The JAMstack - Jam on waffles

Benefits of the Jamstack – from buzzword to business ready

The Jamstack is a modern approach to building fast, secure, and cost-effective websites and apps. In this article Luminary MD Adam Griffith explains the six 'Ss' of the Jamstack – Speed, Stability, Scalability, Security, Serviceability and Simplicity – to show why this movement is now business ready.

Adam Griffith

12 May 2020

9 minute read

Buzzword or the next big thing? Two years ago, we mentioned the Jamstack as an up-and-coming buzzword to keep an eye on. Now we believe the movement (and it is really more of a movement than a specific technology) is now ready for the big time. Just like CSS, AJAX, responsive design, and HTML5 helped move the web along to where we are now, the Jamstack has arrived to to take us all into the future.

What exactly is the Jamstack?

The term was first coined by Mathias Biilmann, the CEO of Netlify, a cloud hosting company helping developers make the most of the Jamstack movement. Our industry loves a good TLA (three letter acronym) so let’s start with the JAM:

  • J is for JavaScript – any dynamic elements of a page or user experience are handled by client-side JavaScript (in the browser).   
  • A is for API(s) – application programming interfaces (APIs) allow for content and experiences to be called by JavaScript as required. These can be third party APIs and/or your own API endpoints. Key point here is that we are abstracting server-side operations to reusable APIs. 
  • M is for markup – this is where Jamstack is different to most current websites and applications. Markup is short for HTML (HyperText Markup Language) but it's when the HTML is rendered that is key. In an ideal Jamstack site or application, the core HTML or markup is rendered at build time, not runtime. In other words, the HTML is ready to go when the user requests the page, instead of being dynamically produced server-side when the user requests the page. Why? It's mainly about speed. But more on this later.  

The stack refers to the way these technologies are brought together to deliver the end user experience. Just like traditional stacks like the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and Php) and the Microsoft stack.

As a movement though, the Jamstack brings together a few other key concepts. It’s a confluence of ideas and technology including:

  • Static site generators – applications or frameworks that automate the process of producing the static markup we touched on above. Examples include GatsbyJS, Next.js, Hugo, Jekyll, Gridsome and Scully. 
  • Microservices architecture – bringing together a range of best-of-breed services to deliver a complete end user experience.
  • Serverless computing – offloading the server infrastructure to third parties so you can focus on the end user experience.
  • Headless CMS – decoupling the head (the way content is presented) and focusing on omni-channel content delivery.
  • Progressive web apps – PWAs for short, Google's attempt to bring native apps back to the web.
  • CDNs and edge computing – content delivery networks that allow web experiences to be delivered from a location as close to the end user as possible
  • And the general movement to browser-based applications (think Gmail).

Why Jamstack?

Ok, so all that techy mumbo jumbo sounds good, but why is there a need for the Jamstack? My Wordpress/Drupal/AEM/Kentico site is doing just fine, right? Well, more often than not, it isn't. 

Over the past few years we have seen over and over again clients coming to us with a common set of problems arising from their digital platform investment: 

  • A slow website leading to low conversions
  • A feature-rich digital experience platform (DXP, another TLA...) that is only being used as an expensive CMS 
  • A rigid template structure that forces digital marketers and content editors to use third party landing page solutions to do their job
  • Disparate content management solutions across the organisation (website vs mobile app vs display screens)
  • Security flaws and vulnerabilities that have gone unnoticed for too long 
  • A costly hosting infrastructure that isn't delivering a ROI
  • A frustrated group of stakeholders across marketing, digital and IT

Any of these sound familiar? Let's see how the Jamstack can help address these very real business problems. 

The benefits of the Jamstack

Any good movement needs a mnemonic to aid memorisation. So, here are the six 'Ss' of the Jamstack:

JAMstack speed
JAMstack stability
JAMstack scalability
JAMstack security
JAMstack serviceability
JAMstack simplicity

Let's expand a little on each of these benefits.

1. Speed

With the combination of pre-rendered, static HTML and CDNs, Jamstack websites are blazingly fast. Add in prefetching techniques built into tools like Gatsby and the Jamstack experience can feel almost instantaneous. The likes of Google, Amazon and eBay have shown the impact of small, incremental, improvements in website speed on conversion and user engagement. Add to this Google's confirmation that page speed is a ranking factor for search. That's right, page speed is essential for good SEO. As long as you don't bloat your website with excessive external JavaScript, your Jamstack website will be fast. 

It's not just your website that will be fast though. The Jamstack approach will improve your speed to market. It's more important than ever to be nimble and willing to react to marketplace opportunities. If your legacy website platform is slowing you down then a Jamstack setup will certainly help address that problem.  

