It’s great to see cloud-native platforms finally listed as one of Gartner’s Top Strategic Technology Trends for the year ahead. This indicates that cloud use is maturing, with organisations gaining a clearer understanding of how to leverage its benefits.
Every year, Gartner pinpoints the key trends it expects to act as ‘force multipliers’ of digital business and innovation for the coming three to five years. A couple of years back we wrote about its inclusion of hyperautomation (which makes the list again for 2022). In 2021 the trends were heavily influenced by organisations’ responses to Covid-19.
Gartner’s tech trends are based on business leaders’ priorities, and the resultant technology demands expected to filter through to CIOs and IT managers. After several years of mass cloud adoption, it’s no surprise that CEOs are keen to ensure the investment pays off.
In Gartner’s words:
Cloud-native platforms are technologies that allow you to build new application architectures that are resilient, elastic and agile — enabling you to respond to rapid digital change. [They] improve on the traditional lift-and-shift approach to cloud, which fails to take advantage of the benefits of cloud and adds complexity to maintenance.
We’re big advocates of cloud-native platforms, and the notion of ‘improving on lift and shift’ is central to much of our work. Some early adopters of cloud appoint us to refactor workloads to suit the environment. We also support many organisations moving to the cloud with a ‘migrate and modernise’ approach. Either way, the goal is to derive maximum value from the cloud without having to rewrite applications from scratch.
So, how does this work in practice and what do cloud-native platforms look like? Read on to find out.
Three Routes to the Cloud
There are many ways to go about cloud adoption and it’s rare that a single approach will be right for an entire portfolio. When it comes to the development of cloud migration strategies, it’s important to consider each workload individually. We find it can be helpful to visualise potential routes in terms of the three simple pathways illustrated below:
- The Go Native route where applications are rewritten using cloud-native services (like serverless) to leverage maximum benefits from everything the cloud offers.
- The Evolve pathway where operability and infrastructure improvements happen during migration; for instance, containers might be used to allow use of cloud-native approaches without having to rewrite applications.
- The Lift and Shift Highway which typically involves re-hosting existing virtual machines in a new Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud environment.
Going native is complex and time consuming, which is why it’s rarely used for the bulk of an IT estate during large scale migration. Lift and Shift Highway is much quicker, but fails to unlock cloud benefits. It can even result in costs going up.
The middle route, the evolve pathway, encompasses techniques such as replatforming, revising and refactoring. It leads to a halfway point where cloud-native principles can be embraced. The same destination can be reached via Lift and Shift Highway, followed by Refactor Road (e.g. if speed is a key priority for the migration due to factors such as data centre exit or hardware refresh cycles).
Either way, this halfway point is the home of cloud-native platforms. They offer an effective and relatively fast way to modernise applications, enabling targeted cost and performance improvements in the cloud environment.
What Does a Cloud-Native Platform Look Like?
Cloud-native platforms enable teams to develop, run and manage applications without the manual labour associated with building or maintaining the underlying infrastructure. It’s a self-service approach that reduces handovers and potential delays which can otherwise hinder progress. It also rationalises work, so teams can focus their skills and attention on outcomes that deliver better value to customers and, therefore, the organisation.
As the below diagram shows, numerous delivery teams can be supported by a single self-service platform.
Let’s start at the bottom left and work up counter-clockwise:
An enablement services team offers platform team/s deep expertise on specific areas such as security, governance and architecture.
This expertise feeds into the development of products or services related to hosting, test automation, continuous delivery etc. These are accessed by product teams on an ‘as-a-service’ basis via automation, eradicating the need for users to request (then wait for) the elements they require.
If an underlying product / service falls short of what the product team needs, they can extend it then feed these improvements back to the platform team via inner source.
In some organisations, a site reliability engineering (SRE) team also provides operational support, managing and maintaining overall performance.
Automation is a central tenet of the cloud-native platform model. It involves the use of code to ensure monotonous tasks are handled in a consistent, reliable and repeatable way. This reduces the risk of human error and eliminates the long delays typically associated with manual provision of services in a traditional model.
Software developers can use continuous integration (aka build) systems like AWS CodeBuild to compile and test their software. On the operations side, infrastructure-as-code, configuration-as-code, policy-as-code and application release automation combine to automate previously error-prone and laborious tasks. For example, AWS OpsWorks provides enterprise-ready configuration-as-code solution Puppet as an easy-to-use SaaS service.
The Organisational Benefits of Cloud-Native Platforms
It’s hard to leverage the full benefits of a cloud environment without specialist expertise. For teams that lack experience and confidence, it can also be hard to maintain adequate standards of performance, security and governance. Many organisations only discover the extent of these challenges after making the transition to cloud.
Cloud-native platforms bring quality, integrity and consistency to critical areas. Their use also increases the velocity of software production and allows delivery teams to put more energy into the creation of innovative product features that boost competitive differentiation. All of this supports organisational goals, which may vary in scope between companies, but generally centre on meeting customers’ evolving needs quickly, securely and cost-effectively.
So, if Gartner’s right in saying that cloud-native platforms are a top tech trend, we’re about to see use of cloud get a whole lot smarter and safer.
Ed is the Head of Consulting for EMEA. He has considerable experience in both product and delivery roles. Prior to taking on the Head of Consulting position he worked as a Principal Product Manager at Sourced developing a cloud migration framework to support large scale Cloud migrations.