The Benefits and Risks of Cloud-Native Applications - BairesDev Blog: Expert Insights on Software Outsourcing (2023)

The cloud computing model is a way of delivering IT services in which resources are provided as a service over the internet. This model allows businesses to consume resources on demand, without having to invest in and manage their infrastructure. There are three main types of cloud services: infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and software as a service (SaaS).

IaaS provides customers with access to virtual machines, storage, and networking. PaaS provides customers with access to an application platform that they can use to develop, deploy, and run applications. SaaS provides customers with access to software applications that they can use over the internet.

The key advantage of XaaS (anything as a service) is its scalability: because businesses only pay for the infrastructure they use, they can easily scale up or down according to their needs. This makes it ideal for businesses with fluctuating or unpredictable demand and provides a backbone for lean and flexible companies that understand they need to adapt to meet market demands.

Thanks to the decentralized nature of cloud-based solutions, businesses can allow employees to access and share data from anywhere, which can improve collaboration and communication. Gone are the days when developers had to share office space and where code was delivered via storage devices.

Today we will delve into what makes cloud-native applications such an amazing solution and talk about some of the potential risks and setbacks we face when we take our business to the cloud.

What Is a Cloud-Native Application?

A cloud-native application is an application that is designed to run in the cloud. It makes use of the cloud computing model and is built using a microservices architecture. Cloud-native applications are designed to be scalable, fault-tolerant, and easy to deploy. They are often built using open-source technologies and run on commodity hardware.

(Video) The Fundamentals of Software Delivery Management

In simple terms, cloud-native applications are built using microservices, deployed in containers, and managed using orchestration tools.

  • Microservices are a set of small, independent services that work together to form a larger application. Each microservice has a specific purpose and can be deployed independently. One microservice might be responsible for handling user authentication, while another might be responsible for managing product catalogs. Microservices are often built using different programming languages and run on different platforms. They communicate with each other using APIs. On the negative side, microservices involve increased complexity and the need for more communication between services.
  • Containers are a way to package software so that it can be deployed easily and consistently across different environments. For example, Docker is a popular container platform that allows developers to package their applications in containers and run them on any server that supports Docker.
  • Orchestration tools are used to manage and automate the deployment of microservices. For example, Kubernetes is an orchestration tool that can be used to manage the deployment of microservices on a cluster of servers. Orchestration tools can also be used to manage the lifecycle of microservices, including starting and stopping services and scaling services up or down in response to changes in demand.

The key concept here is decentralization. Each component of the application runs independently and can be scaled up or down as needed without affecting the other components. That goes for both hardware and software.

Cloud-native applications are not limited to any one server or operating system. Microservices can be deployed across multiple servers and developed to work on any operating system. The only exception is when a particular microservice requires certain capabilities that are offered by specific hardware. One example would be an SSD or a GPU for calculation-intensive tasks.

In contrast, traditional applications are typically monolithic in design, meaning that the entire application is built as a single unit. Additionally, they tend to be more difficult to update and maintain than cloud-native apps since they require manual updates and deployments.

Examples of cloud-native applications include:

  • UBank created a cloud-native smart assistant app called RoboChat using the IBM DevOps toolchain. The app was designed to help customers apply for home loans more easily and boost the loan completion rate by 15 percent.
  • American Airlines Dynamic Rebooking app is a client-facing app that provides customers with detailed information about their routes and flights as well as easier flight rebooking.
  • Think Research created an application that would deliver the latest research and relevant medical information to doctors at the point of care using microservice-based APIs in the cloud. This allowed them to quickly deploy the solution without having to make a large investment in on-premise IT infrastructure.

How to Build a Cloud-Native Application

There are several factors to consider when designing a cloud-native application, including how the application will be deployed, how it will scale, and how it will be monitored. Developers must also choose the right tools and technologies for their application, taking into account both the capabilities of the platform and the needs of their users.

