Cloud-Native is one of the most important concepts for IT architects nowadays. It is said to provide many advantages and be the latest and best way of developing applications. In this article, we want to introduce the concept and explain what it is about.
Cloud-Native is defined by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation as follows: “Cloud-native technologies enable enterprises to deploy and operate scalable applications in modern, dynamic environments. These can be public, private, and hybrid clouds.”
As the definition states, only cloud environments can provide such modern and modular architectures for cloud-native applications. In contrast to applications that were moved into the cloud via a lift and shift approach and that run in a virtual machine, the key advantage of cloud-native applications is that they fully embrace all benefits of cloud computing. Hence, they can be quickly deployed and are dynamic, scalable, and fault-tolerant. Architectural components, such as microservices, containers, service meshes, infrastructure as a service, standardized APIs, and serverless computing enhance this architecture further.
What are the Alternatives to Cloud Native?
First, the alternative to going into the cloud is to keep the traditional architecture. While many companies focusing on security and privacy chose this option five years ago, cloud providers have enhanced their services and security measures a lot. Nowadays, cloud computing is generally accepted to be more secure than the traditional architecture approach. Exclusive data cables, physically secured data centers, and exclusive or private cloud offerings are only some examples of this. Summarizing, not going into the cloud is for most companies not an option anymore.
Options for a Cloud Transformation
For a cloud transformation, there are generally two options:
The fast and easy option is to take your existing applications as they are. Run them on a virtualized operating system that runs on a virtual machine. This approach is generally known as lift and shift.
The other option for a cloud transformation is to analyze your existing application functionalities and capabilities that they fulfill. Based on the results, newly engineer them into new, cloud-native, small applications. Those are called microservices.
While this approach takes much more time and effort, it allows us to benefit from additional flexibility and speed. Therefore, if you want to move existing applications and functionalities into a cloud, you need to investigate first. Do you want to re-engineer your applications to become truly cloud-native or is a lift and shift the better option?
For new applications and capabilities, which are not based on existing applications, the cloud native architecture approach is the best option. Consequently, cloud native applications are very popular at newly established companies and tech companies. Those usually have less legacy IT and do not need to care much about existing architectures.
What Different Cloud Native Architectures Are There?
Containers and Kubernetes
As already mentioned, cloud-native applications can be deployed in containers, which are faster and more lightweight than virtual machines. They enable many benefits, such as independent development, deployment, and maintenance. They can be interchanged, easier scaled, and need less processing power and storage compared to virtual machines.
Another huge advantage of containerized microservices, compared to microservices without containers, is that the containers standardize the application program interfaces (API). This allows them to be easier portable to other platforms, for instance from another cloud provider.
Consider that an application split into single microservices that each run within separate containers can lead to a large and complex architecture of containers. Services such as Kubernetes can help to manage such architectures. Because of the ability to orchestrate such container architectures, Kubernetes or similar solutions are of very high importance in the context of cloud-native architectures.
Serverless Computing Services – Function as a Service (FaaS)
An alternative to developing cloud-native applications and deploying them in containers is to use a serverless computing service. This does not mean that the service does not need any server at all. It indicates that the user does not need to care at all about the underlying server, infrastructure, or platform. Serverless computing, also called Function as a Service (FaaS) allows software developers to directly deploy their code in the cloud. There are many advantages to it:
First, different deployments can be timed. Second, they can be connected by different workflows. Third, they can be either stateless (no memory of the past) or stateful (depending on what happed earlier).
Like most cloud services, Function as a Service (FaaS) is paid as you go, so you only pay for the required computing power to execute your code at the time it is executed. However, to use these FaaS offerings effectively, apps need to be prepared. Existing apps must be broken down into their parts (functions) and “rewired” or completely rewritten. Also, consider that, compared to using Kubernetes-managed containers, the vendor lock-in of using functions as a service is higher, as there are fewer solutions to enable portability up to now.
What Are Further Advantages of Cloud Native?
As mentioned, cloud providers put a lot of resources and effort into making their services more secure. Over the past years, they achieved very high standards. Also, their size additionally benefits them to provide additional security services that a small company could not establish for its application landscape.
Looking at the three cloud service models, IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS, the major difference between them is that the responsibilities for the physical infrastructure, operating systems, applications, etc. depend on the chosen service model. The “more cloud” you choose, e.g. going for a PaaS instead of an IaaS solution, the more responsibility the cloud provider takes and the less the user has to take care of. As security measures are one aspect of these responsibilities, SaaS is generally more secure than an IaaS solution as a user can benefit more from the best-in-class security of the cloud provider.
An additional benefit that most modular architectures have in common is that they enable a smooth CI/CD pipeline. Such pipelines enable a continuous integration / continuous delivery of new pieces of software and updates through regular releases. They also allow for continuous testing of modular pieces. All in all, this ensures better software development, deployment, and maintenance.
If you want to learn more about agile software development, take a look at this recent post on agile, DevOps or, CI/CD.