July 26th, 2012

Programming in the Cloud

CloudDevelop LogoQuite a bit has been written about how the Cloud is altering the landscape for platform, software and infrastructure providers but not as much has been said about what all this means for developers. I recently decided to find out for myself by going on an “all-cloud diet”. In practical terms, this meant I used a sealed netbook or smartphone to do all my work.

Therefore, I had to do all the things an active developer regularly has to do (coding, debugging, testing etc.) from a device that has no appreciable hard-drive space and does not allow the installation of any customer software. In essence, I was on a strict diet of browser-based and plug-in based tools and services reachable via an Internet connection.

In relatively short order I was able to find browser-based editors (even ones that support line-by-line server-side debugging!), tools for managing data stores and code repositories. Furthermore, I was able to post test scripts for execution/review and even deploy my projects to a wide range of server providers – all from my browser.

Along the way, I discovered that I had an easier time collaborating online with colleagues in other locations and was better able to take advantage of the most recent releases of new services and tools (since there was no “install” or “update” I had to manage). And – of course – I was more mobile in the process.

Not all programming languages, runtime environments and server profiles are represented in the cloud. And there are still many details to work out in order to make assembling a full-featured “cloud tool chain” easy, reliable and cost effective. Nevertheless, I can see that it is a possibility and I have met people who are working to make that possibility a reality.

My advice to developers would be: Conduct your own experiments; try out your own “cloud-only diet” and see what you learn. Even if you decide that not all the pieces you need are available, you may still discover there are ways to leverage cloud-based tooling to reduce barriers, add flexibility and increase productivity in various aspects of your development efforts.

I’ll be exploring these issues in greater depth when I present a talk titled Programming with the OSS “Cloud Stack” at the CloudDevelop show in Columbus, OH on August 3.

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