Some general tips:

  1. Use containers and microservices: Containers and microservices are key components of cloud-native applications. By breaking your application into small, self-contained units, you can make it more scalable and easier to manage.
  2. Automate everything: Automation is another important part of cloud-native applications. By automating tasks like deployments and scaling, you can save time and money.
  3. Use a declarative approach: In a declarative approach, you define what your desired state is and let the system take care of the details. This is opposed to an imperative approach, where you explicitly specify every step that needs to be taken. Declarative approaches are often more resilient and easier to maintain in the long run.
  4. Be observability-driven: Cloud-native applications need to be designed for monitoring from the ground up. Make sure you have visibility into all aspects of your application so that you can quickly identify and fix problems when they occur.
  5. Deploy your applications: Use continuous delivery/continuous deployment (CD/CD) pipelines so that new versions of your code can be automatically pushed out to production servers with minimal effort required from you or your team.

Building the Application

Once they have designed their application, developers can then begin to build it using a variety of different techniques. They will use containers to package their code and make it easy to deploy on any cloud platform. They will also use microservices to break their application down into smaller, more manageable pieces. And finally, they can use serverless computing to run their code without having to provision or manage any servers.

Keep in mind the following points:

  • Cloud-native applications are most likely to be built using Java or PHP, .Net, Python, Golang, Ruby, or JavaScript.
  • The most popular IDEs to use are CodePen, JSFiddle, Microsoft Azure Notebooks, Observable, Replit, Codenvy, Google Cloud Shell, and Codeanywhere.
  • Developers will plan the application as a collection of services. They will decouple the data from the processing and use microservices. And they will then use a service mesh to ensure the microservices talk to each other and can be used by other applications.
  • Cloud-native service mesh tools include Consul, Istio, and Kuma.
  • Examples of cloud-native networks tools include Calico, Cilium, Contiv, and Flannel.

Choosing Your Cloud Architecture

The traditional data center is no longer able to keep pace with the speed of business, so a new approach is needed. The cloud has emerged as a viable solution for many organizations because it offers the agility and flexibility needed to respond quickly to changing business conditions.

However, not all clouds are created equal. Public clouds are often less secure and more expensive than private clouds, which is why many organizations are turning to hybrid clouds that offer the best of both worlds. A hybrid cloud is a mix of public and private clouds that are connected to form a single, unified platform. This allows organizations to take advantage of the agility and flexibility of the public cloud while still maintaining control over their data and applications. Other situations for choosing a hybrid cloud include:

  • When you need to comply with regulations that require data to be stored on-premises
  • When you have sensitive data that you don’t want to entrust to a third party
  • When you want to take advantage of features that are only available in one type of cloud
  • When you want to use a mix of on-premises and cloud resources for greater efficiency or cost savings

In contrast to purely private or public clouds, hybrid clouds are more complex and require more work to build and maintain. So it should come as no surprise that for smaller budgets or quick projects that require a cloud solution it might be better to stick to a private or public alternative.

Preparing for Deployment

Before an application is deployed, several tasks need to be completed, including minifying files, optimizing images, preprocessing CSS, transpiring JavaScript, running code through a linter, and running tests. Invalidating caches and creating/moving files may also be necessary.

Finally, the compiled code must be packaged for distribution. Because the application is composed of microservices, each service may be contained in its container. Most likely, an application would be divided into logical parts, and each part could go in its container. For example, the front end might be in one container and the back end of the application in another. That way, depending on the traffic the application is getting, new instances can be started to handle the increased volume.

Right before deployment, the application is first built and then deployed to a staging environment. A staging environment is a replica of the production environment where the application is tested for errors and performance issues. If everything looks good, then the application can be deployed to production.

