8 Steps to Becoming Cloud-Native

by Craig Risi on DevOps • March 25, 2021

The cloud was one of the biggest game-changers in the software development world. It has drastically changed the way that we develop software for a global audience. However, moving to the cloud is far more than just migrating your software systems. It requires a change in the way you think about software design and development, and before you can make this move, you need to understand what it means to design software with a cloud-native mindset.

Eight steps to understanding this and becoming cloud-native are:

  1. Developing the right skills
  2. Creating a DevOps team and culture within your organization
  3. Commercial alignment
  4. Adopting a microservices architecture
  5. Containerization
  6. Automating testing
  7. Ensuring security by design
  8. Monitoring and responsiveness

1.   Develop the Right Skills

Gartner’s Market Guide for Container Management shows that the main challenge organizations face in container deployment is a lack of skilled resources. Cloud-native computing and containers are reasonably new aspects of software development, which means that skills are in short supply. The skills are out there, but many organizations are competing for them, driving up the scarcity. However, if you have strong software developers on your teams, they should be able to make the necessary changes over time, and this could be a good opportunity to allow these individuals to experiment and learn new skills as they prepare for this change.

2.   Create a DevOps Team and Culture

It is often said that the apps you build mirror the organization you have. If you want to adapt to scale and allow your teams to better respond to the needs of production through a DevOps approach, you need to shape the culture that way.

This requires:

  • Creating skills development plans that include training, coaching, and mentoring
  • Providing your team with easy access to training materials, tools, and other resources
  • Empowering your teams to innovate and fail fast [.2] to find the right solutions for your business

All of this can be achieved safely in the realm of a well-managed environment designed to mitigate risk.

3.   Business Alignment

Change is not possible without the evolution of the business mindset. If you have decided to migrate to the cloud, you will need to identify the segments of your business that can best be adapted to it and support its evolution. This process will require taking on the risk of the redevelopment and architecture changes necessary to prepare your business for the cloud.

4.   Adopt a Microservices Architecture

To take full advantage of the cloud, it’s important to consider software design in a cloud-native mindset. A major challenge that often holds large organizations back from adopting the cloud is these organizations’ reliance on old legacy systems, which are too big to scale. Thinking of software from a smaller-scale perspective and breaking it up into even smaller API[.3] s or micro-applications that can all speak to each other will better align your software architecture to the operations required for the cloud.

5.   Containerization

A container is a way to package code, configurations, and dependencies into a single, independent deployable unit. Microservices are particularly suitable for container-style deployment, as they allow for small pieces of software architecture to run independently. Container technology like Docker and Kubernetes has made it easier to move applications and workloads between clouds and has brought about a step-change in virtualization technology, providing almost equivalent levels of resource isolation as a traditional hypervisor with considerable opportunities to improve agility, efficiency, speed, and manageability within IT environments. Containerization enables the rapid deployment and updating of applications.

6.   Test Automation

Testing disparate systems manually require a lot of human resources. To overcome this cost, you need to ensure that you have automation in place to test every part thoroughly, quickly, and in a maintainable fashion. This can be achieved by:

  • Focusing on low-level unit testing with plenty of unit tests, using both component mocking and unmocked integration scenarios
  • Removing the complexity of too much end-to-end testing
  • Aiming to automate everything; inducing all types of failures—node, network, service, etc.—during testing (chaos testing) and ensuring that apps can recover from such failure
  • Using methods such as “canary testing” and “blue/green deployment” to reduce risk when releasing new features

7.   Security by Design

When you are moving your infrastructure from a controlled local environment to the great realms of the internet, it is understandable that security would be an obvious concern. While most cloud service providers do provide great built-in security and tools, it is still up to the development teams to follow secure coding principles and design, as well as utilize encryption and secrets across all levels of configuration. If you are wanting to step up and be cloud-ready, you need to ensure that secure coding and design form a part of your repertoire; otherwise, you may end up facing significant vulnerability challenges.

8.   Monitoring and Responsiveness

Having a higher number of diverse systems means there will be a lot more to monitor and respond to. There are many tools out there to help with observability and understanding what is going on with your applications—monitoring, logging and aggregation, tracing, alerts, and visualization, etc. Some key points to remember for monitoring and responsiveness across diverse systems are:

  • Drive standardization to ensure consistency of design, which reduces debugging and maintenance efforts
  • Follow “observability as code” practices and create feedback loops from observations to the application team
  • Have as much information as possible to respond to issues as soon as possible while driving a culture of continuous learning
  • Build automated dashboards for sharing information within and across teams, and an automated alerting system to notify you when potential performance constraints are identified, services go down, or unexpected errors occur

Migrating to the cloud can be an intimidating step, but it will pay off. The cloud will only grow in terms of feature offerings and capabilities. It is important for organizations, if they haven’t already, to get started on their cloud journey to remain technologically relevant and have systems that are able to adapt quickly in the cloud-native future.