Why WebAssembly is Building Momentum


By: Mary Jander

Cloud developers are quietly rallying around WebAssembly, a tool for porting applications across distributed Internet of Things (IoT) environments without the programming hassles formerly required to get the job done. And a small but influential group of startups is facilitating the move.

Earlier this month, for instance, Crane Venture Partners, which funded Triggermesh in 2019, awarded a startup called Mycelial $3.8 million in seed funding. Mycelial’s software, now available in beta, provides a secure, real-time way for developers to program applications across multiple endpoint devices.

"Every single app on your phone, on your laptop, in your browser, the software running in your car's dash, at EV charging stations, on your connected home gadgets—are all distributed systems that have to pass messages back and forth and maintain and reconcile state as they get in and out of sync," said Aneel Lakhani, Venture Partner at Crane Venture Partners, in a press release.

Mycelial addresses the problem by leveraging WebAssembly to provide an abstracted environment that eliminates the need for developers to juggle datastores, message queues and buses, or networking components to get programs to interact with one another in IoT networks.

WebAssembly (Wasm) Frameworks Emerge

WebAssembly, nicknamed Wasm by insiders, is now a standard of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). It was originally created to streamline the programming of browser-based applications by virtualizing functions attributed to a mix of CPUs in a distributed Web environment. For non-developers, it has been described as a kind of universal shim for porting applications across small devices with different CPUs and operating systems.

Over time, various capabilities and functions have been added to Wasm via open source, making it even faster and easier to implement. There is also security based on a “deny by default” approach to the access of various capabilities, a feature that’s been embraced by developers concerned with IoT safety. One vendor's description of Wasm's evolution over time is depicted in the diagram below:

Mycelial’s product, now in beta, provides a framework for creating apps with WebAssembly. There are others emerging: A startup called Suborbital recently released its own Wasm platform into beta and scored $1.6 million in a seed round led by Amplify Partners.

There is also Cosmonic, an established firm with an enterprise version of wasmCloud, an open-source platform donated to the Linux Foundation’s Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) subsidiary by Cosmonic’s founders. The wasmCloud framework is designed as an open-source framework to build applications in WebAssembly.

WebAssembly Popularity Grows

These early startups highlight the momentum building behind WebAssembly and its open-source offshoots. Clearly, a small but robust market is forming for frameworks and tools that not only facilitate the creation of IoT applications via WebAssembly but add a variety of libraries and other functions to speed application programming in the broader cloud environment.

"With the rise of WebAssembly, developers can now get the performance of native applications on the web in a way that's completely secure,” said Gerred Dillon, CTO at Mycelial. "Mycelial brings cloud compute closer to the user and makes developer concerns for data transport and handling a thing of the past."

Cosmonic CEO Liam Randall puts WebAssembly’s position in even stronger terms. “WebAssembly has emerged as one of the fastest-growing Cloud Native trends of 2021,” he wrote in a recent online article on The New Stack site. And in a recent interview with Futuriom, Randall described the emerging tools that leverage Wasm to help enterprises save costs:

"Cosmonic is helping to adopt WebAssembly quickly through open-source CNCF wasmCloud and through our platform. Our user community is already publishing their own powerful case studies, such as achieving real-time multi-cloud portability between GCP and AWS to meet regulatory compliance."

Expect to hear a lot more about Wasm and its commercial frameworks in the coming months, particularly as enterprises move toward multi-cloud and start to adopt 5G via private wireless networks for a range of IoT-related apps in distributed networks..