2. Stability

Have you ever experienced an old platform occasionally, and randomly, going down? It's time consuming to manage and maintain legacy applications, especially when the original developers have long gone, or you've inherited someone else's code (trust me, we know). The underlying nature of the Jamstack approach means that what your end users access is simply static HTML. This static HTML can be delivered via CDNs, without complex server applications and databases, resulting in a very stable architecture. Sure, we will occasionally need to rely on third party APIs to drive dynamic features, but if this is managed properly, API downtime won't cause your website to be unusable. 

3. Scalability

While the other benefits in this list can be achieved in a traditional architecture with a concerted effort (and cost), it's very difficult to compete with the Jamstack architecture when it comes to scalability. With the lack of web application servers and database servers, and the straight-forward delivery via CDNs and edge computing, the cost to scale a Jamstack website or application is significantly less versus a database-driven website or application (even with good cache management). 

4. Security

The runtime component of database-driven websites and applications necessitates a connection to a web server and database to access the data to construct the webpage requested by the end user. That connection is the weak point when it comes to security. A Jamstack website is static HTML. No server or database required. No weak point (unless you do something stupid with your JavaScript).  

5. Serviceability

Serviceability refers to the degree to which the servicing of an item can be accomplished with given resources and within a specified timeframe. For me this encompasses the quality of the experience in designing, building and maintaining Jamstack-driven web experiences. The 'maker experience' is a critical factor in the ongoing success of any website or application. This covers designers, developers, content editors, digital marketers and anyone else that is involved in the creation and ongoing management of digital experiences. 

The Jamstack approach encourages modern, best-practice methods in each of these areas – from a focus on component-driven design and well documented design systems for designers; Git for everything, atomic deploys, and automated builds for developers; to structured reusable content, live previews, and smart media management for content editors. 

There is a direct cost to organisations when it comes to serviceability. Recruitment costs are high in our industry and there is a shortage of experienced talent. For example, in the US, the demand for talent is generating a 15 percent growth rate over the next decade for web developers. Still on Wordpress or Drupal? Take a look at this survey from Stack Overflow – these two CMSs were the most dreaded platform and web framework respectively. What does your team think of your current stack? 

6. Simplicity

The best possible product and service experiences deliver simplicity despite underlying complexity. The cars we drive are reasonably simple to operate, but the technology at play in modern cars is anything but simple. Unfortunately, digital platform vendors haven't managed to abstract away that complexity to the degree desired by the end users of these products. The Jamstack movement hasn't completely solved this problem either. But the future is looking promising with companies like Stackbit, Netlify, Kentico Kontent, Contentful and others releasing products that simplify the complex.

Want to know what developers think of the Jamstack?

The State of Jamstack 2020 is a report produced by Kentico Kontent in partnership with Luminary.

Download the report

The Jamstack isn’t for everyone

The most common criticism of the Jamstack is the seeming lack of a 'backend' or the need for dynamic components. This argument falls over though when you consider the vast array of serverless and dynamic services you can employ via JavaScript and APIs. From complex forms via Formstack, Paperform, and Hubspot, to user management and authorisation via Auth0 and Okta, and even full-blown databases via FaunaDB and Airtable; the Jamstack can handle just about any web-based application.

Having said that, there are absolutely situations where the Jamstack is not the right solution. Organisational readiness is a critical underpinning factor in the success of a Jamstack architecture. You need everyone on-board with this approach, from the designers and developers, to your content and marketing teams. With any decoupled system, it is easy for things to become disorganised leading to knowledge loss and duplication of effort. 

The (almost)-all-in-one nature of monolithic platforms like Sitecore, Kentico EMS, Episerver, Hubspot, Drupal, and Wordpress (with lots of plugins), is attractive to many organisations, and the complexity that comes with these platforms can be abstracted successfully to experienced agencies. If planned properly, and executed well, these platforms can still score highly across the six Ss (except perhaps in the area of cost to scale – this really cannot be matched by runtime-heavy applications).

Buzzword or the next big thing? 

It’s certainly more than a buzzword. Big brands like Peloton, Nike and Citrix, are on board, and Silicon Valley is throwing money at Jamstack-centric startups like Gatsby, Netlify, Vercel and many more. 

Most importantly though, there are real business benefits to be had. The six Ss of Speed, Stability, Scalability, Security, Serviceability, and Simplicity mean tangible increases in conversion and revenue, as well as reduced risk and lower operating costs. All of this without a huge investment. Bean counters – that means a very positive return on investment! 

The Jamstack is business ready and should be considered for your next digital project, or as a key component in your future digital transformation planning.

Photo credit: Taylor Kiser.

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