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Ambassador Labs 2023 Predictions: A Developer-First Future for the Cloud-Native World


Industry executives and experts share their predictions for 2023.  Read them in this 15th annual series exclusive.

A Developer-First Future for the Cloud-Native World

It's a developer's world - ops just lives in it

By Daniel Bryant, Head of Developer Relations, Ambassador Labs

As we look into the near and longer-term future, particularly for the cloud-native Kubernetes space, one thing seems certain: the "developer experience" aspect of delivering software to users is now of primary importance. While this has been true before, the last decade's tilt toward software-defined infrastructure and the focus on building distributed systems has caused a step change in the way applications are coded, shipped, and run. A number of factors, which tie into our predictions for the coming year, are converging at this moment to elevate developer experience to being a business-critical requirement.

At the same time, rumblings about the "end of DevOps" - one strong opinion on the platform-based future - seem bombastic, even if they hold a kernel of truth. Platform engineering is already changing not only the developer experience but the focus of DevOps, Ops, and SRE teams. Platforms will continue to help ease the infrastructure journey for developers, letting them focus on coding - but they will still require some operational support (which some are referring to as "Platform Ops"). Perhaps the future contains transformation for DevOps teams, even as developers and their experience take center stage.

Heading into 2023, finding the right balance to ensure that developers can gain the fast feedback they need to ship software faster, and safely, will be the focus - and potentially greatest challenge.

Developer-first Kubernetes (vs. Ops-first): In the first era of cloud native, the industry focused on creating and integrating a plethora of ops-focused tools to solve the problems introduced by containers, software-defined everything, and the next generation of SOA (a.k.a. microservices). These tools often required a steep learning curve and expertise, and it took time to bend them to fit into an organization's workflow. Developers became disillusioned, which slowed uptake.

The pendulum has begun to swing back toward optimizing for a simpler developer experience with tools that are easy to plug in and enhance existing workflows. The internal developer platform (IDP) concept has arisen from this need for reducing developer toil and cognitive load. In the last year or so, many companies have created such "developer control planes" to try to unlock developer productivity, speed up and ease onboarding, and provide a "golden path" lined with best practices. Now, as the idea generates mass appeal, and the platform engineering approach gains wider adoption, the near future promises the introduction of more commercial developer platform options. Whether or not this contributes to driving developer-first Kubernetes remains to be seen (it will depend on the platform), but it seems certain that reining in the demanding learning curve and providing clear paths to action for developers will achieve the aim of simplifying cloud-native development for developers of all types.

Developers can "shift left" without "drifting right": The recent focus on "shifting left" has led many developers to be overwhelmed by dealing with the infrastructure components of cross-functional requirements like observability, security, and scalability. Without the appropriate abstractions and tools, they have been forced to "drift right" into the operations-focused world of building platforms.

The emergence of platform engineering is a necessary but not sufficient step. The evolution of developer-focused standards and implementations, like OpenTelemetry for observability and SPDX for Software Bill of Materials, will be a driving force.

Microservices (testing) strikes back: Adopting cloud-native practices and technologies has led to a Cambrian explosion of microservices within business-critical (heritage or money-making) systems. API-first application development has revolutionized the digital landscape with interconnected experiences, and this adds significant complexity and a deeper reliance on internet connectivity. APIs can live in all kinds of environments, and any change can have unintended ripple effects. Understanding these connected systems is difficult enough, but as these systems evolve and/or require maintenance, the previous assumptions made by engineers will also change and need to be constantly verified to continue delivering reliable, high-performance applications.

As a result, 2023 promises to be a year in which the API once again becomes the crucial focus of testing, but this time for internal services as well as external systems.

The future is cloudy, platform-shaped and built on open standards

The cloud is the future, as highlighted at the 2023 KubeCon event in Detroit. Cloud-native platforms, according to a Gartner prediction, will be the foundation for 95% of new digital initiatives by 2025 - and the platform concept, as described above, was a core theme at the conference.

There's no denying that the road ahead is built in the cloud, but this cannot be done sustainably without open standards and the open source community and its maintainers. Who are these maintainers? The developers, which is why the tools and platforms for the cloud-native world we're living in, must (and will) fundamentally support the developer-first developer experience.



Daniel Bryant, Head of Developer Relations, Ambassador Labs

Daniel Bryant 

Daniel's technical expertise focuses on ‘DevOps' tooling, cloud/container platforms, and microservice implementations. Daniel is a long-time coder, platform engineer, and Java Champion, and he contributes to several open source projects. He also writes for InfoQ, O'Reilly, and The New Stack, and regularly presents at international conferences such as KubeCon, QCon, and JavaOne. In his copious amounts of free time, he enjoys running, reading, and traveling.

Published Monday, November 14, 2022 7:35 AM by David Marshall
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