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10 Nov
min read

The 9 Must-Follow Best Practices for Building Cloud Native Apps

Master cloud native development and build resilient, scalable apps. This guide covers 9 key best practices including microservices, automated deployments, and security.

Jack Dwyer

Platform Engineering + DevOps

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Adopting a Cloud Native Mindset

Transitioning to cloud native requires fundamentally changing how you think about developing, deploying, and running applications. Adopting a cloud native mindset unlocks the full benefits of this approach.

Benefits of Cloud Native

Cloud native enables greater agility, scalability, resilience, and efficiency. By designing cloud native apps from the start, you gain:

  • Agility - Make changes quickly. Update frequently without downtime. Respond rapidly to shifts in demand.
  • Scalability - Scale up or down on demand. No need to predict future traffic. Pay only for resources used.
  • Resilience - Withstand failures. Distribute traffic across regions. Build in redundancy.
  • Efficiency - Reduce costs. Share resources efficiently. Utilize only what you need.

Cloud Native Principles

Embracing a few core principles is key to unlocking the benefits above:

  • Design for automation - Automate everything from infrastructure to deployments.
  • Develop loosely coupled microservices - Break apps into independent components that can evolve separately.
  • Make all components portable - Containerize components to run on any infrastructure.
  • Treat infrastructure as code - Manage all infrastructure and configs as code.
  • Immutable and stateless - Components can be replaced easily rather than changed. State lives outside components.

Thinking Cloud First

Adopting a cloud first mindset is critical. Consider:

  • How can I leverage cloud services?
  • How do I optimize for a cloud environment?
  • How can I design for high availability across regions?

By embracing cloud native principles and thinking cloud first, you can fully leverage the benefits of this modern approach to building applications.

Using Microservices Architecture

Microservices architecture is a key pillar of building cloud native applications. With microservices, applications are built as a collection of small, autonomous services rather than as a monolith. Each service focuses on performing a single business capability and is developed independently.

What Are Microservices?

Microservices are lightweight, independently deployable components that work together as a system. A microservices architecture consists of many discrete microservices that communicate with each other through APIs. Some key characteristics of microservices:

  • Single responsibility - each microservice focuses on one specific capability
  • Loosely coupled - services are independent and changes to one service don't affect others
  • Highly maintainable and testable - easy to modify, update, and test in isolation
  • Organized around business capabilities - aligned to business domains versus technology layers
  • Owned by small teams - enables developer autonomy and faster development
  • Interact via APIs - lightweight mechanisms like REST APIs allow services to communicate
  • Independently deployable - services can be deployed and scaled separately

Decoupling Services

A key benefit of microservices is the ability to decouple large applications into independent, reusable services. Some ways to decouple services:

  • Develop services around business capabilities rather than technology layers
  • Avoid dependencies between services - reduce direct connections between microservices
  • Externalize all connections between services - use APIs rather than direct calls
  • Isolate and encapsulate each service's data and business logic
  • Avoid sharing code or libraries between services - duplicate if needed
  • Use asynchronous event-driven communication via events/messaging

Decoupling allows services to evolve and scale independently without affecting other parts of the system.

Communicating via APIs

Microservices interact using well-defined APIs, most commonly lightweight REST APIs. APIs enable services to communicate without needing to know about each other's implementation. Some best practices:

  • Use REST principles in API design
  • Expose discrete endpoints for each resource/action
  • Use HTTP methods meaningfully (GET, POST, etc)
  • Send self-descriptive messages like JSON
  • Version APIs to prevent breaking changes
  • Document APIs thoroughly for consumers
  • Secure APIs using standards like OAuth

Developing interfaces between services lays the foundation for an evolvable architecture.

This covers the key points on using microservices architecture - let me know if you would like me to expand or modify any part of it.

Leveraging Containers

Containers provide a critical enabling technology for cloud native applications. At their core, containers package up application code and dependencies into standardized units for software development. This allows developers to build, test, and deploy applications in a faster, more reliable, and more portable manner across environments.

What are Containers?

