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Cloud-Native Applications and Log Management Best Practices

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Why Are Cloud-Native Applications Necessary?

The traditional application development paradigm involves practices and tools for developing applications. This paradigm builds upon monolithic architecture, which is centered around the idea of “interconnectedness” and “dependency.”

What do I mean by “interconnectedness” and “dependency”? The former refers to applications developed so each component interconnects with the other components. Thus, lines of code and functions within one component are intertwined with the others. What happens when one of the components fails to function? Due to the interconnected, monolithic architecture, the entire application fails due to its dependence on this failed component.

Issues such as downtime and system failures become more frequent. Developers must go through all the components to identify the source of the failure and debug the code. Overall, these problems slow down the pace of application development/delivery and make it a tedious process.

Furthermore, the monolithic architecture creates an environment enabling developers to allow for dependencies between the application and the operating system (OS). For applications developed on Windows to properly function on iOS and Android, one must build different versions of the applications for each OS.

This has caused problems with scalability and migration. Moreover, maintaining different versions of an application is expensive due to the lack of supportable infrastructure. It also slows down the pace of development/delivery and requires serious effort. You can see how the traditional process—from app development to delivery—has too many inherent problems.

Another problem with the traditional paradigm is the siloed culture. The development team is isolated from the production and operations teams. Each team works independently, under different team leaders, and at different corners of the office. This lack of collaboration results in a constant back-and-forth competition between these teams, and the siloed culture further slows the delivery process and creates conflicts between the team members.

It’s easy to see how most of the issues related to traditional software applications stem from the on-premises, monolithic architecture and the siloed culture.

The introduction of cloud computing enabled businesses to build applications using the power of the cloud. Cloud-based or cloud-native applications rely on micro-component services rather than a monolithic architecture. By removing OS dependency and interconnectedness between the different components, cloud-native applications become independent, highly scalable, efficient, and fast in terms of development and delivery. Furthermore, the shift to a more Agile/DevOps culture helps facilitate collaboration and innovation.

To better understand how cloud-native applications solved these problems, let’s address the question of what precisely these applications entail.

What Are Cloud-Native Applications?

Cloud-native applications are software applications built on the power of cloud-computing paradigms. Rather than an on-premises setup (traditional software applications), cloud-based services are used to develop cloud-native apps. What difference does this make? Simply put, a world of difference.

Cloud-native applications provide solutions to problems related to slow delivery cycles, OS dependency, scalability, migration, infrastructure and hardware limitations, etc. Furthermore, they facilitate a more collaborative and customer-focused culture rather than a structure-focused organizational culture.

Key aspects of cloud-native applications include the following:

  • Built as an amalgam of independent modules (microservices) capable of being reused to develop new applications.
  • Enclosed in packages called containers, which are abstractions of the OS. These packages come with all software dependencies needed to run the application on a different environment.
  • Organized around a DevOps culture facilitating highly efficient applications through continuous development/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipelines. This culture practices automation, scalability, collaboration, and time efficiency.

To understand these key aspects, it’s crucial to understand what independent modules and containers mean in relation to cloud-native apps. The following section will cover the concepts of containerization and microservices and their role in cloud-native applications.

Architecture of Cloud-Native Applications

Microservices

In the traditional software application paradigm, each component is interconnected with other components because they’re built on top of each other. A failure in a single component means the entire application fails. This behavior results due to the interconnectedness of the components. The solution is to develop independent components/services without dependencies. Such an architectural design is known as a microservice architecture, and the independent, loosely coupled components are known as microservices.

Microservices enable high-speed, organized, and frequent delivery of software applications. Even the most complex applications can be broken down into smaller, independent microservices and deployed on the go. Each component can be tested, deployed, scaled, and updated without causing disturbances to the ongoing processes and the end users.

Furthermore, unlike traditional application-development paradigms where debugging entails scanning the entire stack of code, microservices make it easy to debug because developers can easily locate the component causing the error. Moreover, developers can reuse components instead of coding applications from scratch. This allows for rapid application development.

Having a microservice architecture also facilitates a DevOps culture by enabling rapid development/delivery and feedback pipelines, propelling developers, engineers, and operations teams to collaborate and ensuring customer satisfaction.

Containerization

While microservices excel at rapid development of applications, containers enable rapid testing and deployment by packaging applications with all their dependencies to run on different operating systems.

Containers create a virtual environment on top of the host operating system. While testing a piece of code, the operations team doesn’t have to worry about installing and configuring their operating system. Instead, the container is packaged along with all the configuration files, libraries, and other files necessary to execute the code. This creates a consistent, rapid, and error-free flow throughout the application deployment pipeline.

Containers can be created, copied, and deployed in seconds. Multiple containers can run in parallel, as they require minimal storage capacity (unlike virtual machines). Furthermore, containers facilitate automation through APIs and are highly compatible with a microservice architecture, making them a part of the DevOps culture.

Now that we’re familiar with the core architectural principles of cloud-native applications, let’s look at the many benefits of using cloud-native applications.

Benefits of Cloud-Native Applications

Speed Up Releases

Containers and microservice architecture significantly reduce the time and effort required to develop and deploy applications. Automation, continuous development, and deployment are some of the core principles of cloud-native applications. These are also the core principles of the DevOps culture.

Easier Management

Thanks to cloud-computing platforms such as AWS, managing cloud-native infrastructure has become easy. Several cloud-computing services allow you to integrate your code on the platform without having to deal with scheduling instances, network configuration, resource allocation, and so on. This makes it easier to manage and develop applications on the go.

Portability

Through the use of containers, developers don’t have to worry about the dependency between the application and the OS. This portable, on-demand packaged infrastructure has rapidly changed the pace of application deployment. Moreover, testing and moving the code from team to team allows for more collaboration and cooperation.

