Thousands of people descended upon Las Vegas last week for the annual IBM InterConnect conference, where IBM shares its vision with customers and developers and makes big announcements. One of the biggest things Big Blue unveiled was BlueMix OpenWhisk, an event-driven programming service designed for a serverless computing environment.
OpenWhisk uses an event-driven model, automatically executing code in response to external events such as incoming sensor data or designated triggers. (Event-driven programming is also called serverless programming, because the events themselves more or less become the foundation on which the programming is built.)
Al Hilwa, program director of Software Development Research for IDC, declared the BlueMix OpenWhisk announcement to be one of the most interesting revelations at the IBM InterConnect conference. “This is IBM’s play in the hot area of serverless back-end computing supporting an event-driven application model like AWS Lambda, Google Cloud Functions and technologies from players like iron.io,” he noted. “This is the new face of PaaS, where developers do not have to worry about infrastructure.”
I recently wrote that advances in DevOps increasingly seem to marginalize the “Ops” part of the equation, essentially making it obsolete: I noted that what you’re left with essentially is developers with the processes and tools to automate the infrastructure back end. Technologies such as containers and services such as AWS Lambda simplify greatly the process of programmatically generating, modifying and maintaining the underlying infrastructure.
As I summed up in that article, though, Ops won’t really go away. Advances in DevOps and technologies such as serverless computing simply free operations teams. They can spend less time putting out fires or maintaining mundane configurations and focus more on big-picture issues that improve performance and help the company innovate.
OpenWhisk is evidence of that future. It has the potential to transform IT and accelerate DevOps even more. Developers can develop and deploy applications faster and more seamlessly without the need to worry about the servers or middleware traditionally required. OpenWhisk will handle the necessary code.
IBM suggested developers can use OpenWhisk to create microservices-based applications, where each individual task or component is developed and maintained separately. Different teams can operate in parallel on their individual elements.
OpenWhisk joins other serverless computing platforms including Amazon’s AWS Lambda and Google’s Google Cloud Functions. As Hilwa pointed out, there are also emerging players such as iron.io. The unique value that OpenWhisk brings to the table is that it is integrated with the BlueMix platform, which means developers have immediate access to all of the apps, analysis and services BlueMix has to offer.
IBM will open source the codebase of OpenWhisk itself. That isn’t a surprise, since BlueMix itself is based on open source code and IBM is a major proponent and benefactor of open source projects. The true potential of a tool such as OpenWhisk can be realized more quickly with the community at large helping to evolve it, but IBM can continue to act as consultants and provide deeper services for customers to help them maximize the value of OpenWhisk.