It’s time to go native – cloud native

Cloud-native application strategies deliver business and technology benefits

The technology talent an organisation needs to be a digital leader will expect your organisation to be cloud-native. Developers are, in essence, as cloud-native as the microservices and APIs they deploy. To attract or retain this valuable skill set, organisations will need to develop the infrastructure and architecture to be a cloud-native digital business. Cloud-native is about more than talent; there are clear customer, business and technology benefits that organisations can realise from a cloud-native strategy.

Being native to the cloud means the applications an organisation uses are developed in the cloud, deployed on the cloud and take full advantage of all cloud computing elements. Just as we are all natives of a community, whether that be where we live or work and draw personal benefits from being native, so too cloud-native applications gain similar benefits. In the past, an application often acted as a bridge, connecting legacy systems with a web-based front-end. The result often led to a disappointing experience for the customer or end-user. Cloud-native is embedded in the cloud, reducing business and technology complexity and increasing speed and reliability. Developers, too, typically want to be deploying technology that delight the customer, reduce technology and business overheads, and are not burdened with the potential for reliability issues that comes from integrating with legacy systems. Hence the talent an organisation requires expects you to be a cloud-native business.

Cloud-native methods have been pioneered by the pure-play web businesses that have dominated the digital revolution. But government departments, banks, retailers and even healthcare organisations are moving to cloud-native methods to provide their customers and citizens with the same levels of personalised service that Netflix and Amazon customers have come to expect.

Development cycles of cloud-native applications are exponentially faster, use higher levels of automation, and seamlessly work with distributed services. Together these enable Netflix and Amazon to curate a bespoke service to each customer or viewer in the household. Government and banking organisations are taking the same route to segment their audiences and deliver the services modern customers and citizens demand. For other organisations, the same concept applies to machines or infrastructure, enabling event-based maintenance or services.

The digitisation of markets has led to customers expecting a plethora of services. For banks or insurance firms, for example, this can include a number of brands offering similar services and often resulting in a technology estate that is overly complex as each brand has its own technology platform. This results in costly operations, delays in deployments and the organisation ‘hand cranking’ new code to deploy a new module for a marketing campaign or change in regulations. A cloud-native platform will support a multitude of flavours and enable an organisation to deploy a change once, safe in the knowledge that each brand in their estate is updated and at a minimal cost. Amazon and Netflix for example – despite their size – could not muster the resources to deploy a code change across every geography or customer type.

Once the code is deployed, cloud-native applications provide scalability so they can handle large workloads. So if a marketing campaign is highly successful and results in a surge of activity on the web services, a cloud-native organisation will not suffer embarrassing outages.

With the increased scalability also comes greater flexibility for the business. In the early days of cloud computing, business and technology leaders were, rightly concerned about being locked into a particular vendor. Modern cloud-native applications using containerisation, for example, are highly portable and provide organisations with the ability to change cloud providers as and when suits. In addition, cloud-native applications are rarely locked in to hardware.

Cloud-native provides a number of technology benefits that can only be realised with a cloud-native strategy. First of these is the use of microservices, whose building block nature allows technology teams to break down a business outcome into a series of blocks that fit directly into the technology architecture of the business, which will be closely aligned to the business strategy. Secondly, the application programming interface (API) provides real-time event-based workloads, which increases the interoperability and connectivity of the organisation, and at a much lower cost. Great examples include Open Banking, which relies on an API structure to provide customers and the financial services sector with enhanced transparency. The third major technology benefit is containers, allowing an application to be operated remotely with its own memory and CPU resources ready for business demand.

Organisations cannot lift and shift existing applications and methods into a cloud-native method; it is a structural change to the way the technology estate operates and, therefore, the business processes. However, once an organisation develops and deploys a cloud-native architecture it will benefit from clear business and technology advantages and be built on a platform that will enable continuous development of new services.

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