What is a Cloud Native Application?

And What Does Cloud Native Mean?

What is a cloud native application?

There are two ways to fathom the term “cloud native“. The first: Visit Amazon, Microsoft or Google and simply ask them: „What is cloud native?”. Almost certainly, each will give you a slightly different answer. After all, cloud native is not just a technical term, it’s a buzzword. That’s why will try the second way here: Let’s take a step back from the buzzword “cloud native” and approach the term more analytically. Believe me, this makes it even more exciting.

Let’s use the Cloud Native Computing Foundation’s definition as a starting point:

Cloud-native technologies empower organizations to build and run scalable applications in modern, dynamic environments such as public, private, and hybrid clouds. Containers, service meshes, microservices, immutable infrastructure, and declarative APIs exemplify this approach.

These techniques enable loosely coupled systems that are resilient, manageable, and observable. Combined with robust automation, they allow engineers to make high-impact changes frequently and predictably with minimal toil.

What does this definition teach us? Cloud native applications are designed to ensure that businesses can develop quickly and agilely in changing environments. To develop cloud native applications is to meet the demands of modern businesses: We want to embrace rapid change, we want to scale big, we want to be resilient. Cloud native solutions help companies to fight complexity and high user demands with a structure that provides speed and agility.

Got Questions?

But what does cloud native mean?

Cloud Native means designing applications that not only meet these demands of flexibility and speed, but that are built for it. If cloud native platforms would speak to a cloud ready one, they would probably say something like: “You merely adopted the cloud; I was born in it, moulded by it.” (I hope you’ve seen The Dark Knight).

Cloud native software therefore require a special design that embraces these principles of flexibility, reliability, and portability. A framework that describes the specific components of this cloud native design in detail is the Twelve-Factor Application. Feel free to dive into it for more theoretical background. This article rather focusses on how to translate these principles into reality.

Let’s start with the skeleton of cloud native software. The definition above told us that cloud native solutions need to consist of individual pieces that work together: In most cases, these are Microservices.

  • Microservices

    Microservices help to achieve the flexible architecture that cloud native applications demand. As small, independent services with a shared structure, each microservice has a specific task in a larger context. It can be deployed independently and is self-contained – which means it carries everything relevant directly in it. The goal is to be stateless. That way, microservices allow it to segregate functionality into independent services, each with its own logic, state and data.

    As each microservice can also communicate with others using standard communication protocols, many microservices together can form an application. In the end, they allow us to be flexible. But how do we make sure these mighty, small warriors can fight for us? That’s when Containers come into play.

  • Containers

    Containers are packages of software that contain all elements needed to run in any environment. Thus, our services can run anywhere, whether in a private data center, in the public cloud, or on a developer’s private laptop. And not to forget: Containers also ensure scalability.

    Let’s imagine we containerize our microservice now. We put the code, its dependencies, and a runtime into a so-called container image. When we then start (or scale) an application, we transform this container image into a running container instance. The important aspect here: We can do that as often as we need to. We can have as many instances of the containerized service as needed. We can scale the application endlessly.

    In the end, containerization allows us to deploy services in any environment we want to – and to deploy that service as often as we want to. Going back to the original definition of cloud nativeness, this allows to satisfy the aspect of running scalable applications in dynamic environments. Via the containers, we can ramp up or down services as needed and without additional effort.

    So good so far. Now, some of you might say: “I know solutions that work with Microservices and containers. Does that mean they are cloud native?” Not quite. A very distinctive characteristic of cloud native applications is that they utilize services that are provided by – you guessed right – cloud providers.

  • Backing Services

    Remember: the goal is to keep everything lean and dynamic within cloud applications. But: Is that really possible? After all, organizations have a need to store data, to monitor, to do analytics. How can a cloud native system meet these demands while being as flexible and lean as described above? By having these functionalities not reside in the application itself, but in the cloud in which it runs.

    Cloud native systems depend heavily on ancillary resources, on so-called backing services of cloud providers. A cloud native solution does not own these services, but simply consumes them via APIs or is bound to them via with certain configurative information (f.i. via a URL). In doing so, we decouple the service from the application and enable it to be interchangeable. The cloud native solution remains lean and dynamic but still profits from capabilities that were traditionally located in the application itself. Being able to utilize backing services also means less maintenance effort and does not compromise security as these services follow the principle of least privileges: they do not have more rights than absolutely necessary.

  • Automation: CI/CD Pipeline

    Automation in the cloudnative context means first and foremost: Being able to describe the cloud infrastructure that is required via code. Microservices and Containers enable applications to be lean and dynamic, but they also require the right cloud environment to run in. A cloud developer wants to quickly deploy updates or app features. That’s where Infrastructure as Code (IaC) comes into play. With IaC, you can automate platform provisioning and application deployment in a consistent and repeatable manner. You avoid manual configurations and foster consistency by using code to create the desired state of the environment. This is especially useful for DevOps teams as they can quickly deliver applications.

    DevOps is a term that spans across the entire software development life cycle. Starting with the specification of an application all the way to delivering and operating it – DevOps contains patterns and practices to enable faster and more reliable releases.

    Another challenge of cloud native solutions and a rapidly changing environment is that deployments happen very frequently. In the past, converting software to production required vast documentation and many manual steps that lead to errors. Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Deployment (CD) ease this process massively.

    CI allows it to consistently apply changes to software by building and running automated tests against the source code of a project. That way, it catches mistakes early. CD is used when freshly built packages are deployed to an environment. Hereby, scripts replace the traditional checklists and allow to execute the same tasks faster and more accurately. That way, it catches issues in the deployment process early.

    By applying CI/CD, companies can conduct code changes more frequently and thus provide on-demand updates instead of quarterly or even yearly releases. It not only caters to the agile demands of every cloud native software, but also leads to better collaboration and software quality.

Short Conclusion

And that’s a wrap. Dynamic, lean design, Microservices, Containers, Backing Services, Automation – that’s what defines a cloud native solution. If you have the urge to dive deeper into certain aspects of these topics, feel free to check resources of AWS, Microsoft, VM Ware or Gitlab.

If you find yourself facing a concrete cloud challenge, if you want to realize your long-sought cloud dreams or if you simply want to make your organization more efficient by utilizing cloud (native) applications, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

Regarding cloud native solutions, we offer complete development of cloud native solutions or consulting by certified experts. Follow the links for more information.