What is Cloud Native?

Learn what a cloud-native architecture is and how it can help you develop, deploy and orchestrate software more quickly and with greater scalability.
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Imagine building a house with bricks that assemble themselves, rooms that resize according to your needs, and appliances that adapt to your lifestyle seamlessly. This is the essence of cloud-native computing—a paradigm shift in software development and deployment.

In this article, we’ll cut through the jargon and explore the key architectural components that power cloud-native applications. Whether you’re a tech enthusiast or a business leader, understanding these concepts is essential in today’s digital landscape.

Let’s roll up our sleeves and delve into the heart of cloud-native architecture.

Defining cloud native

To kick things off, let’s get down to the basics. What exactly is cloud-native computing?

Well, think of it as the next evolution in how we build and run applications. Cloud native is all about creating and deploying apps that are born in the cloud and designed to make the most of it. It’s like crafting a perfectly tailored suit—you’re customizing your software to fit the cloud, making it more efficient and agile.

Characteristics of cloud-native applications

Cloud-native applications aren’t your run-of-the-mill software. They have distinct characteristics that set them apart in the tech world:

  • Microservices Magic: These apps break down into tiny, independent building blocks called microservices. Imagine your software as LEGO bricks, each serving a specific function. This modularity makes them easier to develop, maintain, and scale. You can have multiple teams working in parallel, each one developing one or more of these microservices. That would in turn speed up development time drastically, as long as you keep them properly synched and organized.
  • Containerization: Ever heard of containers? They’re like magic boxes that hold everything your app needs to run consistently. Containers ensure your app behaves the same way, whether it’s on your laptop, in a data center, or floating in the cloud.
  • Orchestration Orchestra: Keeping track of all those microservices and containers is no small feat.  That’s where orchestration tools like Kubernetes come in. They’re the conductors of your cloud-native symphony, making sure everything runs smoothly.
  • CI/CD: Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines automate the process of taking code from development to production. This means faster, error-free updates and happier users.

Now that we’ve got the basics down, let’s dive deeper into the core architecture behind cloud-native computing, where the real magic happens.

Stay with us as we unravel the mysteries of microservices, containers, orchestration, and CI/CD, and discover how they make cloud-native applications truly shine!

The main architecture behind cloud native

We’re ready, it’s time to explore the core architectural components that make cloud native “tick”.

These components are like the building blocks of a digital skyscraper, each playing a crucial role in shaping the future of software development and deployment.

Microservices: Building with LEGO bricks

Imagine constructing a complex structure not with massive, monolithic blocks, but with small, interlocking LEGO bricks. This is the essence of microservices architecture. Instead of building a single, giant application, you break it down into tiny, independent services, each responsible for a specific function.

Why it matters:

  • Scalability: You can scale individual microservices independently, making it easier to handle increased traffic or workload in specific areas. And the “scaling” can be either horizontal or vertical, in both situations this is much easier to “micro-scale” (as in: scaling only what you need to scale) than with a monolithic architecture.
  • Flexibility: Updating or replacing one microservice doesn’t require overhauling the entire application. While they’re all interconnected, there are ways to do this that prevent failure when one or more microservices are affected or need maintenance.
  • Resilience: If one microservice fails, it doesn’t bring down the entire application (highly related to that previous point, patterns such as circuit breaker are great for this).

But then again, microservices aren’t the silver bullet that can solve any cloud-native problem. In fact, if you abuse this pattern, the orchestration side can become a real nightmare. Which is why there are other alternatives that work just as good.

Containers: The magic boxes

Containers are like digital magic boxes that encapsulate an application and everything it needs to run smoothly. Think of them as shipping containers for software—no matter where you deploy them, they ensure your app runs consistently. This standardization simplifies development and deployment across different environments, from your laptop to cloud servers.

Why it matters:

  • Consistency: Containers guarantee that your app behaves the same way in development, testing, and production, regardless of each environment’s configuration.
  • Resource Efficiency: They’re lightweight and share the same OS kernel, reducing overhead and making efficient use of resources.
  • Portability: You can run containers on various platforms and cloud providers without modification.

Orchestration: The conductor of the symphony

Managing a fleet of microservices and containers can be like conducting a complex symphony. This is where orchestration tools like Kubernetes step in. They automate the deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications. They orchestrate these containers like a maestro directs musicians, ensuring they play in harmony.

Why it matters:

  • Efficiency: Orchestration minimizes manual intervention, reducing human error and operational overhead.
  • Scaling: Kubernetes can scale applications based on demand, ensuring optimal resource utilization.
  • High Availability: It can automatically recover from failures, ensuring your application stays available.

Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD)

The automation duo CI/CD pipelines are the automation backbone of cloud-native development. They enable developers to automatically integrate new code changes into the main application, run tests, and deploy them to production. This automation reduces the time and effort required to roll out updates while ensuring reliability.

Why it matters:

  • Speed: CI/CD pipelines accelerate development and deployment cycles, getting features and fixes to users faster.
  • Quality: Automated testing catches bugs early in the development process, leading to more reliable software.
  • Consistency: CI/CD ensures a consistent and repeatable deployment process.

Understanding these core architectural components is essential for anyone looking to harness the power of cloud-native computing. They form the backbone of modern application development, offering the flexibility, scalability, and efficiency needed to thrive in today’s digital landscape.

Real-world example of cloud-native software

While the concept of “cloud native” might sound daunting after reading about microservices, containers and whatnot, the reality is that most software can benefit from being cloud native because it helps with some pretty basic needs (basic in the sense the most software these days has these needs):

  • Scalability: the ability to quickly and dynamically scale up and down based on the traffic received. This way companies save a lot of money by only using the infrastructure that they really need.
  • High availability: this translates into having a service that is available most of the time while distributed, even when parts of the cluster become unavailable for different reasons. A highly available architecture will replace or restart the sections that become unavailable after a short time (usually less than a minute).
  • Fault tolerance: you can think of fault tolerance as “high availability on steroids.” We’re talking about a system that aims to always be available, no matter what component fails. This is usually achieved through hardware redundancy, having multiple copies of the same servers standing by in case something goes wrong. Clearly this approach is a lot more effective than high availability, but the cost is quite higher as well.

A clear example of this is Zeebe, Camunda’s cloud-native workflow and decision engine. Given the huge amount of traffic that this service receives, it had to be architected in a way that could benefit from horizontal scaling (meaning adding more servers easily) and that was fault tolerant (after all, it’s a core service from Camunda’s offering).

To achieve this, Camunda decided on a cloud-native approach, creating a distributed, microservice-based architecture. Their fault tolerance is achieved by having data replication configured in the cluster, where each node stores its data on its own filesystem.

This in turn ensures that if a node goes down, another one takes its place without any data loss (given the replication factor) to the user or any current process.

Imagine, if you could, how would you design such a system if you had no access to a cloud-native architecture, and instead, you’d be doing everything inside the same monolith. The costs of scaling alone would be astronomical, let alone having implemented something similar to data replication in a sustainable manner.

In closing, cloud-native architecture isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a game-changer. It empowers organizations to develop, deploy, and scale applications with unprecedented efficiency and agility.

Embracing these cloud-native principles is not just a technological choice but a strategic one—a move toward staying competitive and future-proofing your operations in an ever-evolving digital landscape. So, whether you’re a tech enthusiast or a business leader, it’s time to embark on your cloud-native journey and shape the future of your organization.

Learn more about Camunda

Interested in learning about how the cloud-native architecture in Zeebe helps Camunda deliver process orchestration at incredible scale? Find out more at the link below.

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