Cloud Native – Much More Than a Buzzword

With cloud enablement becoming a ‘must-have’ for enterprises, adopting the Cloud Native approach is seen as an essential part of an organization’s progressive engineering goals. Enterprises are already starting to realize the returns by accepting and transforming to the Cloud Native philosophy. Predictions show that the number of such applications is going to double by 2020.

What is Cloud Native?

First and foremost, Cloud Native is like adopting a new culture which requires a mindset shift from the traditional way of architecting and developing applications. It is a way of:

  • Gaining maximum benefits from the cloud ecosystem
  • Thinking of services offered by a cloud provider and how they can be applied and optimally configured to solve the use case
  • Switching to various new architectural patterns for development and deployment.
Why take the effort?

Listed here are a few of the more important reasons for moving away from traditional application building approaches:

  1. Business agility – Software delivery has evolved from being a major event, which would often result in downtime, to something which is done silently without any business disruption. Release cycles have typically narrowed down from months to minutes. Organizations are now trying to beat the competition by releasing faster.
  2. Cost optimization – The ‘pay only for what you use’ (pay as you go) model suits the variation seen in application usage of all modern-day software. The immediate benefit obtained by saving cost is reason enough for the executives of an organization to be convinced to move towards Cloud Native.
  3. Self-service – From provisioning to deployment to fault tolerance. All of it can now be made API based thus paving the way for automation.
  4. Scaling the beast – Scaling only the parts of the application which need to scale as opposed to scaling the application as a whole, is perhaps the most significant advantage for Cloud-Native applications. Also, the burden of actually scaling a component is offloaded to the service provider via a set of rules and can be controlled & configured as needed, giving an advantage to the operations team of flexibility along with convenience.
How … and the rest of it …

Below are the basic tenets of building a native cloud application:

  • Move to micro services-based architecture

Micro-services based architecture is the first and most fundamental shift in the way applications are architected. It involves providing deep thought on module design and decomposing them into independent and atomic units which talk with others over application level protocols.

  • Adhere to the 12-factor app principles

These twelve principles are guidelines which, if followed would ensure –

  1. Higher scalability & better maintainability
  2. Resiliency and system being self-healing in nature
  3. Portability between execution environments which minimizes discrepancies between Dev/Test/Prod
  4. Automation of infrastructure provisioning and configuration
  • Imbibe the DevOps culture

Incorporating this practice will increase the ability of the business to deliver applications reliably and at a higher velocity. Practices like continuous delivery, once set, would make ensure quicker and efficient releases.

  • Use Containers and its Orchestrators

The disruption caused by container-based technologies for packaging and controlling applications has taken the software world by storm. Containers have become the most critical tool in the gamut of Cloud Native technologies. With containers arises the need to manage and coordinate them, thus giving rise to orchestration tools which provide benefits like auto-discovery, load balancing & health checks. Use of containers & orchestration tools is an integral part of building applications for the cloud.

  • Real-time logging and monitoring

Add the ability to monitor the infrastructure and application components right from the design stage (and not as an afterthought). Monitoring will allow real-time alerts in case of emergency and aid in troubleshooting and auditing and help manage risks arising from usage, security, outages, etc. proactively.

  • Choose the ‘right’ cloud provider

All of the principles mentioned above will halt at a decision point ‘Which cloud suits our needs the best?’ As the monopoly concerning public cloud is broken with major players providing the same set of benefits and matching each innovative feature, it is in the best interest of the organization to do a detailed study of both requirements and cost for the best kind of fitment.

Watch out for pitfalls

Using cloud services require a great deal of effort regarding study and time spent on configuration & code. Once chosen will result in tight coupling of the deployed software and the underlying cloud platform. If for some reason you need to change the cloud provider, there will be a significant effort in rewriting & redesigning the software. While Hybrid cloud and Multi-cloud approaches may seem like a viable option due to a balanced risk of workloads, both implementation and governance are both complexes. One way to counter the above is to follow a Cloud Agnostic approach where the architecture does not use any cloud-specific service and typically uses open source tools, frameworks & languages to implement the architecture right from load balancers to persistence mechanisms to microservices. The clear disadvantage here is that the time it takes to build & deploy increases by twofold or more

To conclude …

If you are part of the forward-looking decision-making team at your organization, embracing the Cloud Native philosophy is inevitable, and it is best to start now. It is a slow process but once completed will pay rich dividends with reduced efforts and optimized cost.