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Your business might be in the cloud, but is it really cloud-native?


Your retail business might well be “in the cloud”, but have you ever stopped to wonder if you’re using the cloud to its fullest potential? Cloud-native has become somewhat of a boardroom buzzword in recent years, so much so that in some cases its true meaning has got lost, leading many retail businesses to rest on their laurels and assume that merely being cloud-based is enough to futureproof their operations and remain fast and agile. Regrettably, this isn’t the case. 

In a 2020 survey of more than 1,500 senior IT decision-makers, a staggering 97% claimed to be cloud-native. However, when respondents were asked to describe what “cloud-native” actually was, there was no discernable consensus. Some thought that a business being “born” in the cloud made it cloud-native. Others thought that if they had some processes in the cloud or used cloud applications they were cloud-native. A few thought that dabbling in containerization or employing an orchestration tool like Kubernetes was enough to proudly refer to themselves as “cloud-native”.  The truth isn’t quite so black and white. While being born in the cloud is most definitely a prerequisite to being cloud-native, that alone isn’t enough. Cloud-native is more of a discipline; a philosophy; a way of doing things, rather than simply ticking technologies and platforms off a list. 

In this article, we’ll explore the difference between being cloud-based and cloud-native, and how your retail business might benefit more from the latter. 

Why being in the cloud doesn’t necessarily make you cloud-native

The majority of retail businesses are actually cloud-adoptive or cloud-based rather than being fully cloud-native. Being cloud-based is certainly an advantage - according to some reports it can reduce e-commerce operating costs by up to 25% - but it only scratches the surface of what can truly be achieved with cloud technology in 2021. Sadly, this is where most businesses stop innovating. If your business was to move its in-house web application to a cloud-hosted provider such as AWS or Azure, your business would then be “cloud-based” and would gain benefits of scalability, flexibility and cost-efficiency. What this does is to shift the responsibility for managing resources to a third-party host, meaning your business no longer needs to worry about server maintenance or backups, and can simply pay for resources on an “ad-hoc” basis, as and when required. This makes your e-commerce business a little more agile, allowing you to scale up to meet surges in demand (such as those caused by a pandemic). 

The above is what many e-commerce leaders confuse with being cloud-native. Moving applications to the cloud and reaping the benefits of having a cloud-hosted application does not make your retail business cloud-native. It’s beneficial for sure, but why stop there? Let’s take a look at how cloud-native differs from simply being cloud-based. 

What does it mean to be cloud-native? 

As we outlined briefly in the introduction, a huge part of being cloud-native is being born in the cloud. That’s not to say that an established business can’t become cloud-native, but it must ensure that its solutions are architected from the ground up to run natively in a cloud environment like AWS, Azure, Google Cloud or IBM Cloud. So what makes cloud-native different from being cloud-based? 

The answer lies not in the what, but in the how. Cloud-native refers to how cloud applications are developed and deployed. Instead of simply moving a monolithic application into a cloud-hosted environment (which then becomes cloud-based), cloud-native focuses on continuous integration and orchestration using container engines such as Docker or Kubernetes. In other words, cloud-native, or true-cloud architecture,  is a new way of architecting applications and infrastructure, using APIs and microservices to break software down into smaller “services” that can be deployed, retracted or re-used as and when needed. This not only dramatically reduces the cost of development, but also ensures that your solution stays scalable, agile and completely future-proofed. Instead of having to reinvest in new monoliths to keep up with the changing pace of the industry and consumer behavior, true-cloud architecture takes a “building blocks'' approach that allows your business to evolve gradually, bringing in new services, features and capabilities that are fully interoperable with whatever legacy architecture you have in place. 

What are the benefits of being cloud-native? 

Being cloud-native rather than just cloud-based can pay huge dividends if your business gets it right. One of the biggest differentiators between businesses these days - particularly those in e-commerce - is the “time to market” of new features and services. The faster your retail business can devise, develop and deploy a new service that enhances the customer experience, the more likely it is to retain those customers and capture a larger share of the market. A modern cloud-native approach will support this DevOps approach (the fusion of software development and IT operations) allowing your retail business to stay head and shoulders above the competition. 

Reduced cost through containerization is another benefit of cloud-native development. By managing and securing applications independently of the infrastructure that supports them, your business can approach workloads more dynamically and only pay for resources as and when they are needed. Kubernetes is quickly becoming the industry standard for orchestrating containers and managing resources in the cloud. 

Another crucial bonus to cloud-native development that’s not often talked about is that it will enable your business to escape from the spiral of vendor lock-in. Where legacy vendors would normally lock you into a several-year-long licensing contract for using their proprietary hardware or software, cloud-native development and the adoption of open-source software such as Kubernetes has made this a thing of the past.

To find out more about cloud-native architecture, containerization and the benefits of microservice-based applications, get in touch with Emporix today by clicking here.