What Is Cloud Native?

Cloud native generally refers to software that is designed from the ground up to take advantage of what cloud computing infrastructure provides: flexibility, scale, resilience, and elasticity.

Applications built for the cloud offer new and better customer experiences, speed, reduced costs, and ease of management.

Cloud native is a two-fold term. One meaning is the descriptor or definition of the approach of designing software applications specifically for cloud architecture. It may refer to the tools, technologies, and techniques used to build cloud native software, which are different from the tools and approaches used to build legacy software. The second meaning describes the characteristics of these applications and services, often as “cloud native apps.” It refers to more than the locations where applications are to be deployed; it also refers to how they are developed.

Cloud native applications are designed to be loosely coupled, be optimized for cloud performance, and favor managed services provided by cloud vendors. They are built under a continuous delivery methodology, and this steady delivery of innovative ideas, experiences, and improvements as software is pointed squarely at gaining competitive advantage through speed and improved customer experience.

Companies including Netflix, Uber, and Airbnb are examples of “born in the cloud” — cloud service companies that are not built on legacy systems and have instead been specifically engineered to take full advantage of modern cloud infrastructure and delivery.

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation Definition

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), part of the nonprofit Linux Foundation, hosts important components of the global technology infrastructure. CNCF offers a more technical 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 component-based development and deployment of software takes the approach that the infrastructure is separate from the application, and the infrastructure is disposable. It can be provisioned quickly and removed when it’s not necessary. When infrastructure fails or is outdated, it is not modified or repaired; it’s replaced, automatically. This is what is meant by immutable. As more services are needed, they are scaled out. When they are no longer needed, they are removed

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Why Is Cloud Native Important?

Cloud native is fueled by the quest to rapidly turn ideas into customer experiences in the market. Businesses are undergoing digital transformation at a rapid pace, seeking to turn processes digital in order to deliver better, richer, customer experiences faster, all with the goal of accelerating growth.

Examples of these experiences may include dynamic changes for customizing a purchase, or features such as modeling a customer-designed product configuration prior to purchasing it, or comparing feature sets across products. When a customer suggests or requests a feature, or a line of business owner dreams of an idea, IT and the business can quickly turn it into application software in a cloud native architecture.

Delivering these services is highly dependent on performance as well. Customers expect rapid answers and continuous service availability through a network that doesn’t go down. They want new features delivered digitally as soon as they are conceived, in a customer experience that is innovative and memorable and offers business value.

Cloud native applications address the dual goals of speed of innovation and reliability. They can be quickly developed and deployed and rapidly evolved and scaled across cloud environments. IDC predicted in a 2020 Futurescape report that more than 90% of apps will be cloud native by 2025, and that nearly two-thirds of enterprises will be prolific software producers that deploy code daily.

What Is Cloud Native Architecture?

A key strength of cloud native architectures is that they are standards-based and vendor neutral. This interchangeability allows software to be developed and deployed to work the same way over any number of hardware and cloud configurations.

Some of the building blocks of cloud native have become mainstream, according to a 2021 survey done by CNCF.

“Kubernetes adoption among the ever-expanding cloud native community is approaching 100%”

Priyanka Sharma, CNCF executive director, said in 2022 when the survey data was released.

“Our data also demonstrates how ubiquitous cloud native is, whether it is being deployed in house or as a managed service. I believe 2022 will be a banner year for emerging areas of cloud native, like edge, observability, and security, as container infrastructures continue to mature both on the surface and under the hood.”

Essential components of cloud native applications include:

  • Containers: When small software features or functionality are broken out of a larger application and packed in a standard form with all of its dependencies, this lightweight, portable package is called a container. It doesn't require the whole operating system it runs on. It’s a small, efficient piece of software that can be quickly and easily duplicated and deployed wherever it’s needed. Containers are hosted by a platform-as-a-service software (PaaS) such as Docker, which uses OS-level virtualization to package the software into containers and run it on any environment via its runtime engine.

