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What Are Cloud-Native Applications? Things You Should Know

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10/08/2022 |

9 min read


Companies must change how they design and build applications to compete in software-driven markets. Cloud-native app development is one of the most promising approaches, based on building and running applications using well-known technologies for cloud computing.

When companies build applications using a cloud-native architecture, they bring new ideas to market faster and respond to customer demands sooner. While public cloud services have affected the thinking about infrastructure investment in virtually every industry, cloud-like delivery isn't exclusive to public cloud environments. 

Cloud-native development works for public, private, and hybrid clouds – it's about how applications are created and deployed, not where. 

But what does cloud-native mean exactly? How do teams build such modern applications? This article explores the basics of cloud-native architectures based on innovative approaches such as DevOps, continuous delivery, microservices, and containers. 


Table of contents:

  1. What is a cloud-native application?
  2. Cloud-native vs. cloud-based apps
  3. Benefits of cloud-native applications
  4. How do you build a cloud-native app?
  5. Best practices for cloud-native application development
  6. Wrap up

What is a cloud-native app?

Cloud-native apps are developed as collections of small, independent, and loosely coupled services. They're designed to deliver well-recognized business value – for example, the ability to rapidly incorporate user feedback for continuous improvement. No wonder cloud-native can speed up how you build new applications, optimize existing ones, and connect them.

The goal of cloud-native app development is to deliver apps users want at the pace of the changing business needs. The "cloud" in cloud-native apps refers to their design for providing a consistent development and management experience across private, public, and hybrid clouds.

Organizations embrace cloud computing to increase the scalability and availability of apps. These benefits come from self-service, on-demand resource provisioning, and automating the application lifecycle from development to production.

To take full advantage of these benefits, teams needed a new form of application development. Cloud-native development is that new approach. It enables software engineers to build and update apps quickly while improving quality and reducing risk. Specifically, it's a way to build and run responsive, scalable, and fault-tolerant apps anywhere – be it in public, private, or hybrid clouds.

What makes an application cloud-native?

  • It's based on microservices – Microservices are part of the cloud-native landscape. Microservices break an application down into independent services or modules. Every service references its own data and supports a separate business goal. Such modules communicate with one another via application program interfaces (APIs).
  • It uses containers – Containers are a type of software that logically isolates the application from the physical resources. Containers are there to keep microservices from interfering with one another, and they also enable running multiple instances of the same service.
  • It communicates via APIs APIs are used to connect microservices together, ensuring that they are still loosely coupled and easily maintainable. They allow microservices to communicate, acting as the glue between them.
  • It's dynamically orchestrated Container orchestration tools manage container lifecycles. These can become complex, and container orchestration tools are there to handle resource management, load balancing, scheduling of restarts after an internal failure, as well as provisioning and deploying containers onto server cluster nodes.

Read more: Cloud-Native Architecture: What Is It and How to Use It?

Cloud-native vs. cloud-based apps

When discussing these two terms, it's important to note that although the applications may be running on a public, private, or hybrid cloud infrastructure, they may differ in design as follows:

Cloud-based applications

These apps are designed to use the cloud and cloud platforms but not to take full advantage of the key traits of the cloud.

Cloud-native applications

These apps are designed specifically for the cloud and are optimized for the inherent characteristics of the cloud. They're also adaptable to the cloud’s dynamic environment.

Benefits of cloud-native applications 

Cloud-based applications are scalable and cost-effective, enabling a team to quickly add computing or storage resources without overprovisioning hardware. They can also be easily upgraded by adding more microservices. 

The great thing about this approach is that developers in that team don't have to worry about how their module will interact with other microservices. The visibility of these services is greater thanks to the isolation between them. Resilience is another benefit. If a component of a cloud-based application fails, it won't impact other components because containers isolate them from each other.

Cloud-native applications take advantage of automation to deploy app features and updates. Teams can easily track all microservices and components as they're being updated, making them easier to manage.

Such apps are also portable, so they can run on different vendors' infrastructure without incurring lock-in. 

Why do you need cloud-native applications?

