David Heinemeier Hansson

May 3, 2023

Sovereign clouds

I've been talking about our departure from renting computers via AWS to owning them in a colocated datacenter as our "cloud exit". But I recognize this terminology can rub some people the wrong way. There's an entire generation of technologists who see themselves as "cloud native", and alienating them just because we want to own our hardware rather than rent it doesn't help anyone. Most of the skills of these cloud natives are useful regardless of where the applications run.

That skill overlap is actually part of why our transition out of AWS has gone so incredibly fast. 80-90% of what you need to know to run your own hardware these days is the same as what you need to know to operate in the rental clouds. From containers to load balancers to monitoring to performance analysis, and a million other topics, the tech stack is not just similar, but literally the same.

There are some differences, of course. Like FinOps, where you no longer have to be a forensic accountant to understand your bill or a bulldog to guard against it running wild, if you own your hardware! But then that does also entail occasionally dealing with an alert that a disk has gone bad, and asking your white-glove service at the data center to change it.

But in the grand scheme of things, these are minor differences. It really shouldn't take long to teach someone who's proficient in the rental clouds how to run the same stack on owned hardware. (It surely must be an easier learning curve than getting up to speed with Kubernetes!)

To address this, some have suggested the terminology of "private cloud". I get some CIO-white-paper heebie-jeebies from that moniker, though, and I don't think it's got enough of a punch for the general public to illuminate the difference. But I will admit that it's clearly more disarming to an industry that just settled into an identity of being Cloud Everything, so it got me thinking.

Ultimately, I believe the key distinction here is not public vs private but owning vs renting. We need a counter to the "you will own nothing and be happy" pitch of the rental clouds. That sentiment is simply alien to the ethos of the internet. It ought to galvanize all fans of this distributed, permissionless wonder of the world into opposition!

So let me propose a new term: Sovereign clouds. 

Built upon ownership and independence. An upgrade available to all rental cloud clients, as soon as their business is strong enough to carry a bit of upfront cost. An aspirational goal for those with material and fundamental computing needs to own their digital homesteads rather than rent a farm from the big tech cloud lords. A counter to the centralization of the internet, and the monopoly rents that is starting to entail.

Puff on that!

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.