Cloud Native: Principles, Applications, and Challenges

CLOUD NATIVE, TRANSFORMATION.
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What is Cloud Native?

Cloud Native is a software architecture pattern for developing applications using essential cloud computing principles, such as scalability, elasticity, and agility. 

With Cloud Native technologies, you can build and run scalable applications in modern, dynamic environments, making loosely coupled systems manageable and resilient. When combined with robust automation, high-impact changes can be made with minimal effort.

Cloud Native enables speed and agility, with systems designed to accept rapid change at scale. 

Cloud Native Architecture and Services

Cloud Native architectures are designed to improve traditional applications or make new developments with very simple values: faster, better quality and for a lower cost. 

The benefits of Cloud Native are reflected in its principles:

Scalability

The ability for resources and applications to scale horizontally or vertically quickly and dynamically, with few restrictions in terms of the hardware on which they run.

Speed

Develop, test, and deliver quality code much faster. Cloud Native increases team capacity without increasing business expense.

Marginal Costs

From a strategic point of view, Cloud Native leverages flexible billing from cloud providers as well as the dynamism of paying for additional resources only when needed. In on-premise environments, it allows you to dynamically add or remove hardware without affecting the base operation of the system.  

The four pillars of Cloud Native

1. Continuous Delivery

Continuous Delivery is the underlying motivation for cloud-native: to deliver software faster, receiving feedback in less time. This practice allows developers to automatically create, test and prepare code changes, verifying updates to applications in several dimensions before sending them to their users. All this with the goal of improving the efficiency and speed of software delivery. 

2. DevOps

It's the way we address the cultural and technical challenges of a cloud-native strategy. The word combines development (Dev) and operations (Ops) practices and allows you to adapt to the Cloud Native environment to ensure that a company consistently delivers quality software while maximizing ROI.  As the business evolves so do its DevOps practices.

3. Microservices

It's the architecture pattern used to effectively expand the software development and delivery process, avoiding the slow strategies and risks of monolithic development. With microservices the application is developed in small services in a totally independent way.

As the services are independent, they can use different languages or platforms, be led by different teams and in general be much more aggressive in launching new features without affecting the others. They interact with each other through the exposure of API's and maintain their independence. One of the advantages of using microservices is that they easily adapt and scale according to the demands of the system. 

4. Containers

At their core, containers are a way of packaging software. A container executes in a predictable, repeatable and immutable way. There are no errors associated with moving code from machine to machine, because when a new feature is released, machine and code are deployed in the same container. Everything the service needs, libraries, dependencies and operating system, is packaged in the container itself. It is similar to working with virtual machines, but without the burden and inefficiency of mounting a complete operating system. 

A container is a kind of virtual machine that is very portable and is less demanding in terms of computational resources than conventional virtual machines (that's why they are called light or lightweight). 

Containers are thus a fantastic tool for modern Cloud Native initiatives. They can run microservices, standalone functions, or even traditional monolithic applications. 

Cloud Native Applications

The Cloud Native approach allows you to move quickly, with small, reversible steps and reduced technical risk. This ideal is not easy to obtain, nor is it free. It involves a major change in development culture and philosophy as well as multiple technical challenges. 

Microsoft proposes the following set of principles to obtain Cloud Native applications:

  • Cost management: focus on generating incremental value from the outset.

  • Operational excellence: automate the environment and operations to increase speed and reduce human error.

  • Efficient performance: efficiently meet the demands of applications.

  • Reliability: build apps that are resilient and available, allowing applications to recover from bugs and keep working.

  • Security: implement security throughout the application lifecycle.

Cloud Native Application Features

  • Cloud Native applications consist of several individual services (microservices), independent of each other. They communicate with each other via API interfaces.

  • These applications behave predictably, running with a high degree of automation.

Benefits of Cloud Native Applications

  • Flexibility: Developers have a lot of freedom, because all services run independently of the environment.

  • Scalability: companies do not have to make costly hardware upgrades as service requirements increase.

  • Updates and changes are reflected immediately: these applications allow you to react quickly to market requirements.

  • High degree of automation: this feature minimizes human and operational errors. 

Container Orchestration with Kubernetes

Container orchestration makes it very easy to manage complex infrastructures by making the most of already defined processes and automated tasks. 

You can manage activities such as:

  • Machine assembly

  • Initialize containers

  • Replace failed containers

  • Link containers together

  • Expose services to machines outside the cluster

  • Scale containers to meet demand

  • Organize code deployments without affecting service availability

Orchestration requires tools that are easy to install, configure, and maintain, which is why Kubernetes was created.

What can Kubernetes do?

