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Lightbend: bridging the cloud and edge application development gap

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Lightbend: bridging the cloud and edge application development gap

Lightbend is a provider of cloud-native microservice frameworks for cloud and edge applications. The company has been at the forefront of edge computing with the release of products such as Akka Distributed Cluster, a platform for edge computing across multiple data centers, and a Java software development kit for Kalix, the firm’s platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering.

EdgeIR interviewed Jonas Bonér, CEO and founder of Lightbend, to talk about how the company is helping organizations reduce the complexity of cloud and edge-native enterprise application development. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

EdgeIR: What advice do you have for companies wanting to embrace the right cloud- and edge-native development practices for their organizations?

Jonas Bonér: In today’s rapidly changing business landscape, it is essential to leverage solid cloud-native development practices to stay competitive and agile. The goal should be to simplify, abstract, and automate the development processes as much as possible.

Despite external pressures ranging from war to the onset of an economic recession, businesses must continue to innovate and deliver value to their customers. The ability to deliver features quickly and efficiently is a crucial competitive advantage. But this must be balanced with the need to manage costs and resources effectively.

The global environment and the shift to digital platforms and services necessitate a fresh and predictable approach to cloud-native development. We need to climb the ladder of abstraction once again and do more with less. We should create an environment where developers can focus on writing code that delivers business value. At the same time, other concerns, such as infrastructure management, security, and reliability, need to be managed and should ideally be handled by the platform itself.

This is the philosophy behind our Akka Platform, tackling all the hard things from cloud to edge, and our managed PaaS offering, Kalix. Kalix is designed to provide a declarative, hyper-productive polyglot programming model with best-in-class performance. It’s tailored to appeal to a broad range of companies, irrespective of their size or industry. Reducing complexity minimizes time-to-market and the overall cost of ownership, enabling developers to focus on delivering value to the business.

However, embracing cloud-native development is not just about adopting a new platform or tools. It’s about fostering a culture of continuous learning and improvement. It’s about empowering teams to experiment, learn from their successes and failures, and continuously adapt and improve their practices.

Finally, companies should not hesitate to seek help. Whether it’s from consulting services, community forums, or vendor support, a wealth of knowledge and experience is available to guide you on your journey. Embracing cloud-native development is a significant commitment, but the benefits can be transformative with the right approach.

EdgeIR: What are some of the necessary components developers want/need if they are making the move to cloud-native, be it a “central” cloud or edge deployment?

JB: When transitioning to a cloud-native approach, the first critical step developers must take is selecting and assembling an infrastructure stack. This often involves utilizing Kubernetes, complemented by various supporting tools like ingress routers, service meshes, databases, caches, and message brokers.

The decision regarding the cloud provider is often essential at this stage, as each provider offers a unique array of tools and services. These distinct features can significantly influence the decision-making process when constructing the infrastructure stack.

Next, developers must choose a programming model with frameworks and libraries appropriate for their application development needs. Whether the goal is to build APIs, microservices, event-driven systems, or streaming services, the choice of programming model can vary.

Managing all these decisions, tools, and their inherent complexities can be daunting for developers and teams. Consequently, many companies now rely on platform engineering to effectively insulate the development teams from overwhelming complexity, enabling them to focus solely on creating applications and delivering business value quickly and cost-effectively.

EdgeIR: How would you define platform engineering? And what are the benefits and challenges organizations face adopting it?

JB: Platform engineering is a strategy employed to mitigate the complexity of today’s cloud-native infrastructure, optimizing developer productivity. This involves forming an internal dedicated team responsible for building an Internal Developer Platform (IDP) that manages all infrastructure, security, toolchains, and workflows and provides high-level primitives for the other development teams.

However, execution can be challenging due to the difficulty of sourcing the required talent and budget. Despite these hurdles, there’s an increase in attempts to adopt this approach, which shows us that the complexity of cloud-native development has escalated beyond the comfort zone of most organizations.

EdgeIR: What is the state of adoption of edge computing by enterprises? Do you see enterprises developing cloud and edge applications separately, or are they leveraging components across both deployment scenarios?

JB: Edge computing has firmly established its presence in the tech world and continues to gain traction. Today’s edge infrastructure is not only ready for mainstream usage but continues to improve, thanks to advancements in technology sectors like telco, content delivery networks (CDNs), and 5G.

As a result, many enterprises are beginning to harness the unique opportunities edge Computing enables. Key among these is the ability to move and store data close to the end user alongside compute, offering lower latency and better availability.

Unfortunately, most enterprises still perceive cloud and edge as separate entities requiring different architectures, tools, and techniques. This view is unfortunate given the many use cases and exciting opportunities spanning cloud and edge computing.

At Lightbend, we aim to change this perspective by bridging the cloud and edge application development gap. Our goal is to provide a platform that allows companies to perceive cloud and edge development as a single cloud-to-edge Continuum. This approach would offer a unified programming model and data fabric, effectively abstracting the complexities of the underlying hardware and infrastructure. We have already begun this journey with Akka Edge, shipping in October 2023, and will soon introduce Kalix Edge to expand this continuum further.

EdgeIR: How is this playing out in terms of enterprise adoption of Akka? And Kalix, which is your managed PaaS offering?

JB: Akka, first released in 2009, has become the standard platform for building distributed systems on the JVM, whether deployed on-prem, cloud, edge, or hybrid. The platform’s popularity has consistently risen over the years, evidenced by the impressive download numbers. For instance, it had about 14 million downloads last month, and we recently reached 1 billion Akka downloads.

These statistics reflect strong enterprise adoption, with tens of thousands of companies using Akka to build mission-critical systems, many of which are large-scale and require extremely low latency. The adopters span a range of sizes and industries, from Fortune 500 enterprises to mid-sized companies and startups.

Kalix, launched just a year ago, has already attracted large enterprises and startups as customers. It aids platform engineering by serving as a pre-packaged and pre-configured IDP, making it ideal for large enterprises that wish to standardize on a single platform for their developer teams. And with a focus on cost-efficiency and quick time-to-market, Kalix is also an ideal platform for startups aiming to progress from idea to production launch rapidly.

EdgeIR: Are there any market verticals where adoption is particularly strong or areas of adoption that have surprised you?

JB: Akka’s versatility and general-purpose nature have led to its broad adoption across a wide spectrum of industry verticals. These span financial services, e-commerce, telecommunications, Internet of Things (IoT), automobile industry, gaming, betting, military, agriculture, and others. Among these, the industries where Akka has had particularly strong adoption are financial services, e-commerce, and IoT sectors.

On the other hand, with one-year-old Kalix, it has been gratifying yet somewhat surprising to see the strong interest from large banks. These companies are keen on standardizing their operations on an IDP. While Kalix is a perfect fit for these large enterprises, banks traditionally have rigorous compliance and security requirements. Our dedicated efforts to meet these standards, such as achieving the SOC 2 certification (which also covers the Akka Platform), have built their trust in Kalix.

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