What Are Cloud-Native Applications?

Maciej Gamrat

May 13, 2021 • 7 min read
An introduction to cloud-native apps

Companies looking to speed up their innovation process should definitely consider cloud-native application development.

Such apps are built and run fully by using cloud-based technologies, which not only yields increased performance, greater scalability, and fault-resistance, but also allows to bring new ideas to market much faster than traditional apps.

Cloud-native solutions are vital to succeed in rapidly evolving markets that demand businesses change the way they design, build, and use applications for even better results. Telecom, banking, healthcare, education - in fact, every industry that makes use of apps should place cloud-native solutions at the center of their business strategy if it wants to fulfill customer needs more promptly.

In this article, we explain what are the characteristics of cloud-native apps, their pros and cons, the requirements for creating truly cloud-based solutions and the business benefits that it brings.

The characteristics of cloud native apps

Cloud-native applications leverage the benefits of distributed systems environments and can be accessed on demand. Since the essence of these apps is how they are created and deployed - not where - they are suitable for all public, private, and hybrid clouds. Here are the most important characteristics of cloud-native apps:

  • Predictable: Typically, cloud-native apps are built of microservices housed in containers, which dictates the way software is written and stipulates a closed pool of behaviors.
  • They are resilient: A well-designed cloud-native application is observable and takes advantage of cloud dynamics to quickly recover from failure.
  • They are agile: Thanks to service-based architecture, you can deploy cloud native apps quickly, through short iterations. They are a must for agile development!
  • Optimized in terms of capacity: The cloud-based environment enables automated infrastructure provisioning and configuration, which means resources are allocated dynamically based on real-time application requirements. This also optimizes application lifecycle management.
  • Independent: Thanks to infrastructure based on microservices, cloud-native applications are free of dependencies, which allows for frequent updates, scaling, and rebooting without major impact on other other services.
  • Collaborative: Developing cloud-native solutions supports combining talent, processes and tools that maximize collaboration between development and operations teams, speeding up the production process and ensuring it runs smoothly.
  • They have high uptime: Cloud-native apps work well throughout their lifetime (not just during deployment). Reboots or workarounds are rarely required to keep them running.
  • They are observable: Data on the app’s state is made available through logs and metrics, leaving the operator's hands free to focus on other tasks. Cloud native apps also notify when a health check is required: They are largely self-serviced.

The above characteristics allow engineers to create loosely coupled systems that are resilient, observable, and easy to manage. By adding automation, they can apply high-impact changes frequently and predictably with minimal toil, quickly adjusting the applications to market needs.

As you can see, with cloud-native applications many responsibilities that have been traditionally handled by infrastructure shift into the application realm.

The benefits of cloud-native strategy

By investing in cloud-native applications you can certainly gain a competitive advantage. Coupled with a clever and well-thought strategy, they can bring considerable business benefits:

Greater operational independence

Microservices architecture decomposes applications into small, loosely coupled, independently operating services. These services map to smaller, independent development teams that can operate them without impacting other services.

Faster application deployment

Companies that have resources spread across different environments will see this as a great advantage. Instead of looking for ways to cut IT costs, they can leverage the cloud as the engine of business growth.

Automated infrastructure

Building apps housed in the cloud optimizes their lifecycle management, including resource utilization, orchestration across available resources, and recovery from failures with minimum downtime. Above all, it allows you to scale as required, whenever required.

Automated scalability

The elastic environments of cloud platforms allow consistent application of the same set of rules regardless of the deployment size, making expansion an easy task.

Quick recovery

Restarting the app is quick thanks to dynamic orchestration that manages container distribution. This also brings downtime to a minimum, making sure it doesn’t negatively impact customer satisfaction and user retention rates.

Continuous Delivery (CD)

Coupled with Continuous Integration (CI), this pipeline enables immediate release of updates, helping you to keep pace with customer demands. It also allows companies to quickly incorporate user feedback, maximizing product-market fit.

What does it take to build cloud-native apps?

Building and operating cloud-native apps requires a cultural shift in application delivery and incorporating cloud-native architecture principles. Companies need to invest in automation of the entire application lifecycle as well as on-demand provision of resources. The cloud-native approach to app development encompasses a specific set of practices in the architecture and technologies applied. These include:

  1. DevOps automation: Development and operations teams must be brought together to automate interdepartmental processes for more effective collaboration, also through CI and CD pipelines. They need to cultivate an integrated approach to app development.
  2. Containers + orchestration, which offer an ideal deployment unit and a self-contained environment. With those, you will be ready to scale your app at all times.
  3. Service-based architecture, which will break down the functionalities of your app into independent modules (microservices). Such architecture is easier to develop and release in an environment supported by DevOps and containers.
  4. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for communication between the microservices, facilitated by service mesh layers. This guarantees easy receipt by internal and external clients.

The challenges of cloud-native application strategy

Undoubtedly, adopting a cloud-native strategy is a wise choice, but organizations should also remember about the challenges the operating teams will have to face once they opt for cloud-native apps:

  • Lack of centralized control over pipelines, which limits the team’s ability to ensure each pipeline adheres to security and compliance requirements. This may cause lack of consistency in CI/CD practices, where e.g. not every pipeline will have automated UI testing.
  • You will have limited visibility over the quality of changes being introduced to each pipeline.
  • You may encounter duplication of infrastructure.
  • You will have to secure a large number of entities and diverse architectures in a constantly changing environment.

Cloud-native application development

Cloud-native applications allow businesses to build and run scalable applications in modern cloud environments. Whether you house your apps in public, private or hybrid clouds, your operations teams will not only work on process improvements and automation, but also deliver direct value to your business.

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Maciej Gamrat

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