Last year, it felt as if for every few minutes there was a new article, tweet, blog post or video published on cloud native. Everybody was talking about it; vendors were providing solutions, but none came forward to explain what it really is. This over exposure of the phrase, in addition to cloud native as a key pillar of my work at Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), got me thinking about defining what it really means to be cloud native.
Most people would agree that cloud native has four major tenants:
• The use of some form of containers-as-a-service (CaaS) to manage applications;
• implementation of a more agile approach through DevOps;
• continuous integration of software development work to mitigate errors; and
• use of a microservice pattern for application development
Those four tenants can be accomplished in a myriad of ways with different products for implementation. Additionally, the standard methodology for building applications is often associated with cloud native. When organizations start to implement all these things together, they begin to see the reward from being cloud native, which in my experience has included an enormous gain in development velocity and developer satisfaction.
"As organizations continue their cloud native journey, it’s important to acknowledge that a combination of internal cloud and potentially multiple public cloud providers is required"
HCSC began its cloud transformation three years ago. At that time, I realized that the outcomes we were looking for were already being executed by smaller companies or startups. In fact, these companies were the true definition of being cloud natives. Without any legacy or technical debt to deal with, these companies only knew of the nirvana that, running in a cloud brings teams.
HCSC didn’t start with the cloud approach. When the company first started more than 80 years ago, we didn’t even have a computer. Our records were kept in paper ledgers and business was simple. We transitioned to the cloud because we realized that to make it easier for our clients to do business with us; we needed to do it in a new place that can adapt to our needs.
What we didn’t want with the cloud approach is for it to be a temporary mindset – those who begin using the cloud without making a meaningful change in the way they work. Organizations need to fully engrain themselves in the cloud approach, and learn the behaviors and ways to operate it. Failure to adapt to these behaviors leaves organizations reliant on old methodologies and stalls innovation.
No One Size Fits All
As organizations continue their cloud native journey, it’s important to acknowledge that a combination of internal cloud and potentially multiple public cloud providers is required. Just think about all the different requirements needed today to support different business groups. It’s often not a realistic expectation that a single cloud provider can meet every need, from analyzing large data sets to data storage and retrieval (NoSQL) or data streaming. Cloud providers offer a variety of products that might be unique to organizations. Especially in a healthcare environment, there are strict regulations around data privacy, given the sensitivity of managing personal health information. This level of sensitivity may also be a factor in deciding which type of cloud solution to use depending on industry regulations.
A multi-cloud approach can help achieve a needed level of redundancy and risk mitigation. This strategy offers greater elasticity and agility for applications to grow as the business grows. The multi-cloud approach also helps avoid being locked-in with a single provider, allowing for price flexibility. Given the nature of certain data, at times a business might be managing information that can’t be risked by storing it in a public cloud. Engaging multiple cloud providers creates an opportunity to use both private and public cloud providers, depending on the type of data an organization is looking to store.
As you can see, this is a huge journey that many organizations have to take in order to become a cloud native. There is a lot of thought and decision-making involved in determining the right approach for an organization. However, two things will always remain true: It’s important to be embedded in the culture of being cloud native, absorbing all the behaviors and techniques associated with it. And adopting a multi-cloud strategy gives your organization the flexibility to customize your cloud usage. The key to executing the digital transformation will be on how well you adapt to your new home in the cloud.