Understanding The Distinction Between Cloud-Based And Cloud-Native Application Development

Al Gillen

Contemporary discussions about software development are rife with the mention of “cloud-native development,” even though the term rarely receives the elaboration and specification worthy of such a new concept. For example, cloud-native development is often confused with cloud-based development, which takes place by means of a browser or online interface.

While cloud-based and cloud-native development share many characteristics, cloud-native development differs from browser-based development in important ways.

For starters, cloud-native development refers to application development that is container-based, dynamically orchestrated, and leverages microservices architectures as per the CNCF’s definition of cloud-native development. Because cloud-native applications run in containers and are dynamically orchestrated, they exhibit many of the attributes of applications deployed in cloud-based infrastructures, such as elastic scalability and high availability.

In the case of cloud-native applications, container orchestration frameworks take responsibility for attributes such as automated scalability and high availability that are typically associated with cloud computing. Moreover, the microservices-based quality of cloud-native applications translates into modular applications that accelerate application design, development, and lifecycle management.

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Understanding containers and orchestration frameworks

Cloud-native applications are fundamentally container-native applications and require developers to achieve familiarity with containers and associated orchestration frameworks such as Kubernetes. The need to demonstrate proficiency with Kubernetes requires developers to obtain expertise with developer tools that provide insight into relationships between discrete containers. Furthermore, developers need proficiency with the design of microservices-based application architectures that are executed in Kubernetes.

What is most notable about cloud-native applications is the conjunction of a container-based deployment infrastructure, marked by the scalability and high-availability characteristic of the cloud, with microservices-based architectures that promote enhanced development agility and velocity. The microservices quality of cloud-native applications, for example, accelerates the delivery of application enhancements, updates, and debugging. This approach thereby creates a strong foundation for the implementation of continuous integration and delivery processes and the integration of DevOps into the development lifecycle.

Examples of cloud-native applications include container-native, microservices-based applications and container-based, functions-as-a-service applications. The fact that container-native applications encompass both container-native and functions-as-a-service applications illustrates how the cloud-native development paradigm stands at the forefront of innovation related to the intersection of infrastructure and cloud-based development.

By eschewing monolithic applications that are deployed on-premise, cloud-native development inaugurates a new modality of application development. This modality is marked by the automation of scaling and high availability at the level of containers, in conjunction with microservices architectures that facilitate expedient debugging and issue resolution.

Challenges specific to cloud-native development involve application lifecycle management and, specifically, debugging multi-container applications to perform multifactor root cause analysis. Other challenges include creating an infrastructure for alerting and monitoring for Kubernetes-based applications that deliver actionable business intelligence for application performance management purposes. In addition, cloud-native developers need to learn how to effectively leverage developer tools to design and develop container-native applications that are exemplary of loosely coupled, microservices-based architectures.

Mastering the basics

Whereas cloud-based development refers to application development executed by means of a browser that points to a cloud-based infrastructure, cloud-native development refers more specifically to application development grounded in containers, microservices, and dynamic orchestration. Developers would do well to master the basics of container-native development that leverage cloud-based IDEs and development frameworks, since container-native development is likely to become increasingly important in the future. Because developer tools that specialize in container-native development are rapidly maturing, developers should pay close attention to how their IDEs and developer tools are adding features and functionality to facilitate the management of loosely coupled systems.

Preparing for the future of application development

Monolithic applications are rapidly transforming into relics consigned to legacy applications that render them challenging for developers to update or modernize for a variety of deployment infrastructures. Cloud-native development, however, embodies the future of application development. It undergirds the development of modern applications marked by enhanced application portability across a multitude of infrastructures because of their implementation in container-based infrastructures. Developers should expect rapid innovation in container-native developer tools and strive to update their skills accordingly by understanding the intersection of cloud-based and cloud-native development.


Al Gillen

About Al Gillen

Al Gillen is As Group Vice President of Software Development and Open Source at IDC. He oversees IDC's software development research portfolio. Research disciplines in this group include developer research covering census, demographics and developer activities; platform and cloud application services for developers, and developer lifecycle and quality assurance products. In addition, Al jointly oversees IDC's DevOps research program, and runs a program focused on the ecosystem of open source software pan-industry. In his 18th year at IDC, Al has participated in numerous IDC research areas, including infrastructure software (operating environments and virtualization software), enterprise servers, and developer software and services. He has long tracked open source software in infrastructure software markets, and now has expanded open source coverage to cover other market segments.