Containers are a form of operating system virtualization that allow applications to run in isolated user spaces called containers. Each container shares the host operating system kernel while running as an independent, self-contained unit that packages code and dependencies together.

Unlike VMs which virtualize hardware, containers only virtualize the operating system, meaning you can run multiple isolated containers on a single host and VM. Containers are extremely lightweight and portable compared to VMs.

Some key characteristics and benefits of containers:

  • Standardized environments: Containers ensure applications have a consistent environment across different infrastructures. This enables "build once, run anywhere" portability.
  • Lightweight: Containers share the same OS kernel and only run the necessary libraries and dependencies for the application to operate. This makes them very lightweight and efficient.
  • Isolation: Containers isolate processes and resources from each other, avoiding "dependency hell". Applications inside containers cannot see or affect processes or files outside their container.
  • Scalability: Containers can be easily started, moved and scaled horizontally across hosts due to their lightweight nature. This makes it easy to scale cloud native apps.
  • Fast deployment: Containers simplify and accelerate application development and deployment. Container images can be built with app code and dependencies baked in.

Using Docker

Docker is the most popular containerization platform used for deploying cloud native applications. Docker provides tooling to easily build, test, deploy and scale applications using containers.

Some key aspects of Docker:

  • Docker Engine: This is the underlying technology that runs and manages containers on Docker hosts. It uses containerd as the container runtime.
  • Dockerfile: This simple text file contains instructions for building a Docker image automatically. It defines the OS, environment variables, dependencies, files and commands.
  • Docker Images: Images are read-only templates used to create Docker containers. Images are created from Dockerfiles and can be stored in registries like Docker Hub.
  • Docker Containers: These are running instances of Docker images. You can run, start, stop and delete containers from images. Containers are isolated from each other and the host machine.
  • Docker Registries: These store and distribute Docker images. Docker Hub is the default public registry with thousands of open source images. Private registries can also be deployed on-premises.
  • Docker Compose: This tool helps define and run complex multi-container apps by defining app services, networks and volumes in easy to read YAML files.

Container Orchestration with Kubernetes

While Docker excels at running containers, Kubernetes brings orchestration, scaling and high availability to containerized workloads. Kubernetes efficiently manages containerized applications across clusters of hosts.

Key aspects of Kubernetes:

  • Pods: These are groups of one or more containers that share resources and configurations. They represent the basic building blocks of Kubernetes apps.
  • Services and Ingresses: Services and Ingresses expose Pods inside the cluster and provide ingress traffic routing.
  • ConfigMaps and Secrets: These hold configuration data and sensitive data like keys that can be consumed by containers.
  • Volumes: Volumes mount storage resources to be accessed by containers for persistent data.
  • Deployments: Deployments manage Pods and provide self-healing capabilities like auto-restart and scaling.
  • Namespaces: Namespaces partition clusters into virtual clusters to isolate environments and resources.

By leveraging Docker containers and container orchestrators like Kubernetes, teams can achieve portability, reliability and scalability for cloud native applications. Containers are an indispensable part of the cloud native toolbox.

Automate Deployments with CI/CD Practices

One of the most critical cloud native best practices is to implement continuous integration and continuous delivery/deployment (CI/CD) pipelines. This allows you to automate the build, test and release processes for your applications.

Continuous integration involves automatically building, testing and validating each code change committed to a shared repository. This ensures any errors are caught early before changes are merged. Key continuous integration principles include:

  • Use source control like Git for code collaboration
  • Trigger builds on every code commit
  • Run automated tests like unit, integration and security tests
  • Scan code for vulnerabilities and linting issues
  • Generate build artifacts like container images
  • Version build artifacts for traceability

Continuous delivery and deployment takes the CI process further by automatically releasing build artifacts to environments like development, staging and production. Some key continuous delivery practices are:

  • Automate provisioning of environments as needed
  • Deploy build artifacts based on release workflows
  • Validate deployments with automated tests
  • Implement rollbacks in case of failures
  • Use techniques like blue-green and canary deployments

CI/CD tools like Jenkins, CircleCI, TravisCI, GitHub Actions and GitLab CI provide turnkey solutions for setting up CI/CD pipelines with built-in integrations, configuration as code, and automation capabilities. Key features include:

  • Pre-built integration with source control systems
  • Running builds based on detecting new code commits
  • Executing user-defined build steps
  • Integration with infrastructure tools like Kubernetes
  • Automated deployments to different environments
  • Dashboards and visibility into build/deploy status

By implementing robust CI/CD practices using leading CI/CD tools, teams can achieve rapid and reliable releases of their cloud native applications.

