What Are Cloud-Native Applications? Principles, Benefits, and Examples

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Cloud-native applications are built on cloud technology and fully deployed in the cloud, which not only provides improved performance, greater scalability, and resilience but also allows new ideas to be brought to market much faster than with traditional applications.

Cloud-native solutions are vital to success in rapidly emerging markets that require enterprises to change the way they design, build, and use applications to achieve even better results. Telecommunications, banking, healthcare, education — businesses in nearly every industry must put cloud-native solutions at the center of their business strategies if they want to meet customer needs fast.

In this article, we explain the characteristics of cloud-native applications, their pros and cons, the requirements for building true cloud solutions, and the business benefits they bring.

What is a cloud-native application?

A cloud application is a software program designed for a cloud computing architecture. These applications run and are hosted in the cloud and are designed to take advantage of the cloud software delivery model. Meanwhile, a native application is software designed to be used on a specific platform or device.

Cloud-native applications use a microservice architecture.

This architecture efficiently allocates resources for each service the application uses, making the application flexible and adaptable to the cloud architecture. DevOps advocates using cloud-based applications to increase business agility. These applications are not developed, manufactured, or shipped in the same way as traditional monolithic applications. Cloud applications have shorter lifecycles along with greater resilience, manageability, and observability.

Characteristics of cloud-native apps

Cloud-native applications take advantage of distributed system environments and can be made available on demand. Because the key characteristic of cloud-native apps is how they are built and deployed, not where, they are suitable for all public, private, and hybrid clouds. The most important characteristics of cloud applications are:

  • Predictability. Usually, cloud-native applications are built from microservices hosted in containers, which defines the way software is written and provides a private pool of behavior.
  • Resiliency. A well-designed cloud-native application is observable and takes advantage of the dynamics of the cloud for fast disaster recovery.
  • Agility. A service-based architecture enables rapid deployment of cloud applications in short iterations, which is essential for Agile development.
  • Capacity optimization. Cloud-based automated provisioning and infrastructure provisioning means resources are dynamically allocated in real time according to application requirements. It also simplifies application lifecycle management.
  • Independence. With a microservices-based infrastructure, cloud-native applications are free from dependencies, allowing for frequent updates, scaling, and reloading without significantly impacting other services.
  • Collaboration. Cloud-native development supports the unification of talents, processes, and tools that maximize collaboration between development and operations teams, accelerate production, and keep it running smoothly.
  • High uptime. Cloud-native applications perform well throughout their entire lifecycle (not just during deployment). They rarely require reboots or workarounds.
  • Observability. Application status data is available through logs and metrics, allowing the operator to focus on other tasks. Cloud-native apps also notify when a health check is required, as they mostly run in self-service mode.

The above characteristics enable engineers to create loosely coupled systems that are resilient, observable, and easy to manage. By adding automation, engineers can make important changes often and predictably with minimal effort, quickly adapting applications to market needs.

As you can see, in cloud-native applications, many of the responsibilities that infrastructure has traditionally performed move into the application realm.

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Basics of a cloud-native application architecture

Cloud-native applications take advantage of cloud computing infrastructure and their loosely coupled cloud services. Services can be located on different servers and operate in different locations. Since not all services reside on the same server, cloud application developers must create a network between machines using software architectures. This allows applications to scale horizontally.

At the same time, since the infrastructure supporting a cloud-native application does not run locally, these applications must be designed with redundancy, allowing the application to resist hardware failures and automatically reassign IP addresses.

Features of a cloud-native application

Features of a cloud-native application

Microservices, which are part of the cloud-native application architecture, are packaged in containers that connect and communicate via APIs. Orchestration tools are used to manage all of these components.

Main features of cloud-native apps:

  • Microservices-based. Microservices break down an application into a set of independent services or modules. Each service references its own data and supports a specific business goal. These modules interact with each other through application programming interfaces (APIs).
  • Container-based. Containers are a type of software that logically isolates an application, allowing it to run independently of physical resources. Containers prevent microservices from communicating with each other and prevent applications from using all shared resources on the host. They also allow multiple instances of the same service to be used.
  • API-based. APIs connect microservices and containers to simplify maintenance and security. They allow microservices to exchange data by acting like glue between loosely coupled services.
  • Dynamically orchestrated. Container orchestration tools are used to manage container lifecycles, which can get complicated. Container orchestration tools handle resource management, load balancing, scheduling restarts after an internal failure, and provisioning and deploying containers to server cluster nodes.

Cloud-native vs cloud-based apps

The terms cloud-native and cloud-based are often confused. While both cloud-native and cloud-based applications run on public, private, or hybrid cloud infrastructures, they differ in design as follows:

Cloud-based applications

Cloud-based applications are designed for use in the cloud and on cloud platforms. Cloud-based applications can use dynamic cloud infrastructure but do not take full advantage of the inherent characteristics of the cloud.

Cloud-native applications

Cloud-native applications are made specifically for the cloud. Cloud application development is optimized for the internal characteristics of the cloud and can be adapted to a dynamic cloud environment.

