Cloud applications are software that users access primarily through the internet, meaning at least some of it is managed by a server and not users' local machines. Cloud-native application development strategies help development teams design apps with consistent experiences (for front-end users and back-end operations teams) across any IT infrastructure: physical, virtual, or cloud-based.
A brief history (and future predictions)
This basic definition doesn’t fully describe how cloud applications have reshaped markets and business models, though. If designed well, cloud applications can offer a user experience like a program installed entirely on a local machine, but with reduced resource needs, more convenient updating, and the ability to access functionality across different devices.
New cloud applications can become key sources of revenue, and cause disruptive shifts to markets and business models. Gartner forecasts $110.5 billion revenue from worldwide cloud services in 2020, and additionally forecasts a rise to $143.7 billion by 2022.
Integrating someone's cloud application into your existing architecture
Salesforce, for example, is a well-known cloud application that you can use for customer relationship management, instead of setting up your own system on your own servers. Red Hat even has a story about integrating Salesforce.
Cloud applications like Salesforce, called Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), open up lots of new opportunities to plug useful tools and services into your existing systems, but you must consider how to integrate them with your existing architecture.
Developing your own cloud application
Developing cloud applications can open possibilities for reaching new customers, or offer better systems for internal use. For instance, Ally Financial created a containerized hybrid cloud platform to increase development speed, and UPS created its own application platform to improve data access for its logistics teams. Both ultimately improved the end customer experience through an internal platform.
No matter what you want your cloud application to do, you’ll benefit from familiarizing yourself with the cloud-native approach to application development.
What are different cloud application designs?
More specifically, a cloud application is software that runs its processing logic and data storage between 2 different systems: client-side and server-side. Some processing takes place on an end user’s local hardware, such as a desktop or mobile device, and some takes place on a remote server. Typically, one of the benefits of cloud applications is that most data storage exists on a remote server. In fact, some cloud applications can even be built to consume almost no storage space on a local device. Users interact with a cloud application via a web browser or application programming interface (API). Those are the fundamental principles of a cloud application, but exactly what gets handled between client and server-side, and how it changes the user experience, come in a few different forms.
Software-as-a-service (SaaS) is a popular form of cloud computing that delivers a web application and all its underlying IT infrastructure and platforms to users. It can be an ideal solution for businesses or individuals which:
- Do not want the responsibility of maintaining infrastructure, platforms, and software.
- Have challenges that require minimal customization to solve.
- Favor software subscription models.
SaaS reduces users’ upfront costs by eliminating the need to permanently purchase software or invest in a robust on-premise IT infrastructure, although users should invest in fast network hardware since service performance is determined by internet connection speeds.
Examples of SaaS include consumer-facing services like Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365, as well as enterprise services that deliver human resource software, content management systems, customer relationship management tools, and some integrated development environments (IDEs).
Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) gives you a platform on which to develop, run, and manage your own apps without having to build and maintain the infrastructure or environment they need to run. This is because PaaS provides hardware and an application-software platform to users from an outside service provider. This means you will control the actual apps and data that live on the platform, making PaaS an ideal solution for developers and programmers. For instance, a developer might use PaaS as the foundation to create a new application that integrates with an existing Oracle database your company is already using.
Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) means a provider manages the infrastructure for you—the actual servers, network, virtualization, and storage—via a public cloud or private cloud. You access the infrastructure through an API or dashboard, and the infrastructure is rented. You can manage things like the operating system, apps, and middleware while a provider, like AWS or Microsoft Azure, provides the hardware, networking, hard drives, storage, and servers—and they are responsible for taking care of outages, repairs, and hardware issues.