What Is Cloud-Native and Why Do Businesses Need It?
Just what is cloud-native? Frequently, there’s a lot of confusion surrounding that question. We all know that the cloud is a range of servers that can be accessed via the internet, along with the software and databases that run on those servers. For businesses, in particular, using cloud computing means there’s no need to own or rent (nor manage) physical servers or run software applications on company machines.
That's why it seems reasonable to assume that cloud-native refers to any software residing in the cloud. The assumption isn't accurate, however.
At MadAppGang, we've been working on cloud-native projects for many years. One example is Identifo, a cloud-ready user authentication system (check it out on GitHub). In this post, we’re here to help you understand what cloud-native is and the benefits it can offer your enterprise.
Here we cover the cloud-native concept, its pillars, some necessary tools, and the technology’s advantages. Let’s dive right in by answering the key question: What is cloud-native?
What is cloud-native?
Cloud-native primarily refers to how software is developed and deployed, not where it resides. It’s a specific approach to designing and delivering software that allows businesses to access the maximum benefits of the cloud: flexibility, scalability, resilience. The cloud-native approach was pioneered by "born in the cloud" companies — think Netflix, Spotify, Uber, Airbnb, and others. Since its inception, cloud-native has been adopted by numerous tech firms seeking a similar digital agility and a competitive advantage.
The cloud-native approach often involves a focus on microservices architecture. Simply put, this means that software functionality is separated into microservices, which can be further packaged in lightweight containers. These containers are then deployed and orchestrated across a variety of servers (for example, Kubernetes) forming an application with improved performance, flexibility, scalability, and failure resistance.
Graphic representation of microservices architecture. Source: Oracle
However, it's wrong to think that cloud-native is just about running microservices in the cloud. Microservice architecture is at the core of cloud-native application architecture, but it’s only one element of the cloud-native approach. Cloud-native is about marrying tech — cloud vendors, microservices and containers, Kubernetes, application programming interfaces, and so on — with specific patterns (The 12-factor app), continuous delivery methodology (for instance, DevOps, Agile), and a whole other business mindset.
To get a clearer idea of the cloud-native concept as well as learn how to plan and build cloud-native applications, let's take a look at the method’s main pillars:
The process of breaking complex tasks into much smaller sub-parts, so the complex entity consists of units that are easier to comprehend. The main business task is divided into sub-tasks, or jobs to be done. These focus on consumer needs that are less likely to become invalid or obsolete over time. And when we talk about software, this pattern is associated with microservices, which makes sense. The app is decomposed into small services related to Domain-Driven Design (DDD) subdomains.
DDD refers to the fact that any business can be divided into domains that consist of multiple subdomains, each corresponding to a different part of the business. For example, an online store’s business subdomains might include the product catalogue, order management, delivery, and so on. Microservice architecture has services corresponding to each of these subdomains. As a result, it’s possible to develop an app structure that allows changes to be made to one service (domain) without affecting any other business domain.
An application or process that doesn't store any data (state) related to previous transactions on its server is said to be stateless. In a stateless application, data isn’t stored on the server. Instead, it’s externalized and each transaction or interaction is taken with no consideration for previous requests. Thus, a load balancer can endlessly replicate the application and distribute client requests among the copies. As a result, stateless apps can easily scale and be adapted to handle any level of traffic, which makes them particularly suited to cloud computing.
Stateless app vs stateful app. Source: Kubernetic
Programmers can assemble functions in various ways without having to worry about dependencies breaking a program when the app's components are stateless. Stateless components are easy to redeploy in case of failure or scaled to accommodate changes in load. Moreover, stateless apps can be easily interconnected with other apps using application programming interfaces (APIs).
Cloud vendors such as AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud can assist with these challenges. With their standard-compliant service catalogues (for example, the AWS Service Catalog), developers can deploy infrastructure components quickly, securely, and easily in any environment.
If you don’t deliver and commit your code continuously, you’ll have longer periods between integrations, making it more challenging to find and fix bugs. Waiting days or even weeks between builds can easily derail a project before it even reaches the testing stage. A Continuous Delivery and Continuous Integration (CI/CD) pipeline is commonly used to overcome this problem. It enables early defect detection, increases productivity, and ensures that code enters production quickly.
The CI/CD pipeline connects development and operations and automates testing, building, and deploying applications. At the end of a certain timebox (iteration), code made independently by developers is sent to a shared project's repository. Here, automated CI/CD services compile, link, and package the code. Then, automated tests examine the software's functionality. Following that, the code is deployed (a process that’s almost entirely automated, too) and sent to production.
