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Building Cloud-Agnostic Applications, Is it Worth the Effort?

Ram Seetepalli
Jan 12, 2024

Public Cloud providers such as Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google GCP are increasingly offering more and more services to their customers. These services have in-built integrations with the individual cloud provider’s own development, management and monitoring tools. So, an organization using a cloud provider’s services and tools may find it difficult to switch to a different cloud provider (unless their cloud solutions have been designed and built with the vision of switching or running on multiple clouds).

There are scenarios where it makes sense to design and build applications that work anywhere – on multiple clouds and on-premise – to take advantage of the best features from each provider or allow for better redundancy or improved scalability or cost-savings over time.

In the context of building applications and multiple cloud providers, there are several approaches to building cloud solutions. So, lets first clarify a few commonly (and perhaps, overly) used words and phrases.

Cloud Agnostic Applications

Cloud agnostic applications are typically built to work on any type of infrastructure (including public cloud, private cloud, on-premise edge etc.). This makes it easier for organizations to move their data (and service components) from one cloud to another without having to change application code and with minimal changes to configuration. The obvious appeal here is that there is minimal vendor lock-in and this approach maximizes portability of data.

A good case for building cloud agnostic applications is where organizations may sell their solutions as commercial digital products. They may want to build an application once and deploy it anywhere on any cloud – as preferred by their customers – including on the customer’s own private cloud or on-premise infrastructure. These applications are built without any “hooks” to any specific cloud provider’s native services (not to be confused with Cloud-Native approach, which we will get to in a moment) and can generally work on any public cloud or private cloud or on-premise infrastructure.

Cloud-Native Applications

While there is no industry standard definition of Cloud-Native, the term generally refers to the practice of developing and deploying applications, services, and frameworks leveraging consistent development and automated management experience across private, public, and hybrid clouds.

Cloud-native approaches are often contrasted with traditional enterprise application development approaches which may have been designed with on-premises data center deployment models in mind – typically on physical servers or virtual machines (VMs).

Cloud-native architectures involve numerous architectural patterns – including microservices architecture, reactive programming, containerization, and service meshes – built leveraging continuous integration, delivery/deployment (CI/CD). These design patterns are often combined with container orchestration systems (e.g., Kubernetes) to where solution components can be decoupled from infrastructure, updated with minimal downtime or disruption of service and – more importantly – built with portability for distribution across Operating Systems (OSs) and Clouds.

Multi-Cloud Applications

Multi-cloud approach enables organizations to use different cloud providers for different services across single or multiple applications.

For example, you may use AWS for machine learning and analytics applications, and leverage Microsoft Azure for data repository needs in your Finance unit.

There may also be rare scenarios where a single use case or application must leverage cloud services from multiple providers. But this design should very carefully balance any advantages (in cost, features etc.) with multiple clouds vis-a-vis inter cloud network latency, performance, and operational complexity in using multiple clouds for a single application.

Cloud Agnostic vs Cloud Native?

Cloud native approach and architecture is often confused and contrasted with Cloud agnostic approach and architecture. These approaches are not mutually exclusive and the terms “Cloud native” and “Cloud agnostic” should also not be used interchangeably.

You can build an application with cloud native architecture and still not be able to readily run it seamlessly on multiple clouds (cloud agnostic). You can also build a cloud agnostic application without leveraging cloud native architecture or approach.

Cloud-native approach is primarily about efficiency in building and running applications whereas cloud-agnostic approach is primarily focused on portability of an application across various cloud infrastructures. Properly built cloud native applications will generally provide ability to be cloud agnostic.

Just remember that these approaches are neither interchangeable nor mutually exclusive. They are meant to complement each other to generate the right business value for you.

So, Why Cloud-Agnostic Applications?

Cloud-agnostic approach is great for an organization looking to expand its customer base by offering products on more than one cloud platform.

There are several benefits of building cloud-agnostic applications including:

  • Offer applications (products) to a larger customer base due to the wider availability on multiple cloud platforms across multiple global locations.
  • Run applications (or the underlying components) on the most cost-efficient cloud platform on an as-needed basis (based on performance and cost comparisons)
  • Provide Active-Active high availability on multiple clouds. Reduce dependency on a single cloud provider and make the applications less vulnerable to outages and/or if a specific cloud provider does not met SLAs.
  • Ability to switch/add/drop cloud provider(s) based on TCO analysis for the application (product).

In summary, we live in a world with several public cloud providers and private cloud enablers, so clearly understanding the pros and cons of the architecture, approaches and balancing with business vision and value is utmost important before deciding on multi-cloud, cloud agnostic approaches.

Just remember, that an application can be built on cloud native principles, designed for multi-cloud and also remain cloud agnostic, all at the same time.

Disclaimer: None of the content in this article was generated by AI / GenAI / LLM.

About the author

Ram is a Technology Executive with over 20 years of experience in defining technology and innovation across industries. He has consulted as an advisor to several Fortune 100 organizations on leveraging innovation and technology to deliver measurable business value.

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