The New Stack: Impact

(This piece is the third in a series that explores the evolution of the software technology stack and software development methodologies in the last two decades. It examines the first and second order effects of the new stack and explores the challenges this stack has given rise to.)

The first article in this series began with an outline of the “traditional” technology stack that was common in the early 2000s. It then examined how the internet, mobile, and cloud revolutions exposed the limitations of this stack, deficiencies that led to the new stack we see today. The article outlined the key characteristics of the new stack, and we also saw how these traits solved problems this traditional stack could not.

The stack today looks very different from the one we saw two decades ago. It consists of small, loosely-coupled (and mostly open-source) pieces that are distributed over a network and communicate using APIs. These aspects — the breakdown of the stack into smaller components, the ubiquity of APIs, the widespread adoption of open-source, and the distributed architecture — have had a huge impact in the last decade or so. This article will look at these consequences, both positive and negative.

First-order effects

Perhaps the most important consequences (of this breakdown of the traditional stack to the new one) have been the creation of a software supply chain and an API economy.

With the traditional stack, it was common for vendors to build most parts of the stack themselves. Vertical integration was seen as a competitive advantage, and software companies like Oracle even acquired hardware vendors (like Sun Microsystems) to offer the full stack, from infrastructure to user interface. And it was common for enterprise consumers to go to a small set of vendors to meet their software needs.

What we see today — thanks to the new stack that leans towards single-purpose solutions — is a best-of-breed approach for constructing the stack. Vendors (or open-source projects) offer specialised solutions or frameworks across the stack and across different stages of the software lifecycle [1]. The entire supply chain of software — from planning, development, delivery, to operations — can now be composed of tools from niche vendors or open-source offerings [2]. This trend highlights the growing maturity of the software industry: we’ve gone from a model where most parts of the solution come from one vendor (or a few vendors) to a model where a rich ecosystem of vendors is powering the entire software supply chain.

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