‘Cloud-native’ is a term that has grown in popularity over the last decade or so, as more and more enterprises switch over from hosting applications on traditional, on-premises solutions to hosting applications in the cloud. However, there is a difference between taking traditional, monolithic application structures and simply importing them into the cloud, versus developing applications specifically for the cloud environment, and all the benefits that it offers.
The latter is what we would refer to as ‘cloud-native software development’, i.e. developing software specifically with the cloud in mind.
Cloud-native application development has four underlying pillars: Microservices, Containers, Dynamic Orchestration, and Continuous Delivery. Let’s unpack these further.
This is also known as the microservice architecture, is a software architectural approach that structures an application as a collection of services rather than one whole.
Some of the characteristics of these microservices are that they are usually owned by small teams, are relatively easy to maintain and test compared to traditional monolithic services, can be easily deployed independent of the larger host application, and are structured specifically around business capabilities, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Thanks to the microservices architecture, organisations can rapidly and frequently deliver large, complex applications without getting caught up in compliance, security or resource bottlenecks. They are also able to scale up and down as required, as they have the flexibility of only paying for the resources they require.
These allow multiple apps to coexist in one virtual machine. Containerisation is a key feature of cloud-native application development. It involves packaging up code and its dependencies to allow it to run consistently and predictably on any infrastructure.
Thanks to containerisation, developers can develop and deploy applications much more quickly and safely compared to the traditional, monolithic methods. In the traditional approach, applications are developed in a specific environment and often throw up bugs and errors when transferred to a new location.
However, containerisation helps to eliminate this problem by allowing developers to bundle the application code together through orchestrators and ultimately abstracting an individual container away from the host operating system, helping it become portable and able to run across any platform or cloud without any major issues.
Essentially, it streamlines the process of configuring and provisioning applications manually. It’s the glue that binds the different containers together and allows them to work together to deliver a seamless experience to the end-user. Dynamic Orchestration helps to save DevOps time by creating efficiencies and automating DevOps processes.
This allows for applications to be easily replicated so that a more efficient deployment workflow can be created. Existing applications can be easily cloned and recreated, allowing for faster improvement, fixes and shipping of code.
There are some other unique benefits and features of cloud-native technology that are worth noting, in contrast to on-premises apps meant to run on company servers:
- The second is the flexibility and elasticity of the cloud versus traditional infrastructures. Cloud-native apps can take advantage of this feature by utilising additional resources as needed, for example during a spike, and then downgrading again when the requirements diminish.
- Cloud-native apps are known for their ability to be constantly updated due to the concept of continuous delivery (helped by containerisation and dynamic orchestration). This is in contrast to traditional applications that require much more downtime while an update is installed, usually causing disruption to users and ultimately hurting the company’s bottom line.
- Cloud-native apps work well in virtualised spaces and are absolutely fine when it comes to sharing resources with other applications, whereas many on-premises applications tend to struggle in virtual environments for which they haven’t been specifically designed.
What to look out for when it comes to cloud-native computing
While cloud-native computing offers many benefits, as shown above, there are some common errors and misconceptions that organisations must be aware of to minimise their risks and get the most out of this approach.
One of the most common issues is when organisations deploy legacy monolithic applications onto a cloud infrastructure, without thinking about the specific functionality of cloud-native application development. This is a huge missed opportunity as organisations doing so are missing out on a number of the benefits listed above.
Similarly, applying the same development methods to cloud-native development as you do for traditional applications (e.g. the waterfall model) is not the right strategy and often wastes all the good that comes from building natively within the cloud.
So dev teams must consider new cloud-native approaches to development such as building minimum viable products (MVPs), conducting rapid user testing and iteration and working closely across different functions within the organisation rather than in a silo.
The cloud offers organisations many benefits, however, to maximise these benefits, organisations must consider cloud-native application development.