VMware won many early battles against AWS a decade ago, but look where the landscape is now. What can we learn from that for serverless?

Have a look at this week's Cold Start newsletter from ServerlessOps! Each week we bring commentary and links from around the serverless ecosystem. Plus, you'll also find out about the latest we've been up to as well.

Hi there,

Can We Learn From VMware Versus AWS A Decade Ago?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea that Kubernetes and containers will win the early battles while serverless will win the overall platform war. I think there’s a historical analogy to be found a decade ago as VMware exploded while AWS was just launching. And if this analogy is accurate, are there parallels we can draw from a decade ago? In particular, what were the successful companies and products which emerged during that time and what can we learn from them?

A decade ago I think you were better off building a product with on-prem virtualization in mind rather than targeting public cloud because that's where the market was. Think back a decade ago and the products and tools that were coming out. I personally think about Puppet and Chef. The two things I think that made them important and widely adopted were:

  1. They solved immediate problems in the status quo
  2. They made new engineering patterns possible for the cloud
Where I'm going with this is, maybe you can't build a product for the serverless ecosystem today. But what you can do is solve a problem of today in a way that makes serverless adoption more approachable and grow.

You think I got into Puppet because I wanted to configure 100s of hosts? Nope! I got into it because I wanted to configure 1 host... Faster. Eventually I realized I could configure 1 or 100 hosts in the same amount of time. And then a new pattern of disposable hosts necessary for public cloud engineering made sense to me and was doable unlike it had been before.

My advice for anyone who wants to build a product for serverless systems is pick a problem of today that only gets worse with serverless. I personally think system complexity is a problem today that will only get worse with serverless. If thousands of containers is hard, imagine hundreds of thousands of functions and other moving parts.

Make it easy for me to find and trace a subset of business transactions because the support organization has flagged a particular subset of users with specific conditions that are receiving an error. Or, alert me to what at scale looks like random noise but is actually significantly impacting a particular group of users.

But solve this problem in an agnostic way that doesn't care what my platform is. If you can help people solve the problems caused by today’s battles you can grow and survive long enough for serverless to win the war.

Note: I'm not against starting with serverless technology as a strategy for establishing company and product recognition. I think it's a good one! It's a pretty easy to stand out in the small space today.
But eventually you're going to have to scale adoption. You can either rely on the serverless market to scale for you at an appropriate rate or make inroads into another space. I think relying on the serverless market to scale fast enough is risky.
I'm also potentially suggesting you be really good at more than one thing which you might not be ready for. Trying to be good at too many things too early can kill startups. I readily admit my advice may be wrong for you.

This Week's Links

In this week's edition of Cold Start we have links on:

  • The AWS serverless announcements from the end of 2018
  • The disruption serverless will cause in IT
  • What serverless means for being a "full-stack" engineer
  • and more...


I'm Tom from ServerlessOps and we provide a range of services around DevOps transformation, AWS migration, serverless training, and startup cloud operations. See our services to learn more.

Also let us know what you think of this week's Cold Start using the 👍/👎 links at the end of this email!

Tom at ServerlessOps

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