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Benefits of cloud-native applications

Cloud-native apps are designed to take advantage of the speed and efficiency of the cloud. Benefits of using them include:

  • Cost-effectiveness. Compute and storage resources can be scaled as needed. This eliminates hardware overhead and the need for load balancing. Virtual servers can be easily added for testing, and cloud-native applications can be quickly set up and launched. Containers can also be used to maximize the number of microservices running on the host, which saves time, resources, and money.
  • Ability to scale independently. Each microservice is logically isolated and can scale independently. If you scale one microservice, the rest will not be affected. If some application components need to be updated faster than others, a cloud-native architecture can accommodate.
  • Portability. Cloud-native applications are vendor-agnostic and use containers to transfer microservices between different vendor infrastructures, avoiding vendor binding.
  • Reliability. If a failure occurs in one microservice, it does not affect neighboring services, since cloud-based applications use containers.
  • Ease of management. Cloud-native applications use automation to deploy functionality and update applications. Developers can track all microservices and components as they’re updated. Since cloud-native applications are split into smaller services, one group of engineers can focus on a particular microservice without worrying about how it will interact with other microservices..
  • Visibility. As the microservice architecture isolates services, it becomes easier for development teams to learn applications and learn how they work together.
  • Faster application deployment. Companies with resources spread across different environments will see this as a big advantage. Instead of looking for ways to cut IT costs, they can use the cloud to drive business growth.
  • Continuous delivery (CD). Combining continuous delivery (CD) with continuous integration (CI), a CI/CD pipeline enables immediate delivery of updates to help you keep up with customer demands. It also allows companies to quickly take user feedback into account, ensuring products are suited to the market.
  • Fast recovery. Restarting an application is fast thanks to dynamic orchestration that manages container allocation. It also minimizes downtime to make sure it doesn’t harm customer satisfaction and user retention rates.

What does it take to build cloud-native apps?

What does it take to build cloud-native apps?

Building and operating cloud-native applications requires changing the application delivery culture and implementing cloud-native architecture principles. Companies need to invest in automating the entire application lifecycle and providing resources on demand. The cloud-native approach to application development includes a specific set of application architecture and technology practices:

DevOps automation

Development and operations teams should be united to automate inter-agency processes for effective collaboration, including through CI/CD pipelines. They need to develop an integrated approach to application development.

Containers and orchestration

Containers and orchestration offer an ideal unit of deployment and a self-contained environment. With them, you’ll always be ready to scale your application.

Service-based architecture

A service-based architecture breaks down the functions of your application into independent modules (microservices). This architecture is easier to develop and deploy in a DevOps and container environment.

Application programming interfaces 

APIs enable communication between microservices using service grid layers. This makes it easier for internal and external clients to get information.

Challenges of a cloud-native application strategy

While implementing a cloud-native strategy is a smart choice, organizations also need to be aware of the challenges operations teams will face when choosing cloud-native applications:

  • You may not have centralized control over the pipelines, which limits the team’s ability to ensure that each pipeline meets security and compliance requirements. This can cause inconsistencies in CI/CD practices — for example, if not all pipelines have automated UI testing.
  • You will have a limited understanding of the quality of the changes you make to each pipeline.
  • You may encounter duplicate infrastructure.
  • You will need to protect a large number of objects and many architectures in an ever-changing environment.

Best practices for cloud-native application development

cloud-native application development

Best practices for developing cloud-native applications are based on the DevOps principle of operational excellence. A cloud-native architecture has no unique rules, and companies will approach development differently depending on the business challenge at hand and the software they use.

When developing any cloud-native application, think about how it will be built, how performance will be measured, and how teams will drive continuous improvement throughout the application lifecycle. Here are five things to work on:

  1. Automate. Automation enables you to consistently deliver cloud application environments to multiple cloud service providers. Automation uses infrastructure as code (IaC) to track changes in the source code repository.
  2. Monitor. Teams need to keep track of the development environment as well as how the application is being used. The environment and application should allow easy control of everything from supporting infrastructure to applications.
  3. Document. Many teams are involved in building cloud-native applications with limited visibility into what other teams are doing. Documentation is important for tracking changes and observing how each team contributes to the application.
  4. Make incremental changes. Any changes made to the application or to the underlying architecture must be incremental and reversible. This allows teams to learn from changes and avoid constant mistakes. With IaC, developers can track changes in the source repository.
  5. Design for failure. Processes need to be developed for when something in the cloud inevitably goes wrong. This means implementing test frameworks to model failures and learn from them.

Tools for cloud-native app development

Tools for cloud-native app development

Several software tools are used for each cloud application development process. Together, they create a development stack. Here is the software from the cloud development stack:

  • Docker. The open source Docker platform builds, deploys, and manages containers of virtualized applications using a common operating system. It isolates resources, allowing multiple containers to use the same operating system without conflicts.
  • Kubernetes. The Kubernetes platform is used to manage and orchestrate Linux containers, defining how and where containers will run.
  • Terraform. Designed to implement IaC, Terraform defines resources as code and applies version control so users can see when and where resources have changed.
  • GitLab CI/CD. This continuous integration / continuous development (CI/CD) software enables users to automate software testing and deployment. GitLab can be used for security analysis, static analysis, and unit tests.
  • Node.js. This JavaScript runtime is useful for building real-time applications such as chats, news feeds, and other microservices. For example, Node.js can create virtual servers and define routes that connect microservices to external APIs.

Final thoughts

Cloud applications have been increasingly used in recent years and are predicted to be the future of software development. The Cloud Computing Foundation estimates that at least 6.5 million developers used the cloud in 2020, up from 4.7 million in 2019.

If you want to build a cloud-native app but don’t know where to start, contact Mobindustry for a free consultation.

Cloud-native Application Development
Are you planning to expand your business online? We will translate your ideas into intelligent and powerful solutions.

Frequently Asked Questions

A cloud application is a software program designed for a cloud computing architecture. These applications run and are hosted in the cloud and are designed to take advantage of the cloud software delivery model. Meanwhile, a native application is software designed to be used on a specific platform or device.

  1. Predictability
  2. Resiliency
  3. Agility
  4. Capacity optimization
  5. Independence
  6. Collaboration
  7. High uptime
  8. Observability

  1. DevOps automation
  2. Containers and orchestration
  3. Service-based architecture
  4. Application programming interfaces

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