There’s no shortage of talk these days about cloud-native applications. This is a good thing, as cloud-native applications represent a fundamental change in software development. Digital transformation is both a driver and a beneficiary of this shift. In this blog, we’ll look at key attributes of cloud-native applications — but first, let’s quickly look at what it means to be cloud-native.

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Defining Cloud-Native

Cloud-native applications are created with the most state-of-the-art cloud-based technologies to run end-to-end in the cloud and take full advantage of the benefits of the latest cloud platforms. Cloud-native refers to the approach for developing software to utilize cloud computing to run scalable applications in modern, dynamic environments.

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) provides this definition of cloud native:

“Cloud native technology empowers 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.”

This platform for efficiency takes advantage of many technologies and processes that are redefining how software is created, operated, and maintained. It’s also driving greater reliability in software and greater speed in the development process.

The cloud-native approach of building software means that large systems with many moving parts can be created efficiently, deployed as companies want them and with an eye to the future, and can be changed incrementally without outages or large, wholesale upgrades or replacements. Moreover, cloud-native applications on public, private, and hybrid clouds can flex and scale to meet the ever-changing needs of enterprises and consumers.

Cloud-Native Flexibility and Agility Derive from a Modular Approach

Software was traditionally released in a monolithic architecture — one large application with business logic and data all tied together. Changing an application was a cumbersome and inflexible process, with eventful milestones and large deployments, that always encompass retesting — even if for minute changes.

But cloud-native applications are created through a modular approach using containers and microservices (more about both of these below). This approach inherently means that the codebase is flexible instead of monolithic, and developers can quickly roll out changes and updates whenever necessary. Being this nimble leads to savings of both time and effort when building and deploying applications.

10 Characteristics of Cloud-Native Applications

1. Cloud-native apps use containers.

Containers are the common modular pieces that define modern software. These are lightweight, standardized software units that hold application code and all dependencies required to execute code, independent of the host environment.

Containerization packages the code and isolates it for deployment. Containers rapidly scale in and out, taking advantage of the scaling capability and elasticity of cloud environments.

Containerization requires orchestration software and often uses Kubernetes as the de-facto standard for managing and scheduling container-based applications.

2. The operating system is separate.

Unlike virtual machines, containers don’t require the inclusion of the operating system.

Instead, they share the operating system with the underlying host OS, and, as long as the same container platform software is used, they can be rolled out anywhere. Cloud-native containers share the operating system kernel and include dependencies.

3. Independent microservices deliver speed and efficiency.

A microservice architecture is an approach where a software application is designed and built as small pieces of discrete code functionality that can operate as loosely coupled services.

They are independent of other services and can be called upon when needed. Because they are independent, they can be changed, deployed, upgraded, and scaled individually without affecting other related services.

Microservices employ APIs to communicate with other services. The modular nature of microservices means that if only a small function or service needs to change, only that part of the application is changed and deployed – making lifecycle management of cloud-native applications highly efficient.

4. You can choose languages and frameworks.

When building cloud-native applications, developers can select the best language and framework for the functionality of the service they’re developing and choose different languages for different parts.

They can choose from a range of development languages such as .Net, PHP, Python or Ruby, and frameworks such as ASP.Net, Ruby on Rails or Node.js.

5. APIs are important for cloud-native applications to function.

Microservices generally use fast, lightweight REST (Representational State Transfer) APIs to communicate through technology-agnostic HTTP.

In addition to REST APIs for microservices, cloud-native applications must accommodate other types of communication that require other APIs, such as NATS, a message-oriented middleware/messaging system, and gRPC, Google’s open source remote procedure call used for internal services such as tracing and authentication, performance, and load balancing.

6. Architecture and platform help with stateful and stateless services.

 Software developers would much prefer to focus on developing the functionality of applications rather than managing the operating systems on which their applications run. By using a cloud architecture and platform, developers can abstract their applications away from infrastructure dependencies, eliminating the time and effort of configuring and maintaining operating systems. The major cloud platforms today are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform.

Cloud architecture holds stateful and stateless services, which are independent of each other. Stateful holds something in memory; it has a state. Stateless applications don’t store session data in a persistent memory, as stateful apps do. Because stateless applications don’t stay persistently in memory, they are appropriate for scaling out. Microservices and cloud-native applications have made stateless services quite common.

Stateful services are persistent and require higher availability and resiliency. They can be batched or routed to avoid latency and improve consistency, and kept in a data grid for real-time and faster response rates.

7. They depend on and benefit from elastic infrastructure.

Cloud-native apps take advantage of the cloud platform by using its shared infrastructure in a virtual, elastic manner – essentially scaling up and down as needed; expanding or shrinking to most flexibly provide resources to the application’s needs.

The cloud platform includes the necessary hardware, software, and services that are essential to support cloud-native applications. This approach supports feature development velocity and time to market. It also delivers cost savings through pay-per-use models such as serverless computing, which can be priced in milliseconds of compute resource time.

8. Cloud-native apps are managed with DevOps for business agility.

Companies use DevOps processes to manage and deliver cloud-native apps for more streamlined software lifecycle management. DevOps is the set of communications and collaboration methodologies that allow developers to coordinate, build, test, and deploy in concurrent pipelines of CI/CD (continuous integration/continuous delivery) releases. Cloud-native applications built with DevOps are resilient, manageable, and observable.

9. Expect to use automation.

Cloud-native applications can be highly automated, which makes them highly scalable. Through Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Backend-as-a-Service, and Function-as-a-Service, developers can delegate cloud providers to administer a range of services automatically.

10. Cloud-native applications are designed to behave.

They follow governance models for allocation policies that control shared resources, such as network allocations and storage and CPU quotas.

Are You Ready for a Cloud-Native World?

Cloud native application development is one of the fastest-growing trends in tech today. Both Gartner and IDC forecast that 90-95% of apps will be cloud-native by 2025.

And there’s a reason cloud-native application development is taking off — 10 reasons, in fact, as we’ve outlined here. As companies continue to embrace cloud native, their ability to quickly and efficiently launch, update, and manage highly available applications creates a significant advantage for the entire business.

But, are you ready for it? Download the State of Cloud Native Development (SoCAD) report to learn how leading companies are embracing cloud-native and surpassing the most common talent and technology challenges. Or visit our Cloud Application Development Guide to explore how low-code can be the right partner for your cloud and cloud-native development strategy.