What does “cloud native” really mean?

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There is an excellent article at stackify.com that discusses the definition of what is meant by cloud-native so I will not repeat that here. Essentially it involves the use of microservices for development purposes along with containers and orchestration. As such it represents the latest attempt – with a long line of predecessors – to improve the reusability and agility of what we now call DevOps. Its big benefit, from both a vendor and user perspective, is that fixes and new features can be developed and implemented without requiring the sort of big bang upgrades of the past. That, as Sellars and Yeatman would say, is a “good thing”.

Unfortunately, I have two problems with this. The first is that you don’t actually need to be in a cloud environment to leverage microservices. IBM Cloud Pak for Data, as an example, uses a microservices architecture but can be deployed on premises as well as in cloud and hybrid environments. And Z systems can also support Kubernetes and containers. Do you really associate cloud with mainframe?

My second issue – and this is much more annoying – is that vendors are abusing this definition (how unusual!) by conflating a variety of cloud infrastructure capabilities with cloud-native’s support for microservices. Specifically, I am referring to serverless (a misnomer if ever I heard one) computing, elastic scaling, and the separation of
storage from compute. And the last of these is, again, not even cloud dependent, witness Microfocus Vertica’s EON mode, which provides this separation in on-premises environments. Of course, elastic scaling, serverless computing and the separation of storage from compute are all useful features (though only sometimes in the case of storage/compute separation) but they are cloud infrastructure capabilities that have more to do with managed services than they do with being cloud-native.

And related to this last point, I don’t think a vendor should be claiming to be “cloud-native” if it isn’t leveraging all those infrastructure capabilities to pass on the economies that running on the cloud theoretically provides. In particular, I am surprised how few vendors are offering consumption-based pricing. If suppliers were truly interested in offering you cloud-based economies of scale they would but, in the main, they aren’t.