Graphic representation of CI/CD pipeline. Source: Dev.to
In a word, continuous delivery means code changes get bug tested and uploaded to a repository (for example, GitHub) automatically. From the repository, the code can be deployed to a live production environment by the operations team. Meanwhile, the operations team integrates the latest changes, developers can get back to plan and write new code. Hence, there are no interruptions and no long pauses in the process.
Containers and orchestration
Containers — either serverless functions or microservices delivered by containers — have existed for decades, but their use became mainstream only when Docker's open-source containerisation platform debuted in 2013. Today, containers form the core of cloud-native applications. They are executable, lightweight components that combine app source code with all the operating system (OS) libraries and dependencies needed for the code to run in any environment.
When there are just a few containers, they are easy to deploy and manage manually. However, that’s not the case for most organisations. As the number of containers grows, they become hard to handle. In this situation, instruments for container orchestration (K8s, Nomad, OpenShift) come in handy. These tools help developers tackle the problem by automating the scalability, load balancing, availability, scheduling, deployment, and networking of containers.
Benefits of cloud-native for business
Now that we know what cloud-native is and the technology’s pillars, let's see why so many large enterprises, SMEs, and startups alike choose this model. Huawei, for instance, switched its internal apps to cloud-native, resulting in a 20 to 30% reduction in its operating costs because global deployments plummeted from a week to mere minutes.
Another example is Haufe Group, a German midsize media and software company. Using the cloud-native technique, Haufe not only improved its deployment speed but was able to save 30% on hardware costs as well. As you see, cost-efficiency is the main cloud-native advantage, but it’s not the only one. Let’s see what else a firm gets by building cloud-native applications:
Horizontal and vertical scalability
With cloud-native apps, it's easy and fast to increase or reduce performance, resources and functionalities according to users’ needs. Let’s say one of your microservices is in higher demand in a certain period of time. To ensure the app works in a stable and smooth manner, it's enough to add more copies of existing instances (servers, containers). When the peak of demand is over, you can decrease the number of instances without affecting your app. That's what allowed Haufe Group to significantly reduce its hardware and operational costs. The company is able to scale down to around half the capacity at night. This is horizontal scalability.
Vertical scaling means that you can add more central processing units (CPUs) or Input/Output (I/O) resources to an existing server, or replace a server with a more powerful one. Cloud-native architecture allows businesses to achieve vertical scaling on, for example, AWS or Azure platforms, by just altering instance sizes.
In this case, portability means that an application (or its parts) can be easily transferred from one cloud service (public or private) to another. Note that the API you use for the source cloud service may not fit the target service. Thus, you might need to change the tooling, but the app code won't need any significant changes.
The principles of the cloud-native technique — business decomposition, CI/CD, and automation — enable development and production teams to work simultaneously without friction on many product parts. Smooth cooperation and highly-automated processes make deployment, updates, and rollouts easy and efficient.
Meanwhile, standardisation reduces the workload and means efficient product builds and monitoring. Not only do you get reduced delivery times but also an opportunity to focus on business tasks rather than infrastructure or workflow.
As we've seen from the examples above, the cloud-native approach is cost-efficient. Cloud vendors charge per minute, so having high scalability allows you to save a lot of money. You pay only for what you use and when you use it. Furthermore, development teams can focus on business needs without wasting too much time on routine and testing tasks thanks to standardisation and automation. As a result, the time to market is reduced, which puts you ahead of your competitors and helps you to profit from your project or updates earlier.
So, what is cloud-native? It's not just an app that resides on the cloud. And it's definitely not an app that has microservices architecture. Cloud-native is a complex approach to designing and architecting applications, and organising business processes. The principles of this approach allow enterprises to profit from all the benefits public, private or hybrid clouds have to offer.
Migrating to cloud-native or building a cloud-native app requires zest, smart organisation of all processes, effort, and even a change of business mindset. However, if you're ready to invest in this venture, you'll get a competitive, modern app that’s scalable, flexible, easy to update and handle, ready for high loads, and cost-efficient.
To get all the benefits of the cloud and to avoid extra work and worry, trust an experienced team to build your cloud-native product. At MadAppGang, we have all the necessary expertise and highly skilled specialists to build cloud-native mobile and web apps. Regardless of how complicated your project is, we're ready to handle it. Contact us to get your idea off the ground.