Cloud Native Applications: Key Characteristics, Applications

Increasing numbers of people, businesses, and organizations are turning to the cloud for their IT needs. Additionally, the demand for applications continues to grow as everyone’s reliance on digital resources increases. Not only that, but consumers also want their existing applications to improve and give them a better user experience.

Now, imagine fusing these two cloud concepts: computing and applications, together. You get cloud native applications as a result, and this is a very productive partnership.

How much do you know about cloud native applications? If you’re not familiar with the concept, then read on. This article explores the game-changing potential of these applications, what they are, their defining characteristics, their ups and downs, and how to start working with them.

What Are Cloud Native Applications?

When you hear the word “native,” you will most likely think “associated with or indigenous to a specific area,” as in “this plant is native to the Sahara,” or “I am a native Bostonian.” And yes, you’d be right — that’s how people usually use the term.

However, in the context of cloud native applications, the word “native” describes less of where the application comes from and more about what components are used to build and deploy it. The “cloud native” approach of software application development takes advantage of the cloud computing delivery model. So, it is less of a “where” the application exists and more of “how” it was created.

Thus, a native cloud application is an application that’s developed with cloud-based technologies and fully hosted and managed in the cloud. The application runs in the cloud from end to end; it has been written, tested, and deployed in the cloud, using cloud-based technologies and services.

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Bear in mind, there is a profound difference between a cloud-based and a cloud-native application. A cloud-based application can be an older software program that’s adapted to run in the cloud. Cloud native applications are designed, run, and maintained in a cloud environment enabling you to build and run your scalable app in a public, private, or hybrid cloud. 

Defining Characteristics of a Cloud Native Application

There are four main characteristics of these applications:

  • First, they emphasize high flexibility and agility, which means increased performance, better security, and an improved customer experience.
  • You can apply changes, customize the application, and run new features, all at faster speeds.
  • They don’t rely on a single monolithic software codebase; rather, they are constructed in a modular way, taking advantage of cloud computing frameworks and multiple infrastructures.
  • Finally, they consist of reusable, discrete components called microservices, designed to integrate into all types of cloud environments.

10 Key Attributes of Cloud Native Applications

The following are the ten main attributes common to all of these applications.

  1. The applications are designed as loosely coupled microservices. Services belonging to the same application find each other via the application runtime but existing independently from the other services. When you correctly integrate the elastic infrastructure and application architectures, they are scaled out with efficiency and high performance.
  2. These applications are deployed on a self-service, virtual, shared, and elastic infrastructure. As a result, the applications can align with the underlying infrastructure, adjusting themselves to the varying load, dynamically shrinking and growing as needed.
  3. They are isolated from the server and operating system dependencies. In other words, they don’t have an affinity for a particular machine or operating system. These applications function at a higher abstraction level. However, if a microservice needs specific capabilities like graphics processing units (GPUs) or solid-state drives (SSDs), a subset of machines can only provide.
  4. Each application service goes through an independent life cycle managed through an Agile DevOps process. Developers can have several continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipelines working in tandem, deploying and managing cloud native applications.
  5. They are packaged as lightweight containers, a collection of autonomous, independent services. Containers, unlike virtual machines, can quickly scale-in and scale-out. Scaling shifts to containers optimizes infrastructure utilization.
  6. Each application service is developed using best-of-breed languages and frameworks that are best suited for the functionality. These applications are polyglot, using different languages, runtimes, and frameworks. For instance, you could build a real-time streaming service based on WebSockets, developed with Node.js, and choose Python to expose the application programming interface (API). This approach to developing microservices lets you choose the perfect language and framework for the specific task.
  7. Centered around APIs for interaction and collaboration: Cloud-native services utilize lightweight APIs based on protocols like NATS, representational state transfer (REST), or Google’s own open-source remote procedure call (gRPC). NATS contains publish-subscribe features that facilitate asynchronous communication within the application. Developers and programmers use REST to expose APIs over hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP). Users rely on gRPC for performance, and typically used to let services communicate with each other.
  8. The applications are architected with a clean distinction between stateless and stateful services since the two services exist independently. Persistent and durable services follow a different pattern that ensures higher availability and resiliency.
  9. They can be automated to a greater extent, meshing well with the infrastructure as code concept. In fact, large and complex applications require a certain level of automation.
  10. Finally, applications that are native to the cloud line up with governance models defined through a fixed set of allocation policies. They conform to policies like storage and central processing unit (CPU) quotas and network policies responsible for allocating resources to the services.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Cloud Native Applications

