What is cloud native?
The industry is all abuzz about “cloud native.” So what does it mean exactly?
Cloud native, defined
Cloud native is a discipline of using the cloud to solve business challenges and improve customer experiences. It’s not just about putting workloads on the cloud, though. It’s about shifting your thinking and processes from “the cloud as a data center” to “the cloud as a business differentiator.”
What makes an application cloud native?
To understand what makes an application cloud native, start by applying that same mindset shift to your application development process. Instead of looking to simply host your application on the cloud, your aim is to leverage the cloud to do something transformative for your business. That means adopting technologies and methodologies that help you deploy faster, boost performance, increase customer satisfaction and improve cost efficiency.
That also means leaving behind the old way of doing things, and moving toward tools and strategies that are, themselves, cloud native in nature.
By building your application with cloud native tools and strategies at the center, you are on the road to creating a cloud native application. It’s made for the cloud and designed to help your teams and customers benefit from the cloud.
Cloud native vs. traditional applications
Compared to the cloud native way of operating, the traditional methods appear remarkably stiff, siloed, labor-intensive and unpredictable. These “traditional” applications and methods include:
- Virtual machines
- Data warehouses
- Security monitoring
- Waterfall development
Cloud native, by comparison, is fluid, collaborative, automated and dependable — and it provides a smarter, faster and more scalable way to operate:
- Containers and serverless
- Data lakes
- Security automation
- Agile development
How do I build a cloud native application?
Let’s go a bit deeper into the nuts and bolts of creating a cloud native application. Currently, there are a few elements common to most cloud native application development projects:
- A continuous delivery approach
- DevOps processes
Containers do just what normal physical containers do: they hold something. In this context, a container holds an application and everything the application needs — including networking, scaling and load balancing — so it can run on any cloud platform. This allows developers to essentially create “build once, run anywhere” code — making the application ultra-portable. This flexibility means you can make high-impact changes frequently and predictably, with minimal effort.
Traditionally, applications have been built as a single entity that runs on a server. They’re easy to develop, manage and deploy initially, but they’re hard to change, scale and maintain over time. And because all of the functions are combined, updates to one function can risk breaking another function.
Microservices, on the other hand, treat each application function as its own service, inside its own container, and connect them via APIs. This gives you much more flexibility and scalability, and you can make changes to one area with breaking another area. As a result, you can build and deploy new features quickly and easily, with minimal risk.
Serverless computing doesn’t mean that no servers are involved in computing processes. It means that you no longer need to maintain the servers required to keep your operations running. All of the heavy lifting of operations management takes place outside of the business. This frees up your developers from worrying about the servers that run their code, while delivering greater efficiency, stronger security and bigger cost savings.
Continuous integration / continuous delivery
To deliver higher-quality applications and updates faster, developers are employing continuous integration / continuous delivery (CI/CD) practices. CI/CD essentially brings automation into your workflow, so that each time code is added or modified, you can automatically start the build process and begin testing. Once testing is complete, the code can be automatically deployed. This means your users benefit from updates and improvements on a daily or weekly basis, rather than waiting months or more.
DevOps refers to a work environment, culture and set of practices where software developers and IT operations work together — constantly communicating and collaborating. It’s a cultural change that’s key to becoming cloud native. By working together, your software developers and IT operations can produce software and infrastructure services rapidly, frequently and reliably by standardizing and automating processes.
The benefits of cloud native architecture
By taking a cloud native approach, you can tap into tangible benefits that directly impact your business:
- Enabled innovation
With a transformed environment and processes, you can expand into new technologies like IoT and AI/ML and build self-healing, auto-scaling applications freed from server limitations. You can also take advantage of security and compliance technologies build for cloud native environments.
- Accelerated releases
With the ability to deploy releases daily, instead of monthly, you increase business agility and gain a competitive advantage by being able to bring products and services to market faster.
- Improved elasticity
With intelligent scaling that balances infrastructure resources based on demand, you can deliver value and create new business models that optimize cost and performance.
- Process efficiency
As you adopt cloud native ways of working, you’ll discover additional ways to improve outdated, inefficient, manual processes across your business — leading to increased employee and customer satisfaction.
The challenges of cloud native architecture
Despite the benefits of cloud native, there are obstacles to consider:
- Cultural change
Making the shift from the status quo to a new way of managing IT can be tough, and it can require training and support.
- Skills gaps
New technologies and new ways to connect technologies will require new skills sets that need to be recruited or re-skilled internally.
- Legacy burdens
Many organizations have traditional systems that are tightly coupled to the infrastructure, making some legacy capabilities difficult to replicate in the cloud.
- Security risk
With an expanded attack surface and a rapidly evolving threat landscape, security processes will have to evolve to secure everything while maintaining compliance.
Though they can seem overwhelming, these challenges are all manageable with the right expertise and a solid cloud strategy. For example, one of the biggest mistakes organizations make on the cloud native journey is not taking a close enough look at their existing infrastructure to map out possible impediments. A cloud native transformation consultant can guide you through this process, so help make your journey more successful.
Start your cloud native journey with Rackspace Technology
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