Kubernetes is a Cloud platform that combines portability and extensibility to reduce the complexity of resources offered by Cloud providers. Its main functions are:

  • Intelligent distribution of containers between machines (nodes)

  • Integration with different Cloud platforms and providers

  • Leverage hardware resources to run applications, reducing unused resources

  • Intelligent load balancing between different nodes

12 Factor App" Methodology - SaaS

This methodology is used to optimize the development of Software as a Service (SaaS) applications. It establishes a set of practices and principles that developers must follow to build applications optimized for modern cloud environments, focusing mainly on portability between environments and declarative automation.

Systems based on these principles can be rapidly deployed and scaled, and can add functionality to react quickly to market changes and requirements.

The 12 factor App methodology was presented through the publication of a brief, explaining its objectives:

- Automatable and explicit configurations

- Clear dependencies on the environment for maximum compatibility

- The application must be deployed in the cloud

- Continuous deployment

- Applications focused on scalability.

Infrastructure automation

There are several tools that allow you to create scripts declaratively for the cloud infrastructure you need, where resource names, locations, and capabilities are parameterized and dynamic.

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is a methodology for coding and maintaining computing infrastructure. Instead of having to manually configure hardware devices and operating systems separately, with IaC developers can automatically manage, monitor, and provision resources.

IaC can run the same script over and over again without side effects. If a change needs to be made, IaC edits and reruns the script, only the updated resources are affected.

Cloud Native Technologies

Thanks to the agile development of infrastructures and high-performance software, fully functional and operational solutions can be obtained in the cloud. The following high-level Cloud Native solutions are available for this purpose:

  • Containers: standard software units that package the code and all its dependencies so that the application runs from one computing environment to another quickly and reliably.

  • Container orchestrator.

  • Cloud solutions platform: set of cloud computing services offered over the Internet.

  • Platform as a Service (PaaS): a set of cloud-based services that allows developers to create applications at high speed.

  • Infrastructure automation platform.

  • Infrastructure as code. 

Private, Public or Hybrid Clouds

A major attraction of Cloud Native is that it does not require a commitment of where these applications are hosted. It can be done in different cloud operators such as Amazon Web Services, Azure or Google Cloud Platform, or combined with on-premise private clouds. Cloud Native is not limited to large companies, but allows small companies -with enough commitment- to be more competitive.

The effective use of orchestration technologies such as Kubernetes, PaaS (Open Shift) or automation tools such as RedHat Ansible and Terraform, begin to blur the line that separates local environments (on-premise) or remote, environments running on virtualization or direct hardware (bare-metal) or the limitations of development environments other than production.

CNCF - Cloud Native Computing Foundation

The importance of Cloud Native is so great that an organizational framework has been created to ensure that the decisions of the dozens of interested organizations are made nimbly and transparently.

The CNCF (Cloud Native Computing Foundation) is part of the Linux Foundation and counts among its members not only the most important cloud providers such as AWS, Azure and Google Cloud, but also dozens of companies committed to the initiative. 

Among its most prominent projects is to foster an ecosystem for the development of key components for the initiative, such as Kubernetes (orchestration), Prometheus (monitoring), FluentD (logging), ContainerD and rkt (container execution) or CNI (networking API), among others. The result is that the foundation gives transparency to critical technologies for the future of computing, without the natural bias of interests of a single manufacturer. This is how the CNCF leads some of the fastest development projects in the history of open-source. 

Challenges and considerations

The development of solutions based on Cloud Native is encompassed within the framework of profound changes in the software development paradigm of the industry. Digital transformation requires best practices throughout the software development cycle.

Cloud Native apps are intentionally developed for a cloud model. They are built with a rapid pace of development by small teams focused on each type of functionality, ensuring scalability, portability between environments, resilience and agility.

It is important to understand that the operation of systems will change in a Cloud Native world. Infrastructure and operations people will go from having a more passive role, maintenance and protection against incidents, to being drivers of change processes, automation and generation of business value. 

Not all applications have to be converted to Cloud Native, and it is something that business and IT teams must agree on when prioritizing workloads, considering technical feasibility, strategic importance and return on investment (ROI) on a case-by-case basis. In addition to new developments, where there is a lot of freedom to choose how to do them, the challenges of upgrading existing platforms require more sophisticated change processes at the organizational level.

At Aplyca we are convinced that Cloud Native will be synonymous with the efficient use of technology in the digital economy and that it will accelerate the digital transformation in the most innovative companies (large and small) in the coming years.

If your organization is interested in implementing Continuous delivery, DevOps, Microservices or Containers from experts, we invite you to contact us.


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