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Going Backstage to Close the Developer Experience Gap

By Betty Junod, VMware Tanzu VP Product Marketing

Technology is ever-evolving and seemingly evolving more quickly. Over the decades, patterns have repeatedly played out. New infrastructures and architectures get introduced and become more efficient, then the software infrastructure (a.k.a. middleware) that supports application development and integrations follows, helping organizations take advantage of all those new infrastructures and architectures with the promise of flexibility, velocity, and portability.

The proliferation of containers enabled and accelerated new app development patterns like microservices, 12 Factor apps, and other cloud native patterns. But as the industry focused on distributing infrastructure-from compute and storage to databases and API routing-the focus on developer experience got lost. Now, advances in infrastructure and operations, including container orchestration and networking, infrastructure as code (IaC), as well as platform engineering and SRE practices, allow us to refocus our efforts on the developer workflow-to reduce their toil and streamline the path to production.

Organizations recognize that digital transformation is anchored in the belief that software is a corporate asset that allows them to compete in dynamic global markets. The ability to realize new revenue streams, address changing customer needs, and improve security and efficiency depends on their application development and delivery (AD&D) strategy. A recent study by Forrester Research, commissioned by VMware, showed that a better developer experience can affect business strategy, execution, and is now the responsibility of everyone, including CEOs. See figure 1.  

 

The "omnivore's dilemma of software development"

There is no shortage of tools and services promising to enhance developer productivity and happiness. In the 2021 edition of his Developer Led Landscape report, Tyler Jewell counted more than 1,000 companies publishing 1,286 products that were "sold to, purchase-influenced by, or consumed by software developers," the largest subcategory being Development Platforms, with 420 companies publishing 496 products. In second place was Development Infrastructure, with 352 companies publishing 461. And by the way, their combined ARR exceeds $41 billion. 

While it's great to see so much attention being paid here, it can also be overwhelming. Developers want access to their preferred tools and focus on their code, while operations teams must meet company security and compliance requirements.

"We have at our disposal an enormous bounty, a cornucopia of software delights" - James Governor, Co-Founder of RedMonk

This "cornucopia of software delights," as James Governor of RedMonk put it, can often lead to unnecessary developer toil-the cognitive load it takes to get to the point of writing code: the process of setting up environments; using the latest and approved APIs, images, databases, and libraries; fiddling with integrating services; and so on. Meanwhile, infrastructure and operations (I&O) teams are tasked with simplifying the path to production, improving the security posture, and decreasing the number of handoffs between teams, which can be a frustrating process. These issues are exacerbated at scale, as the number of developers, apps, and APIs grow. 

Have your cake and eat it too with self-service developer portals

Timely access to the right tools, services, and technologies fuels innovation. However, app teams often struggle to reap the benefits, hindered by disparate tools and disjointed workflows that, at best, increase toil and, at worst, leave systems vulnerable to security attacks. This is not a novel problem. In fact, I&O teams have long established service catalogs to help with this issue for infrastructure services. Today we have a similar model with the internal developer portal, a central portal to publish all developer services and APIs, making it easy for developers to browse, search, and consume-enabling rapid innovation, code reusability, and access to templates, while at the same time enforcing consistent governance, security, and compliance controls. Developer portals can marry these often conflicting ideas into a single interface. In other words, self-service developer portals let us have our cake and eat it too. According to a Gartner Research® report - Innovation Insight for Internal Developer Portals "by 2025, 75% of organizations with platform teams will provide self-service developer portals to improve developer experience and accelerate product innovation." The report, featuring Backstage, highlights the struggle of product teams dealing with disparate tools and disjointed workflows and that "engineering leaders leading platform teams must establish internal, self-service developer portals to enable consistency and scale cloud, agile and DevOps initiatives." [SOURCE: Gartner Research: IInnovation Insight for Internal Developer Portals; February 2022 - By Manjunath Bhat, Mark O'Neill, Oleksandr Matvitskyy] 

Since its alpha release in 2020, Spotify's Backstage has gained tremendous traction-and for good reason. An open source platform for building developer portals, Backstage helps organizations customize an internal developer portal to improve collaboration, streamline handoffs between teams at scale, and ensure security and quality standards are met, all while allowing developers easy access to the tools and services they need. It's why vendors, including VMware, have chosen to incorporate it into our own products and why end-user organizations ranging from financial services companies to consumer goods are using Backstage as the foundation of their developer experience.

 

No example is more prominent than that of American Airlines, which put its aptly named developer portal, Runway, at the center of its developer experience initiative. Today, Runway is central to the company's developer experience initiative, with adoption growing to include thousands of developers. 

A vanguard in its industry, American Airlines recognized the power of software to fuel its digital transformation. As an early adopter of Cloud Foundry embracing multi-cloud, American Airlines' IT organization recognized the need to create a centralized developer experience to enable rapid innovation. One of the most obvious issues holding them back was a lengthy, manual service request process that often left devs waiting for months to access the services they need to do their job. This was the opposite of rapid innovation! Teams took matters into their own hands, trying to address the same issue in different ways, by building their own portals or using outside vendors. This resulted in duplication of efforts and inconsistency that caused fragmentation and is ultimately unsustainable.

A core capability of American Airlines' developer experience initiative is recognizing approved app patterns and code reusability. Many enterprises struggle with this, so having a centralized place for developers to get preconfigured templates with all their app dependencies and configurations allows them to quickly bootstrap their applications without having to worry if they're running afoul of security standards and having to rework their code. With Backstage, American Airlines' Runway offers a flexible, enterprise-ready portal for integrating developer services and abstracting infrastructure complexities so developers can focus on writing quality software. For more, see the American Airlines team in this video.

Backstage at KubeCon North America

The community and ecosystem momentum is a testament to the popularity of Backstage, the technology, and the problems it solves for its users. The first-ever Backstage Con is took place as a KubeCon day zero event on October 24 and was full of great talks. Whether you are simply curious to learn what all the fuss is about or are an advanced end user or vendor, this is a great opportunity to connect with the community and exchange ideas.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Betty Junod, VMware Tanzu VP Product Marketing

Betty-Junod 

Betty Junod is the Vice President of Product Marketing for VMware Tanzu, the modern applications platform business, helping organizations along their journey to cloud native. This is Betty's second time at VMware, having previously led product marketing for End User Computing. In between her VMware stints, she held marketing leadership positions as commercial open source companies like Docker and solo.io following the evolution of technology abstractions from virtualization, containers, to service mesh. She likes to hang out at the intersection of open source, distributed systems, and enterprise architecture. @bettyjunod

Published Thursday, November 03, 2022 7:34 AM by David Marshall
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