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Oct 19, 2020

What Is Cloud Native? Exploring the Definition and Benefits


Updated: December 3, 2021


In the past few years, the term cloud-native has been thrown around a lot. But the truth is, if you ask 10 engineers what it means, you get 10 different answers. The most common mistake people make is thinking that their application is cloud-native simply because it runs in the cloud. That’s not the case.

A truly cloud-native application takes advantage of all the modern techniques such as PaaS, multi-cloud, microservices, containers, or DevOps. 

Other common misconceptions are thinking that cloud-native is only about running applications in containers, running a container orchestrator, or about infrastructure as a code.

That’s why we decided to shed some light on this subject. In this article, you’ll find out:

  • what is cloud-native;
  • how it differs from on-premise;
  • what are its advantages and challenges;
  • how you can create a cloud-native application. 
what-is-cloud-nativeWhat Is Cloud-Native?

What Is Cloud Native?

Simply put, cloud-native is a software development approach that uses cloud computing to build and run scalable applications. Some of the core elements of this architectural style are containers, microservices, serverless functions, immutable infrastructures, agile methodology, Continuous Development / Continuous Integration, and DevOps.

Before we dive in deeper, let’s define what cloud computing is. Cloud computing refers to the delivery of computing services over the internet, on a pay-as-you-go basis. This means that, rather than owning their own legacy infrastructure, companies can rent access to storage or processing power.

Coming back again, it’s important to note that cloud-native refers to how applications are created and deployed, not where. Cloud-native applications live in the public cloud, as opposed to on-premises data centers.

This new approach to software development, combined with automation, enables engineers to make frequent high-impact changes with minimal effort

Usually, cloud-native applications are built as microservices running in Docker containers and orchestrated in Kubernetes. The main advantage of this technique is the ability to package software into a single executable package (the container). You can learn more about this approach in our guide to creating a mail server environment with Kubernetes.

The Difference Between Cloud-native and On-premise Infrastructures

Cloud-native applications and traditional enterprise applications require different architectural designs. Thus, we observe differences at the following levels:

  1. Scalability: cloud-native applications can automatically adapt to spikes and increase and decrease their resource usage as much as needed. On-premise applications can’t scale dynamically, they can only use the resources they have available.
  2. Updates: cloud-native applications are always up to date (and updates are deployed with no downtime), while for on-premise apps, updates are delivered by the vendor on a subscription basis and require (sometimes extensive!) downtime to be installed. 
  3. Statelessness: cloud-native applications are not tied to an infrastructure — they store their state in a database or other external entities. On the other hand, on-premise apps store the app’s state on the infrastructure the code runs on, leading to crashes when adding resources.
  4. Downtime: if a cloud provider suffers an outage, another region can pick up the load, so cloud-native applications rarely have downtimes (provided the setup is configured correctly). In contrast, if a server goes down in a data center, the whole on-premise app will be taken down. 
  5. Multi-tenancy: cloud-native applications can share their resources with other apps in a virtualized space, while most on-premise applications require non virtualized spaces. Moreover, they require networks, security, permissions, and storage to be hard-coded, leading to crashes when they’re moved or changed.
  6. Automation: the core difference between on-premise applications and cloud-native ones is that the cloud is automated, along with app management. Virtually anything can be automated. On the other hand, on-premise apps need manual management. 

4 Reasons Why You Should Care about Cloud-native Applications

Cloud-native apps provide organizations with greater agility, resilience, and portability across cloud environments. Here are 4 reasons why cloud-native apps matter:

  1. Having a cloud-based infrastructure represents a competitive advantage: when you build on a cloud-based infrastructure, you switch your business goals from IT cost savings to building a growth engine. As the software market evolves, only businesses that can quickly develop and deliver applications based on customer demand will succeed.
  2. You’re building for resilience: when the legacy infrastructure breaks, it takes the whole app down with it. Cloud-native apps are created with resilience in mind - systems are designed to withstand hiccups anywhere in the environment.
  3. Unmatched flexibility: public cloud providers offer high-quality services at reasonable costs. But most businesses can’t rely on only one infrastructure. Cloud-native apps are not vendor-locked, meaning they can run on any cloud (public or private) without modification.
  4. Aligning business and operations: by automating IT operations, you can eliminate failure caused by human error. Additionally, automated live patching and upgrades also eliminate downtime and the need for ops experts.

Cloud-native Computing Challenges

Now, all this sounds great, but you should also know that there are challenges tied to cloud-native applications. First, one of the most common mistakes businesses make is thinking that they can simply move their current infrastructure to the cloud

There’s a reason why they’re called cloud-native apps — the infrastructure is designed specifically for the cloud, taking into account all the aspects mentioned above. 

Then, your development methodology needs to change as well. The waterfall model is not suitable for cloud-native apps, and adopting the agile methodology is not always enough — you should also consider minimum viable product development, multivariate testing, rapid iteration, or a DevOps model.

What Does It Take to Design a Cloud-native Application?

The commonly accepted methodology for developing cloud-based apps is the Twelve-Factor Application. This approach describes a set of principles and best-practices developers can follow to build applications optimized for modern cloud environments. 

Even though this methodology can be applied to any web-based application, many practitioners consider it a solid foundation for building cloud-native apps specifically. That’s because the systems built following these principles can be deployed, scaled, and changed rapidly to react to market changes. 

The Twelve-Factor Methodology for Developing Cloud-based Apps

  1. Codebase
  2. Dependencies
  3. Configurations
  4. Backing services
  5. Build, release, run
  6. Processes
  7. Port binding
  8. Concurrency
  9. Disposability
  10. Dev / prod parity
  11. Logging
  12. Admin processes

Additionally, in his book, Beyond the Twelve-Factor App, Kevin Hoffman discusses 3 additional factors that reflect today’s modern cloud application design: 

  1. API first
  2. Telemetry
  3. Authentication / Authorization.

The Benefits of a Cloud-native Mail Server Solution

The main business benefits of cloud-native email servers are that they help you save money, boost your security, and free up more time

Many vendors package services like email, databases, or API platforms into public cloud services so that ISPs can take advantage of everything cloud computing has to offer. If you’re also looking to transform your business by taking advantage of these new technologies, here’s why you should consider a cloud-native solution. 

Service providers need a mail server solution that can enable efficiency, security, and profitability and is designed and architected for high-volume specifically. If you’re using an open-source solution that isn’t scalable, or you’re looking to lower your overhead with a fully automated mail server solution, Axigen is the best solution for you. 

Axigen Mail Server is a secure, feature-packed email hosting service over which you have complete control. Our Cloud Native solution runs on the latest Docker containers and Kubernetes technology and helps you save money, boost your security, and free up more time for you to focus on what matters most to your business. You get:

  • Full automation
  • Increased agility
  • Infinite scalability
  • Elevated performance
  • 100% security.

Increase efficiency and reduce business costs with the
Axigen Cloud-Native Mail Server