What Is Cloud-Native Architecture? Posted in Strategy Kristopher Sandoval January 4, 2023 One of the most widespread changes in the IT space in the last two decades has been adopting and migrating to the cloud. Adopting the cloud as the location de jure of modern computing has required a reconsideration of traditional services architectures, how they relate to business functions, and ultimately, what it means to build for the cloud as opposed to simply migrating to it. Cloud-native is a term that has risen from this trend and represents a common path forward for many organizations. In fact, Gartner estimates that by 2025, 95% of new digital workloads will be deployed on cloud-native platforms. Below we’ll look at cloud-native architecture and dig into the various concepts, tools, benefits, and drawbacks of such a system. What is Cloud-Native? The idea of cloud-native is simple — build systems that natively leverage the distributed computational power of the cloud. In essence, cloud-native systems differ from the technological movements of yesteryear in which existing functions and technology stacks were migrated piecemeal to the cloud. Instead, this trend focuses on building first in and around the cloud. A cloud-native approach requires native integration that allows for high scalability and extensibility, but it also requires elasticity, fault tolerance, flexibility, resilience, and dynamic functionality. A cloud-native system should be elastic to shrink to the minimal state necessary for ongoing functionality yet scalable to serve massive spikes in service requests. On the ground, cloud-native can take many forms. More often than not, cloud-native brings implementations utilizing containerization, meshes, microservices, loosely coupled APIs, and highly orchestrated automation. The Cloud Native Computing Foundation defines “cloud native” in their documentation as such: “Cloud native technologies empower organizations to build and run scalable applications in modern, dynamic environments such as public, private, and hybrid clouds. Containers, service meshes, microservices, immutable infrastructure, and declarative APIs exemplify this approach. These techniques enable loosely coupled systems that are resilient, manageable, and observable. Combined with robust automation, they allow engineers to make high-impact changes frequently and predictably with minimal toil.” Defining Cloud-Native Concepts Before diving into specific examples of cloud native, it helps to define some common terms used to discuss the topic. Containerization: The concept and practice of packaging together everything needed to accomplish a function within a single package called a container. This container should allow a user to execute the function and purpose of the containerized product regardless of the environment or vendor. Service Mesh: An infrastructure layer that allows for the communication between services (service-to-service) using a proxy. A service mesh facilitates communication and improves observability and security. Microservices: A collection of services that are loosely coupled and independently deployable. Each microservice is essentially its own service, allowing for rapid and extensible deployment in various environments. Orchestration: The automation and management of containers, microservices, and systems in concert with one another. Orchestration includes spinning up and down containerized systems, movement between public, private, and hybrid clouds, and other functionalities. Common Cloud-Native Tooling Containerization Docker: A containerization platform that has become nearly ubiquitous in the corporate landscape. Docker allows the bundling of software, dependencies, systems, and operating components into a single entity through its Docker Engine. These containers contain everything necessary to run the system, including software, libraries, configuration data, documentation, and more on top of a common operating system kernel, allowing for a virtualization approach that requires a smaller overhead than virtual machines. Cloud Foundry: An open-source cloud application platform designed to get developers from idea to execution quickly and with minimal obstruction. Cloud Foundry bundles a variety of languages and frameworks to provide a short learning curve for most developers. Containerd: An open-source solution that connects containers with container engines. Containerd offers a daemon for managing engine-to-container communication and a container-specific solution. Hyper-V Containers: The Microsoft Windows answer to containerization, Hyper-V containers are best used in corporate infrastructure that leverages Microsoft software. It should be noted that Hyper-V is NOT open source, and as such, can have limited usability in certain environments. Virtual Box: Virtual Box is a virtualization solution used extensively by IT to create virtual operating systems. It should be noted that Virtual Box instances are often discussed in the context of containerization in that IT services will often deploy self-contained operating environments. But since Virtual Box instances contain the entirety of the operating environment, they are more versatile yet sacrifice some of the portability and efficiency gains of containers in their purer form. Orchestration Kubernetes: Kubernetes is an orchestration tool initially developed by Google but has since moved under the Cloud Native Computing Foundation’s umbrella. Kubernetes manages bundles of containerized applications and offers robust systems to manage resources, workload, network balancing, spin-up/spin-down, and more. Docker Swarm mode: Docker Swarm mode is part of the Docker offering and, as such, is not necessarily a separate “tool” as much as it is a configuration of a group of Docker instances. With Docker Swarm mode, many orchestration management features are unlocked, allowing for high-level and container-by-container automation, manipulation, and control. CloudHealth: CloudHealth is an orchestration offering from VMware designed to be highly user-friendly. VMware has designed this tool around a GUI and a set of prebuilt workflows to make it easy to integrate into existing architectures. Microsoft Azure Automation: The Azure Automation solution from Microsoft is a cloud management and orchestration offering designed on top of the Azure framework. Despite this Azure backing, the service is designed to work with different clouds. Of course, it’s still heavily Microsoft-specific compared to other agnostic solutions. Benefits of Cloud Native Cloud-native offers many benefits, making it a very attractive choice for modern architects. Firstly, and arguably most importantly, the movement to cloud-native abstracts the functions from the resources they operate upon. It unlocks the ability to create a system that responds dynamically to demands rather than operates as a rigid structure that must be built out before it can handle more. Another huge benefit of this approach is the portability of the solution and the relative agnosticism of the solution. When you abstract functions from underlying resources and adopt containers with the functional requirements they need, you can port those functions to a wide variety of operating environments with different vendors, languages, and setups with very minimal overhead. This makes your systems much more portable and reduces the dependency on external vendors. This also promotes loose coupling both internally and externally, allowing systems to function independently from one another and yet in concert towards a larger goal. Finally, cloud-native offers an incredible amount of variability in terms of both the weight of the systems and the infrastructure that serves it. In a proper cloud-native environment, scalability should carry with it associated costs for the function in consideration. In other words, you can build the parts you need today and dynamically scale with more microservices as future demands require. This also typically results in lighter codebases and more lightweight installations for each function, even if they may be complex on the whole. Drawbacks of Cloud-Native As with anything, cloud-native is not the perfect panacea for all situations and carries some drawbacks. First and foremost, adopting the cloud can be extremely expensive, especially for traditional monoliths. A move to cloud-native requires reworking some fundamental expectations, which can be a challenging shift for a conventional corporation. Cloud-native also brings new complexities in terms of networking and service-to-service communication. Monoliths can be easier to orchestrate, given that everything operates under a single domain and utilizes a single flow. Although monoliths are harder to evolve, pre-existing functions in complex systems can be easier to manage off-cloud. Furthermore, new tooling is required to move fully into the cloud-native territory. Whereas a monolithic development environment might only have a handful of tools, it’s not uncommon for cloud-native systems to leverage many more vendor solutions and open-source packages. The navigation of these offerings and the interworking complexity of the systems can add overhead in organizational complexity that some might find challenging. Conclusion Ultimately, the choice of whether or not to adopt cloud-native architecture is going to be driven by the needs of the business. Cloud-native is not the perfect solution to every problem, but it is becoming a ubiquitous option in the modern web development space. What do you think of cloud-native? Let us know in the comments below!