Cloud-Native Engineering: A Guide to Building Modern Applications

Businesses are rapidly making the shift to the cloud to leverage its speed and flexibility. Often, they migrate their existing applications either directly or after suitably modifying them for the cloud environment. Such apps, called cloud-based, may still function well, and deliver results. But, applications built for the cloud from the ground up tend to leverage the features of the cloud better. They are referred to as cloud-native applications, and are designed to be highly scalable, flexible, and secure. It is critical that these cloud-native apps are built with the right architecture from day zero – so the process of adding new features, capabilities, and modules becomes seamless. It must also be designed for easy integration with other business systems, ensuring there is an easy flow of data and information across systems.  

For this, applications are developed on cloud infrastructure using modern tools and techniques. Using cloud-native technologies benefits businesses as they enable quick and frequent changes to applications without affecting service delivery, this helps businesses break barriers to innovation and improve their competitive advantage.

For cloud-native applications to be effective and deliver on their promise, it is important to plan the right cloud architecture and document the cloud engineering strategy so the apps can be scalable, flexible, and resilient.

Why Enterprises are Building Cloud Native Applications?

The availability of digital technologies such as cloud, AI/ML, and IoT are transforming the way businesses operate today. Increased access to data is seeing a corresponding increase in the need for storage and computing power. Traditional, on-prem systems cannot cope with this pace of change and the investment can be formidable.

By modernizing their application and migrating to the cloud, businesses can reap many benefits. But, modernizing goes beyond mere migration of apps. Some or most apps must be made cloud-native to provide the intended benefits, which include:

  • Improved Efficiency: Cloud-native applications are developed using the agile approach including DevOps and continuous delivery. Scalable applications are being built using cloud services, automated tools, and modern design culture.
  • Lower Cost: The cost of infrastructure is drastically reduced when businesses opt for the cloud-native approach as they share resources and pay only peruse.
  • High Availability: Building robust and highly accessible applications is made possible by cloud-native technology. In order to give customers a great experience, feature updates don’t result in app downtime, and businesses can scale up app resources during busy times of year.
  • Flexibility, Scalability, and Resilience: The traditional apps are called monolithic because they are a single block structure composed of all the required functionalities. Any upgradation can be disruptive and needs changes to be made across the block, making them more rigid and hard to scale. Cloud-native applications, on the other hand, are made up of several small, interdependent functionalities called microservices. As a result, changes can be made to the different units without affecting the rest of the software, making them more resilient, flexible, and scalable.
  • Easier Management: Cloud Native architecture and development are containerized and utilize cloud services by default. It is often called serverless and tends to reduce infrastructure management.

Cloud Native Architecture: Designed for Scale

Cloud-native architecture is designed such that it is easy to maintain, cost-effective, and self-healing. It does not depend on physical servers, hence called serverless technology, and provides greater flexibility.

APIs are needed for the cloud-native microservices to communicate with each other using an event-driven architecture for enhanced performance of every application. The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) is an open-source platform that facilitates cloud-native development with support for projects such as Kubernetes, Prometheus, and Envoy.

The cloud-native architecture typically consists of:

  • Immutable Infrastructure: The servers hosting cloud-native applications do not change even after the deployment of an application. In case additional computing resources are needed, the app is migrated to a new, high-performance server, and does not require a manual upgrade.
  • Loosely-Coupled Microservices: The different functionalities available as microservices are loosely coupled – that is, they are not integrated as in a monolith, and remain independent of each other, only communicating when needed. This allows changes to be made to individual applications without affecting the overall performance of the software.
  • Application Programming Interface (API): Microservices communicate with each other using APIs and state what data a microservice requires to deliver a particular result.
  • Service Mesh: The communication between the different microservices is managed by a software layer called the service mesh in the cloud infrastructure. This can also be used for adding more functions without the need to write new code.
  • Containerized Microservices: The microservice code and other required files, such as  resource files, libraries, and scripts, are packed in containers, which are the smallest compute unit in the cloud-native application. As a result, cloud-native applications can run independently of the underlying operating system and hardware, allowing them to be run from on-premise infrastructure or on the cloud, including hybrid clouds.
  • Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD): Small, frequent changes are made to the software to improve its efficiency and identify and troubleshoot errors quickly. This improves the quality of the code on an ongoing basis. CD makes the microservices always ready to be deployed to the cloud as and when needed. Together, the two make software delivery efficient.

Overcoming Cloud-Native Development Challenges

Despite the many advantages and ease of development and maintenance of cloud-native applications, it is not without challenges. As the business expands, so can the number of microservices, requiring more oversight and maintenance. It requires strong integrators, APIs, and the right tools for improved management of asynchronous operations. Ensuring that each integrates well with the overall system and performs as expected is critical. Further, regulations such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) make security and governance critical for compliance.

These challenges make comprehensive testing and quality assurance essential. Therefore, a good cloud-native app development approach should include:

  • Assessing the needs: A good understanding of the required functionality is essential to start from scratch or modernize existing apps. Building cloud-native apps from the ground up may be more beneficial even for businesses that are modernizing so that they can leverage the advantages better.
  • Designing the architecture: Right from the cloud model to use to whether to build from scratch or repurpose are some of the many decisions that need to be taken at this stage. This will influence the nature of the technical stack the business should opt for.
  • Security and Governance: While the cloud service provider may have their own security protocols for the servers, each organization must have its own governance policy and implement security to protect data and ensure compliance.
  • Testing and QA: Testing each microservice individually and as a composite unit is critical to ensure performance and customer satisfaction.

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1. Are cloud-based and cloud-native apps the same?

The two are often used interchangeably, but they are different. Cloud-based applications can run on the cloud and cloud platforms but cannot leverage the inherent benefits of the cloud. Cloud-native applications are developed specifically for the cloud and optimized to leverage the inherent characteristics of the cloud.

2. What are the benefits of using a microservices architecture in cloud-native application development?

Microservices architecture is now one of the most common approaches for cloud-native application development. By breaking down an application into small, independent services, developers can increase the agility of their application, making it easier to deploy, scale, and update. Microservices also enable developers to work on different services independently, allowing for faster development and easier maintenance. Additionally, microservices can enhance application resilience, as individual services can fail without affecting the entire application. Overall, a microservices architecture can help developers build more flexible, scalable, and resilient cloud-native applications.

Author: Indium
Indium Software is a leading digital engineering company that provides Application Engineering, Cloud Engineering, Data and Analytics, DevOps, Digital Assurance, and Gaming services. We assist companies in their digital transformation journey at every stage of digital adoption, allowing them to become market leaders.