Your Essential Guide to Cloud Native Software Transformation

It’s said that today, to some degree, every company is a software company. To compete, you must be able to master innovation at scale, and traditional software delivery methods are generally ill-suited to the rapid development environment demanded by today’s market. So how can you use cloud native technologies to gain a strategic advantage?


By Mike Storey

Many of the cornerstone brands of modern tech—such as Google, Amazon, Netflix, and Facebook—learned that the demands of rapid innovation and development often face similar sets of challenges. These new challenges were not well-suited to traditional monolithic software architectures, the traditional software development waterfall project approach, or the culture and  organizational structure of traditional software development shops. Basically these new players turned the software development world on its head, and they showed us how to introduce new innovations at a dizzying pace while providing the scalability and reliability that was once the exclusive purview of banks and hospitals. Cloud Native is a true revolution, one of the most significantly transformative events in the business of software development since the replacement of punch cards with green screen terminals.

A Culture for Software Engineering

This new way of building software starts with the people, and it requires that traditional shops adopt new attitudes about the work to be done. Implementing DevOps teams that share end-to-end responsibility for a solution is one example where adopting cloud native solutions will require a change to the organizational structure of the team. Traditional IT shops had a very clear separation between the development organization in charge of building innovative things, and the operational side of the organization in charge of making sure everything is up and running. These two groups have fundamentally opposed purposes, with developers pushing to release new features as fast as possible, and operations staff opposed to any change because of the risks it represents to system availability. Putting both of those people on the same team is a step in the right direction, but teaching them to work together by embracing risk and managing the pace of innovation is where you get the real returns. There are many other cultural adjustments that the Cloud Native organization will need to make, including adopting a blame-free approach to incident retrospectives, focusing on root cause, implementing clear separation of concerns for specializations, organizing guilds to share technical guidance and having everyone code are other places where your culture might be different from the Cloud Native culture.

Cloud Native for Development Teams

With traditional monolithic applications (where all the components live together in a single application, often with a single very large and complex database), a successful project typically requires a team of full stack developer “superheroes,” because work in any part of the code base typically requires a detailed understanding of all the moving parts in the rest of the system. Attempts to speed up delivery by adding developers has a rapidly diminishing return on investment, as there is only room for so many cooks in the kitchen. As challenges increase, sourcing qualified talent may become an increasing struggle, and throwing bodies at the problem will often cause an increase in the number of defects introduced with each new release, eventually out-pacing enhancements and leading to an overwhelming weight of technical debt. All of these problems are a side-effect of functionality that is tightly integrated. Making a change in one part of the system can often have unexpected impacts in what were thought to be distant parts of the system, hampering progress and creating vulnerability if talented contributors move on. In contrast, cloud native microservice architectures allow components to be built and deployed in small pieces. This makes scaling up the development team more efficient as there are more pieces that can be independently developed and deployed.

Cloud Native for Scalability

Cloud native is different largely because of scale. Software teams had developed large complex software, and many enterprises had implemented automated CI and CD tooling before. It was the need to serve the user populations that were introduced by the internet, with the availability requirements of a public marketplace that drove many of the technologies we associate with cloud native architectures. In monolithic systems, as user demands increase the whole app is scaled up as a single monolith. This means that you have to scale up the entire monolith to serve the load of the single busiest component within that runtime. These designs tend to have hard limits to scale, and infrastructure automation is challenging with marginal returns. Cloud native architectures that use loosely coupled systems of small service components allow you to focus scale efforts on the most in demand parts of the system. Automation of the infrastructure when applied to orchestration of these smaller services starts to provide significant gains in efficient scalability.

Cloud Native for Quality

Software quality management is another key area where monolithic architectures suffer compared to their cloud native counterparts. The release cycle for a monolith will require a large set of regression tests for each release, even if only a small piece of functionality is being updated. This is a major contributing factor to software quality teams becoming a bottleneck in the release cycle and can result in high stress and turnover in critical quality roles. When loosely coupled systems are updated they can be independently tested and deployed with confidence. Continuous integration and deployment automations can be implemented in the monolithic environment, but these practices do not yield innovation velocity anywhere near cloud native speeds. You will need to do more than automate monolithic deployments, you will need to change what it is you are deploying!

