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Is Modern Cloud theory the same thing as Serverless?

Serverless is coming to a close. It was a useful vehicle to describe what emerged but it needs to retire to an IT glossary. A modern cloud evolutionary journey has overtaken it. And the term modern cloud theory supplants it. Modern cloud captures the need to balance tech capabilities with the needs of business strategy.

Is the Modern Cloud the same as Serverless?

How does the modern cloud affect internal stakeholders?

Dave Anderson  

It’s interesting to think about the Modern Cloud through the perspectives of the 4 personas.  As technical people, we go straight to the services, products, and techniques, which we think are great. But the thing you forget is that Modern Cloud has to represent value for the different personas across the business. The customer is an obvious one. But it’s good to talk about internal stakeholders.  The CEO and Product personas are very interesting. I think we were happily talking about the Developer and CTO/Architect perspectives. They are our personas!

Mark McCann  

Wardley Mapping guides us toward our users and their needs. Having those conversations and distilling that down helps us with our thinking. And to articulate the benefits.  What are the good approaches for ‘time to value’? And to realise the potential of modern cloud ecosystems. It’s been useful to talk and clarify the mental model of what the cloud is and what it can be.  And what benefits teams and organisations following this path can get out of it. This has been democratised globally. If you pursue this properly, you can compete with anybody in the world.

The value proposition

Dave Anderson  

When we started talking about the cloud we thought about building ephemeral event-driven architecture. But our CEO was thinking, can you be faster and cheaper? It became a value proposition. Remembering some of those things is important! You need to keep that commercial lens as you design applications and processes. And as you build up teams. One thing that is interesting (we’ve been talking about it for a long time) is the term ‘serverless’. We have done a lot of work on the concept of serverless first. And I think it’s a strong strategy. It’s very powerful. But the serverless term itself is problematic. One of the reasons why we use the term modern cloud is because Serverless has turned into a type of religious war. When people hear the word Serverless, they think of Lambda. But it’s much more than that.

Mark McCann  

Lambda was the first ‘go-to’ for ephemeral event-driven or function-based workloads. And it’s been fantastic. But the ecosystem has evolved with managed services becoming available. And direct integration between managed services are available. So you don’t need as much glue! You don’t need to worry about operational burden or code liability. You can offload that to the cloud provider and to the services.

Serverless coming to a close

Serverless, as a term, is probably coming to a close. It was a useful vehicle to describe what emerged. But it has gone through an evolutionary journey. Now, I think the term modern cloud supplants it.

Mike O’Reilly  

Serverless exists within the IT org. When we originally thought about solutions you looked at a container or going on to lambda. But as Mark is saying, it has expanded since then. The industry has been having the same debate. And the industry has been rolling out serverless for 10 years. It has stopped being an argument over serverless versus containers. With the modern cloud, you are working with Product and Business.  And you need to start talking in the language of capabilities. You need to develop a ubiquitous language about building blocks to describe getting capability into production. We know what the modern cloud has under the hood. But we have to evolve to talk in business terms.  And pick capabilities over all else and stop talking about Lambda!

Mark McCann  

The well-architected approach helps to frame it.  Is it secure and operationally excellent? Have you checked that it is performant and reliable? Is it cost optimised and sustainable? Those capability conversations are supplanting the discussions on whether you are using serverless or not.

The paradigm shift of modern cloud theory

Mike O’Reilly  

That’s a paradigm shift that people don’t talk about. Even from teams who are using the modern cloud approach. A term that we use in ‘The Value Flywheel Effect‘ is ‘long term value’. And we also talk about well-architected.  Because we defer ops and maintenance to the client, our solutions are more cost-effective, without doing anything.  And they’re more secure, robust, and performant.  You don’t hear about that massive benefit.

Dave Anderson  

There’s a mindset change required. I remember the penny dropped for me years ago. A lot of people think that Lambda was the first serverless service.  It was actually S3 storage which was two services before that. It caused a major difference. When people started using S3, they had a change in mindset. What blew my mind was the chaining or eventing of things. You no longer thought of it as a call stack, where you go down a stack and back up again. You always put that in as a false constraint in the early days. Now you could say ‘if this, then do that’, and trigger different things. It is a completely different way of thinking.

A modern cloud is a similar way of thinking where things trigger other things. So you have a different abstraction layer. 

