Cloud-native architecture enables applications to leverage modern technologies for increased scalability, flexibility, and resilience in the digital landscape. As a result, numerous organizations are migrating their workloads to hybrid and cloud environments. This widespread adoption has revolutionized application design and development, promoting a cloud-native approach.

Cloud-native development involves designing, building, and running applications using cloud services, tools, and principles like microservices, containerization, and DevOps. This approach ensures applications fully harness cloud advantages, including scalability, elasticity, and flexibility.

Intrigued by cloud-native technology? Dive deeper as we explore its nuances, including real-world examples, architectural principles, and the development process. Discover the benefits of embracing cloud-native architecture and the role of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) in shaping the future of cloud computing.

What is Cloud-Native?

Cloud-native refers to architecting software in a way that it can fully utilize cloud capabilities. This concept involves designing, building, and running scalable, resilient, and flexible applications that can benefit from the distributed computing offered by the cloud delivery model.

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), a non-profit industry organization, defines cloud-native as “technologies [that] empower organizations to build and run scalable applications in modern, dynamic environments such as public, private, and hybrid clouds”. Simply put, CNCF’s definition of cloud-native refers to applications that can be deployed and scaled across multiple computing environments.

Cloud-native applications leverage technologies and concepts like containers, container orchestration, and microservices to achieve the portability, scalability, and flexibility that are central to the cloud computing model. Instead of focusing on the computing environment or the specific cloud platform, the cloud-native approach emphasizes application architecture.

The traditional definition of cloud-native requires that applications be built to optimally utilize the native services of a specific cloud provider. In contrast, the contemporary proposition considers applications to be platform- and vendor-agnostic, eliminating any limits on the platform, services, and providers an application or organization can employ.

Cloud-native represents a philosophical approach, rather than a toolset, for building applications that are well-suited for cloud environments. In this sense, cloud-native is also an organizational goal that encourages organizations to modernize their infrastructure and processes, enabling them to choose the technologies and services that best fit specific applications and use cases.

Examples of Cloud-Native

Overall, adopting a cloud-native approach allows organizations to become more agile, resilient, and scalable, which can ultimately give them a competitive advantage in today’s fast-paced digital landscape. A few notable companies that have taken the lead in implementing cloud-native technologies and concepts include Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb, Lyft, and Capital One. Cloud service providers (CSPs), such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), have built entire businesses around infrastructure and services that support organizations in adopting cloud-native architectures.

Cloud-Native Architecture

Cloud-native architecture refers to the design and deployment of an entire system of application infrastructure using technologies and concepts native to cloud computing, such as microservices, containers, dynamic orchestration, and continuous delivery. The cloud-native architecture enables highly scalable and resilient systems that can be effortlessly deployed and managed in the cloud.

The key technologies, concepts, and principles of cloud-native architecture comprise containers, microservices, DevOps, automation and orchestration, and immutable infrastructure.

1) Containers

Containers provide a standard way to package applications along with all their dependencies in a single, portable unit. Cloud-native applications are packaged as containers, providing a lightweight, portable, and resource-efficient way to test, move, and deploy applications across multiple computing environments. Containers also enable microservices, another key architectural approach complementing the cloud.

READ MORE: Containers – What are they? and How Do they Work?

2) Microservices

Microservices is an architectural approach that breaks down applications into smaller, reusable, and loosely-coupled software components, each performing a very specific functionality. Being modular and highly independent, multiple teams can work in parallel on different components of an application for a faster time-to-market. By decomposing large applications into smaller services, microservices not only promote better organization, but also align well with smaller, cross-functional teams and DevOps methodologies.

READ MORE: Microservices – What are they? and How Do they Work?

3) DevOps

While DevOps practices are not exclusive to the cloud, they have become a necessary component of cloud-native environments. The DevOps approach prioritizes collaboration and integrates processes, tools, and teams. It creates an environment where software can be developed and deployed rapidly, as needed, and with minimal disruption, enabling the organization’s continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) goals.

