Gone are the days when ideation to productization took years. Between 2011 and 2016, the cloud and DevOps showed the path to versatility and automation. However, every cloud offering had a unique interface. Multicloud was a wishful strategy, as automating operations even for a single cloud platform was a daunting task due to lack of standardization.
When Kubernetes came to light, it offered a standardized interface across hybrid environments. Automation tools converged, multicloud became a reality. However, Kubernetes implementation required a steep learning curve across the teams. According to D2IQ, 41% of the developers and architects felt extremely burned out and 51% of them felt that application modernization (aka cloud native apps) added stress to their day-to-day job. Complexity has been an impeding factor.
In the last 1.5 years, the impact of COVID-19 has added a new dimension to this equation. Businesses now have to deliver more with less, adding pressure on the team to upskill faster. While the demands are increasing on one end, there is a shortage of skilled developers on the other. Business and Product owners are aggressively trying to optimize their software delivery process. This has given rise to the next-gen development paradigm called “citizen development” in the cloud native space.
What Is Citizen Development?
Citizen development isn’t a completely new phenomenon. It has been around for a while in other aspects of software development, especially in building a business process modeling (BPM), customer relation management (CRM), or an enterprise resource planning (ERP) application. Citizen development leverages no or low code platforms to build applications through visual representation without the need for deep coding skills. These platforms have proven to drastically increase productivity and accelerate the time to market.
Low-code no-code software development helps developers make cloud-native applications more than 10-times faster (with 70% fewer resources)Forrester
Statistics augmenting the rise of no-code platforms aren’t surprising. Humans process visuals much faster than text representation. Thus, visuals are not only easy to comprehend but also create shared knowledge across technical and non-technical teams. This enables the teams to focus on high-value tasks than spending time on resolving technical issues. Extending this paradigm from application development to delivery and automation, can empower the entire organization, right from business/product owners to developers, to own software delivery and cut down any communication barriers.
The Fabric of No Code Platforms
Before we dig deep into no-code platforms for cloud-native deployments, let us analyze some fundamental characteristics of these platforms.
- Visual Models instead of code – The fundamental building blocks of these no-code platforms are the visual modeling tools. They use visual models to auto-generate data models and workflows.
- Model-Driven Approach – Since the development starts and ends with visual models, no-code platforms inherently use a model-driven approach to building applications.
- Guard Rails – If no-code platforms are required to generate code, then it is imperative that they encapsulate validation and security checks to ensure the quality of the code – preventing manual errors and oversights.
- Reusability and Extendibility – One of the fundamental characteristics of no-code platforms is to offer or enable reusable modules that can be composed dynamically. These platforms often come with marketplaces or product hubs, each with a rich set of reusable components and third-party tool integrations.
- Change management – Since the visual models act as the single source of truth across the business, they need to be version controlled for better traceability and compliance.
- Governance – These platforms encourage collaborative development, Role-Based Access Controls, centralized management of resources to avoid shadow IT.
What Is a No-Code Platform for Cloud Native Deployments?
A no-code cloud native platform takes a code-free approach to transform and maintain micro-services as cloud native deployments. During the transformation process, these platforms auto-generate Docker files, Kubernetes artifacts, and the pipeline code for end-to-end automation.
Drawing parallels between no-code platforms in the BPM domain to those in cloud native deployments, most of the characteristics of no-code platforms in the BPM application development are still applicable in the cloud native context. For example, centralized governance across the resources can reduce the service or cluster sprawl and can give a bird’s eye view of the entire DevOps process. However, a few additional factors are paramount to the success of a no-code cloud native platform.
- Scaffolding – This provides a seamless experience to onboard a microservice.
- Sophisticated Modeling – visual modeling has to go beyond stacking up the LEGO blocks of microservices, it has to cover a wide range of application platforms, Kubernetes resources, and the underlying hybrid infrastructure.
- Distribute 12 factors across different stages of the release cycles – This enforces best practices at different stages of building the applications so that the applications are cloud native compliant from day 1.
- Simplified hybrid cloud management – a simple interface either through UI wizards or command-line utility to provision and manage Kubernetes environments across cloud, edge, and on-premise environments.
- No Lock-in – While the dominant purpose of Kubernetes is standardization and portability, no-code platforms should embrace these core principles and deliver portable artifacts.
- Developer tools and Out-of-box experience – Unlike traditional citizen development, since the cloud native no-code platforms deal with a multitude of 3rd party tools, hybrid environments, and loosely coupled microservices, it is essential to provide a developer-friendly environment to build applications. This includes logs, metrics, direct terminal access to an environment, etc
Coding is not the main event anymore. Building software is the main event. Coding is just one small part of it. We think the future of coding is no coding at all. we think autonomous coding is a very real thing.Chris Wanstrath, CEO at GitHub
Citizen development is not just for novice developers. It automates laborious and mundane tasks making room for smarter software development and innovation. In this new age, where the need for speed is an unquestionable differentiator for businesses, no Code platforms are a big boon to cloud native development. Let us enrich the experience of building software on Kubernetes, be it on the cloud or at the edge. Together, let us enter the realm of hyper-automation.
This article was originally published in TheNewStack journal.