As of 2021, only a miniscule percentage of enterprises rely solely on on-premises servers to power their digital infrastructure. The 2021 State of the Cloud report revealed that 78 percent of respondents had adopted a hybrid-cloud strategy, and 92 percent were using a multi-cloud strategy. The question is no longer if enterprises should shift to the cloud, but rather how they should approach their cloud strategy. The plethora of cloud service providers (CSPs) available with different software support, security functionalities, and pricing has sparked a trend of organizations experimenting with different cloud platforms (multi-cloud) and/or dividing their applications between public and private clouds (hybrid cloud) to maximize savings and efficiency.
The benefits of a hybrid cloud strategy range from cost-efficiency, speed, and flexibility to security and automation. But how effectively your enterprise reaps these benefits depends on the philosophy driving your cloud migration, i.e. whether you adopt a Cloud Native approach or a Cloud Independent (commonly called Cloud Agnostic) approach, or even a combination of the two. Each approach has its pros and cons, and it’s up to you to decide which suits your business strategy best, or if you’d like to split your workload between the two approaches.
What is Cloud Native?
“Cloud Native” is a philosophy driving application development, which essentially involves building applications that are native to the cloud. Cloud Native applications are built to leverage the advantages of a microservices architecture and containerization as well as the scalability that this offers.
Cloud Native toolchains enable continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) workflows in the cloud, and they can be run across public, private, and hybrid cloud environments. However, cloud Native applications usually rely on the features of the underlying platform or CSP. This means that apps bought or developed for Amazon Web Services (AWS), for example, may not work or may lose critical features if you port them to Microsoft Azure.
What is Cloud Agnostic?
Cloud Agnostic is not the opposite of Cloud Native. Cloud Agnostic and Cloud Native approaches can exist side by side, but Cloud Agnostic takes flexibility one step further by building applications that can easily be shifted across cloud platforms and providers.
Cloud Agnostic toolchains do not rely on dependencies specific to a CSP, allowing them to transcend platforms. By making applications independent of the cloud platform, enterprises protect themselves from being locked in to a single vendor.
Cloud Native vs Cloud Agnostic: pros and cons
The merits of each approach are the demerits of the other approach, and it is often these demerits that become the deciding factor for enterprises.
Pros of Cloud Native
1. Fully leverage platform features: Cloud Native applications are built to exploit the features that are built into a Cloud Platform, which allows them to make the most of tools and functionalities that you are paying for. This makes your applications perform at optimum efficiency and reduces the costs of having to build those features from scratch.
2. Faster time-to-market: This is true of simpler use cases like hosting a simple website in the cloud. You can go from idea to production very quickly since there are fewer moving pieces and lesser integrations to make between tools.
3. Easier to manage/orchestrate: Cloud Native applications also don’t need a third-party management solution to keep track of them since most cloud platforms give you the architecture and tools to monitor and manage your applications.
Cons of Cloud Native
1. Vendor lock-in: Having your applications tied to a CSP puts you at their mercy. They could suddenly cut support for critical features, be taken down by a DDoS attack, or exponentially increase their pricing, leaving you in the lurch. You would then have to invest a lot into migrating your apps or rewriting them from scratch for your new providers’ platform. Without redundancy, you risk the continuity of your business.
2. Unsupported/unavailable features: Each cloud provider has its features and limitations, and you might miss out on important features another platform could offer your business if your applications are built for a single provider. Furthermore, writing code from scratch for features that your current provider doesn’t offer can be more expensive than just shifting your applications to a platform that gives you what you need.
3. Lower scalability: Your ability to scale your applications up and down to meet your business needs is limited to what your platform can support. This is especially true of complex applications and use cases. Simpler systems are easy to scale.
4. Cloud migration difficulties: When you’re first starting to migrate your on-premises applications to the cloud, you might have to spend a lot more time and resources on building your applications to integrate and run seamlessly on the Cloud Platform.
Pros of Cloud Agnostic
1. No vendor lock-in: Not having the lifeline of your business tied to a single provider allows you to maximize redundancy. This ensures the continuity of your business if you are let down by your provider.
2. Better portability: Cloud Agnostic applications can be easily migrated from on-premises to cloud architecture and also between Cloud Platforms. Even if applications fail on one platform, you can seamlessly switch over to another platform with minimal downtime.
3. Better scalability: Being able to run your applications on several platforms makes scaling much easier especially for complex enterprise applications.
4. More flexibility: You can save your enterprise from a bad deal if your multi-cloud approach enables you to choose platforms that give you the best prices and services. If you ever get short-changed by your provider, a cloud-agnostic strategy lets you pack up and move elsewhere without much delay.
5. Customization and compliance: Your organization may have requirements or regulations that a CSP is unable to fully support. Going the Cloud Agnostic route lets you develop features to meet specific business requirements.
Cons of Cloud Agnostic
1. Greater complexity: Building applications from scratch with additional features increases the complexity and costs of development. A Cloud Agnostic approach is often more expensive than a cloud-native approach.
2. Longer time-to-market: With the added complexity and development time, products can take longer to reach the market. A Cloud Agnostic strategy pays off in the long run, but not every enterprise can afford to risk competitiveness by waiting.
3. Ineffective use of various platforms’ in-built features: Cloud Agnostic applications may fail to make the most of the security, monitoring, and management systems built into cloud platforms. Managing all these independent applications across several platforms can pose a significant orchestration problem.
So, which is better?
As cloud technology evolves, your Cloud Agnostic applications will be better able to keep up with dynamic development environments and an ever-evolving market. In the long run, a cloud-agnostic strategy will ensure the continuity of your business and help you scale to rising demands and stay competitive. However, this requires time and investment in the short run that not every organization is prepared to make. Cloud Native applications can quickly meet your business needs with less investment and make the most of a platform’s in-built features, but the enhanced risk that comes with the lack of redundancy can jeopardize your entire business.
Some organizations prefer to execute core business functions through cloud-agnostic toolchains and leverage the cloud-native approach for less critical applications. Others may go completely Cloud Native in the beginning and then slowly shift to Cloud Agnostic over time. However, to effectively secure your business model, cloud-agnosticism is inevitable. And how you achieve that depends on the capabilities and needs of your enterprise.