The Benefits of Going Cloud Native

There are many benefits of cloud-native applications, including the following:

  1. Increased agility: Cloud-native applications are designed to be more easily deployed and updated than traditional apps, so they can help organizations be more agile in responding to market changes or customer needs.
  2. Improved scalability: Cloud-native apps can scale up or down more easily than traditional apps, so they can better handle spikes in demand without overloading resources or crashing.
  3. Reduced costs: Because cloud-native apps are designed to be more efficient in their use of resources, they can help organizations save money on infrastructure and operational costs.
  4. Increased security: Cloud-native apps can take advantage of the security features offered by cloud providers, such as data encryption and user authentication.
  5. Better performance: Cloud-native apps are designed to make use of the high-performance computing capabilities of the cloud, so they can provide a better user experience than traditional apps.
  6. Increased collaboration: Cloud-native apps can be accessed and used by team members from anywhere in the world, so they can help improve collaboration among employees.
  7. Environmental benefits: Because cloud-native apps are designed to be more efficient in their use of resources, they can help reduce an organization’s carbon footprint.
  8. Access to new features: Cloud-native apps can take advantage of the latest cloud technologies and services, so they can offer users new features and functionality that traditional apps cannot.
  9. Improved disaster recovery: Cloud-native apps can be quickly and easily deployed in a new location if an organization’s primary data center is damaged or destroyed.
  10. Increased flexibility: Cloud-native apps can be deployed on a variety of cloud platforms, so organizations can choose the platform that best meets their needs.

The Risks of Going Cloud-Native

The risks of going cloud-native are many and varied and can be broadly grouped in the following areas:

  1. Technical risks include the potential for data loss or corruption, service outages, and security breaches.
  2. Organizational risks include the potential for disruptive changes to business processes.
  3. Cultural risks involve clashes between traditional and cloud-native organizations and the need for new skills and training.
  4. Financial risks include the potential for increased costs, reduced margins, and the need to reinvest in legacy systems.
  5. Regulatory risks include the potential for new compliance requirements and the need to adapt to new regulations.

Technical risk can be further divided into two broad groups: those that fall under the service provider’s purview, and those that are due to the client’s error. In the aforementioned examples, the responsibility for outages falls squarely on the side of the provider, while a security breach due to a leaked password is attributed to the client. Each service provider has slightly different approaches to determining responsibility, and you would do well to understand who handles what before acquiring their services.

As for organizational and cultural risks, sudden changes are disruptive and, when not handled with care, can lead to frustration, malignant compliance, and outright rejection. Going cloud native is a paradigm change that is easier for people who are already accustomed to microservices, DevOps, and cloud technology, but it’s jarring for folks who’ve been stuck in monolithic architectures.

Consider two paths. On one hand, you can always train your current team to learn more about microservices and cloud solutions, perhaps adding a couple of key figures to the team with experience in the areas to help others acclimate. Promote workshops and offer incentives for people to take courses and get certifications.

On the other hand, for a fresh project or a startup with a small IT or engineering team, it might be better to create a new team altogether, looking for software developers who already know and understand the intricacies of working with this kind of architecture. There is a reason why cloud engineering has become such a highly sought-after skill.

As for financial risks, aren’t cloud-native apps supposed to reduce costs? Yes, as long as you make the most of the flexibility that comes with microservices. As we mentioned above, maybe you need a GPU for processing power, but that may not be the case for every microservice in your architecture. Some parts of your product can run on a metaphorical potato and never scale, while others can constantly fluctuate depending on demand.

In other words, there is more to microservices than writing small programs. You have to truly embrace the idea of a decoupled system, where each part is doing its own thing and workloads are distributed efficiently. Once again, this is the kind of thing a cloud engineer is perfect for.

As for regulatory risks, having to meet certain standards is a natural part of the tech industry. And while we believe that standards are necessary for safety and reliability, it’s also true that they can be very constraining when working with disruptive technology. Preplan and do your research, and make sure that the solution your team is envisioning is compliant with current industry standards and the legal system under which your product will be operating.

Cloud-Native Apps Are the Future

It would take a very stoic person to not be excited by the implications of cloud-native apps. Having technology that acts almost like a living organism, changing and adapting to the context, is something extraordinary. And while there will always be room for monolithic architectures, bigger products demand more flexibility and adaptability in an ever-changing market.

Cloud-native solutions can be the differentiating aspect of your project, providing a system that is more reliable and that can seamlessly accommodate different levels of processing. Of course, that depends on preparing from the very beginning and understanding the obstacles that come with such a technology.

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