Commonly referred to as being “born in the cloud,” the cloud-native approach now encompasses the best of software development techniques such as DevOps, Containerization, Microservices, Agile methodology, and more. According to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), “cloud-native technologies are empowering organizations to build and run scalable applications on dynamic cloud environments.” 

Since the pioneering success of cloud-native architecture by streaming giant, Netflix, the cloud-native development approach has been adopted by many technology companies and application developers to build efficient cloud applications. Promising a rapid release cycle and workload management, cloud-native apps are powering digital transformation by allowing the change from being a “business support” to being the “business itself.” 

As cloud platforms move into this new “avatar,” how should cloud app developers adapt to the new paradigm and avoid common pitfalls? Let’s look at that. 

Cloud-Native Development – Key Principles 

The cloud-native development process is usually based on the following 4 key principles: 

  1. Microservices or the development architecture where larger applications are built using a suite of individual components or modular services. 
  1. Containerization or the use of software containers to package and isolate applications to be run independently from the physical resources. 
  1. Continuous delivery and integration (CD/CI) approach that enables software testing teams to test shorter code bases in continuous release cycles. 
  1. DevOps methodology that automates the application lifecycle and enables improved collaboration between the development and operations teams. 

Further, how do cloud-native apps differ from cloud-based apps? Cloud-based apps are designed to work on the cloud, but do not fully leverage the capabilities of the cloud. Cloud-native apps are designed specifically for dynamic cloud environments and are optimized for cloud characteristics such as resource pooling, rapid scalability & elasticity, and on-demand service. The difference is especially stark over the application development process as a result. 

Next, let’s look at the 5 core elements of cloud-native applications that must be integrated. 

5 Core Elements of Cloud-native Applications 

Here are the 5 core elements of any cloud-native app: 

  1. Application Design 

Cloud-native apps are designed for speed in both delivery and iterations. Hence, the application’s design needs to be based on the microservices architecture, which is crucial for making the app adaptable and flexible for the cloud.  

How do microservices address the concerns posed by monolithic architecture? 

  • Each microservice module is updated and executed independently without affecting other modules. 
  • It can accelerate the deployment of new functionality without the need to integrate the updated code with other microservice code. 
  • Eliminates the need to deploy the complete executable code (as in monolithic apps) that is time-consuming and inflexible for erratic workloads. 
  1. APIs 

How do microservices-based apps communicate with different services? Using RESTful APIs that make it easier to accept and respond to service requests. Effectively, APIs act as the “glue” among the loosely coupled microservices. APIs make it easier for external service callers to format a service request and communicate with the cloud-native apps, irrespective of their location on the same network or across the internet. 

A proper call format with adequate identification and authentication contains an accurate payload, thus enabling the correct execution of the service. 

  1. DevOps 

On its part, DevOps are designed to reduce the lengthy durations between application deployments caused by “IT silos.” For the fast deployment and implementation of cloud-native apps, DevOps needs to be a core element that effectively breaks down the barriers between the development and production stages. 

To initiate the DevOps process, organizations can use value chain mapping (VCM) that can evaluate the complete application development cycle. The VCM technique can optimize each “silo” and automate a group’s work while not disturbing other groups. 

  1. Operational Design 

A single executable of the monolithic architecture required the entire application code to be deployed to the production environment. Cloud-native apps simplify the operational design through microservices, where code modifications are limited to individual executables, leaving the rest of the app code unchanged. 

As a core element, the microservices-based operational design ensures: 

  • Better operational efficiency during any changeover 
  • Simpler and easier rolling out of code changes 
  • Easier recreation of the older production environment when code issues are reported 
  1. Quality Assurance (QA) 

The importance of QA and testing cannot be underestimated in the cloud-native app development process. The approach ensures that QA is performed at an earlier stage in the app development, to detect and address issues. Further, this approach ensures that app developers now own the responsibility to test “new functionalities” that they develop. 

This approach allows QA teams to focus on other testing aspects including integration testing, performance testing, and testing on multiple devices. 

Next, let us look at the best development practices when building cloud-native apps. 

Best Practices in Cloud-native development 

For efficient cloud-native development, it is important to follow the best practices that determine how the app is built and measured for performance. Here are 5 such best practices: 

  • Automate the provisioning of cloud-native applications across popular cloud vendors. Through automation, you can use the Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) service to track code changes in the repository. 
  • Monitor how the cloud-native app is being used along with the development environment. Cloud-native development environments make it easy to monitor the app and the underlying architecture. 
  • Document the changes being made by multiple development teams and how they are contributing to the cloud-native application. 
  • Making incremental app changes that are easy to reverse and not permanent. This practice enables development teams to learn from their coding mistakes. 
  • Design for process failures using testing frameworks that can simulate failures and improve them. 

Besides these best practices, there are plenty of development tools that can be used for cloud-native apps. These tools, formed in most cloud-native development stacks, include the Docker platform (for managing virtualized app containers), Kubernetes (for managing Linux containers), and Terraform (for managing IaC services). 

Conclusion 

With containerized applications orchestrated using Kubernetes, the cloud-native approach is a great way forward for building “cloud-ready” apps that can fully leverage cloud capabilities. The 2020 CNCF survey has found that the use of containers in-app production has increased from 84% in 2019 to 92% in 2020. That marks a 300% improvement from the findings of their 2016 survey. 

Excerpt – The cloud-native approach has enabled the success of many companies, and now thousands of entrepreneurs are following these trailblazers into the cloud. But building a cloud-native company is not easy. In this article, we explore the principles, elements, and best practices of cloud-native development.