First: A History Less on AEM & What It’s Made Of
Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) is Adobe’s do-everything content management and digital experience platform. If you’re new to the Adobe world, please see this video, specifically about 4 mins in, for an overview of the platform and what it does.)
For nearly two decades, the primary way that AEM (and its previous life as “Day Communique” or “CQ” for short) has been deployed has been via individually-licensed, large, cumbersome, difficult-to-scale servers that were set up by eccentric sysadmins like me. AEM has always had an amazing feature set, but when it comes to scalability, resiliency, and ability to make use of the flexible and service-oriented nature of the cloud, it was commonly the major portion of companies’ marketing technology stacks which couldn’t be externalized into a platform-as-a-service / software-as-a-service model. This meant that AEM would commonly need special handling, specialist (i.e. impossible-to-hire) engineers, and lengthy licensing discussions with Adobe whenever it came time to attempt to scale up for a major marketing project.
If you want more details of what that infrastructure looks like and why it’s required special handling, I have a bunch of AEM diagrams in this article here, as well as in the video linked above.
AEM as a Cloud Service: The Promise of a Cloud-Native Future
In January 2020, Adobe released what was the culmination of years of behind-the-scenes engineering work – a complete re-thinking of the AEM stack to bring it in-line with modern expectations of a “cloud service”. This meant a service which would had the goals of being:
Always up-to-date, thus reducing costly software update cycles
Self-maintaining and always online, eliminating downtime due to maintenance
Those were all extremely exciting goals, and the implementation of that platform and the technology behind it left a lot of us pretty slack-jawed.