Infrastructure as Code

Infrastructure as code (IaC) is a key practice for cloud native applications. IaC enables teams to provision and manage infrastructure through code and automation rather than manual processes.

With IaC, configurations for servers, networks, storage etc. are defined and version controlled just like application code. Infrastructure can then be provisioned and managed by simply running the IaC scripts.

Benefits of Infrastructure as Code

  • Increased Speed and Agility - Infrastructure can be spun up and modified much faster through code. No need to manually configure servers and settings.
  • Consistency and Reliability - IaC removes human error that occurs during manual provisioning. Environments are consistent and auditable when built from the same IaC templates.
  • Cost Savings - IaC enables automating deprovisioning of unused resources, reducing waste.
  • Documentation - IaC code defines and documents the entire infrastructure in a single place. Useful for onboarding and troubleshooting.
  • Reusability - IaC templates can be reused for multiple environments and projects. Saves significant time and effort.
  • Version Control - Storing IaC code in repositories allows versioning, reviewing and rolling back changes. Critical for change management.

Infrastructure as Code Tools

Some popular open source tools for implementing infrastructure as code:

  • Terraform - Supports provisioning infrastructure across many providers like AWS, Azure, Google Cloud. Uses a simple, declarative language.
  • CloudFormation - AWS native tool for managing AWS resources as code. Integrates seamlessly with other AWS services.
  • Ansible - Agentless configuration management tool that can also provision resources. Reliable and simple to use.
  • Pulumi - Uses familiar programming languages like JavaScript and Python for IaC. Easy to get started for developers.
  • Chef/Puppet - Provide frameworks to automate and manage infrastructure and application deployment.

Overall, IaC is essential for managing dynamic cloud native infrastructure efficiently. It enables teams to quickly and reliably provision resources across different environments.

Monitoring and Observability

Monitoring and increasing observability is a critical part of operating cloud native applications successfully. Since cloud native applications are complex distributed systems running on dynamic infrastructure, it becomes very important to have strong monitoring and logging to achieve observability into the system.

There are three main pillars of observability for cloud native applications:


Detailed application logs allow developers to replay the history of events that occurred within the application and understand the flow of a request through the system. Log data provides insights into errors and enables debugging issues.

Some best practices for logging cloud native applications:

  • Log frequently at critical points in the application flow
  • Categorize log statements by severity levels like debug, info, warn, error
  • Include contextual metadata like timestamps, environment, transaction ids
  • Aggregate and analyze logs in a central location

Popular logging solutions include the ELK stack, Splunk, Datadog, and Loggly.


Metrics provide quantitative data about the application and infrastructure like request rates, error rates, CPU usage etc. They allow setting thresholds and alerts to actively monitor the health and performance of a cloud native system.

Some tips for collecting metrics:

  • Identify key metrics aligned to business and user outcomes
  • Instrument applications to expose metrics for monitoring
  • Send metrics to a storage and visualization system like Prometheus
  • Set metrics at the application, infrastructure and business levels

Distributed Tracing

Distributed tracing tracks the path of a request across services and infrastructure, providing insights into bottlenecks and performance issues.

Traces record the following:

  • Timing data for each step
  • Metadata like service name, version, tags
  • Flow of the request across system components

Popular distributed tracing tools include Jaeger, LightStep, and Zipkin.