  • Kubernetes: Whereas Docker creates containers, Kubernetes can be thought of as an operating system for the cloud that manages containers in clusters, conducting them across many machines, wherever they are — on premise; in public, private or hybrid clouds; or any combination of these. Kubernetes is the orchestrator of containers, handling scheduling, load balancing, and deployment. It starts, stops, and heals containers. It scales apps when they’re needed, removes containers when they’re no longer necessary, or replaces them when they fail.

  • Microservices: Microservices sound like their name. They are small bits of software chopped from larger, monolithic applications and arranged as independent services that work together. They are housed in containers and deployed in Kubernetes clusters. Using a microservice architecture, apps can be updated, changed, and redeployed faster.

  • Service mesh: A service mesh is a visible, dedicated infrastructure layer built into an app for the purpose of managing how parts of the application share data. It becomes an important way to document communications as the app grows and needs optimization.

  • DevOps: Development using DevOps methodologies instills the practice of continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) as a mainstay of the process. IT organizations continuously develop, test, and release software in small pieces. Large enterprises with well-versed development and IT staff can deploy software this way multiple (and even hundreds of) times a day.

Benefits of Cloud Native Applications

Cloud native software development offers advantages in several areas at a time when organizations are readily harnessing the technology necessary to make these benefits a reality. Benefits such as expense avoidance and speed play in multiple areas.

  • Better customer experiences: Businesses are engaged in a host of digital transformation projects today. Moving ideas into software becomes a nimble partnership between the business and IT. Because the apps are independent from the infrastructure, the business and IT can form a culture of collaboration that dedicates more resources to the business requirements and to examining how customers experience the software.

  • Faster development and better software releases: The CI/CD brought about through DevOps into a cloud infrastructure is bolstered by the ability to reuse building blocks of containers and code and other components such as APIs, rules, and workflows. Modularity translates into speed and simplicity with tested software that is released faster. Using DevOps practices, IT staff can quickly develop, integrate, and test software — deploying it incrementally, as it’s ready. Using a “fail fast, fix fast” methodology, issues are spotted and solved early, before getting to the customer, which produces an overall better experience. The CI/CD process updates software seamlessly, with no disruption to the customer, all while bringing customer-driven services quickly to market.

  • Reduce costs / efficient budget use: The overall workload of managing the cloud environment becomes more automated in cloud native environments. The elastic computing model means companies needn’t have always-on infrastructure — instead, services are scaled when needed. From a build perspective, tested microservices can be embedded into other clusters without new testing cycles, saving resources. Repeatable processes can be managed via IT automation, reducing staff time. In addition, organizations can realize indirect savings through reduced downtime.

  • Ease of management: Major cloud vendors such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud provide serverless platforms. These cloud platforms provide network configuration, provisioning, scaling, and management of cloud instances. The developer only needs to provide the code and event triggers to run it.

  • Reliability / improved business continuity with resilience: Business continuity is essential in modern digital enterprises.Through loosely coupled services, cloud native architecture improves redundancy and fault tolerance and automate recovery. The containers and Kubernetes approach means failed containers are swept out and new ones are deployed automatically, which greatly reduces downtime. This reliability and resilience lowers costs and conserves resources for other IT priorities, while improving the overall customer experience.

  • Choice through open-source standards: Organizations are choosing multiple environments — on-premises, public clouds, private clouds, or some hybrid. By developing cloud native applications, they can run these applications on any infrastructure without the need for code changes. This portability across clouds means companies are not locked into any one vendor.

Compete in a Cloud Native World

If you’re looking to compete in a cloud native world, we invite you to join OutSystems and Jason Bloomberg, leading IT industry analyst and Intellyx President, for an interactive discussion on how low-code platforms will play an essential role in successful cloud-native strategies. Register now for Cloud vs Cloud-Native: Understanding the Paradigm Shift.