What Are Cloud-Native Apps?

August 17 2021
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What are cloud-native applications? At first glance, the definition of a cloud-native application seems simple. It’s an app born in the cloud. But what does that really mean and, more importantly, are cloud-native applications better than traditionally developed apps?

Architecture Differences

Cloud-native apps are purpose-built to exist and run in the cloud, taking advantage of the cloud’s inherent qualities to increase speed, flexibility, and quality and to reduce deployment risks. Developed using modular architecture and flexible infrastructure, these apps can scale horizontally on demand, support multiple environments and offer application portability.

Smaller than traditionally developed apps, cloud-native apps are architected as collections of independent, loosely coupled services. Functions are broken into microservices -- independent components that run each app process as a service and communicate via application programming interfaces (APIs) or messaging. Each is independent of the others and performs a single function. The individual services can be designed, tested, deployed, or replaced without affecting the others. That also means work can be done by different teams without affecting each other’s work, so there’s less chance of delays.

In contrast, traditionally developed apps are created as large monoliths. A single monolith contains all the code for all the business activities the app is to perform. This architecture creates close dependencies between the app and underlying OS, hardware, storage, and backing services. Because monolithic apps usually have complex coding and data integration requirements and are heavily coupled to existing systems and infrastructure, making changes, as well as migrating and scaling them across new infrastructure, can be complex, time-consuming, and risky.

That doesn’t mean these apps can’t function in the cloud. They may just require modernization so that they can perform better. However, some modernization methods are easier – and less time-consuming – than others. Depending on the extent of the work, cost, and time required to ensure an app performs optimally in the cloud, retiring the existing app and creating a cloud-native app may be the preferable option.

Infrastructure Differences

Traditionally developed apps often rely on hardware and software that may not integrate with new systems and innovations. Cloud-native applications aren’t limited by these requirements. The architecture used in cloud-native apps enables developers to abstract away underlying infrastructure dependencies. Instead of configuring, patching, and maintaining operating systems, teams focus on software.

Because it isn’t tied to infrastructure, a cloud-native app can run in a highly distributed manner while maintaining its state independent of the elastic nature of the underlying infrastructure. Many traditionally developed apps store the state of the app on the infrastructure the code runs on, which means the app can be broken when adding/removing server resources.

There’s also the matter of the close dependencies between a traditional developed app and its underlying OS, hardware, storage, and backing services. These dependencies make migrating and scaling the application across new infrastructure complex and risky.

In addition, a cloud-native app platform automates infrastructure provisioning and configuration, dynamically allocating and reallocating resources at deployment time based on the needs of the app. Building on a cloud-native runtime optimizes app lifecycle management, including scaling to meet demand, resource utilization, orchestration across available resources, and recovery from failures with minimum downtime. Infrastructure automation also eliminates downtime due to human error, consistently applying the same set of rules across any size deployment.

Traditionally developed apps are more likely to require human operators to manually create and manage server, network, and storage configurations. At scale, operators are slow to correctly diagnose issues and fail to correctly implement solutions due to the level of complexity. Hand-crafted automation recipes have the potential to hard-code human errors into the infrastructure.

Traditional app development can also result in oversized capacity as solutions are often over-sized and built to satisfy worst-case capacity estimates with little ability to scale beyond design limits to meet demand.

Development Process Differences

Monolithic apps are usually updated and maintained using waterfall development processes, in which discrete design, build, and run phases last a few months or longer. The entire unit of software is then released. As a result, waterfall development takes longer than the Agile approach. Waterfall development also makes changes difficult and is typically more expensive.

Agile, which is the approach used in developing cloud-native applications, addresses and enables change quickly and easily. By splitting the development process into time windows and providing a continuous feedback loop, Agile enables rapid and more effective development so organizations can innovate quickly. Development teams can swiftly react to market changes and add new features. The resulting apps can scale and deploy rapidly, offering greater agility, portability, and resilience across cloud environments.

DevOps ─ the practice of operations and development engineers working together in the entire service lifecycle from design through production support ─ also plays a significant role in cloud-native app development. It focuses on getting an app from the design stage into a running environment as quickly as possible. DevOps enables developers to break down silos and align on the shared objective of releasing apps quickly and efficiently

Yet another integral component of cloud-native application development is continuous delivery. It’s a DevOps practice in which code changes are deployed to a testing environment and/or a production environment after the build stage. When properly implemented, developers will always have a deployment-ready build artifact that has passed through a standardized test process.

Because of how they’re developed, cloud-native apps can deliver business value better than traditionally developed apps. For example, they can be designed to rapidly incorporate user feedback to drive continuous improvement. Or they can enable the delivery of new features faster to continually build great customer experiences and foster customer loyalty.

Leverage Cloud-native Expertise

Differences aside, what really matters about cloud-native apps as compared to traditionally developed apps are the benefits. Among them: better performance and efficiency, lower costs, and scalability.

However, developing cloud-native applications also has its challenges. For example, if your organization isn’t already using Agile processes and your development and operations teams aren’t used to working together, adopting DevOps can be a challenge. Proficiency in using microservices and containers is required – something that not all IT departments have in-house.

That’s why working with a company that specializes in cloud-native application development can be invaluable. ClearScale is one to consider. We not only have extensive experience in cloud-native app development and app modernization. We are also cloud experts. We know how to leverage the cloud – the AWS cloud, in particular – to build solutions that meet business requirements and exceed expectations.

For more information about cloud-native application development, download our free eBook: Modern Cloud and App Development: The Talk of IT.

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