It is a great time to be a web software developer. Over the last decade those components of web development which have little strategic advantage to a start up have gradually been eliminated and outsourced by the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) vendors to such an extent that today the gap between writing code and deploying a new application is often bridged with a single click.
Where ten years ago deploying a new application required provisioning and cabling a new server, installing Linux, setting up MySQL, configuring Apache, and finally uploading the code, the process today has dramatically less friction. On Heroku, one powerful command line:
> git push heroku master
is now all that stands between a team of developers and a live production application.
Let’s take a closer look at what is happening. The code residing in the Git repository is “pushed” (uploaded) directly to, in this example, Heroku’s cloud platform. From that point on, the long list of tasks involved in maintaining and fine-tuning a modern web stack is outsourced. The platform provider handles hard drive failures, exploding power supplies, denial-of-service attacks, router replacement, server OS upgrades, security patches, web server configuration … and everything in between.
The implications of this trend are bound to be far-reaching. As common infrastructure is outsourced to vendors such as Amazon, Rackspace, Google and Salesforce.com, the base of customers for hardware and stack software will become increasingly concentrated.
The platform-as-a-service vendors will increasingly function as the curators and distributors of both the platform software and the associated services needed by all modern applications, such as monitoring, billing and error logging.
Just as the arrival of open-source blogging platforms eliminated the intervening steps between writers and audiences, so the new breed of platforms has reduced the friction between developers and their customers. More importantly, the barriers for new private companies to compete have been permanently lowered. Today, $100 per month can buy you a billion dollar data center.