What is cloud native?

Posted on February 17, 2021 by Jonathan Symcox

Cloud data

Today, people are talking more and more about cloud-native apps and cloud-native development. But what does this actually mean? Many applications are hosted on public cloud resources, but this alone doesn’t mean they’re cloud-native. 

A definition of cloud-native 

A cloud-native app is one which has been designed solely for the cloud. This means cloud computing has been leveraged in every element of its design, which separates it from an application that’s merely been ‘lifted and shifted’ (moved onto cloud) or ‘cloud enabled’ (partially built on cloud). 

This more cloud-based design approach garners many benefits, incorporating the latest technologies and practices, such as DevOps, microservices and containers. 

This approach is what’s known as cloud-native development. 

Elements of cloud-native development  

DevOps  

DevOps is a delivery/development philosophy which holds that the ops and dev teams should be integrated for faster, more reliable developments.  

In practice, this means utilizing cloud automation technologies to reduce manual work and guard against human error.  

The end goal of DevOps is to reach continuous delivery/intergeneration (CI/CD), in which new features can be tested and deployed with minimal human input. 

Microservices  

Microservices is a cloud architecture approach in which applications are made up of many smaller cloud-based services. This is in contrast to monolithic architectures, in which all elements of an application are hosted centrally, and are generally inseparable. 

Microservice applications are more costly to develop in the short run, but once achieved, offer far more flexibility and scaling options than their monolithic counterparts. 

Serverless  

Serverless applications are not, as the name suggests, wholly serverless. Instead, the application’s requests are performed by servers provisioned on an on-demand/per request basis, as opposed to running on permanent cloud servers.

This comes with a host of benefits, including reduced latency, faster time to market, and lower cost of production – completely bypassing the traditional costs of infrastructure provisioning. 

Containers  

Containerised applications run off containers, which are a newer form of the traditional cloud server – the VM. 

Containers are much lighter than VMs – in terms of required compute resources – and are more environment agnostic, meaning they can be deployed on a greater range of infrastructures without undergoing change. 

This means that, in many situations, containers offer increased flexibility and lower total cost. 

Why cloud-native applications and cloud-native deployments will be key moving forward 

Although some of the above cloud-native deployment methods are mutually exclusive, in general, these approaches confer many of the same advantages, which are already indispensable in today’s competitive landscape. 

Compared to traditionally designed applications – and even to many ‘cloud-enabled’ or ‘lifted and shifted’ applications – cloud-native is: 

More scalable  

Soley cloud-based applications, and particularly microservice-based applications, can scale more easily. In the case of microservices, the ability to scale one service without scaling another is especially impactful, avoiding the costs of scaling all other elements in tandem, as would be the requirement for a monolithic application. 

Easier to manage  

Cloud-native infrastructure is more geared towards automation and reduced management costs. Serverless is the most obvious example of this trend, with applications being uploaded as functions only, and provisioning taken care of automatically. 

Quicker pace of development 

Cloud-native applications are better suited to DevOps, which seeks to automate testing, building and deployment. This in turn, of course leads, to shorter overall time to market. 

More reliable  

Many cloud-native technologies are able to cope with faults far better than traditional technologies. Kubernetes – one of the most widely used container orchestration tools – automatically detects and ‘heals’ non-functional clusters of containers.  

Cloud-native technologies also allow faults to be more easily isolated. 

Trends for the future  

Increasingly, cloud-native is seen as the required benchmark for competitive development. And although many may cut corners with ‘cloud-ready’ or ‘cloud-enabled,’ the clear advantages of true cloud-native development and applications will ensure cloud-native becomes the norm in the years to come. 

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