2019 will be the year cloud-native becomes the new norm

The vast majority of businesses see cloud as a critical component of their digital transformation strategy - some 68% of businesses already have cloud-based systems place, or are in the process of implementing them, according to technology consultancy Amido.

But more specifically, businesses are recognising the benefits of cloud-native applications: software designed specifically to run on cloud infrastructure.

In 2018, the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), a vendor-neutral home for cloud-native projects, saw its end-user community grow to over 50 members. This includes household names such as Uber, Airbnb, Netflix, Adidas, Spotify, Mastercard and Morgan Stanley.

Cloud native applications offer hyperscale provisioning, resilience, high availability and responsiveness, all which help businesses operate faster with greater flexibility. It's, therefore, no real surprise that many industry experts believe that 2019 is the year cloud-native will become the 'new normal'.

The benefits of cloud-native technology

"For CIOs, cloud-native is an enabler; a transformative technology," says Amido's chief technology officer (CTO) Simon Evan. "They're using it to do things they can't do on premise. Driving this are things like AI workloads, which benefit all sectors from finance through to healthcare and retail. You can free up staff from menial tasks, improve customer experience and benefit from predictive analytics," he highlights.

"Taking a cloud-native approach means businesses can harness the real power of the cloud to their advantage as it offers them faster responses to the changing needs of the business and the market, ensures their technology portfolio is up to date and driving innovation and improves the customer experience while increasing ROI," adds Puja Prabhakar, senior director, Applications and Infrastructure at consultancy firm Avanade UKI.

Cloud-native technologies can often become "boring" compared to emerging apps, according to CNCF CTO/COO Chris Aniszczyk, as the tech stabilises and matures over the years. However, he argues this shouldn't be seen as a negative.

"Boring means organisations can focus on delivering business value, rather than spending time on making the technology usable," he explains.

Experts advise businesses to embrace these 'boring' technologies in 2019, particularly the installation and configuration of platforms and containers as a service platforms, such as Docker, OpenShift and Kubernetes.

"I expect more traction for Kubernetes as more organisations use it for distributed applications across hybrid cloud infrastructure that includes public clouds, private clouds, multiple public clouds, public clouds with on-premise environments and combinations of them all," says Jay Lyman, principal analyst, Cloud Native and DevOps at 451 Research.

He believes that more organisations will leverage containers and microservices for not only new cloud-native applications but also increasingly those built on traditional and legacy infrastructure.

The rise of serverless in 2019

Prabhakar adds that businesses should also consider how they're designing their full stack and backend application engineering. Specifically, she believes engineering should be focused on creating applications inherently designed for development on the cloud, such as serverless frameworks, microservices frameworks, API integration frameworks, DevOps, data stores, and machine learning.

Other cloud-native technologies set to take a front-row seat in 2019 include commercialised service mesh offerings, which, according to CNCF's Aniszczyk, are the next frontier in making service-to-service communication safer, faster and more reliable.

"Service meshes like Linkerd are ready to be used in production deployments and can help businesses scale applications without latency or downtime. They can also be used to help secure traffic between services and applications," he points out.

Following an explosion of interest in 2018, serverless technologies also look set to pick up momentum in 2019.

"Serverless for enterprise is a huge trend," says Liz Rice, chair of 2018's CloudNativeCon and KubeCon events. "We'll see lots of discussions on how and where enterprises can apply architectures based on serverless functions and perhaps a better understanding of the cultural/DevSecOps implications of serverless functions will emerge in 2019."

"Serverless won't be appropriate for all classes of application, and will co-exist alongside container architectures for some time to come," she adds.

Talent and security challenges remain

In December, a flaw allowing easy access into every single machine in a cluster via the Kubernetes API server was quickly caught and resolved, making security another hot topic. The community came together to discuss how to best solve security challenges facing the open source/cloud-native community and a number of security-related initiatives have been announced to help organisations go beyond what is natively provided by the Kubernetes platform. "And as we go into 2019, I expect we'll continue to see more efforts crop up," Aniszczyk says.

In response to all these trends, businesses need to invest not just in technology, but also in acquiring new talent and retraining existing staff in cloud-native methodology and technology.

"Adoption of cloud-native technology will only be held back by the lack of skills in the market," points out Ilja Summala, CTO of Nordcloud Group.

Lyman agrees that the lack of cloud-native expertise and experience is probably the biggest challenge facing the industry. "Few organisations can find large numbers of Kubernetes and other cloud-native experts and even if they could find them, it is an expensive proposition. This is why including and training existing staff in cloud-native initiatives as much as possible will be critical moving forward."

He also recommends talent also focuses on open source technology.

"End users have never been as participatory and influential as with Kubernetes," he explains. "There is ample room to get involved with many open source software projects and Kubernetes Special Interest Groups (SIGs), and this is helping the community to focus more directly on the problems that companies are facing and the objectives they are trying to meet."

However, there's one other issue that looks set to take longer to resolve. That's changing the culture of how we work, a big challenge for business that's not going to be fixed overnight.

"The shift from monolithic/waterfall to agile/DevOps is more about process and organisational psychology than it is about which technologies to employ," points out Mark Collier, COO of the OpenStack Foundation. "This has been talked about for several years and it's not going away anytime soon. It's the big problem that enterprises must address and it's going to take years to get there as it's a generational shift in philosophy."