business logic, hence decreasing the complexity of the application. 

AWS Step Functions cons include:

  • Although it enables you to decouple your workflow logic from business logic, it transpires into a complex architecture, making it difficult for developers and operators to understand your code.

  • Albeit the cost being effective in the long run, it may still be more expensive than using a single AWS service, such as AWS Lambda, for simpler workflows.

  • Latency plays a role when creating state transitions, as each step must wait for the previous step to complete before starting.

In general, these are the overall pros and cons of integrating AWS Step Functions. However, your mileage may vary depending on your specific use case. 

What is the future of AWS Step Functions for cloud automation?

 After diving deep into the Step Functions spiral, let's take a look at what the future of AWS Step Functions holds.

  •  Increase in usage

    One could say AWS Step Functions future for cloud automation could be measured by its usage and adoption. As cloud computing continues to expand and more businesses are likely to adopt the service, the demand for Step Functions grows.  

  • Feature improvements

    Furthermore, AWS Step Functions is already highly scalable, but it is likely to evolve and improve further over time, just like with any technologies out in the market.

    As growth and demand would increase, Step Functions is highly likely to integrate new features, making it even more useful and versatile for cloud automation.

  • Increase in demand

    As I mentioned, the trend toward serverless computing is rapidly growing, and AWS Step Function is a key player in this space. Hence, it increases the demand for tools like Step Functions to manage serverless workflows.

  • Competition

    Competition also comes into the picture when we are tackling cloud automation. Nevertheless, AWS is one of the largest and most established cloud providers and holds a track record of delivering high-quality, and reliable services.

Wrapping Up:

In the end you have successfully managed to get enough information for you to get started on AWS Step Functions.  

To summarize, AWS Step Functions are a great asset to any business for it provides a seamless workflow and integration and just makes the developer's life a little bit easy.

It has easy-to-follow steps for anyone to start and offers wide documentation, which makes it easier to integrate into your platform. While AWS Step Functions can be a little more costly than just a Lambda Function, its pros weigh down the cons by providing various examples and use cases.

In general, AWS Step Functions is the future of cloud automation, and many businesses will continue to adopt the service shortly.

About the author


Youssef is a Senior Cloud Consultant & Founder of ITCertificate.org

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