An introduction to cloud-native application management

Physical software is so last century.

Today’s developers are creating apps that are enhanced by the possibilities of a cloud computing environment. That means they’re highly customizable, responsive, and scalable to a degree that was only imagined in the past.

Whether you’re a project manager overseeing the migration to a completely cloud-based, virtual office environment or an SMB owner considering software-as-a-service (SaaS) for the first time, there’s a lot to learn about the benefits, risks, and trends affecting companies and how they do business as we venture further into the 21st century.

What are “Cloud-Native” Apps?
Even if you’re familiar with cloud-based apps and storage, you may be confused about what “cloud-native” means. The two concepts might seem the same on the surface, but there are definite distinctions, most related to how the apps are developed, deployed, and updated rather than their purpose.

But to understand more clearly what a cloud-native app is, we should first discuss the cloud computing environment where it resides.

Cloud Hosting Creates the Environment
The building block of the cloud computing environment has been the transition of hosting to a cloud model. There are differences but the important one is scalability. With traditional shared or dedicated hosting, a client is allocated a finite amount of resources. When the server reaches its limits, performance is negatively affected.

Cloud hosting, though based in the same servers and data centers, links together dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of servers into a single virtual cloud from which resources are made available on-demand and as-needed. It’s a simple matter for a client to increase or decrease space to meet demand.

Often discussed together, virtual private servers (VPS) and cloud hosting are not the same. The primary difference is that nearly all Canadian VPS hosts still incur the physical limitations of the single server on which they’re housed, even though it is partitioned with its own OS. Popular cloud hosting providers like AWS or Microsoft Azure can draw upon the cumulative resources of multiple, distributed data centers if needed, in order to meet increased demand of a client.

It might be easier to think of the “cloud” created by cloud hosting as similar to a utility like electricity. This is the genesis of the concept of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), with the infrastructure being the easy availability of virtual space with which to host a website or create and deploy cloud-native apps.

Cloud-native apps are designed to exist and perform exclusively within the expansive framework of a virtual computing environment. Components of the software that rely on repetitive processes and predictable outcomes can be placed in virtual modules or containers and deployed across the entire enterprise when and where they’re needed. They follow a 12-factor methodology that’s the foundation of cloud-native app development.

The Benefits of Using Cloud-Native Business Apps
Migrating to a platform-as-a-service (PaaS), infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), and/or subscribing to SaaS business management tools is about more than just creating a smart business environment. Cloud-based environments are expansive and virtually unlimited in scope and accessibility.

Why should the apps and software that run your core business processes be confined to the physical realm with all of its limitations and expense?

Cloud-native apps are designed to scale horizontally rather than vertically, which allows microservice modules to refine themselves individually without being dependent on, or cognitive of, other process.

This allows concurrent automation, scaling, and app management of individual elements without the need to replace entire sections of a program or start from scratch with a whole new app. It also prevents resource depletion that can lead to sluggish performance and slow website load times.

This means fewer business disruptions, less overhead, and more time to focus on business building and customer relations. Because many business infrastructures are volatile by nature, apps that are self-healing and adaptable can better withstand sudden process disposal.

Transitioning to cloud-native apps allows you to better plan ahead for unexpected disruptions or system failures. The core functions are isolated in a virtual arena without borders. Recovery is self-facilitated within the app using current tools like Kubernetes.

Are There Risks Involved with Cloud Computing?
Whenever you venture into a digital or virtual environment, you’re going to incur risk and meet challenges to overcome.

Security risks come and go. They can evolve, but they will always be with us in some form. Leaks and breaches can ruin a company’s reputation and diminish trust among vendors, associates, and the public.

Strong security keeps you in compliance with industry and legal standards while mitigating the risks incumbent in loss of some visibility and control over the technology that powers your business.

In order to ensure that you maintain high security without sacrificing function, it’s essential for networking and security professionals to collaborate closely. Small businesses that don’t have the financial and human resources available in-house to ensure proper implementation can outsource consulting, installation, and oversight.

The Bottom Line
Maintaining or migrating legacy software is a tedious and time-consuming challenge. Turning to cloud-native app development is the next logical step in the evolution of business in a globally competitive atmosphere.

It facilitates app portability and promotes a stateless computing environment that allows deployment across a range of platforms and infrastructures. Anticipating the rapid advance of innovation and understanding how cloud-based and cloud-native intersect will put you far ahead of the curve.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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