Chances are, if you were to ask people to define "cloud native", you'd get several different answers. However, cloud native technology has a very specific definition, is built a very specific way, and has virtually un-ending applications.

According to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), created by the Linux Foundation in 2015 because of how many organizations were adopting cloud native systems:

  • Cloud native technologies are specifically built for scalability. In other words, they're designed for rapid, large scale change and resiliency.

  • Cloud native applications are run in modern, dynamic environments like public clouds, private clouds and hybrid clouds, rather than single instance, on-premises operating systems.

  • Cloud native apps are created with a microservices architecture: the software application is built out of smaller (micro) pieces, which are containerized so they can be tested on any infrastructure.

  • Because the microservices are in containers, the software application can be updated via continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) operating principles. CI/CD allows the microservices in a single container to be updated, tested and pushed live without any downtime.

Compare this to a monolithic architecture, which:

  • Is designed and developed as a single unit

  • Has a single, logical executable for it's underlying infrastructure. Rather than multiple moving parts, it acts as a single unit, i.e. monolith

  • The monolithic application architecture is built on 1) a server-side application, 2) a client-side user interface and 3) a database. Software development updates are done at the server-side level, which means that downtime is a necessity

Why do cloud native applications matter?

The cloud native approach brings a lot of benefits to the table, including resilience, portability and agility. But these benefits go far beyond IT teams.

Operational flexibilityOperational flexibility

Businesses using cloud native applications have an additional level of flexibility for how they run their supporting business programs, whether hybrid, public, private clouds or multi-cloud. Therefore, businesses aren't forced to use one platform or another, because cloud native is about how the application is built, not what platform it's being run on.

Reduce overhead due to inaccuraciesReduce overhead due to inaccuracies

One of the benefits of today's business technology is the ability to automate business processes. Automation can be built into any cloud environment, and helps businesses transform into lean, focused teams. Rather than wasting man hours on repetitive, manual administrative tasks, employees can automate those tasks and focus on the tasks that are most important: lead generation, customer service, and customer retention.

No DowntimeNo Downtime

Thanks to container orchestrators like Kubernetes, you can push software updates through your organization's ecosystem without having to shut down your systems. This allows IT to test, optimize and push updates while business keeps running.

InnovationInnovation

Introducing new digital products and services are much easier and faster thanks to the automation built into cloud native applications. As well, since these applications automatically collect data across your organizations' ecosystem, you'll have better data insights, so your decisions are more informed.

Easy to manageEasy to manage

Because they're specifically designed for ease of maintenance and management, they can be integrated into your business operations to replace less compatible, less flexible programs.

Lower CostLower Cost

Decreased downtime, fewer errors, happier customers - these all translate to less overhead. But a large cost that is often left unmentioned is having too big of a system for your business. On-premise applications generally require large upfront expenses. The system's infrastructure and data center has to be built. However, only about two thirds of the data center capacity is used. These translate to a higher TCO. Cloud native applications follow a pay for what you use model. So if you only use 30% of a data center, that's what you pay for.

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The difference between monolithic and microservices

Modern cloud technology is progressing forward quickly, and business-focused application development is looking more often at a cloud native architecture.

This movement towards a cloud-native world goes beyond new applications. Case in point is Microsoft Office Suite. Used by thousands of businesses, from SMBs to enterprise, Microsoft Office has grown from a few macro'd workflows in MS Excel to a full blown cloud infrastructure with Office 365. Now, anyone can get online, purchase a subscription, and use the product within their browser in literally minutes.

The differences between traditional MS Office and Office 365 may seem minor. However, what's happening on the backend took a complete change of thought and process development.

In traditional software development, it's not unusual for a single piece of software to have several teams working on it. On the outside, this might seem like the recipe for quick development and release, but it's also common to have no one in any of the teams understand the entirety of the application. As you can imagine, this makes updates to the application a potential nightmare.

Enter DevOps (development and operations), a combination of philosophies, tools and practices that enables the faster delivery of new features, applications and services. DevOps merges the multiple teams into a smaller, single team. Engineers are involved in every part of the lifecycle instead of siloed into development, operations, quality assurance and security teams, for example.

How are they able to reduce size without reducing quality? The answer is automation. Automation allows cloud providers, such as BPaaS and SaaS companies, to develop robust business applications with smaller DevOps teams.

Frequently asked questions about cloud native

Business cloud platforms are available on more than just public cloud environments. Rather than add your company to a list of other companies on a cloud solution, there are also options for private cloud platforms and hybrid cloud (a mix of on-site and in the cloud) solutions.

Several reasons. Cloud native applications are rapidly built and deployed. The teams are small and dedicated. The cloud platform is scalable, which allows greater agility and portability across multi-cloud environments. All of the above translates into numerous cost effective business applications, while applications with a monolithic architecture are slowly losing ground to cloud providers and platforms.

Absolutely. Because microservices, containerization and the ability to automate business processes, cloud native services are flexible enough in functionality and scale that they fit any size business.

Cloud native has to do with how a program is built rather than where it is. Services like Amazon Web Service, Google Cloud Platform and IBM Cloud are cloud platforms, where the cloud native applications are run.

Comparing Docker to Kubernetes is comparing oranges to orange juice. Rather than it being a matter of this or that, it's a matter of both. Although different technologies, they work well to create, deliver and scale containerized applications.

Docker is open source technology that containerizes applications in a way to make them portable. Portability allows the applications to be put on the cloud or on premises.

Kubernetes is open source container orchestration. It groups the Docker containers into pods, and allows control over how they are run via APIs. This ability is extremely useful as the complexity of the systems grows. With Kubernetes, you can arrange virtual machine clusters and run the pods based on their respective resource requirements and available compute resources.

With cloud-based applications, they're tightly integrated, much like the single stack of traditional software. This makes cloud-based applications more cumbersome when it comes to updates, and they require downtime.

With cloud native applications, they're all loosely connected, but there's no hardware or software to deploy. Updates are done via smaller, containerized services (microservices), so they're much faster and easier to deploy.

How do I get started with cloud native?

You can get started using cloud native applications by deciding what processes you'd like to take to the cloud. Then, discuss with your provider what the best way would be to integrate with your current systems.

However, just because a provider offers cloud services doesn't mean they offer cloud native services. This is why it's important to always ask, "Is this business solution cloud native?"

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