What is cloud native and how can it generate business value?

A CGI image of orange clouds sat atop a dark reflective screen to represent cloud-native architecture. Decorative: The clouds are surrounded by concentric curved squares in orange, blue, and white and dots representing code can be seen on the reflective surface.
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Though some businesses are still grappling with the arduous process of migrating their products to the cloud, many now choose to build their applications in the cloud from scratch. Such applications are termed ‘cloud-native’ applications. 

Cloud-native workloads are conceived with the cloud in mind, focusing on scalability, agility, and application independence. Building applications directly in the cloud is a core component of agile development and DevOps practices, allowing developers to quickly update their stack to meet business needs.

A definitive example of cloud-native workloads would be microservices, in which different elements of an application run in parallel as independent services, communicating via application programming interfaces (APIs)

“The simplest way of explaining it is by explaining what it is in opposition to,” Adrian Bradley, head of cloud transformation at KPMG, tells ITPro

Bradley explains that, unlike applications a business has migrated to the cloud, cloud-native applications have none of the architectural or technical traces of an application originally designed for a non-cloud environment. This means that they can be more efficient and can be run in isolation from legacy tech

With the cloud having become part of the furniture at most enterprises, a cloud-native approach can be an incredibly important concept to grasp. Cloud-native applications can save a business huge amounts of development time and money, reducing downtime and improving app resiliency.

That being said, it's not without its pitfalls. Businesses need to carefully consider their digital maturity, among other things, when deciding the extent to which they incorporate cloud native into their business framework. 

Advantages of a cloud-native approach

Ever since the advent of major cloud providers, when Amazon Web Services (AWS) burst onto the scene in 2002, public cloud has become ubiquitous for cloud operations in all their forms, including cloud-native applications. Cloud-native applications can also be found in the private cloud, though this is less common.

Though IT leaders are concerned by the dominance of the hyperscalers, they still control huge swathes of the cloud market and offer supportive environments for cloud development. Because of this, many cloud applications are born in the public cloud. 

Ben Scowen, VP UK&I cloud and core leader at Kyndryl, touts the advantages of the public cloud in being able to utilize the cloud-native framework by comparing it with the process of physical construction. 

“You wouldn’t make your own bricks, would you? You would go and buy bricks, you’d go and buy wood, you’d go and buy cable, you’re not [going] to try and do it yourself,” Scowen tells ITPro.

Cloud native, Scowen argues, is the next level up in this analogy where, rather than buying the materials, customers can buy a “prefabricated house”, or the pre-existing structure of a cloud-native application. 

This makes cloud-native applications incredibly easy to create and deploy in the public cloud, as users can build their own cloud-native services on a foundation that is already fundamentally cloud native.

John Purcell, CPO at DoIT, echoes a similar sentiment, describing how a cloud-native posture can be easily achieved through the public cloud.

“Companies who deliver cloud services have demonstrated that they can … free us up from having to manage infrastructure hands-on,” Purcell tells ITPro. In the “old days,” Purcell explains, a prospective provider of cloud-native services would have had to rent property, procure hardware, and have a core IT team capable of establishing a framework to deliver the application.

“By running it in the cloud … you just don't have to do any of that,” Purcell says. 

Because the main public cloud providers continue “building for builders,” as Purcell puts it, cloud native continues to be a dominant concept.

Of course, applications in the private cloud can be cloud native as well. HPE GreenLake for Private Cloud Enterprise, for example, offers users the ability to host their own private cloud environments to adopt cloud-native applications outside of the public cloud.

There are also hybrid cloud practices, which adopt a mix of private and public cloud infrastructures, and the virtual private cloud which allows for the effect of the private cloud within the public cloud. 

Businesses looking to remain vendor agnostic and to keep costs low can also lean into the overlap between the cloud-native developer community and the open source community. Exemplified through the Cloud Native Computing Foundation and projects like Kubernetes, open-source approaches to cloud native can help businesses to freely move their workloads. This could be between cloud environments, or as part of a repatriation from the cloud to on premises environments, without major issues.

How cloud-native can add value to your enterprise 

Cloud native allows businesses to scale their applications in their cloud environment, improve developer efficiency, and improve resilience by adopting independent microservices. The advantages of the cloud are also plentiful, so it's no surprise that having an application built from the ground up on the cloud will allow it to utilize these advantages more fully.

“If something has been designed especially for the cloud … then it's much more likely to easily exploit the full potential and capability of the cloud and run more efficiently,” Bradley says.

As such, cloud-native applications can exploit the features of the cloud to drive more value, Bradley comments, and there’s a range of reasons behind that. 

If something has been designed first in the cloud, he explains, then it’ll be better placed to exploit things like data analytics and AI, meaning cloud-native applications tend to be quite “high-value business apps.”


They also lend themselves to a certain ease of development, Bradley adds, in that they have an “architecture fit for the cloud” which makes them easier to extend and add features or functionality to. Cloud-native approaches blend very well with DevOps and agile development for these reasons, as independent applications can be worked on at speed.

This makes cloud-native applications fundamentally quicker in getting to market and gaining feedback. Holly Cummins, senior principal software engineer at Red Hat, explains this advantage in a bit more detail. 

“I think one of the real benefits of cloud native is that you get to market faster, but then that means that you get feedback faster,” Cummins tells ITPro.

The reason shortening this feedback cycle is an advantage, Cummins explains, is because it allows an enterprise to make “more informed business decisions.”

Hurdles to cloud-native adoption

Though the advantages of cloud native from a business perspective typically outweigh its disadvantages, challenges assiocated with the approach still need to be understood clearly by those attempting to utilize cloud-native services. 

Scalability, while also being an advantage of cloud-native, can be a potential pitfall if businesses don't have a clear understanding of their cloud-native estate. Purcell picks up on this, referencing clustering as one issue of Kubernetes. 

“That is a very, very efficient way to build … and deploy applications … But it is complicated,” Purcell tells ITPro. Purcell explains that Kubernetes is not just easy to get wrong, but also easy to do poorly and fail to extract the “most flexibility and benefit” from it. 

Recent research has shown that DevOps teams often overprovision their Kubernetes clusters owing to anxiety about not provisioning for enough compute power.  Sometimes, though, the problem with cloud native is simply a case of businesses unnecessarily utilizing workloads. Bradley explains that some enterprises may not need to exploit cloud native for every use case and should plan accordingly.

“Not every application needs to exploit the leading edge of digital,” Bradley tells ITPro, explaining that some apps “that are hosted on premises [are] more efficient because they're on premises, because of their nature”.

Cummins reiterates the sentiment in a slightly different way, suggesting that some applications perhaps aren’t worth the effort in terms of trying to find a cloud-native alternative. 

“If you have something that is just running under the stairs, and … nobody's needed to change it for 10 years then … there's probably bigger fish to fry,” Cummins says.

George Fitzmaurice
Staff Writer

George Fitzmaurice is a staff writer at ITPro, ChannelPro, and CloudPro, with a particular interest in AI regulation, data legislation, and market development. After graduating from the University of Oxford with a degree in English Language and Literature, he undertook an internship at the New Statesman before starting at ITPro. Outside of the office, George is both an aspiring musician and an avid reader.