Generations of vendors and developers have attempted to create technology that enables organizations to build an application that can run anywhere.
The promise of WebAssembly, which is a nascent open-source technology, is just that. With WebAssembly, developers can potentially write code in the programming language of their choice and then have it run, in a highly optimized approach, in any environment. The promise of WebAssembly has the potential to upend multiple areas of the technology market — including the cloud — which recently has increasingly shifted to a container model that doesn’t always serve every organization’s needs.
The challenges of containers and the promise of WebAssembly attracted Matt Butcher and his cofounders to start Fermyon.
“People were frustrated with the way that containers have to be built specific to the operating system and specific to the architecture,” Butcher told VentureBeat. “My team at Microsoft started accumulating a list of problems like that, that we were being told repeatedly and we tried to come up with solutions in a container ecosystem and we just couldn’t.”
Today, Fermyon announced that it has raised $20 million in a series A round of funding. The company also announced the launch of a new cloud service designed to help the development and deployment of applications built with WebAssembly.
The Promise of WebAssembly
WebAssembly technology has been iterating at a rapid pace over the last five years.
The technology first emerged in 2017 as a technology that enabled web browsers to run the assembly programming language. Browser vendor Mozilla introduced the concept of the WebAssembly System Interface (WASI) in 2019 which then transformed the technology from something that only runs in the browser to something that can run anywhere. In 2021, the Bytecode Alliance was formed, as a new multi-stakeholder body that includes the participation of Mozilla, Intel, Microsoft, Google and others all looking to advance WebAssembly technology and adoption.
Butcher said that as he sat down with his team to try and find a solution to the challenges that container users face in the enterprise, the path led to WebAssembly.
“WebAssembly is really interesting,” Butcher said. “If you look at what it does in the browser, it’s designed to be a secure sandbox environment to execute untrusted code and all kinds of different languages can compile to that code.”
Fermyon spins a new cloud platform
Fermyon’s first product, Spin, was launched in March. Fermyon Spin is an open-source developer tool designed to help organizations build applications with WebAssembly.
A few months later in June, the open-source Fermyon Platform was announced as an infrastructure technology to enable WebAssembly to run in the cloud. While Butcher had a lot of experience with Kubernetes as a cloud-native deployment technology, the Fermyon Platform instead uses the Hashicorp Nomad cloud orchestration technology.
The new Fermyon Cloud service, out today, is the next step in the company’s product portfolio. Fermyon Cloud is a managed service, for the deployment of WebAssembly applications. Butcher explained that Fermyon Cloud is not a general purpose application cloud service but rather has a specific focus on microservices, which are often used as building blocks for cloud native applications.
“The developer never has to know what the server architecture is behind the Fermyon cloud or the Fermyon platform,” Butcher said. “All they need to know is if it works on their own machine and compiled fine to WebAssembly, they can be confident they can push that code to the cloud and that it’s going to run.”
WebAssembly modules and the future of cloud app development
Butcher has high hopes for WebAssembly in the cloud and even is cautiously optimistic that it could one day replace the current container based approach.
A more realistic reality in the short term at least is that WebAssembly modules will be able to run alongside containers, enabling developers to rapidly build applications with both new and existing components.
“I think where the promise will unfold over time on the cloud side and in general for WebAssembly is you can just achieve much better performance and much higher density,” Butcher said.