Like everything else related to IT, these applications have their upsides and downsides. Here’s a look at the good and the bad features.

Advantages

  • They are easier to manage since iterative improvements happen with DevOps and Agile processes.
  • Since the applications consist of individual microservices, they can be automatically improved incrementally, thereby smoothly and adding new or improved features.
  • Improvements are made non-intrusively, so end-users experience no service disruption or downtime.
  • The elastic infrastructure makes scaling easy.
  • The process closely conforms to the speed and rate of innovations required in today’s business IT environment.

Disadvantages

  • Although application microservices make improvements easier, there are more elements to manage. There’s no longer a single large program but a series of small, discrete services.
  • Cloud native applications need extra tool sets to replace conventional monitoring structures and DevOps pipelines to control microservice architecture.
  • These applications facilitate rapid development and deployment, but not every organization can comfortably adopt that faster pace.

Cloud Native Applications vs. Traditional Enterprise Applications

So how do applications native to the cloud differ from traditional applications? The following chart provides a head-to-head comparison.

Cloud Native Applications

Traditional Enterprise Applications

They are developed in a framework that maximizes flexibility and saves time.

They take a lot of time to develop and are released as one large product.

Developers use the platforms to abstract away dependency on operating systems.

Traditional applications let developers build close dependencies between the application and the underlying operating system, storage, hardware, and backing services. Unfortunately, these dependencies make scaling and migrating the traditional application across a new infrastructure risky and complicated.

They have a faster update release pace, meaning a quicker response time to users who need updates or are reporting bugs.

It takes longer to search for the problem in the large amounts of code used in big, traditional applications.

They are cost-effective, where developers pay for only what they use.

Users must set up data storage and services in advance, with fewer opportunities to scale down to a more economical level.

They are predictable, relying on an automated, container-driven infrastructure to control the way software is written.

Each application is developed differently, so it’s hard to realize all the advantages of running on a cloud-native platform.

They facilitate continuous delivery (CD), with updates released the moment they are ready.

These applications rely on the waterfall development model, releasing software in stages that could mean weeks or months.

They have automated scaling, consistently using the same rules across deployments of all sizes.

These applications depend on manual scaling, but human limitations make scaling a slow and potentially error-ridden endeavor.

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Cloud Native Applications and Tools

Developers working with these applications have a great toolbox at their disposal. Here are a few of the better applications and tools available.

  • Draft.

This developer application has two parts: Draft Create, which spins up artifacts needed to run Kubernetes applications, and Draft Up, which builds container images and deploys them to a Kubernetes cluster.

  • Telepresence.

Telepresence boosts application development by enabling developers to create services locally, connect the services to remote clusters, and automatically trigger an update when local changes occur.

  • JenkinsX.

This tool helps developers construct CI/CD pipelines without knowing Kubernetes or staying current with its growing list of functionalities.

  • Gitlab.

This extremely popular CI/CD platform integrates with the larger Gitlab tool suite.

  • Weavenet.

This virtual two-layer network application connects multiple containers either residing on the same host or across multiple hosts.

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The course uses projects to cover all relevant domains, including application lifecycle management, installation, configuration and validation, networking, scheduling, security, cluster maintenance, core concepts, storage, and troubleshooting. Once you finish the course, you’re ready for the exam.

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