It's safe to say that the world we live in has become digital. Enterprises need an efficient IT organization to be on top of this crowded marketplace. Technological advances have allowed teams to deliver software faster in the last two decades. Automation, continuous integration, and delivery to DevOps and microservice architecture patterns also serve that purpose.

However, teams still have to wait for infrastructure to become available before they can release their applications or tests. Automating infrastructure provisioning or taking a step towards DevOps can be helpful, but only if the infrastructure delivery relies on a team that works remotely and can keep up with your speed.

Recent advances in cloud computing demonstrated that infrastructure can be made available at a nearly infinite scale. Today, IT departments are able to deliver their own infrastructure just as fast as if they were shopping online. On top of that, cloud infrastructure is cost-efficient because it doesn't require tons of upfront capital investment. This type of infrastructure has won among startups or innovation departments where solutions that bring new products to market quickly are a golden ticket!

How do you build a cloud-native app?

To foster collaboration and innovation, you must bring your development and operations teams together. They need to have a shared purpose and exchange feedback regularly. Container adoption supports these practices really well by offering an ideal application deployment unit and self-contained execution environment.

With DevOps and containers, developers can quickly release and update apps as a collection of loosely coupled services instead of waiting for one large release.

Cloud-native development concentrates on an architecture's modularity, loose coupling, and independence of its services. Every microservice implements a business capability, runs in its own process and communicates using application programming interfaces (APIs). Teams can use a service mesh layer to manage this communication.

Developers can speed up application delivery for cloud-native apps by optimizing their legacy apps using a service-based architecture. They use DevOps workflows to support this optimization, such as continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD), fully automated deployment, and standardized development environments.

Best practices for cloud-native application development

Designing cloud-native applications is based on the DevOps principle of operational excellence. Cloud-native architecture doesn't come with any unique rules, and businesses will approach development differently based on the business problem they're solving and the software in use.

All cloud-native application designs must consider how the app will be built, how performance will be measured, how teams will promote continuous improvement through the app lifecycle, and how to automate operations, monitor usage, and deploy updates quickly.

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There are no special guidelines for cloud-native design, and companies will approach development in different ways depending on the business challenge they are trying to solve and the software they are using. Below, you'll find some best practices.

Here are a few industry best practices for cloud-native development:

  • Automation – Automation allows for consistent provisioning of cloud application environments across multiple cloud vendors.
  • Monitoring – Teams need to monitor the development environment as well as application usage. This enables them to optimize performance and user experience.
  • Documentation – Cloud-native applications are typically built by multiple teams with limited visibility of each other's work. Documentation is important as it helps teams track changes and see how they contribute to the application.
  • Incremental changes – Any changes made to the application or underlying architecture should be incremental and reversible, enabling teams to learn from mistakes by testing out their theories.
  • Design for failure – Developers should design processes and assume things will inevitably go wrong in a cloud environment. Chaos engineering is one such practice. Teams must have a way to simulate failures and learn from them.
  • Prioritizing workloads for modernization – Business and IT professionals need to work together to determine which legacy and greenfield applications should be converted to cloud-native and how much time and money each conversion will require.
  • Standardization – Developers should follow 12-factor principles and standardize the platform and services as much as possible. With so many choices available, it might be tempting to embrace new technology and patterns for every application. But smart teams conform to platform constraints and focus on innovative software rather than reinventing the wheel for each application.

Cloud Native Apps - Wrap up

The use of cloud-native applications has increased use in recent years and is expected to become the future of software development. Building cloud-native applications has become a direction in IT that has already been followed by companies like Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon for years. The trend lets enterprises develop and deploy apps more efficiently by leveraging cloud services to the fullest. It also provides all sorts of run-time platform capabilities like scalability, performance, and security.

How else can a business leave the competition behind rather than introducing new features at a global scale, in line with customer needs? Your business can either keep up with the pace of the changing world or not. In the former scenario, your business is more likely to survive.

Are you looking to build a cloud-native application? Get in touch with us. Our experts have plenty of experience across DevOps, microservices, and container orchestration to guide you through the cloud-native landscape toward success.

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