Regardless of their size or industry, all organizations are—or should be—undergoing a digital transformation in one form or another. They all eventually need modern applications that scale on demand, both from a workload and user perspective; they all need to be able to quickly adapt and change those applications based on usage patterns, customer feedback, and market requirements; they all need to deliver better and richer customer, partner, and employee experiences. In other words, they might want something different, but they all need to become cloud-native.

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Still, transitioning to cloud-native is not always straightforward. Cloud-native is an altogether different approach that changes how organizations create, deploy, and manage software. So, to be successful in this transition and reap the benefits of a cloud-native environment, there are several challenges IT leaders need to consider.

In a recent survey about the state of cloud app development, we asked 500+ IT professionals in different stages of their cloud-native journey what were the main challenges they faced when transitioning to this new way of developing and delivering apps. We also look to understand how organizations in more mature stages are surpassing those challenges.

You can read the whole report in Cloud-Native Development: Ready or Not?.

5 Cloud-Native Challenges to Consider in Your Cloud Transition

When we asked respondents what the main challenges of adopting cloud-native development were, there was a clear gap between those who have already adopted cloud-native (leaders) and those who were yet to adopt it (laggards).

While leaders identified selecting the right tools and platforms and architectural complexity as the main challenges, laggards ranked nearly every other category higher on their list.

cloud-native challenges 

This comes to show there’s some naïveté from those who are still in the early process of their transition. Therefore, if you, too, are in that stage, here are the main cloud-native challenges you need to keep in mind in your journey.

1. Identifying the Right Tools or Platforms

52% of leaders identified this as the main challenge of their cloud-native transition.

Being cloud-native implies orchestrating several technologies, from PaaS, Kubernetes, service mesh, DevOps, app development tools, and cloud providers. Each of these components of cloud-native has a vast number of solutions to choose from, so it’s easy to get lost in the process. To give you an idea, for Kubernetes tools alone, there are over 200+ Certified Service Providers and tons of Kubernetes Certified distributions.

And that’s just part of the challenge. You also need to ensure that the tools you select meet your security and compliance requirements—particularly when choosing your cloud provider and opting for a public or hybrid model—and if the services the provider offers are the ones you need.

To add complexity to it, the number of web services is also growing rapidly. Azure, for example, has over 290k platform combinations, making it harder for software developers to know which ones to choose or even where to start.

2. Architectural Complexity

A close second is architectural complexity, with 51% of leaders reporting this as one of their main challenges.

In cloud-native, you’re breaking monolithic applications into smaller services. Such applications may have dynamic end-user elements and sophisticated microservices-based backend components running on Kubernetes in one or more clouds. Plus, cloud-native apps are more likely to have ephemeral components while also depending on a combination of modern event-driven technologies as well as RESTful APIs.

So, it’s no surprise that cloud-native applications can be so complex. They have more components that are more dynamic and interact in more ways than previous generations of distributed computing applications.

3. Setting Up the Infrastructure and Keeping It Up to Date

Both leaders and laggards agree that setting up the infrastructure is one of the biggest cloud-native challenges. And there’s a reason for that.

A common mistake is equating cloud-native to just being able to set up and use containers or Kubernetes—as their orchestrator—which is a complex endeavor in itself. The entire infrastructure needs to be set up in a way that having microservices running on containers and benefitting from the wealth of native cloud services from the likes of AWS or Azure is done properly from the start.

All considerations regarding non-functional requirements such as scalability, resilience, and security are what truly defines mature cloud-native organizations: infrastructure that can scale for users, transactions, and their very development teams, in an ever-growing and globally distributed manner and in a seamless way, while keeping costs efficiently controlled.

Several vendors already provide various configurations that streamline cloud-native setups, handling the underlying infrastructure and much of the initial configuration. These offerings can nonetheless be difficult to implement in practice, as organizations still need to architect and build applications that make use of those cloud-native environments.

And, the setup needs to take into consideration the future maintenance of the tools chosen and the infrastructure itself. This is particularly challenging for organizations with large-scale enterprise factories.

With all the dependencies associated with a cloud-native architecture, organizations must ensure that when they change in one component, it doesn’t break the whole portfolio while adhering to ever more stringent implementation and security requirements.

4. Finding the Budget to Invest in Cloud-Native Development Tools and Platforms

Implementing a cloud-native infrastructure can take many months and cost hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of dollars. And this will only get organizations to the starting point of building an app.

Not all organizations can spare the time and dollars. And, particularly for organizations going through the process for the first time, every step of the way is imbued with risks that can easily derail timelines and budgets. Justifying the investment and calculating the risks makes for some difficult choices to be entertained in an unforgiving endeavor, where cutting corners is not an option.

The investment eventually pays off, in several ways, with costs being eventually more elastic and adapted to use patterns that fit the true requirements of both organizations and users. But, it’s not easy to convince otherwise risk-averse organizations to take the plunge so they can reap the benefits later.

5. Finding and Hiring People with the Required Skill and Keeping Existing People

To successfully embrace a cloud-native approach, organizations need a variety of skills, from cloud and database architects to security architects with experience in the cloud universe.

These skills are not only among some of the scarcest resources in the industry but are also almost impossible to recruit as they’re usually absorbed by elite software companies like Apple or Amazon.

In an extremely competitive job market, keeping talent that embraced the challenge and acquired skills in such high demand is also increasingly hard due to the challenges and compensation they’ll command.

Surpassing These Challenges and Embracing Cloud-Native

Cloud-native is a paradigm shift, and organizations need to readjust their architecture patterns and dev teams' way of working to deliver faster and continuously. To truly embrace cloud-native benefits, organizations need to adopt modern software development best practices that include DevSecOps, CI/CD, and to an increasing extent, low-code.

In fact, according to the State of Cloud Application Development (SoCAD) Report, 60% of cloud-native leaders see low-code platforms as winning partners in their cloud-native journeys, and more than seven in ten (72%) leaders work with low-code platforms already.

To learn what else cloud-native leaders are doing to embrace cloud-native successfully, download Cloud-Native Development: Ready or Not?