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What is a Cloud-Native Application? A detailed guide

June 4, 2023

Cloud-native apps are not just traditional apps wearing a cloud costume. From their microservices architectures to self-healing abilities, this article will cover all of it. There’s also a hefty serving of no-code wisdom in this knowledge feast because we know that’s why you’re really here!

Understanding Cloud-Native Applications 

In the modern era of technology, "cloud-native applications" have become a catchphrase as ubiquitous as the clouds in the sky (sorry for the terrible joke). 

However, as you delve into the world of cloud computing, this term tends to appear more frequently than pop-up ads on a free streaming site. Yet, what does it truly entail? This comprehensive guide aims to clear the fog around cloud-native applications and offer you a lucid understanding of the concept.

With an added bonus of touching on how it all relates to no-code, of course. Otherwise, why are we here?

Let’s go.

What is a cloud native?

​​In the simplest terms, a cloud-native application is designed to leverage the benefits of cloud computing architecture. These applications are hosted directly in cloud environments, using cloud-native services to offer flexibility, scalability, and resilience. 

Unlike traditional apps, cloud-native applications can harness the full power of modern cloud environments to drive business growth.

In case you want a TL;DR:

Cloud-native applications rely on cloud hosting and processing to work from the very start. It’s not a traditional app propped up by a thousand crutches to work with a cloud environment. Without the cloud, it’s nothing. With the cloud, it is everything.
Thanks to programmerhumor.io for a good chuckle and a tear rolling down my cheek. This is pretty much the graphical summary of how it all works.

Key characteristics of cloud-native applications

Cloud-native applications aren't just traditional applications dressed in the cloak of the cloud; they are a unique breed with distinct features. These applications use microservices architectures, containerization, continuous integration, and continuous deployment (CI/CD), and are designed for resilience and self-healing.

Microservices architecture

Microservices architecture is to cloud-native apps what the cherry is to a cake – the defining component. It splits a single application into multiple smaller services, each with its specific function. With this design, each microservice can be deployed, updated, and scaled independently, making the application as flexible as it gets.

Just like you can connect LEGO pieces to build a model, you can connect microservices to build a complete software application. The great thing is, if you need to change or fix something, you just have to swap out or modify the relevant microservice, rather than messing with the entire application.

Since each microservice is independent, you can use different technologies for each one, based on what's best for that specific job. 

Containerization

Containerization packs up an application and its dependencies into a tidy, self-sufficient unit, known as a container. Like a well-packed suitcase for a trip, these containers ensure that the application runs smoothly, no matter the host environment. 

This approach makes application deployment more reliable and makes scaling as easy as cloning sheep (just less controversial).

Continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD)

Cloud-native applications embrace the Hollywood mantra of "the show must go on." Thanks to CI/CD pipelines, developers can regularly integrate code changes, while automated deployment ensures the updated application is always ready for showtime, thus minimizing downtime and speeding up releases.

Resilience and self-healing

Cloud-native apps are designed to withstand failures and recover automatically – thanks to their distributed nature, and redundancy provided by the cloud-native systems. 

Let's say you had a magical LEGO set. If a tower fell over, it would automatically start putting itself back together. Cool, right? This is similar to how cloud-native apps work. They have systems in place to detect when a part is broken, and they can automatically create a new, working version of that part. 

The app can fix its own problems and keep running smoothly without someone needing to step in and fix things manually.

Benefits of cloud-native Apps

Cloud-native technologies offer a treasure trove of benefits for people ready to embrace them.

Scalability

Cloud-native apps can scale up or down faster than you can adjust your bedroom thermostat, thanks to their microservices architecture and containerization. 

This ability to handle increased demand in real-time prevents both underutilization and overloading.

Faster time-to-market

Cloud-native principles foster rapid application development, speeding up the journey from the programmer's mind to the end-users' devices. This agility allows organizations to respond to market changes with the speed of a sprinter off the blocks.

Cost optimization

With cloud-native applications, you pay only for what you use, making them as economical as buying in bulk. Plus, their scalability means fewer resources spent on infrastructure maintenance, ensuring your IT budget doesn't inflate like a balloon at a children's party.

Enhanced security

Cloud-native apps utilize containerization, creating a fortified fort of security. With threats kept at bay, these applications can safely hold your data, making them as secure as a Swiss bank.

Essential components of cloud-native applications

Cloud-native applications are a complex recipe of numerous ingredients that work together to create a mouthwatering dish of something new.

Containers and container orchestration

Containers package the application and its dependencies, while orchestration tools like Kubernetes ensure these containers are managed efficiently, performing a symphony of complex tasks seamlessly.

Service mesh

The service mesh is the silent traffic cop in the cloud-native city, managing and securing microservices communications, ensuring the different parts of the application can talk to each other without playing Chinese whispers.

API Gateway

API gateways are the vigilant bouncers at the club of your application, controlling access to microservices, and ensuring only authorized communications pass through, thereby enhancing the application's security.

Monitoring and logging tools

Keeping track of application performance and health is super important (duh!). Monitoring tools act as the diligent doctors for your cloud-native apps, identifying issues and prescribing remedies promptly.

Adopting cloud-native best practices

Transitioning to cloud-native applications is a journey, one that requires thoughtful planning, strategy, and execution.

Refactoring legacy applications

Transforming legacy applications to become cloud-native is like renovating an old house – you need to change the infrastructure while preserving the essence. 

Refactoring involves breaking down the monolithic legacy application into microservices that can be deployed in the cloud.

Training and upskilling

Equipping your team with the necessary skills for cloud-native development is as important as handing out oxygen masks on a plane – you need them for survival. Training programs, workshops, and upskilling initiatives are crucial in this transition.

