Debunking the myths around cloud-native architectures

4 Jun 2021

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Avanade’s Tarun Arora explains what cloud-native engineering is and, more importantly, what it isn’t.

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The move to the cloud has been growing for several years now, but the pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated this trend even further, with cloud market spend reaching new heights last year.

However, while it’s important for companies to embrace this element of digital transformation, they need to have a strong understanding of what cloud-native applications are and how exactly they can be of benefit.

Tarun Arora is the director of engineering and head of app modernisation and cloud transformation at Avanade in Ireland and the UK.

He said that when a new trend emerges every few years, it’s common for organisations to feel the urge to jump on the bandwagon.

“We all witnessed this with agile – organisations adapted their big waterfall processes into iterative design phases and classed themselves as agile.”

‘Cloud-native technologies and human-centric design isn’t just for tech unicorns anymore’

However, adopting agile processes takes time and careful consideration, just like a migration to the cloud. Arora said in order to understand what cloud native is, it’s important to understand what it isn’t.

“It isn’t running a server in the cloud. Renting a virtual machine from a public cloud provider does not make your infrastructure cloud native. The processes to manage these virtual machines is often no different to managing them if they were in a data centre,” he said.

“It isn’t running a workload in a container. While containerisation offers isolation from the operating system, on its own it causes more overheads than benefits.”

Arora said being cloud native also isn’t just about infrastructure as code, continuous integration or continuous deployment pipelines. “While this is a big step in terms of mindset for the infrastructure team, and can bring huge benefits, it still falls short of being cloud native. Often the use of configuration tools is dependent on humans, which is a huge limitation in terms of scale.”

According to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, cloud-native technologies empower organisations to build and run scalable applications in modern, dynamic environments, while containers, service meshes, microservices, immutable infrastructure and declarative APIs exemplify this approach.

“Cloud-native architectures are all about dynamism,” said Arora. “This type of application architecture is open and extensible. It can be changed easily and quickly by updating its microservices, and thanks to containers, it can move from cloud to cloud with ease, as well as scale in or out rapidly.”

Creating a human-centric approach

Arora also spoke about the need for a human-centred design when it comes to cloud adoption.

“Systems written in the last decade came with user manuals because they delivered requirements that needed the user to learn the platform before it could be used. Today, we navigate through applications that learn our preferences, allow us to switch between devices offering a seamless uninterrupted experience,” he said.

“The human-centred design comes with an organising strategy to solve problems corresponding to either usability or business conversion or fulfilling the context-based needs.”

The human-centred approach has been widely heralded as the best way to tackle most things, from technology and product design to education and the future of work.

“Businesses are powered by applications and advanced by your ability to simplify the experiences for your users. You have to think a few levels above the platform, think about the user, the user journeys and user interactions,” Arora added.

He said it’s important to think who the users are, what they expect from a product, how they interact with it and whether or not it addresses their needs.

“User experience can’t be an afterthought! Technology leaders often confuse design and user experience with a user interface, often leaving a front-end developer to figure this out,” he said. “Approaching the solution through a design-led thinking approach allows you to put design in the priority for taking control of the user interactions with a digital solution.”

Cloud adoption

Arora said cloud adoption has followed an S-curve, meaning adoption was slow in the early days while businesses learned about its viability. And once that occurred, adoption accelerated dramatically.

“Cloud computing has hit the steep part of the S curve. The significance of this tipping point is profound. The discussion with clients is less about why to use the cloud, but more about how to unlock its full value,” he said.

“Event-driven architectures, cloud-native technologies and human-centric design isn’t just for tech unicorns anymore. Data has truly become the new currency and cloud the means to mine it. As more businesses globally tap into the opportunity the cloud offers, it has become table stakes in any transformation programme.”

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic