Cloud computing stopped being considered a passing fad in software development a long time ago. For many companies, the cloud has become the driving force behind a much-needed digitalization that enabled new business models to exist and improved competitiveness. To support the cloud IT infrastructure, there is a development approach that DevOps teams are using to ensure that all applications are designed and developed to be cloud-ready. This approach is called “cloud native” and is considered by many IT experts to be the future of software development. In the following sections, you will find a concise definition of the term “cloud native” and information on the features and benefits of this approach.
What is cloud native?
Cloud computing structures offer companies numerous advantages including, most importantly, ease of scalability for IT services, organizational flexibility, access regardless of location, and reduced hardware costs. To fully benefit from these advantages, you need applications that are specifically designed for and that can be operated in a cloud environment. This is where the cloud native development approach comes in.
The approach focuses on developing applications as individual microservices that run on container-based agile platforms rather than on-premises.
Cloud native: Cloud native is a software development approach in which applications are designed for use in the cloud from the very beginning of their development. This results in native cloud applications (NCAs) that can fully leverage the strength of the cloud computing architecture.
How does cloud native work?
The cloud native approach is based on four pillars that are intertwined and interdependent. On the technical end, you have microservices and container technologies that were specifically developed for the cloud environment and are fundamental to the cloud native approach. Each microservice performs only a single function and can be combined in a container with everything needed for its execution. These containers are portable and provide development teams with significant flexibility, such as when testing new services.
On the strategy end, you have DevOps processes and continuous delivery. After all, when developing a properly functioning cloud native architecture, you need both development teams (developers = Dev) and IT operations (operations = Ops). Good cloud native applications are thus created through close collaboration of all parties involved. With agile DevOps practices, the best solution for end users is pursued from the very start. As part of the ongoing collaboration, the development team keeps adding specific product features to microservices which are delivered automatically using continuous delivery processes.
Features of cloud native applications
Cloud native applications typically consist of several individual services called microservices. These are only loosely linked and exist independently of one another and of the respective infrastructure. They communicate with each other using standardized APIs (interfaces) so that the end user feels like they are just interacting with a single application. However, these services are designed in such a way that enables them to be part of another application as well. This means that microservices can be freely combined and copied for other applications and reused as needed.
Cloud native services also behave in a highly predictable manner and are highly automated. Unlike on-premises applications that operate in traditional server environments, the performance of cloud-native applications is tailored to precisely meet specific needs. This means that the application never has to be scaled as a whole to boost performance. The individual microservices are upgraded independently of one another to meet the current requirements. These processes often occur automatically based on previously defined triggers.
With traditional on-premises software, rolling out individual updates often results in downtime for the service in question. Cloud native applications do not have this problem. The cloud native architecture allows the development team to roll out changes such as new product features in real time. These changes are thus available to users as soon as the code has been entered. In addition, if a service or infrastructure fails, there are specific recovery mechanisms that intervene and function in a distributed manner to ensure that there are no noticeable disruptions for users.
In our feature article, we compare on-premises and cloud software to define their similarities and differences.
What are the advantages of cloud native?
The major advantage of the cloud native approach is its flexibility. Since all services run independently of their environment and microservice containers are portable, developers have a great deal of freedom. For example, it is possible to start or stop multiple container instances. This is particularly useful in testing and development stages. Unlike with monolithic architecture, changes in the code of a single microservice will not affect the entire software. This means that there is less risk with new software releases.
Another major advantage is the scalability of the applications themselves, thanks to which companies do not have to make costly hardware upgrades as the demands on a service grow. Since individual services are not tied to specific hardware or operating systems, there is no strong commitment to a single provider. Cloud native applications can run on any platform which allows IT operations to choose the provider that offers the best bang for their buck and meets their needs.
The fact that updates and changes are available immediately when using the cloud native architecture allows companies to respond to customer and market demands with the greatest possible speed. The high level of automation afforded by orchestration solutions like Kubernetes also minimizes human error when it comes to configuration and operation. Its fast availability, easy scalability, lower cost, and relatively good partition tolerance give companies a significant competitive edge.
With the numerous benefits that cloud native offers DevOps teams, it is just a matter of time before this software development approach becomes completely mainstream. Ultimately, it is its ability to adapt quickly to evolving business requirements and technological innovations that makes cloud native the application model of the future.