Following the Data, Not the Function: Rethinking Function Orchestration in Serverless Computing


Minchen Yu, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; Tingjia Cao, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Wei Wang, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; Ruichuan Chen, Nokia Bell Labs


Serverless applications are typically composed of function workflows in which multiple short-lived functions are triggered to exchange data in response to events or state changes. Current serverless platforms coordinate and trigger functions by following high-level invocation dependencies but are oblivious to the underlying data exchanges between functions. This design is neither efficient nor easy to use in orchestrating complex workflows – developers often have to manage complex function interactions by themselves, with customized implementation and unsatisfactory performance.

In this paper, we argue that function orchestration should follow a data-centric approach. In our design, the platform provides a data bucket abstraction to hold the intermediate data generated by functions. Developers can use a rich set of data trigger primitives to control when and how the output of each function should be passed to the next functions in a workflow. By making data consumption explicit and allowing it to trigger functions and drive the workflow, complex function interactions can be easily and efficiently supported. We present Pheromone – a scalable, low-latency serverless platform following this data-centric design. Compared to well-established commercial and open-source platforms, Pheromone cuts the latencies of function interactions and data exchanges by orders of magnitude, scales to large workflows, and enables easy implementation of complex applications.

NSDI '23 Open Access Sponsored by
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)

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This content is available to:

@inproceedings {285113,
author = {Minchen Yu and Tingjia Cao and Wei Wang and Ruichuan Chen},
title = {Following the Data, Not the Function: Rethinking Function Orchestration in Serverless Computing},
booktitle = {20th USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation (NSDI 23)},
year = {2023},
isbn = {978-1-939133-33-5},
address = {Boston, MA},
pages = {1489--1504},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = apr
Yu Paper (Prepublication) PDF

Presentation Video