The evolution of enterprise software engineering has been marked by a series of “less” shifts – from client-server to web and mobile (“client-less”), data center to cloud (“data-center-less”), and app server to serverless. These transitions have simplified aspects of software engineering, including deployment and operation, allowing users to focus less on the underlying systems and more on the application itself.

This trend of radical simplification now leads us to the next significant shift in enterprise software engineering: moving from platforms to a “platformless” approach.

The challenges of platform-based approaches

In recent years, the rise of enterprise software delivery platforms, often built on Kubernetes and other cluster management systems, has transformed the way organizations deploy and manage applications. They enable rapid, scalable application deployment and the ability to incrementally roll out and roll back updates.

This agility in improving application function and performance is vital for business success. However, this complexity has introduced new challenges, including the need for large, highly skilled platform engineering teams and intricate links between various systems like DevOps pipelines, deployment management, monitoring systems SecOps and site reliability engineering (SRE). Additionally, platform engineering places a predominant emphasis on the delivery of software rather than the entire software engineering lifecycle.

The need for a new paradigm: Platformless

To overcome these challenges, there’s a clear need for a paradigm shift. We need to move the focus away from building, manufacturing and managing platforms to a more straightforward, “platformless” approach. This does not imply the elimination of platforms but rather the creation of a boundary that makes the platform invisible to the user. In this new paradigm, the focus shifts from managing platforms to developing, building and deploying applications with seamless integration and monitoring, but without the intricacies of platform management.

Defining platformless

Platformless is an innovative concept combining four technology domains: API-First, Cloud Native Middleware, Platform Engineering and Developer Experience (DX). This blend allows for a holistic approach to enterprise software engineering, covering the entire lifecycle and delivering a truly platformless experience.

  • API-First: This approach emphasizes making all functionalities available as APIs, events and data products, ensuring easy discovery and consumption. The focus here is on designing, governing and managing APIs to ensure consistency and ease of use across the enterprise. In a platformless environment, this API-First approach is further enhanced as all network-exposed capabilities become APIs by default, streamlining governance and management, and shifting the enterprise’s focus to leveraging these APIs as a comprehensive software development kit (SDK) for the business.
  • Cloud Native Middleware: This component involves building and operating systems in a scalable, secure, resilient, multi-cloud environment. It encompasses domain-driven design, cell-based architecture, service meshes, integrated authentication and authorization, and zero-trust architecture. Platformless architecture integrates all these components, simplifying the challenges of building and managing cloud-native infrastructure, and allowing enterprises to focus more on delivering value.
  • Platform Engineering: This involves creating toolchains and processes for easy, self-service software building, delivery and operation. Internal Developer Platforms (IDP) born from this discipline support various roles in software delivery, including developers, testers and operations teams. In a platformless context, these platforms become central to facilitating the software engineering process, allowing each party to concentrate solely on their areas of responsibility and expertise.
  • Developer Experience (DX): As the heart of platformless, DX focuses on making the development environment seamless and intuitive. It includes integrated development environments, command-line interfaces, well-designed web experiences and comprehensive documentation. DX directly impacts the productivity and creativity of developers, driving better software quality, quicker market delivery and, overall, a happier and more innovative development team.

Streamlining enterprise software development and delivery with a platformless approach

In enterprise software engineering, the shift to platformless significantly simplifies the development and management of large enterprise application systems that deliver digital experiences.

As businesses evolve, they require an ecosystem of interconnected software products, ranging from user-facing apps to autonomous network programs. Platformless facilitates this by enabling the seamless integration of diverse digital assets across various business domains. It streamlines the creation of modular, secure and reusable architectures, while also enhancing delivery through rapid deployment, continuous integration and efficient management. This approach allows enterprises to focus on innovation and value delivery, free from the complexities of traditional platform-based systems.

For example, with a platformless environment, a developer can integrate a company’s system of records with multiple web, mobile and IoT applications, discover APIs, use languages or tools of their choice and deploy application components such as APIs, integrations, and microservices in a zero-trust environment — all without managing the underlying platform. Ultimately, this leads to improved efficiency and a greater focus on problem-solving for better business results.

The journey from software delivery platforms to a platformless approach represents a major leap in the evolution of enterprise application development and delivery. While retaining the benefits of scalability and rapid deployment, platformless simplifies and enhances the development experience, focusing on the applications rather than the platform. This shift not only streamlines the development process but also promises to deliver superior applications to customers — ultimately driving business innovation and growth.