In the kingdom of Cloud Native, the reign of Kubernetes continued throughout 2020. But while there was no challenger to the throne — and the King was sometimes proclaimed to be “boring” — there were some interesting developments further up the royal stack.
Serverless Adds Capabilities
Serverless is a form of cloud service that aims to make life much easier for developers, by abstracting away the backend infrastructure. The goal is to enable developers to focus purely on the frontend (which has its own layers of complexity, but I’ll get to that in a minute).
A couple of major themes emerged over 2020 with serverless. Firstly, it’s now much more than “Functions as a Service” (FaaS), which is what defined the pioneer in this space from around 2015: AWS Lambda. Secondly, there are now viable projects that aim to take serverless beyond stateless applications (which Lambda is restricted to) and into the world of stateful applications.
Since serverless is so identified with Amazon Web Services (AWS), earlier this year I interviewed AWS senior developer advocate Nader Dabit. Rather than get bogged down in defining what serverless means now, Dabit prefers to think of it as “a development philosophy.”
“Cloud computing just has a really high barrier to entry,” he explained to me, “and I think there’s a […] hunger for frontend developers or developers that are just not into cloud computing, to start using it because of all the benefits that it offers.”
He also pointed out that frontend developers can now build “full-stack” applications more easily, because serverless platforms like AWS Lambda automatically manage the backend.
If 2020 was a year in which the capabilities of frontend developers were extended, thanks to serverless, it was also a year in which the definition of a serverless application was expanded. In particular, with the management of state.
In AWS Lambda, functions are stateless — meaning there can be no record of previous interactions in a Lambda function. But with Cloudstate, an offshoot of cloud native vendor Lightbend, stateful functions are possible. Cloudstate is aiming to build a foundation for what it calls “Serverless 2.0.” It’s doing this, explained Lightbend founder and CTO Jonas Bonér, to enable the development of general-purpose applications in a serverless environment — which includes stateful applications like online banking, e-commerce shopping carts, and messaging.
Roper told me that FaaS is “the first iteration” of removing the backend friction for developers, but that “the next iteration […] is to look at state management, and how to remove that friction; so that a developer can not only be productive on day one, but also producing production-ready code that will scale, that will be resilient, that will be elastic, [and] scale up and down according to their needs.”
Jamstack Takes on WordPress (and the World)
The goal of Jamstack is to decouple the frontend of web development from its backend. During 2020, it was heavily promoted as a way to modernize the management of websites. A new wave of well-funded startups — like Netlify (which coined the term), Gatsby, Strapi and Contentful — positioned themselves as alternatives to legacy systems like WordPress and Drupal.
“Basically all the traditional monolithic CMS’s have really started seeing that this decoupling [of frontend from backend] is a reality and it’s desirable for the developers,” Netlify CEO Matt Biilmann told me in July. “And people who work today directly with WordPress as their whole stack, there’s a lot of dissatisfaction of feeling that you will fall completely behind in what you can actually do on the frontend.”
While Jamstack is enticing for developers and may well offer the benefits that Biilmann outlined, currently JAMstack services fall well short of WordPress for content creators…and indeed anyone else who isn’t a developer.
When I put Biilmann’s comments to WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg in August, he was dismissive of Jamstack. He called it “a regression for the vast majority of the people adopting it” and claimed that “the usability and functionality is actually lower.” Biilmann and Mullenweg went on to debate the merits (or otherwise) of Jamstack in Netlify’s virtual conference in October, Jamstack Conf. Mullenweg made some strong points in this debate, including that WordPress now taps into many of the same frontend technologies that Jamstack does.
“We have a beautiful REST API, we have a GraphQL API, you can use it de-coupled, there are things like Frontity that allow you to build WordPress [with] serverless pre-rendering using React. There are so many ways to integrate it.”
The debate will rage on in 2021, but one thing is clear at the end of 2020: Jamstack startups challenging WordPress is great news for web developers, because ultimately it’ll give them more tools to choose from.
As well as catering to Next.js developers on the frontend, Vercel has a “build and deployment” setup on the backend that is similar to Netlify; which means Vercel can be said to be a Jamstack company too.
Deno aims to fix what Dahl perceives as key weaknesses of Node.js — including security issues, use of a centralized repository system (npm), and “heavy-handed tooling.”
Send Us Your Feedback
As you can see, it’s been a busy year for these three “up the stack” trends! Let us know on social media what other trends you’ve noticed this year in the fast-paced world of at-scale development — I’m @ricmac on Twitter, or you can ping the entire team @thenewstack.
As for what we can expect up the stack in the new year, I’ll make some prognostications in my first column of 2021.
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Feature image via Pixabay.
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