What Is Cloud Native?

3min. read

The cloud computing revolution has enabled enterprises to embark on a new kind of digital transformation, and it’s having a tremendous impact on the way that modern applications are built and delivered.  The benefits of cloud native architecture are indisputable, with analyst firm IDC predicting that more than 90% of apps will be cloud native by 2025. Just as cloud computing has become one of the most common assets of the modern digital landscape, however, “cloud native” has become one of our most overused descriptors. So, what does the term really mean? 

Defining ‘Cloud Native’

“Cloud native” describes an approach to designing, implementing, deploying and operating applications while taking full advantage of the products and services offered by cloud service providers (CSPs).

For example, suppose a bank needs to create a new application. Before the rise of cloud computing, the bank would hire developers to build the app, purchase the physical infrastructure needed to run the application on-premises (i.e., on-site at corporate headquarters), and maintain that infrastructure throughout the application’s lifetime. To access the app, users would connect to the bank’s servers, and because those servers hosted each individual service provided by the app (looking up account numbers, transferring funds, etc.), updating and maintaining any one service would require shutting down the whole system.

When developers first began hosting apps in the cloud, they were merely “lifting and shifting” those apps out of the on-premises environment while preserving the same overall architecture (and limitations). Instead of buying and managing servers to host their apps, they were renting compute resources from a CSP. However, a plethora of new services (e.g., platform as a service, containers as a service, serverless infrastructure) has opened up new opportunities to build, deploy and manage applications more quickly and efficiently than ever.

Now, using a cloud native approach means making applications that are:

  • Microservices-oriented: Cloud native applications are composed of many individual services, called microservices. This makes them more agile and easier to maintain.
  • Containerized: Containers allow microservices to be packaged in self-contained environments so that they perform the same under any circumstances. This allows a service to be easily reproduced, analyzed and isolated as needed, in any environment.
  • Dynamically orchestrated: With each microservice deployed in containers, these containers work together as a system, or “stack,” to form the complete application. A dynamic orchestration system automatically monitors each container, starting them up when users need them and shutting them down afterward, resulting in greater scalability and efficiency.

Benefits of Cloud Native Architecture

A system in which applications comprise groups of microservices is known as a cloud native architecture. This offers numerous advantages over traditional “monolithic” application architectures. 

Containerization means individual services can be taken down without affecting the rest of the application. Dynamic orchestration enables easy, automated scalability by initiating or terminating duplicate instances of application services to match user needs. Loosely coupled microservices make all of this possible, breaking down complex, monolithic applications into smaller, simpler pieces. 

Of course, this is just a broad overview of cloud native architecture, which can come in many varieties. To learn more about these, read The Continuum of Cloud-Native Topologies.

Cloud Native Security Challenges

Every strategy has its challenges. Cloud native architecture offers incredible flexibility, but also opens the door to cloud security threats that traditional security teams are often ill-equipped to handle. Containerized microservices and serverless functions have radically different security needs, and until recently, the accelerated, developer-driven, API-centric and infrastructure-agnostic patterns of cloud native applications and workloads required security professionals to juggle multiple tools and vendors to secure different segments of the software stack. 

Fortunately, this is changing with the advent of the cloud native security platform (CNSP), which takes a comprehensive and purpose-built approach by sharing context about infrastructure, users, application workloads and more across the entire software stack. A CNSP provides coverage for the full stack of cloud native technologies and cloud providers. Plus, it can be seamlessly embedded in every step of the development lifecycle. 

Click here to learn more about CNSPs.