Monitoring Tools

There are many commercial and open source tools available for monitoring cloud native systems including:

  • Prometheus for metrics collection and querying
  • Grafana for metrics visualization and dashboards
  • Elastic Stack for logging and analysis
  • DataDog and New Relic provide bundled monitoring services

These tools should be leveraged to gain deep observability into cloud native applications.


The monitoring system should be configured with thresholds and alerts based on critical metrics and logs. Alerting enables early notification of issues so that automated or manual remediation can be taken.

Some best practices for alerts:

  • Identify key metrics and log errors to alert on
  • Set appropriate threshold levels for alerts
  • Route alerts to responsible parties via email, SMS or chatbots
  • Document alerting rules and runbooks for resolution

Wrap Up

In summary, cloud native applications must implement robust logging, metrics collection, tracing and monitoring to ensure the system is observable and issues can be rapidly diagnosed and fixed. Investing in monitoring and observability pays huge dividends in terms of uptime and performance for cloud native apps.

Optimizing for the Cloud

Cloud native applications are architected to maximize the benefits of the cloud computing model. Here are some key ways to optimize your apps for cloud environments:

Adopt Cloud Design Principles

  • Design for horizontal scaling - Components should scale out without limits to handle spikes in traffic. Use autoscaling groups.
  • Make components disposable - Services should start and stop easily without causing outages. State should not be stored locally.
  • Decouple services - Loose coupling via APIs enables independent scaling and resilience. Avoid tight dependencies.
  • Design stateless components - State should be externalized to managed datastores. This allows easy scaling.

Build for Resilience

  • Implement retries and exponential backoffs for outages - Retry failed requests across services and to cloud resources.
  • Test failure scenarios - Deliberately inject faults to test system resiliency. Ensure timeouts are set correctly.
  • Distribute across zones - Deploy infrastructure and services across multiple zones to limit blast radius of failures.
  • Monitor health and status - Gain observability into component health to help prevent outages.

Leverage Cloud Services

  • Managed databases - Use cloud database services like AWS RDS or Azure SQL over self-managed databases.
  • Queues and caches - Queue workloads and cache data in memory using cloud services like SQS, ElastiCache or Redis.
  • Blob storage - Use S3 for storage rather than provisioning your own storage servers.
  • Load balancing - Distribute loads efficiently across instances with cloud load balancers.
  • Functions - Leverage serverless functions for event-driven processing.

By following cloud design principles, building for resilience, and fully utilizing cloud managed services, you can optimize your apps to be highly available, scalable and robust in the cloud.

Securing Cloud Native Applications

Security is a critical concern when developing cloud native applications. Since these apps are distributed across dynamic infrastructure and accessible online, they have a large attack surface. Here are some key ways to properly secure cloud native applications:

Implement Identity and Access Management

  • Use centralized authentication through a single sign-on (SSO) provider to avoid credential sprawl. Integrate with tools like Okta, Auth0 or Amazon Cognito.
  • Enforce principle of least privilege - only grant the access users need to perform their role.
  • Implement role-based access control (RBAC) to manage permissions.
  • Use short-lived access tokens instead of long-lived sessions.
  • Monitor authentication events for suspicious activity.

Encrypt Sensitive Data

  • Encrypt data at rest in cloud storage like S3 buckets and database systems. Use server-side or client-side encryption.
  • Encrypt data in transit over the network using SSL/TLS. Enforce HTTPS and disable unencrypted connections.
  • Avoid storing plain text passwords, social security numbers and other sensitive data.
  • Rotate encryption keys periodically.

Conduct Audits and Maintain Compliance

  • Perform regular security audits to find vulnerabilities or misconfigurations.
  • Maintain compliance with regulations like PCI DSS, HIPAA based on your industry.
  • Implement security monitoring, alerting and log analysis to quickly detect issues.
  • Automate security policy enforcement through tools like Chef, Puppet, Ansible.
  • Clearly define security responsibilities across teams and hold people accountable.

By implementing strong identity management, data encryption, and audits for compliance, you can help secure your cloud native applications against modern threats and meet your security obligations.