Cloud Native for IT Operations

Cloud native organizations allow the software engineers to automate the process of designing, building and running software solutions. This has introduced a new title in the IT field, the Site Reliability Engineer. The SRE is typically the person who used to be on the Operations side of the house before being joined to a DevOps team. Modern cloud native infrastructure allows these team members to automate much of the Design-Build-Run process.

Cloud Native Transformation

If some of the problems mentioned above (difficulty scaling staff, ever longer release cycles, expensive or limited scaling capabilities, an SQA team on the edge, or an operations team that is opposed to all change) sound familiar, then cloud native may be the right move for you. Worthwhile can work with you to transform your practice to take advantage of modern cloud native approaches. The journey from a traditional monolithic IT shop to a cloud native computer science organization will be long, and no two organizations will take the same path. We believe, however, that there are three pillars that are essential to a successful transformation.

User-Focused Design Thinking

If you don’t design and qualify your ideas with your end users in mind, you can’t be confident in the result, even with the best architecture under the hood. Having a design process that can adapt to the challenges of rapid iteration while keeping all the stakeholders in sync is key.

Microservice Architecture

Establish an intentional set of microservice architecture principles that can guide your design decisions and establish a framework for continuous process improvement. 

Agile Software Development Lifecycle

You need a concrete plan for your software development lifecycle in place, one that validates business goals, gathers user insights and needs, and continuously delivers high quality software to your users.

Training Your Team for Innovation

One of the best ways to facilitate a cloud native transformation is to partner with an external provider like Worthwhile to help you jumpstart your efforts. Here’s why that can make a difference in your outcomes:

1. Identifying Migration Strategy

Since every company falls at a different point on the cloud native spectrum, there is no one-size-fits-all migration strategy. Your ideal migration strategy may involve redeploying applications, re-architecting legacy applications, or phasing out legacy applications and replacing them with new ones. As you work with your provider, they will help you analyze the needs of your company to determine the most effective approach.

2. Knowledge Transfer

Major mental shifts must occur in your team and culture to be successful with a cloud native solution. For example, DevOps concepts like continuous development and testing will be essential with cloud native applications. Teams must learn to zero in on specific parts of the application rather than considering the software as a whole. When you partner with an external provider that uses a cloud native approach, you get the benefit of working with a team that already has the experience and expertise you need. As part of your engagement, your technology partner can provide training and knowledge transfer to help your team acclimate to the differences in methodology and development practices.

3. Training Opportunities

Many, small, cross-functional teams are ideal for cloud native methodologies. But if your enterprise hasn’t traditionally functioned this way it can be a bumpy transition. Teams need both formal and informal training to grasp the concepts and practices that drive cloud native applications. As part of the implementation, your external partner should provide training opportunities to help your team adopt the mindset, skills, and communication practices needed to support the workload.

4. Immersion in DevOps Best Practices

Cloud native implementations and maintenance require a DevOps approach to development. As development and operations work together, they can achieve greater success in areas like innovative design, delivery, and testing. Best practices such as continuous integration, continuous delivery pipelines, automated testing, frequent deployments, small teams, and cross-functional collaboration are key to achieving the results you are looking for, but sometimes you need some additional support during the early stages of implementation. Working with a team already grounded in DevOps will help your internal IT staff make the transition more smoothly.

5. Adapting Code Languages and Processes

It’s easy to fall into a habit of thinking about code as its own goal. But with cloud native apps, code is a means to the end of better service delivery and end-user experiences. That means cloud native apps often use best-of-breed languages and frameworks for individual components of the application.

At Worthwhile, our goal is to set your team up to be successful as you transition to a cloud native environment. We will help you identify specific user needs, map out the components needed to address those needs, and come alongside your team as you implement. 

We’ve dealt with software projects for over 25 years, and we’ve seen the benefits the cloud native approach can provide to common technical and business challenges. When you approach your next software project, make sure you start with the right foundation and the right partner.

Mike Storey
Mike is the Senior Solutions Architect at Worthwhile and is an advocate for Worthwhile’s Design Thinking practice. With over 30 years in software engineering and IT operations, he has a passion for helping our customers innovate.
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