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Cloud companies have thrived by making complicated back-end infrastructure, much of it open source, more easily accessible. We’re about to see the same thing with front-end development, and Vercel (formerly known as ZEIT) could help to drive it. As big as back-end development has been, initially pushed by adoption of the open source LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, P-scripting languages) stack, front-end developer platforms like the open source Next.js could be about to have their moment.

Or many.

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Making front-end development easier

Vercel, flush with $21 million in Series A funding, offers a front-end developer platform built on open source Next.js. I’ve written a few times about Next.js, given Google’s contributions to improving the framework. To my knowledge, Vercel is the first to build a company around Next.js, hoping to simplify the front-end experience for 11 million JavaScript developers. Its software abstracts away the hassles of the back-end. Developers can focus on the customer experience, the logic, and the look, and let Vercel take care of the back-end.

Vercel is leveraging Jamstack architecture (JavaScript/APIs/Markup). Basically the front-end is split from the back-end so that site development can happen even faster and independent of the back-end. Jamstack is an architecture shift that’s been proven out by Google, Facebook, and Microsoft.

I recently covered these trends at Google in conversations with Nicole Sullivan, head of frameworks at Google, about how the front-end attracts more developer attention today and how this increased attention pays off in better web performance and customer experiences.

Basically, the code push and review workflow is way too complicated. Developers spend too many cycles configuring a CI/CD pipeline, setting up Jenkins, finding the optimal vendor for CI, finding the optimal vendor for CDN, and so on. And getting your CI/CD to talk to your CDN is daunting for even experienced teams. Want security, too? Vercel provides automatic SSL support and encryption.

The light bulb switches to “on”

Vercel had a critical insight with the realization that a single URL was the better abstraction to solve these problems for front-end teams. With that one URL concept, Vercel created a workflow for deploying/reviewing code in real-time. It’s similar in concept to a preview in a CMS, but it integrates into Git and deploys with every push. By maintaining its own global edge network, a Vercel application or website is within 10ms of a user anywhere in the world for fast performance.

Vercel CEO and Next.js author Guillermo Rauch told me their network has been slammed by websites responding to the COVID-19 crisis, creating new sites and iterating quickly on existing sites in response to dramatic and fast-moving events during the pandemic. They’re already helping power the front-end experience at some of the most highly trafficked websites in the world: AT&T, British Airways, GitHub, Hilton, Hulu, National Geographic, Nike, Red Bull, Ticketmaster, Twitch, Uber, Zillow, and more.

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There are other frameworks and approaches to solving this problem that front-end developers can also tap–what Vercel offers is simplicity. Marrying simple and open source has proven to be a powerful combination in the past.

When Marten Mickos first joined MySQL AB, he insisted in the product roadmap for MySQL that new installations could be up and running in under 15 minutes (versus the days and armies of experts required to stand up a new Oracle database). MySQL quickly became the most popular web database in the world–that’s the ambition Rauch and the Vercel team have for Next.js and front-end developers everywhere. Convenience, it turns out, is the “killer app” for developers.

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but nothing herein relates to my employment there.