Choosing the Right Tech Stack for Cloud Native Development

When building cloud native applications, your technology choices will have a major impact on how well your app performs and scales in the cloud. Here are some key considerations for choosing the optimal cloud native tech stack:

Use Cloud-Native Languages

  • Python - A very popular language for cloud native development due to its simple syntax, vast libraries and ability to scale horizontally. Python is a great choice for both web applications and machine learning workloads.
  • Go - Developed by Google, Go provides fast performance, efficient concurrency support and simple deployment of statically compiled binaries. It's ideal for building cloud native microservices.
  • Node.js - Node enables high throughput and scalability with its asynchronous, event-driven architecture. It is commonly used for developing high-traffic web APIs and real-time applications.
  • Java - The JVM allows Java applications to run anywhere and makes Java a solid choice for enterprise-grade cloud native apps. Features like Project Loom provide good support for concurrency.

Leverage Cloud-Native Frameworks

  • Spring Boot - Reduces boilerplate code and makes it easy to build scalable Java cloud native applications using dependency injection, autoconfiguration and embedded servers.
  • Apache Spark - Enables processing huge datasets across a cluster with its distributed data processing engine. Useful for scaling big data workloads on the cloud.
  • Django - A feature-rich Python web framework that enables rapid development and includes many batteries-included components like ORM, template engine, admin portal, etc.
  • Node.js Express - A minimalist and unopinionated framework for Node.js that provides server-side rendering, routing and middleware capabilities.

Utilize Managed Cloud Services

  • Containers - AWS ECS, Azure Container Instances, GCP Cloud Run provide managed container orchestration platforms.
  • Serverless - AWS Lambda, Azure Functions, GCP Cloud Functions are serverless platforms to run event-driven code.
  • Databases - Managed cloud databases like AWS RDS, Azure SQL and GCP Cloud SQL provide high availability.
  • Storage - Object storage services like AWS S3, Azure Blob Storage and GCP Cloud Storage offer durable and scalable storage.
  • CDN - Content delivery networks like CloudFront, Azure CDN and Cloud CDN cache resources close to users.

Choosing programming languages designed for cloud native, frameworks that provide essential capabilities out-of-the-box, and fully managed cloud services allows you to focus on code rather than infrastructure. Evaluate your options to pick the best tech stack for your needs.

Migrating to Cloud Native

Transitioning legacy applications to cloud native architectures can unlock new levels of scalability, automation, and resilience. However, migrating to cloud native also presents some unique challenges. Here are some key steps for assessing readiness, choosing a migration strategy, and avoiding common pitfalls:

Assessing Readiness

Before migrating, audit your existing application portfolio to determine readiness. Look at:

  • Dependencies - Are there complex, deeply entrenched dependencies between components that will be difficult to decouple?
  • Monoliths - Is the codebase monolithic instead of being composed of modular services?
  • Technical debt - Is there excessive technical debt that will impede migration?
  • Processes - Do teams follow agile principles or are processes waterfall-based?
  • Skills - Does your team have the required cloud native skill sets?

Gaining visibility into these areas will help determine the level of effort and risks involved.

Migration Strategies

There are a few common strategies for migrating:

  • Re-architect - Rearchitect monoliths into modular microservices. This allows for incremental migration.
  • Replatform - Lift-and-shift by migrating virtual machines into containers. Quick but provides limited benefits.
  • Rebuild - Fully rebuild applications using cloud native patterns. Maximizes benefits but high effort.
  • Rehost - Migrate virtual machines to IaaS without changes. Fastest option but least transformative.

Choosing between these strategies depends on the application, timelines, and resources available. A hybrid approach is common.

Common Migration Challenges

Some typical challenges faced when migrating include:

  • Integrating legacy systems with modern microservices
  • Coordinating data migration to new systems
  • Retraining staff on new technologies like Kubernetes
  • Moving from a waterfall culture to agile and DevOps
  • Managing legacy application dependencies during migration
  • Avoiding performance degradations or outages

Assigning senior developers to assist, providing training, and starting with non-critical systems can help overcome these. Migrations take time so take an incremental approach.

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