Scalability

The microservice architecture of cloud-native applications makes scalability easy and efficient. Furthermore, traditional software development paradigms require changing the infrastructure, which is far from cost-effective. At present, cloud platforms provide autoscaling of cloud-native applications wherein you only pay for the resources you use.

Reliability

Traditional applications often suffer from downtime due to dependency issues and interconnectedness. However, cloud-native applications are much more fault-tolerant and resilient due to their autonomous microservice architecture and containerization. Even if you encounter a failure in the system, it can be easily identified and isolated without shutting down the entire application. This improves the overall experience and satisfaction of the end users.

Adapting to cloud-native applications not only improves the user experience but changes the outlook and culture of an organization. It enables collaboration and frees time for more innovation.

How Adapting to Cloud-Native Applications Affects an Organization

Change in Organizational Structure

Cloud-native apps center around the principles of DevOps. Shifting to cloud-native applications instills a dynamic and collaborative environment relying on automation.

The Dev and Ops teams are structured to enable high-speed production pipelines. There’s no longer a back-and-forth battle between the testing team and the developers, resulting in a more Agile and structured flow of communication. Overall, the organizational structure shifts from siloed to shared responsibility.

Culture

People commonly believe cloud applications are purely technological innovations. However, they’re more than this. They change the organization’s mindset by helping them focus on getting things done quickly.

The microservice architecture establishes an environment of breaking down complex problems into smaller, frequent, actionable steps. This instills the habit of small-scale goals and successes, which boosts employee morale. Furthermore, using cloud-native applications increases productivity, frees up time, allows for collaboration, and creates an environment of growth. Therefore, cloud-native applications are just as much a cultural reformation as they are a technological innovation.

Collaboration

Owing to the “on-demand” infrastructure and the dynamic environment instilled by the development and production of cloud applications, there’s a constant need for collaboration and communication. Feedback loops are built into the deployed cloud instances, facilitating collaboration between the different teams. There’s no longer a divide between Dev and Ops. Each is involved and looped in on code design and infrastructure decisions.

But cloud paradigms don’t just shift the development and production line of an organization—they impact logging practices, too.

Shifts in Logging Practices Driven by a Cloud-Native Paradigm

During the era of traditional software paradigms, logging practices were relatively simple. The process of obtaining, analyzing, and aggregating logs was sequential and straightforward. Furthermore, the quantity and type of logs were manageable and easily interpretable.

With the advent of cloud computing and cloud-native applications and tools, the quantity and type of logs have grown exponentially. Below, we’ll discuss a few of the changes in log management practices you should keep in mind.

More Logging

With traditional software paradigms, a single server was used to develop a single application. Therefore, any logs pertaining to the application came from one on-premises server. Such a relatively narrow set of logs could be easily stored, analyzed, and monitored.

However, the microservice architecture of cloud-native applications consists of multiple services or components, each generating different logs. Furthermore, due to containerization, several on-demand infrastructure layers are stacked on top of each other, and these each generate their own logs as well. Therefore, multiple sources generate logs, making processing, storing, analyzing, and monitoring more challenging and expensive.

Different Types of Logs

Using different cloud-native tools generates different types of logs. The logs generated from Docker (a containerization platform) are different from the logs generated from different operating systems.

The different formats of the logs also make it difficult to perform any analysis, complicating the process of log management. Overall, storing and querying logs is expensive, and the different log formats make the whole process even more complicated.

Loss of Log Data

A key challenge with containers is all log files are lost if and when their execution halts. By default, all your data and logs delete automatically. This can be disruptive, as log data is crucial during security breaches and alerts.

The complexity of log management in cloud-native applications can be minimized by following a set of log practices.

Cloud-Native Log Management: Best Practices

Speed Up and Simplify

To keep up with the high speed of cloud computing paradigms, you must devise logging practices capable of speeding up aggregation and providing valuable insights. One way to do this is by combining log collection and aggregation tasks. Automating the process of collecting logs from multiple sources and consolidating them into a single system can speed up the log management process. Furthermore, having a centralized location containing all your logs can simplify analyzing and monitoring.

Check What You Log

Start by verifying the regulations associated with logging customer data. You should pay attention to the types of logs you parse. If the logs include sensitive customer information without any security checks, it could result in compliance risks. Paying attention to the types of logs you parse is also beneficial in reducing the volume of logs. Unnecessary logs don’t improve the efficiency of the applications; instead, they slow down analysis and add to the complexity.

Focus on Real-Time Logs

Monitoring and collecting logs in real time is crucial in dealing with microservice failures, container shutdowns, or downtime issues. Actively monitoring logs gives you insight into the efficiency of your application. Real-time monitoring helps contain major catastrophes by identifying potential issues early and triggering rapid troubleshooting.

Most cloud platforms provide the option to automate log management practices. The key is to control the volume of logging, devise a strategy to centralize your aggregated logs in one place, and monitor logs in real time.

Conclusion

Organizations are rapidly shifting to cloud-native applications because they’re scalable, highly efficient, reliable, and cost-effective. Cloud-native applications are perfect for the pace of today’s market. If your business isn’t constantly deploying new applications and making modifications through the click of a button, then chances are, it can’t sustain itself in such a fast-paced market. Therefore, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the different cloud-native tools.

To start taking your log management to the cloud, try SolarWinds® Papertrail. Papertrail offers effortless log aggregation and management to make your log management easier. Sign up today!

 

This post was written by Zulaikha Greer. Zulaikha is a tech enthusiast with expertise in various domains, such as data science, machine learning (ML), and statistics. She enjoys researching cognitive science, marketing, and design. She’s a cat lover by nature who loves to read—you can often find her with a book, enjoying Beethoven’s, Mozart’s, or Vivaldi’s legendary pieces.

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