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Bernard Golden, May 27, 2014
I've just spent two days attending Gluecon and am leaving with my head buzzing with information, insights, and speculation about where the IT industry is heading.
I attended a couple of years ago, and at the time, observed two things:
It was all APIs, all the time. For the developers who attend Gluecon, APIs (and the services they front end) are the new model of assembling applications. One of the 2012 keynotes discussed "the API billion" -- APIs called over a billion times per month, from companies such as Netflix and Salesforce.
Nobody mentioned cloud computing, for the same reason most of us never mention the air we breathe -- it's just an environmental factor that we take for granted, and assume its reliable availability as an input to how we go about our quotidian lives.
This year I noted two high-profile topics: APIs and Docker.
You might be forgiven for wondering "I thought Gluecon two years ago was about APIs, no?" Well, just like the first act of a romantic comedy is always about excitement, and the second act is about all the complications that beset the protagonists, this year’s Gluecon API presentations seemed to be all about the complications of APIs:
Security: A speaker from Kinvey talked about API security best practices, and, when queried, acknowledged that 90% of API developers leave obvious security holes in their products
Use: The CEO of Runscope noted that API SDKs suffer from version control, obsolescence, and overloading with extraneous functionality, which makes it extremely difficult to productively use APIs.
Documentation: Many APIs offer out-of-date documentation or, even worse, no documentation, thereby requiring searching through blog posts and tweets or even descending into reverse engineering.
To my mind, however, these complications reflect the fact that API use has moved into the enterprise mainstream, and the proliferation of use and the vastly expanded user base means that APIs are having their “crossing the chasm” moment. And, just as romantic comedies inevitably resolve the second act complications and result in a happy ending, so too, I believe the complications associated with APIs will be addressed to make them easier to use for mainstream application developers. A couple of initiatives to that end (Swagger and api.json) were presented at Gluecon; combined, they make API description and discovery easier. I think it’s safe to say that we can expect a lot of energy regarding APIs over the next few years as the new model of service assembly application development becomes more common.
The second topic on everyone’s lips at Gluecon was Docker. Any number of presentations discussed its use and benefits, particularly with respect to application portability (which I discussed in a recent ActiveState blog post).
To me, Avi Cavale, CEO of Shippable (a cloud-based continuous integration service) gave the most interesting Docker presentation. He described how his company moved its application topology from many relatively small Amazon instances to fewer, larger instances that run a number of Docker containers in them.
Using Docker allows them to run components of the CI application in segregated environments, thereby preventing conflicts from differing library versions, careless memory handling, etc. Docker also allows them to respond to increased application loads or infrastructure failure more rapidly; rather than taking the four minutes required to launch an AWS instance, starting a new Docker container with Shippable components requires only seconds.
Most dramatic about Cavale’s presentation, though, is the economic benefit Shippable realized by moving to a simpler topology using fewer, but larger instances. Monthly AWS expenses dropped from $4,000 to $800, a 75% decrease, which can be attributed to Docker’s more efficient resource use, as described by my colleague Phil Whelan. A fellow attendee, upon hearing Cavale’s cost cutting description, leaned over to me and observed that this could disrupt AWS economics and be seen by Amazon as a threat to its cloud computing business. I’m not so sure of this, and, in fact, believe that Amazon might embrace use of Docker for greater resource efficiency -- after all, AWS rolled out Trusted Advisor, a service designed to inform users of low utilization resources. I think Amazon is more likely to take the viewpoint that enabling customers to get the highest possible benefit from AWS will, ultimately, result in increased AWS adoption overall.
Gluecon this year was, as always, a fascinating experience. It has a distinctly casual feel with few of the vendor marketing presentations that are the bane of many conferences. However, attending Gluecon provides a peek into the future of technology trends -- it’s like knowing the ending of a movie 18 months before everyone else sees it. So, if Gluecon can be trusted, if you’re an enterprise IT developer or manager, you can expect to see a lot of APIs and Docker in your future.
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