Most organizations' digital transformation efforts aim to accelerate innovation. That of their key objectives is to develop and deploy new services and products faster than the competition. As more than a few enterprises have discovered, the need for speed often collides with traditional application development habits that exist in their business culture.
Enter cloud native, widely regarded as the next big thing in development and innovation. Cloud native is altering the way IT leaders think about developing and deploying applications because the underlying IT infrastructure is abstracted, so the app can run on servers, virtual machines and public or private cloud. Reports show this new approach is more tightly aligning development efforts with business goals.
"Cloud-native technologies empower companies to build and run highly scalable applications in modern, dynamic environments anywhere: public, private and hybrid clouds," wrote Dave Bartoletti, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, in a Forrester Insights blog last fall.
Revolutionizing Application Development
Simply put, cloud native is an approach to building essential applications that totally exploits the cloud computing models so familiar to organizations today.
"A cloud native app is architected specifically to run in the elastic and distributed nature required by modern cloud computing platforms," Mike Kavis, a managing director with consulting firm Deloitte, told Infoworld last June.
"These apps are loosely coupled, meaning the code is not hard wired to any of the infrastructure components, so that the app can scale up and down on demand and embrace the concepts of immutable infrastructure."
Various technologies sitting atop cloud native platforms are used to create applications built with services packaged within containers. These containers allow developers to bundle software, along with everything needed to run it, into a single executable package. Containers require fewer system resources than traditional development environments because they don't include operating system images, explained Mark Lavi, DevOps solutions architect at Nutanix.
"Developers generally just want to code, build, deploy and test on their laptop rather than deal with infrastructure and operations teams," said Lavi. "Utilizing widely deployed cloud native applications such as distributed databases, message queues, storage, etc. allows standardization on proven technologies."
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He said developers can also tap into community expertise, find efficiencies and focus on the value differentiated part of their work.
"Combining code builds and cloud native services with container delivery confers a multiplying effect," Lavi said. "It means developers can code more efficiently. They can build artifact reuse and rapid delivery. This keeps developers coding on their laptop without worrying about infrastructure operations."
Containers are then deployed as microservices. Software built as microservices translates into modular applications that accelerate application design, development and lifecycle management, explained Al Gillen, group vice president of software development and open source at IDC, in Digitalist Magazine.
Volkswagen Puts the Pedal to the Metal
Volkswagen Group, the world's second largest automaker, put cloud native into practice. Innovating and speeding the delivery of customer-facing applications became a priority as other automakers were undertaking their own digital transformation efforts. Yet development in the company's enormous, heterogeneous environment was labor intensive, fraught with manual operations, and very slow.
"It became imperative we had to deliver a next-generation cloud platform to speed up delivery of our IT infrastructure," said Mario Müller, corporate director of IT operational services and infrastructure technologies, in a case study written by Mirantis, an open source company.
To accelerate development, IT leadership determined Volkswagen needed a flexible, cloud native platform on top of which it would build solutions to automate and unify workflows. At the same time, this platform had to still connect to legacy systems that housed mission-critical data.
Volkswagen opted for an open source, private cloud platform, in part to avoid infrastructure vendor lock-in. This cloud native platform was designed to give ubiquitous data access to Volkswagen's 300,000+ employees, including its development teams, as well as to suppliers, partners and customers.
Cloud native delivered in a big way for Volkswagen, cutting the time to provision various development resources from months to minutes, as Hischam Abul Ola, program architect at Volkswagen Group, reported in the case study. Development teams leveraged data snatched from aging legacy systems to quickly create and launch a new customer car configurator. Meanwhile, all development and operations teams became a far more cohesive unit dedicated to speeding application development and overall innovation.
Matching Development to Business Goals
For decades, organizations have struggled to more tightly couple all application development efforts with business goals. That's perhaps the single most valuable feature of cloud native.
Lavi said public and private clouds have commoditized infrastructure for on-demand provisioning, bringing automation to infrastructure lifecycle operations.
"This has led to the rise of Platform as a Service (PaaS) experiences," he said "It's driven by cloud native technologies, where developers consume on-demand facilities on dynamic infrastructure."
He said building and deploying containers normalizes application deployment and operations. Engineers can focus on simple deployment, operations and testing scenarios.
"Production deployments and operations are merely another variation on the same scenario," Lavi said. "The traditional silos between development, staging and production environments and teams no longer need apply."
By enabling automation and developer collaboration throughout the development process, highly prized staff is freed from much of the drudgery of old-school development and can focus on more strategic tasks. These include building more intuitive customer facing applications, hopefully ahead of the competition, which in turn drives more revenue and profit.
Bill Laberis is a veteran IT writer and for 10 years was editor in chief of Computerworld.
Feature photo by Pixabay from Pexels.
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