Infrastructure: The Building Blocks of Modern Software Products
If there are any constants at all, when it comes to infrastructure (or infra for short) they are 1) an ever increasing number of abstractions on top of the hardware and software layers that applications are built on and 2) the borders are blurring between tooling, infra, and the applications that are built on top.
So, what is infra?
Back in the days, when this whole computing thing started, infra was loosely defined as the hardware, networking, storage and (maybe) the operating system your application ran on.
Over fifty years on (depending on which computer we start counting at), the meaning of infra has expanded immensely. Infra can no longer be reduced to just the very bottom of the stack. The market is expanding just as quickly with global revenue in the sector expected to top €115 billion in 2022.
In exploring the market, we strive to be generalists within this niche and try our best to avoid getting too caught up with certain technologies or categories. So, instead of writing up one of those venture capitalist “Ten reasons why $techXYZ will eat whatever” buzzword-laden posts, we’d like to give an overview of how we look at infra and what the common discussion points are on the topic.
Simply put, for us, infra is the sum of the building blocks that power modern software. Let’s unpack this.
Bundling complexity & developer productivity
Developers want to build and ship their applications instead of thinking about the intricacies of the underlying infrastructure.
Great infrastructure empowers developers and gets out of their way. The infrastructure takes care of itself by allocating the required compute resources, managing memory, storage and abstracting away the specifics of the underlying hardware. There are several approaches to this.
These are integrated end-to-end platforms that bundle the development, as well as shipping, running and monitoring of a product or piece of infra. There are a number of more traditional PaaS products, NoCode platforms and highly language or even framework specific solutions taking this path.
While solely focusing on the dev environment and developer experience, Gitpod sits at the intersection between dev tool and infra by automating development environments in the cloud.
While not strictly infra, some developer and DevOps tools could be described as meta infra, like our portfolio company Qovery. Their product helps dev teams by initializing, configuring, and managing their entire stack. It integrates with source code repositories, gives developers the full flexibility and customizability of their IaaS provider, and at the same time makes shipping their code as easy as if they were using a PaaS.
Write once, run anywhere
Similarly, technologies like WebAssembly are helping to make applications portable. Our portfolio company, Wasmer, enables developers to package their software in lightweight containers with high performance that run anywhere (servers, edge, and IoT devices, serverless environments) regardless of the underlying hardware.
We’ve talked about the what. Let’s talk about the how: Open Source
Infra is used by developers. So, naturally, products that are aligned with their needs have an edge. Open source makes it easy to try and adopt new products, lowers the risk of vendor lock-in, makes it easier to trust that a product will be developed and maintained in the long-run, and makes it easier to hire specialists in the field.
Open source is not a category of its own, but a great distribution model for products and technologies aimed at developers, such as infra and developer tools (which we’ll cover in a future article in this series).
APIs can be infra, too
The distinction between an API business and an API-delivered infra business is fuzzy. We’d argue that a certain degree of business logic is what makes the difference. For example, think of an API that calculates the carbon footprint of a business trip. Now imagine an API to store files on the other side. The latter is clearly infra delivered as a service. More on APIs in our last article, SaaS on the Rise: In APIs We Trust.
The next platform shift: Web3 / Crypto infra
Last but not least, we are keeping a close eye on everything happening in crypto.
While not everything needs to be or should be financialized, the open, trustless and permissionless nature of crypto reminds us in many ways of the early days of open source. There is of course also a good debate to be had on the environmental aspects of crypto (side note: many of those issues are blown out of proportion and are also actively being worked on), but this won’t be the article to dig into that.
Crypto is not just an application layer phenomenon that is limited to Fintech / DeFi - it will touch pretty much every layer of the stack. This is especially true in the infra and dev tools layer where we are already seeing lots of activity - and it’s showing no signals of peaking anytime soon.
While our portfolio company, Unstoppable Finance, focuses on the access layer to DeFi, Starton sits between infra and dev tools, enabling developers to build blockchain applications and making it easy to integrate blockchain features into their applications.
The definition of what infra is keeps expanding. While this was most definitely not an exhaustive list of the possibilities, the common theme is that great infra bundles up complexity and increases developer productivity. We’ll continue looking at all of the traditional and upcoming building blocks for software products - if you are working on one, we’d love to hear from you.
Over the next few weeks, we will dive into some other aspects of our SaaS & Infra thesis. In the meantime, get in touch with comments, feedback or amazing companies at email@example.com or find us on LinkedIn and Twitter: @fredhgnr, @DominikTo, @smi, @AudreyHandem, @YTR4N_ and @markus0lang).