Infrastructure and platform Choices

You have to choose the right cloud platform for your cloud-native applications, as it needs to support the growth of your applications while ensuring they remain robust.

Governance and compliance

Just like in a city, governance is key to maintaining security in cloud-native applications. Establishing policies, guidelines, and monitoring systems ensure your cloud-native journey aligns with business objectives and regulatory requirements.

Comparison between cloud-native and traditional applications

Predictability vs unpredictability 

Cloud-native applications stick to the rules. They follow a pre-set framework designed to boost resilience. It's like they have a guidebook for cloud living. Traditional applications, however,  are forged uniquely, making them harder to manage in a cloud environment.

Right-sized vs over-sized capacity

Cloud native applications auto-manage infrastructure, serving up resources as and when needed. Traditional applications usually get a one-size-fits-all infrastructure, often oversized to adapt to new demands.

Independence vs Dependence on OS

Cloud native architecture grants developers freedom from underlying infrastructure dependencies. Traditional applications? They're glued to the OS, hardware, storage, which makes moving or scaling them a headache.

CI/CD vs Waterfall

Cloud native applications are all about fast, iterative updates. It's like they're sprinting in a continuous relay race, rapidly responding to customer needs. Traditional apps plod along, releasing software in big, infrequent chunks, often delaying needed features.

Microservices vs Monolith

Cloud native apps are built using a microservices architecture. Imagine an efficient factory line, with independent teams handling small, loosely coupled services. Traditional applications bundle all services into a single package, creating a web of dependencies that slow down development.

Collaboration vs silos

Cloud native architecture embraces DevOps, a culture of collaboration that smooths the transition of application code into production, unlike traditional apps that pass code from developers to operations like a hot potato, causing conflicts and slow delivery.

Automated scalability vs manual scaling

Cloud native applications have a scaling superpower – automation. No matter the size of deployment, the rules remain consistent. The complexity often leads to errors with traditional apps.

Rapid recovery vs slow recovery

Cloud native applications recover faster from app or infrastructure failures, thanks to container runtime and orchestrator. It's like they have a built-in life jacket. Traditional applications are slower, especially in recovery.

Cloud-native tools

Now, let's a short dive into the toolbox for cloud-native app development. Each software tool in this belt is an asset in its own right.

Here they are:

Docker: The Swiss Army knife of platforms! Open source and ever-ready, Docker whips up, deploys, and manages app containers that are as virtual as your alter ego. Using a common operating system, it cleverly corrals resources so multiple containers can share without squabbling.

Kubernetes: Kubernetes masterfully directs the performance of Linux containers, deciding their choreography and their grand stage.

Terraform: The wizard of Infrastructure as Code (IaC). With a wave of its coding wand, Terraform shapes resources and keeps a meticulous diary of when and where these resources changed costumes.

GitLab CI/CD: With its unblinking focus on automation, GitLab doubles up as a security analyst, static analyst, and even throws in some unit tests. It looks great, too.

Node.js: A dab hand at crafting real-time applications like chat, news feeds, and microservices. Think of Node.js as the architect designing virtual servers and the traffic officer directing microservices to external APIs. Quite the multitasker!

There are some more worth mentioning, but honestly, this article is long enough on its own. Anyway!

What about no-code platforms?

What about them?

Directual's databases strut their stuff on AWS's catwalk, giving you a choice between the cloak-and-dagger privacy of a private cloud, or the bonhomie of a public cloud. Choose your app's home sweet home server location and watch your product grow faster than anything else imaginable.

Offered in two fashionable and dashy styles:

Public Cloud

With our public cloud, you can bid adieu to infrastructure woes—all thanks to AWS.

Private Cloud

For businesses juggling high-load apps like flaming batons and requiring Fort Knox-level security, private cloud has got your back. 

Sales pitch over. Anyhow.

No-code as a discipline is by default something that relies on a cloud-native approach. As you’ve learned from the benefits above, there is a good reason for that. Primarily, this approach can truly help an end user to create something that scales well. 

Scaling depends on various factors: the app's end functionality, testing methods, server infrastructure, and integration capabilities. While a Twitter or Google-sized entity might demand more, most projects won't hit such scales. Common scalability issues include data exchange speed, an aspect where some no-code platforms might lag. However, one would need to conduct a staggering number of transactions to reach this bottleneck.

By the way, here’s what our beautiful architecture looks like:

We’re showing off for no good reason. Ah well, it is relevant actually. This is Directual’s cloud architecture

Conclusion

From understanding the fundamentals of cloud-native applications to considering the best practices for their adoption, we've journeyed through the bustling city of cloud-native. At the end of the day, these applications are more than just a trendy buzzword. They are game-changers, offering scalability, resilience, cost optimization, and enhanced security. 

As modern organizations race towards digital transformation, cloud-native applications are not just a nice-to-have but a must-have in their IT arsenal.

FAQ

What is the difference between cloud-native and cloud-based applications?
What is the difference between cloud-native and cloud-based applications?

While both live in the cloud, cloud-native apps are built specifically for cloud environments, utilizing its advantages, whereas cloud-based apps are merely hosted on the cloud.

How do cloud-native applications contribute to cost optimization?
How do cloud-native applications contribute to cost optimization?

Cloud-native apps optimize costs by utilizing resources more efficiently, offering pay-as-you-go models, and reducing the resources spent on infrastructure maintenance.

Is cloud-native the same as SaaS?
Is cloud-native the same as SaaS?

No, cloud-native refers to the method of building apps specifically for cloud environments. SaaS (Software as a Service) is a delivery model where software is hosted in the cloud and accessed via the internet.

Are cloud-native applications suitable for small businesses?
Are cloud-native applications suitable for small businesses?

Absolutely! Cloud-native apps can help small businesses and startups scale rapidly, innovate quickly, and streamline operations, all while keeping costs under control.

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