What are Cloud Native Applications?
Cloud native applications are the ones that are designed to optimally leverage the benefits of the cloud computing delivery model. The applications live in the cloud and not on an on-premise data centre. However, merely existing on the cloud does not make an application ‘cloud native’. The term refers to a fundamental change in how applications are developed and deployed, and not just where they are hosted.
Cloud native applications are best described by a set of key characteristics that differentiate them from traditional applications:
Microservices architecture: They are built as a collection of loosely coupled services that handle different functions of the applications. Using the microservices architecture instead of the monolithic approach is what gives cloud native applications much of their speed and scalability.
- 12 Factor applications: This refers to a set of 12 design principles laid out by Heroku founder to help create applications that are well suited for the cloud. These include defined practices around version control, environment configuration, isolated dependencies, executing apps as stateless resources and more
- Platform-as-a-Service: Because cloud native apps run on microservices which can number into 100s for any given application, provisioning new environments for each services in the traditional way is time and resource intensive. Using Platform-as-a-Service (PaaA) simplifies this process and can handle rapid provisioning for numerous microservices instances. This is also key to ensuring scalability of cloud native applications.
- API-based: Independent microservices in a cloud native application communicate via API calls. This preserves their loosely coupled nature and keeps the application fast and scalable.
- Robust: Cloud native applications are robust, with minimal to zero downtime. Once again the microservices architecture, coupled with being on a highly available cloud environment, makes this possible.
Why go for Cloud Native Applications?
The manner in which cloud native applications are developed brings with it a distinct set of advantages for enterprises. These are:
In a disruption heavy market, the time-to-market for new products and services is extremely crucial to success. Reaching potential customers before your competitors means achieving a faster go-to-market, and that’s possible with cloud native applications. The microservices architecture makes them easy to develop, test and deploy, as compared to monolithic applications.
These applications also work with smaller but more frequent release cycles, that are easily reversible. So you can constantly introduce new features, functions and bug fixes for your applications, while also having the option of quick rollbacks if needed.
Finally, with independent microservices, updates to a service need not be integrated with the code of the rest of the services. With the integration time eliminated, new functionalities can be quickly rolled out for these applications.
The microservices architecture makes cloud native applications extremely scalable. This is because each microservice handles a specific function within an application. In cases of increase in demand, the application can be scaled by creating more instances of only those services that are needed to handle that demand. And provisioning new instances of a microservice can be done in seconds because the application is based on the PaaS model.
Besides this, with cloud providers like AWS you get auto-scaling and elastic load balancing solutions that make it easier to dynamically scale resource utilization for cloud native applications.
For monolithic applications, scaling to meet new demand involves creating a new instance of the entire monolith, and that is both a time and resource intensive process. It also means paying for more hardware resources in the cloud, even though the actual demand spike is only for a limited set of features.
With cloud native applications, scaling means increasing instances for only specific microservices. And that saves money as it eliminates the need to consume resources that will not be utilized. Also, it’s easy to turn off your consumption of extra resources once the spike in demand subsides.
There are also secondary cost savings generated with cloud native apps, in the form of multitenancy. Several different microservices can dynamically share platform resources leading to reduced expenditure.
Cloud native applications are extremely available and that’s also because of their microservices architecture. This works at two levels:
- If one service goes down, the rest of the applications still continues to be available. This is because the application is designed with failsafes, and can always provision another working instance of the failed microservice.
- The containerized nature of microservices mean that they are packaged with their runtime environment. This makes them self-sufficient and designed to work uninterrupted, no matter where they are hosted. So in case an entire availability region of your cloud goes down, the application can simply be moved to a different region. And it will continue to be available, with your users none the wiser.
How to get started with Cloud Native Applications?
Building cloud native applications involves a large scale change in how applications are developed and deployed within the organization. So getting started with it will require some preparation on the part of the enterprise.
Some of the key aspects to consider would be:
Create your enterprise strategy
The shift to cloud native applications is being considered because it serves specific business goals - creating new products and services, gaining new market share, or increasing revenues. And these business goals is what should be kept front and center while creating your strategy for going cloud native.
This will also help you avoid the trap of going down the technology-first route. Yes, cloud native applications will involve the use of new technology - languages, frameworks, platforms - by your team. But deciding to first lock down the technology aspects can be disastrous. That’s because the technology you choose should be able to serve your business goals. And if you haven’t figured those out first, the initiative will not be successful or sustainable.
So a good order of priority here is identifying:
- Business goals to achieve with going cloud native
- Right teams that can lead this, both in-house and as partners/vendors
- Technology solutions that best suit your requirements
Transition away from the monolithic application
If you are working with a fairly complex monolithic application that has been put together over time, resist the temptation of a simple lift-and-shift to the cloud. Because of the tight coupling and the myriad dependencies that have developed over the years, it’s unlikely the monolith will run well on the cloud. So you need to plan for breaking down the monolith into constituent services that can be shifted to the cloud.
Moving towards a microservices architecture can seem daunting at first because you are dealing with 100s of different services instead of a single one. However, with practices like event sourcing microservices, deployment with docker, and a host of other design guidelines of building an optimal microservices architecture, the process can be well understood and executed.
Adopting a continuous integration/continuous development approach is key to leveraging the speed benefits for cloud native applications. The system for rapidly developing and testing new features and pushing them out for use, as well as breaking down the traditional software development team silos is crucial for cloud native applications. Frequent, well-tested releases help keep your cloud native application updated and allow for continuous improvement.
So that was a quick look at understanding cloud native applications, their advantages, and where to get started. Moving forward, you would also need to identify your cloud platform of choice, and our take on building cloud native applications with AWS might be helpful.
Srijan is assisting enterprises in modernizing applications through cloud-native platform strategies and streamlining Kubernetes adoption, from deployment to running containerized workloads. AWS Advanced, Srijan is also an AWS Consulting Partner and VMWare Professional solution provider.
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