First the applications all moved to the cloud. And now they’re being torn apart. Let me explain what I mean by that.

As markets grow, the unit of function around which one can build a business shrinks. A classic example of this can be seen in the history of the automotive industry. The Ford River Rouge Complex was built in the late 1920s. At the time, mass-produced cars were relatively new, and the market was relatively small. And so factories like the River Rouge Complex had to build all the subcomponents too. Roughly, in one side of the factory went water, rubber, and iron ore, and out the other side came full automobiles. Of course, as the market for cars grew, so did a massive ecosystem of suppliers of car components: wheels, seats, floor mats, and the like. Today the large car companies are more akin to integrators than auto parts makers.

The same dynamic is happening with the application. In the 1970s the same manufacturer would build the chips, the circuit boards, the system form factor, the operating system, and each of the applications. Over time as the market has grown, the system has disaggregated. The hardware and software separated and spawned multiple independent companies. And then companies started to be built around independent applications.

The market hasn’t stopped growing and over the last few years we’ve seen the application itself disaggregate. Commonly used subcomponents of applications are being pulled out, and entire companies and projects are being built around them. Today, if you’re building an application, there are third-party APIs available for authenticating users, sending texts or email, streaming videos, authorizing access to resources, and many other useful functions.

So what does this have to do with the book you’re about to read? While the last decade was a consolidation of applications into the cloud, the next decade is largely going to be about the explosion of applications and application components away from it. Now that subcomponents of workloads have been largely decoupled from having to sit with the application, they can be run anywhere. And in particular they can be run on infrastructure that’s purposely built and optimized for them! In fact, we are starting to see what can only be described as an anti-cloud trend where large companies are choosing to pull some workloads back from large clouds to their own optimized infrastructure. And we’re even seeing startups choosing to build their own infrastructure from the get-go because they understand the cost and performance advantages of doing so.

In “Edge Cloud Operations: A Systems Approach” the authors provide a detailed overview of not just cloud operations (which are so last decade) but operations in this new era of distributed clouds. In many ways, the cloud era was a low point of systems, because so much below the application layer was buried deep within the engineering organizations of the three large cloud providers. But that’s changing, and to change with it, you need to understand how it all works. And that’s exactly why you need to read this book.

Martin Casado
General Partner, a16z