CloudNativeDay: WASM will drive the next era of computing

WebAssembly (WASM) is poised to drive the next era of cloud-native application development that can truly run anywhere.

Liam Randall, CEO of Cosmonic, a provider of a platform for building and deploying WASM applications, told attendees during a virtual conference CloudNativeDay event that WASM will be at the heart of a new era of computing that will allow organizations to more quickly build highly portable applications that are not tied to any IT infrastructure platform and more secure.

WASM, at its core, is a portable binary instruction format for building software that describes an in-memory secure sandboxed execution environment. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) spearheaded the development of WASM as part of an effort to create a common format for browsers running JavaScript code. Wasm is now extended beyond browsers and JavaScript to allow developers to create a set of universal binaries that could run on any platform without modification.

This approach replaces the current predominant method of building software that relies on aggregating software components that tend to lack distinct boundaries between them. One of the problems with this approach is that it becomes relatively easy for malware to infect all components of an application.

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) is now trying to advance the adoption of a Cosmonic WASM runtime environment that allows WASM applications to run on any platform instead of being forced to build applications that can only run, for example, on Windows or Linux.

This level of portability will prove crucial as more organizations seek to drive application deployments across a wide range of edge computing platforms, Randall noted.

It may take some time for WASM to become the preferred artifact for building applications, but it’s clear that the walls that separated one computing platform from another are finally beginning to crumble. Once apps become much more portable, the long-held goal of writing an app once and then deploying it anywhere can finally be achieved. This is not only critical in terms of overall application developer productivity, it has major implications in terms of streamlining DevOps workflow management as it becomes easier both to initially deploy applications and to update them continuously.

In the meantime, as organizations continue to revise their application development practices to better secure software supply chains, it has become clearer that legacy approaches to building applications are fundamentally flawed. Rather than trying to redesign processes to encourage developers to make apps more secure, it may be more effective to change the way apps are built. After all, given all the processes required to secure legacy approaches to app development, it may be cheaper and easier to adopt a new way of app development.

The challenge, of course, is, as always, to take that initial first step away from the inertia of legacy application development approaches.

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