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AWS appeals to the masses with low-code development project

AWS has created a low-code dev environment to help tech-savvy business users build apps for the public cloud and draw new customers to its platform.

Amazon Web Services wants to extend access to its cloud platform with a low-code development project that lets nonprogrammers create applications that run on AWS. The move is also a strike at archrival Microsoft and its Azure cloud.

TechTarget has confirmed, through two individuals familiar with the company's plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity, recent reports that Adam Bosworth, vice president of software, will head up AWS' low-code/no-code platform. Bosworth is a Microsoft veteran who worked on the Access database, known for its ease of use for power users. Work on the AWS project has been underway since at least last summer, according to these sources.

AWS' strategy is to appeal to a spectrum of developers -- from professionals who code from scratch, to those who prefer integrated development environments (IDEs), to nonprofessional developers. The company has introduced other low-code tools for businesspeople, such as QuickSight to build and analyze visualizations and SageMaker for developers to add machine learning to applications. AWS did not comment on its plans for a low-code platform.

AWS must address demand for low-code development because of its great potential to open up vastly more users to build apps on its platform, experts said.

The addressable market for low-code developers is 15 to 20 times larger than the developer market. ... AWS needs to provide a home for all developer types.
Holger Muelleranalyst, Constellation Research

"The addressable market for low-code developers is 15 to 20 times larger than the developer market," said Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research. "With more people learning to devise apps and the cloud allowing for easy deployment, AWS needs to provide a home for all developer types."

The need for low-code platforms is even greater today with the cloud, said Tod Nielsen, CEO of FinancialForce in San Francisco and a former colleague of Bosworth at Microsoft. Nielsen and Bosworth later co-founded Crossgain.

"Back in the good old days, it was your LAN or your client-server environment, and that was contained. So, you had products like Access and Paradox and others that were big," Nielsen said. "But no one has been able to deliver that kind of value in the cloud."

Real devs code

Developers are loyal to their familiar platform and tools, eschewing alternatives. And an AWS low-code offering could sour some developers, unless the company sets clear boundaries for business users, said John Rymer, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Giving the power to deploy systems and applications to people who don't understand development and operations is a risky proposition. "The two main concerns are security and cost," said Leon Fayer, vice president of OmniTI, a web scalability and performance provider in Fulton, Md. "Coming in a close third is performance, which is often confused with scalability even by technical people."

Others predict an AWS low-code offering is inevitable, though there may be growing pains.

"What we've seen over the last 15 years, with Spring, Rails, Node, etc., is that coders are getting more and more productive, while the 'Let's draw pretty pictures brigade' hasn't achieved comparable progress since the days of VB," said Rod Johnson, CEO of Atomist and creator of the Spring Framework. "Frameworks and the rise of PaaS [platform as a service] and FaaS [function as a service] have succeeded in taking a lot of the heavy lifting out of the day of a coder, leaving coding business value. And it turns out that modern languages are pretty good at that."

Microsoft-like approach

To stay competitive, AWS has taken a page from Microsoft in its appeal to developers. Early on, Microsoft supported the core programming languages, such as C++ and Java, then the core infrastructure platforms both on premises and in the cloud, Nielsen said. With the AWS Cloud9 IDE unveiled at the AWS re:Invent conference, the vendor wants to become analogous to Visual Basic in the cloud, but that only appeals to a small percentage of the workforce.

AWS CEO Andy Jassy at re:Invent 2017
AWS CEO Andy Jassy talks about the future of AWS at re:Invent 2017.

"It wouldn't surprise me if, in addition to whatever [low-code platform] AWS builds, they were to come out with some kind of business-user app, because that's the thing they're missing in their portfolio today," he said.

That's because AWS lacks the platform ubiquity of Microsoft's Office suite, said John Rymer, an analyst at Forrester Research. "If you adopt Office, Microsoft produces PowerApps and Flow, and they're free tools to use to do workflows. That's an extension of expertise people already have and investments they've already made," he said.

Microsoft's low-code offering, PowerApps, lets users quickly and easily create applications without writing code, using data and connecting to services already within their organizations. Meanwhile, the Flow tool allows users to create and automate workflows across multiple applications and services without the need for developer help. And the company's recently launched IoT Central is a low-code development environment for developers to build internet-of-things applications using a visual, drag-and-drop user interface.

Calling citizen developers

Without a desktop or device connection to consumers, AWS will struggle to attract so-called citizen developers, because Amazon has no consumer play outside of services such as Amazon Music and the e-commerce business, said Thomas Murphy, an analyst with Gartner.

"Google has a better path to the citizen developer," he said. "You can build out from G Suite, [and] they have tools already for mobile development."

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