Modern Cloud on The Serverless Edge
Photo by Averie Woodard on

Modern cloud versus legacy cloud

But another thing we have been thinking about is the modern cloud versus the legacy cloud. Legacy cloud is the traditional call stack in the cloud. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that’s going to be running hot all the time. It’s really just stuff that should be in your data centre,  but it’s now in the cloud. For anyone, it’s quite a challenging question. But a lot of people look back at their traditional stack and suddenly realise it’s actually a legacy monolith in the cloud.

Mark McCann  

You do not have the advantage of loose coupling, elasticity, global scaling or space renovation.  And it’s very hard to adopt any new modern cloud features.

Dave Anderson  

A lot of people think transformation ends with moving to the cloud. But transformation starts with moving! Legacy cloud is where you need to start. Then you need to measure and actually start modernising. A lot of people miss that point.

Mike O’Reilly  

That’s an important phase. We could devote a whole Serverless Craic episode to that! There’s definitely a time requirement and adjustment to moving from that mindset into an organisation that can embrace what we’re talking about.

The value flywheel effect

With regards to the modern cloud, there’s a way to organise yourself within the cloud to allow you to operate that way. And it takes time. It’s slow, to begin with. But as you progress, the momentum builds. And before you know it, you’re up and running. It’s the flywheel effect. I’ve experienced it, in a couple of orgs. And we’re going through that process again. But I can already see it starting to pick up.  Over the longer term, it makes complete sense. 

Mark McCann  

Once you have migrated to the cloud, you have got to keep evolving.  Wardley mapping helps to identify what needs to continue to evolve into a commodity. People think if they’re in the cloud they can stop innovating, evolving, and leveraging new capabilities, But then they are left behind. Your flywheel is not turning anymore. And you’re not evolving for the future.

Dave Anderson  

The balance between those two things is important. By moving to the cloud your technical strategy has evolved.  But now you need to think about your business strategy and what’s required for the business. The interaction between those things is absolutely crucial. That is the flywheel effect that we talk about in our book. 

Do you know the Purpose of what you’re doing? Do you have your North Star? Challenged: do you have the right environment and capability to do what you need to do? Next best action: do you have good developer experience/serverless first approach? Where can you offload work to the provider? Long-term value: you’re bringing in well-architected sustainability. And then you’re away again with Purpose!

That’s what ‘The Value Flywheel Effect book is about. You can order it now from all good booksellers!!

Can you deliver on your tech promises?

You are at a disadvantage if you haven’t embraced modern cloud concepts. You may get the investment to move to the cloud. But when the business comes along and asks for more things and you respond by saying:  “Oh, hang on, we’re still trying to fix this old thing up”, you’re going to hit a  blocker. And you may get a very frustrated business stakeholder that has spent money to move. But they can’t get the things that you promised. Because you’re not as fast as you need to be or you’re not as cheap. And you can’t do as many new things as you promised. 

Mark McCann  

It’s about keeping the ‘time to value’ low and sustainable now and into the future. And being responsive to the needs of the business. At the start of this episode, we talked about users and their needs and the 4 personas. If you can’t meet those needs, they’re going to find somebody who can.  Or they’re going to find a provider who can meet those needs.

Mike O’Reilly  

It’s like a Chinese proverb: the best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago. The next best time is now! When you make that switch, it is difficult to know where to start. I would argue that the transition from the legacy cloud to the modern cloud is an iterative one. You start on smaller and tighter workloads or operations. Then you build on it and expand it up. You can start from that single account.

But, over a couple of years, you embrace your multi-account strategy. You’ve got processes. And you’ve developed your capabilities and your developer experience is frictionless. You’ve gone down a route where you can react to business demand and need much more quickly. With regards to developer happiness, developer recruitment, engineering, product, and business, everyone’s in a much better situation.

Developer’s search for meaning

Mark McCann  

After the pandemic,  people are searching for purpose, and more meaningful jobs and existence. If you have leveraged all the things we’ve talked about and you’ve positioned yourself in the modern cloud, it will be a happier, more meaningful place to work.  Because you are focused on users and their needs. And you have a good purpose that’s well articulated.

Mike O’Reilly  

People know what good is.  It’s starting to permeate through the industry. It’s starting to become a differentiator for people looking for their next career.

Dave Anderson  

There you have it! Modern Cloud. There’s no time like the present.  Go out today and plant your tree. Sort out your developer experience.

That’s the craic! That was our conversation on the modern cloud.  Have a look at the blog on And we’re on Twitter @ServerlessEdge as well as YouTube and LinkedIn.  And our book ‘The Value Flywheel Effect‘ is available for order. Thanks, everybody. 

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