All disciplines become “true disciplines” when the gatekeepers arrive telling you that your participation is inadequate for (usually ridiculous) reasons. And cloud technologies are no different—many people have strong opinions that there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. But let’s level-set, first—when you hear cloud-native, what should you expect?
Cloud-native allows you to build and run scalable applications in modern, dynamic environments. The existence of the cloud has democratized access to both massive computing power and to the world’s largest data centers with the fastest computers and internet connections. Anyone with an idea can build a scalable service and reach the world with almost zero upfront infrastructure; this is no small feat.
Cloud-Adoptive is the Reality for Most
A huge percentage of the world has yet to adopt cloud-native technologies because most companies aren’t actually cloud-native—they weren’t built from the start with the cloud in mind. Instead, they’re cloud-adoptive—they were built on legacy hardware and migrated later to the cloud. Despite what the gatekeepers might say—that’s okay. While organizations may have been using cloud-like technologies for a while, we tend to point to 2006 as the genesis of the term “cloud computing.” There are a long list of companies associated with the cloud which have launched since 2006 – Twitter, Netflix, Instagram, WhatsApp, Instacart, Calendly. But when you look at the Fortune 500, you see that the majority have been kicking around for a lot longer.
This means that the technology presence of many of the brands you know and love were, at least originally, built on legacy technologies. They’ve adopted the cloud, but were not created with the cloud in mind from the get-go. So while there are benefits of moving to the cloud (for instance, not having to host or manage your own infrastructure), can these brands truly embrace the cloud?
Coming from a background of legacy technology isn’t inherently a problem, it’s just the reality of having a history. A lot of the same concepts from legacy technology were simply modified to support the cloud infrastructure many have today. But legacy technology requires a lot more effort (and, potentially, money) to achieve the scalable and resilient benefits of cloud-native. As a result many companies are adopting the cloud, and with it, cloud-native technologies.
SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS
Before the cloud, companies needed to manage their own server racks, or, when traffic was high enough, their own data centers. This also meant buying and upgrading their own hardware (the physical computers, hard drives, memory and even networking cables, and the cooling systems that kept them healthy). Beyond the hardware, they were managing the operating systems on physical machines and then the software layers above that which allowed for management of fleets of servers.
In moving from hosting their own data center or servers, the cloud suddenly offered the advantage of being able to leverage the expertise of cloud providers for all of this. Suddenly, a company could lean on the cloud provider for the build-out of massive data centers and internet connections. It meant entrusting them to provide and upgrade the hardware.
This shift allowed companies to no longer need to maintain large, in-house teams just to handle the physical infrastructure. Now it can all be provided by the cloud (IaaS) as well as the platforms designed for the software infrastructure (PaaS), and the many software pieces put in place to optimize it (SaaS). And the whole new world of “as-a-Service” meant costs could shift from capex budgets to opex budgets.
Transitioning from Cloud-Adoptive to Cloud-Native
When a company decides to transition to the cloud, often they start with just a “lift and shift” initiative – take the most basic workloads they have in their data center and run them, the same way, on the cloud provider’s hardware.
Once in the cloud, a company can start to modernize some of the stack to newer technologies, or, at least, leverage some of the cloud-native concepts – containerization, microservices, Kubernetes, etc. Here, the company shifts to make use of reliable APIs that won’t change no matter how the underlying hardware changes over time.
As a company goes through these changes, the infrastructure and application will look increasingly like they were built for the cloud from the start. While some legacy pieces may stick around forever, the advantages of the cloud can still be fully realized.
The promises of the cloud are real; the tech is truly different. But in the move to cloud, companies have been able to move away from in-house expertise for everything, soup-to-nuts, and, instead, focus on the product that truly drives value for their company.
If your company is looking at migrating to cloud-native technologies, check out our Kubernetes Maturity Model to know where you are in the process, and what will come next.