This synergy between DevOps and cloud-native technologies ultimately enhances the agility and efficiency of software development and operations.

4) Automation and Orchestration

Cloud-native applications often leverage automation, replacing manual tasks, like maintenance and updating, with scripts or code so they happen seamlessly and reliably. They are also designed to be dynamically managed, which means that the application and the underlying infrastructure can automatically and dynamically adapt to changing conditions and demands. This includes the ability to dynamically scale resources up or down based on traffic load and self-heal during failures and outages.

This self-management is typically achieved through automation and orchestration tools, such as Kubernetes, which can monitor applications and infrastructure, and respond dynamically based on pre-defined rules and policies. Automation and orchestration are key characteristics of cloud-native architecture, as they enable responsiveness, scalability, cost optimization, and resiliency.

5) Immutable Infrastructure

Cloud-native applications are designed to run on any cloud infrastructure, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. However, the infrastructure components are treated as immutable, meaning they are unchangeable after deployment. This means that the infrastructure components, such as servers, are treated as disposable and are discarded rather than updated. Cloud-native applications simply move to new infrastructure if upgrades or fixes are needed. This removes potential disruptions and ensures consistency and reliability.

Overall, the key technologies and principles of cloud-native are focused on enabling agility, scalability, reliability, and efficiency in developing, deploying, and managing applications in the cloud.

Cloud-Native Applications

Traditionally, enterprise applications follow monolithic architecture, which means a single block of code defines all functionalities. They are also often deployed on dedicated hardware or virtual machines (VMs). As a result, these applications are considerably harder to scale and maintain, requiring manual intervention for handling demand spikes, outages, and upgrades.

Cloud-native applications are software programs designed using a set of principles that optimize for the scalability, flexibility, and resiliency of the cloud. Microservices, containers, and container orchestration are the enabling technology stacks that allow cloud-native applications to benefit from the distributed nature of the cloud.

Cloud-Native and Microservices

Cloud-native applications are typically built as multiple, independent microservices, each housed within its own container and dynamically orchestrated with other containers for optimal resource utilization. Although microservices are independent, they can be linked together in a coordinated fashion to deliver complex and comprehensive functionality. Microservices are independently scalable and allow granular control for resource optimization, ensuring cloud-native applications only consume the resources they need.

Cloud-Native and Containerization

Containers provide a lightweight, consistent runtime environment, allowing applications and services to run consistently across different infrastructures and platforms. It is important to note that a cloud-native application is not defined by where it is running but rather by how it is built.

Since cloud-native applications leverage containerization, they are not physically tied to any specific computing environment. Essentially, cloud-native applications are designed to function on many platforms, including public clouds, private clouds, and even legacy servers. One of the key objectives of cloud-native is avoiding cloud and platform lock-in.

Cloud-Native and Kubernetes

Well-designed cloud-native applications automatically provision and configure tasks, and can dynamically allocate resources based on application requirements. Kubernetes has emerged as the de-facto standard for container orchestration. It provides a powerful platform for managing and deploying containerized applications at-scale, making it an ideal choice for businesses looking to adopt cloud-native architecture. Kubernetes offers a rich set of features for managing containerized applications, including automated scaling, load balancing, and self-healing capabilities.

Cloud-Native Application Development

The overall architecture of any cloud-native software involves the application layer, data layer, and interactions:

Cloud-Native Application

The application layer is where the business logic and functionality of the software reside. In the cloud-native paradigm, applications must be constructed in a manner that allows cloud-native operational practices. For instance, they are typically designed as a collection of loosely-coupled microservices to allow independent scaling and seamless upgrades.

Cloud-Native Data

The data layer is where the “state” lives in cloud-native software. Much like the application code, data is typically stored in distributed databases or data stores that are designed to scale horizontally across multiple nodes in a cluster.

Cloud-Native Interactions

Cloud-native software is a composition of applications and data, and the way these entities interact with each other ultimately defines the functionality of the software. Because of extreme distribution and changing computing environments, cloud-native interactions have also significantly evolved from those of traditional software architectures.

In the cloud-native paradigm, interactions are typically handled through application programming interfaces (APIs), which enable different components of the application to communicate with each other and with other systems. APIs are designed to be lightweight and stateless, which makes them easier to manage and scale.

Cloud-Native Infrastructure

Today’s cloud-native applications are considered to be applications in motion, as they constantly move between computing environments, and the underlying infrastructure also keeps changing and upgrading. Cloud-native decouples applications from the underlying infrastructure through technologies such as containerization and serverless computing. Serverless computing is a cloud-native, streamlined technology for hosting cloud-based applications where a server runs for short bursts only when needed by an application or service.

READ MORE: Serverless Computing – What is it? and How Does it Work?

Overall, the cloud-native paradigm abstracts the underlying infrastructure, exposing it through APIs. This makes it easier to scale and shift applications, which indirectly improves availability and resiliency. Infrastructure is considered immutable and short-lived rather than permanent – if a server goes down, it can be instantaneously destroyed and replaced with a new one.

By embracing this approach, cloud-native applications can better adapt to changing requirements and conditions. As a result, cloud-native applications remain stable even when the underlying infrastructure is constantly changing or experiencing difficulties, enhancing their overall robustness and flexibility.

Benefits of Cloud-Native Architecture

Cloud-native architecture delivers certain benefits for users, developers, and organizations, such as portability, cost savings, scalability, flexibility, and resilience.

1) Portability

Cloud-native architecture decouples applications from the underlying infrastructure and platforms. Organizations do not have to worry about leveraging vendor-proprietary features that can potentially lock-in their applications.

2) Cost Savings

Adopting cloud-native technologies can reduce costs by eliminating the need for expensive infrastructure and hardware. Cloud-native cost savings are in-part due to resource optimization as well. Tools and technologies such as container orchestration and serverless computing allow the dynamic allocation of resources as needed and can scale all the way down to zero when not in use.

3) Scalability

Cloud-native architecture leverages container orchestration to scale applications as needed without changing the underlying architecture to accommodate scalability.

4) Flexibility

Cloud-native architecture provides greater flexibility in deployment, allowing organizations to choose the cloud provider and infrastructure that best fits their needs.

5) Resilience

Cloud-native architecture supports microservices, distributed computing, and portability, which makes applications more fault-tolerant and resilient. Overall, they generally continue to operate even if individual components fail.

Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF)

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the adoption of cloud-native computing technologies and practices. The CNCF is part of the Linux Foundation and aims to promote the use of open-source software and standards to build and deploy cloud-native applications. A wide range of projects and initiatives related to cloud-native computing, such as Kubernetes, Prometheus, and Envoy, are supported by the CNCF. These are all open-source and designed to become foundational to cloud-native software development.

In addition to supporting open-source projects, the CNCF also provides a range of resources and services to help organizations adopt and implement cloud-native technologies.

Cloud Native Landscape

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) has compiled an interactive cloud-native landscape that shows the full extent of today’s cloud-native solutions. The CNCF landscape acts like a map to cloud-native technologies and provides guidelines for building successful cloud-native applications. Overall, CNCF resources guide organizations and developers toward the most relevant and useful cloud-native technologies for their needs.

Mary Zhang covers Data Centers for Dgtl Infra, including Equinix (NASDAQ: EQIX), Digital Realty (NYSE: DLR), CyrusOne, CoreSite Realty, QTS Realty, Switch Inc, Iron Mountain (NYSE: IRM), Cyxtera (NASDAQ: CYXT), and many more. Within Data Centers, Mary focuses on the sub-sectors of hyperscale, enterprise / colocation, cloud service providers, and edge computing. Mary has over 5 years of experience in research and writing for Data Centers.


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