Put The Human At The Top Of The Stack

There's an industry-wide trend for service providers on the Internet. As solutions are discovered, they're then standardized, commoditized and automated, after which the hot-zone for innovation shifts to building on top of whatever problem just got solved. We like to call this "moving up the stack." It's awesome.

Humans Belong At The Top Of The Stack

If something can be automated, it's probably not a good thing for human beings to be doing: as a species we excel at creativity, problem-solving, non-linear thinking and communication. Repetitive or rote tasks — particularly those with high complexity and low tolerance for error — are physically and mentally crushing for people, and really much better done by robots.

It is a message we've taken to heart at Pantheon. We want to put you, the human being, the developer, the site owner, at the very top of the stack. Because that's where you belong. The stuff below you is, well, beneath you.

In telling this story, we get asked some interesting questions. Are we a platform? Are we software-as-a-service? We have an interesting answer. Our thesis is that we can provide enormous value by combining the best of both worlds.

The Platform Model

One great company we get asked about frequently is PHPFog, or as it's soon to be known, "appfog":

In this case, the service being provided is a ready-to-go runtime: a working application environment (for PHP, Ruby, Python), usually tuned for performance and the ability to scale, and often bundled with some additional services like a database.

This is awesome if you are a web software developer, but let's be clear: on-demand runtimes do not provide solutions to use cases. These can be great tools for custom web app development, amazing even, but website solutions they are not. The real value for customers is what gets created or stacked on top of these platforms. With Microsoft, Google, Salesforce, VMWare and others getting into this game, the underlying platforms are on their way to being commiditized for software developers. Innovation is going to move up.

The SaaS Model

The most common pattern you see that builds above the Platform level is the Software as a Service ("SaaS") model. This is where providers build all the way up the stack into a one-size-fits-all solution:

Website services like Weebly and SquareSpace have spent a lot of time crafting their products, and for use cases like blogging, a portfolio or personal websites these are great options. You can get started quickly, see value, and don't need a professional developer. The downside is that your functionality is limited to what the SaaS development team chooses to give you. For organizations that don't fit in the mold they deliver, it's a bad fit with no flexibility.

In the Drupal world, this would be like offering one-click Drupal installs with no ability to upload your own modules, use your own theme, or otherwise leverage the 50,000-strong developer community and contributed code space. Not very compelling. Drupal needs additional functionality — e.g. a good install profile — in order to really work as a pure SaaS service.

Pantheon: The Best of Both Worlds

We believe there is a better way. With Pantheon, you'll get the best of both worlds: the flexibility and power of Open Source and the Drupal community, combined with the stability and ease of use of Software as a Service:

We're doing something different, and we're able to do it in part because Drupal is special, both in terms of what it does, and also in terms of how the ecosystem works around it.

On the technology side, we believe the long-running debate of "is it a framework or is it an application?" is actually one of Drupal's greatest assets. It's both! That's a good thing. The web isn't a "one size fits all" sort of place, and this combination of solid architecture with robust flexibility is key to the future of the project.

On the human side, you have the incredible Drupal community delivering enormous amounts of value to the project all the time. It's amazing what people do for the love of Drupal, and the functionality available in contrib will continue to outpace even the best in-house closed-source engineering teams.

But this isn't just a community of hobbyists and self-itch-scratchers: there's a thriving and growing business ecosystem around the platform. There are literally thousands of firms that "do Drupal" now, many of them with deep expertise. There are tens of thousands of qualified, competent freelancers who pay their rent every month with Drupal-based work. Thats huge: since we're not in a "one size fits all" world, serious projects need professional attention to be successful.

There's really no other project out there that combines these strengths: a solid technology foundation featuring the best of both a framework and a product, built by a dynamic open-source community, and brought to market via a thriving business ecosystem. That's the trifecta, the hat-trick, the trinity. Hard to beat.

Obviously Drupal is already a huge success, but at Pantheon we think it can go much much further. We think this recipe will be the basis for a whole new industry and nothing less than a renaissance on the web.

The missing piece, we think, is a solid delivery system that can put the humans back at the top of the stack. It needs to work for developers of new tools and techniques, owners of customer sites, end-users of productized "applications"; and take the friction out of development, deployment and long term maintenance.

That's Pantheon. That's what we're setting out to create. We hope you all enjoy it!

Topics Education