Cloud computing technologies have grown to dominate the enterprise space in the last decade. To guide application development and systems deployment, certain operational disciplines emerged. The rise of cloud-agnostic and cloud-native approaches ranks among the most significant cloud trends of recent years.
There are reasonable arguments for being either cloud agnostic or cloud native. Which is best for your organization?
What is the cloud-agnostic approach?
The simplest definition of cloud agnostic is the ability of cloud-based systems or applications—along with their associated workloads and data—to move seamlessly from any one cloud platform to a different cloud provider regardless of either platform's underlying infrastructure or operating dependencies.
For example, an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system deployed as software as a service (SaaS) would be cloud agnostic if it could function properly and just as easily on a Microsoft Azure public cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS) deployment as it could if hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS) or the Google Cloud platform.
Multiple meanings of cloud agnostic
Anything that's cloud agnostic can also move between different on-premises infrastructures or from on premises to the cloud environment, regardless of one or the other's underlying architecture. This makes cloud-agnostic tools especially useful in conjunction with hybrid cloud architecture. Furthermore, cloud agnostic will sometimes be used to describe cloud apps or systems that operate simultaneously across IaaS deployments from multiple cloud service providers (CSPs), such as within the context of an enterprise-scale multi-cloud environment.
Optimal flexibility in a hybrid multi-cloud world
As multifaceted as cloud agnostic can be, its chief purpose as an operating approach is easily explained. It allows organizations to be as flexible as possible with their cloud resources.
In today's business world, where almost 90% of enterprises are using multi-cloud deployments—and most organizations within that percentage are also using hybrid cloud in some way—there's clear appeal to that flexibility.
Imagine this: An organization using a multi-cloud strategy realizes one cloud provider is no longer effective, but its other CSPs are still reliable. In a cloud-agnostic approach, the enterprise should be able to move apps, workloads, and data from the problematic cloud vendor's platform onto other clouds. Data transfer fees or early termination costs may apply, but if that troublesome CSP's cloud resource offerings don't meet business needs, those are small prices to pay in the long run.
Cloud agnostic vs. cloud native: Key characteristics
If the commonly touted idea behind cloud agnosticism is the ability of apps and systems to be hosted on different clouds and run just as effectively, the cloud-native approach is its opposite: In this context, calling an app cloud native means it's built to work in conjunction with the IaaS platform of one particular CSP and take advantage of that CSP's specific capabilities and complementary resources.
Cloud native: Another multifaceted term
One of the reasons the "cloud agnostic vs. cloud native" conversation is so fascinating is that despite their distinct differences as approaches, defining cloud native can become almost as complicated as defining its counterpart.
When some app developers or other cloud-focused IT professionals use the term "cloud native," they're simply referring to an app or system that's been configured to run strictly in the cloud, rather than on premises. Usually, such a resource is directly developed within a single cloud—e.g., one dedicated to development and operations (DevOps)—through the use of a solution such as platform as a service (PaaS). Therefore, technically, an app can be cloud native and cloud agnostic if it was made in the cloud but isn't platform-specific and can work in environments from multiple cloud providers.
Leveraging access to complementary services
Strictly focusing on the cloud-native approach, the primary advantage for apps built with platform specificity is the ability to benefit from other tools in a single CSP's portfolio, ranging from data storage systems to Docker container or Kubernetes cluster management tools. This can increase efficiency and allow for easier monitoring of all cloud apps, as the CSP will have native management tools.
When should you choose a cloud-agnostic approach?
If flexibility is the primary advantage of cloud agnosticism, then by definition the main reason for an agnostic approach to cloud adoption is to avoid vendor lock-in.
Going cloud agnostic ideally gives enterprises the ability to use key applications across multiple clouds without having to worry about an app being unusable if a cloud goes down. In theory, the organization would just switch to another cloud and start running the app once again.
However, that explanation is a bit simplistic. There are several ways in which this scenario can work:
- Different versions of a given app could be hosted on separate clouds. The "dormant" version on a stable cloud would take over for the version hosted by the cloud experiencing an outage. That dormant app must always technically be running—and consuming resources—on the other cloud, but may be necessary for operational resilience purposes.
- Serverless architecture allows cloud apps that aren't in use to lie dormant, but most serverless environments are controlled by a single CSP.
- Alternatively, code may need to be rewritten on the fly to achieve seamless cloud migration for one app moving to another IaaS environment.
- In cloud-agnostic architectures where apps run simultaneously across public IaaS infrastructure from multiple cloud vendors, a unified resource orchestration layer is essential: It manages app operations across each cloud in a multi-cloud deployment. Such a layer can be quite complex to develop.
In a nutshell, the cloud operations team will have to work harder to adopt and maintain a completely cloud-agnostic approach.
The cloud-native alternative
The main reason for going in the opposite direction and choosing the completely cloud-native approach is if you and other relevant stakeholders see clear benefits from working with one CSP—and the tools it offers—that make sense for your organization.
Ultimately, working with the cloud resources of one CSP may reduce overall costs and could boost app performance. This type of cloud-native environment can also be more resilient than a fully cloud-agnostic app ecosystem, as it is based on a collection of tight-knit microservices.
Further, developers will have access to CSP support for matters including configuration and application programming interface (API) management. As such, the dev team's focus remains with app creation and testing.
However, keep this in mind: The term "vendor lock-in" came into common use precisely because some CSPs are reliant on the dependency that a completely cloud-native approach fosters. Sudden increases in subscription costs, for example, can—in their own way—be just as disruptive as service outages and the resulting downtime.
Mastering the best cloud strategy for your organization
Here's the simple truth of this issue: Your enterprise does not have to choose one or the other—and be bound by that choice for the foreseeable future—when it comes to cloud agnostic or cloud native. Running a hybrid multi-cloud deployment can allow your organization to run some apps that are platform-specific to the IaaS hosting them and also take full advantage of apps that are cloud agnostic and can be moved if necessary.
For example, imagine your developers have been using one cloud service and seeing great results from the apps they create with it. There's no reason why they can't continue to use that service if you have a hybrid multi-cloud setup.
On the other hand, if your data science and analysis team loves the versatile data management and analytics capabilities of Teradata VantageCloud, but doesn't like working with the suite of complementary tools a cloud service offers, they don't have to use them. VantageCloud can run on either the AWS or Azure clouds within your hybrid multi-cloud environment instead. Remember—VantageCloud is only "cloud native" in the sense that it's designed for optimal performance in the cloud, not that it's exclusive to any specific CSP.
Managing cloud-agnostic and cloud-native apps and systems successfully requires vigilant multi-cloud management—most likely via a blend of different solutions rather than any one platform. Teradata VantageCloud can be one such solution and contribute immeasurably to these efforts. The cutting-edge analytics tools, scalability, and peerless data integration capabilities of VantageCloud can allow you to create a unified view of application performance across the entire enterprise. This ensures you're always aware of successes and failures among both cloud-agnostic and cloud-native apps. Teams can adjust management and deployment strategies accordingly.
Learn more about the complete cloud analytics and data management possibilities VantageCloud can unlock for your enterprise by connecting with us today.