We originally published this post on September 23, 2016 and updated it on November 29, 2018.
Cloud. Cloud-based. Cloud-native.
For years, people have attempted to untie cloud computing and how it solves today’s common business problems. We’re here to debunk the myths. Not all cloud products are the same. And not all cloud products solve the same business problems. In fact, there are distinct differences between cloud systems, even when the terms sound so similar, like cloud-native vs. cloud-based.
There’s a bit of ambiguity surrounding the cloud. Is it the portal that holds all the information in my smartphone, is it the platform where I log into my manager’s queue, or is it the fluffy, white cluster of particles in the air?
Even in the midst of the mystery, companies, vendors, and service providers alike have jumped the on-premises ship to head for the cloud. It’s an extremely popular, highly-reputable business trend. But the issue is, all that mystique (cue the fog machine) and all the different terms surrounding cloud technology make it easier for companies and vendors to claim they’re true cloud, when in fact they’ve just slapped a band-aid on their system to allow SOME of the cloud benefits. In fact, it actually happens so often it has a name: cloudwashing.
“Cloudwashing is a term that defines the practice of taking legacy software and running it on a cloud instance, while calling it ‘true cloud.’ However, true cloud is multitenant software developed exclusively for and in the cloud, which provides version-less software and is a pure SaaS offering.” – CIO.com
Tech mavens have mulled over cloudwashing and how companies are using it to their benefit, much to their customers’ disadvantage. That certain, fog-covered unknown lets companies make claims that give them a competitive advantage. Like saying they have a cloud-native platform when it’s really cloud-based. And yeah, the difference matters.
So, why would companies claim to support true-cloud technology when they really don’t?
Everyone wants to support the talked-about, forward-thinking tech. Cloud-native products are reputable across industries. They boast flexible technology that supports the needs of ever-changing businesses and customers. They offer all the benefits of the cloud because companies build them in the cloud and for the cloud. They’re inherently stable, scalable, and easy to maintain.
Companies who opt for cloud technology that’s not built in the cloud make a few tweaks to their product so it kind of functions like a real cloud product, but it doesn’t support the full capabilities of a product built in the cloud and for the cloud. These products are called “cloud-based” solutions.
Cloud-based solutions are adaptations of legacy technology, but the code and the data aren’t native to the cloud platform.
These cloud-based solutions confine you to the parameters and limitations of their legacy, on-premises technology. On-premises solutions limit you to work with on-site employees only. They expose you to vulnerabilities and natural calamities (like your server room flooding – believe me, it’s happened). And, you have to dish out tons of cash to maintain them. Not to mention, it’s almost impossible for you to scale these solutions. Cloud-based solutions boast some added flexibility compared to that legacy tech, like third-party data centers and lower implementation costs, but they still lack the ability to scale, seamlessly update, and maintain SLAs no matter your location on the globe.
If I like the product, does it matter if it’s cloud-based or cloud-native?
Ultimately, the tools you choose should align to the needs of your business. And that’s all that matters. Some companies can easily rule out true cloud systems based on the current state of their business and the functionality they need. While at the same time, other companies who are rapidly growing and changing need the flexibility and scalability of true cloud technology. No matter the case for your company, it’s important to understand your options and what’s available to you.
How do I know if I’m buying cloud-based or cloud-native software?
We’ve mapped out some of the telling differences between cloud-native and cloud-based technology in our infographic below. Plus, you’ll find a handy list of questions to kick-off conversations with vendors when you’re seeking new technology. Asking the right questions can help you easily spot the differences in cloud technology and avoid vendors’ attempts to cloudwash. Here’s what you need to know.
Cloud-Based or Cloud-Native? A few questions to ask your vendors.
Q: Do you host your platform purely in the cloud, or do you rely on an on-site server?
If the platform requires an on-site server, it’s not a cloud-native platform. And, that means anytime the on-site server fails, you can expect an outage. If the platform is hosted purely in the cloud, it will have failover architecture and data redundancy. So, if a server fails or loses data, it won’t impact you. Your vendors define expected outages in their uptime guarantee. So, for example, a vendor who promises 99.999 percent uptime (like we do) will only experience 5 minutes and 15 seconds of downtime or outages annually.
Q: Is the service multi-tenant or single-tenant?
Cloud-based software is often single-tenant, meaning issues with a platform can be specific to just one account. When that’s the case, companies often prioritize issues based on the size of the account rather than the severity of the problem. That means you might experience delayed support or bug fixes to hefty problems if larger accounts already have issues in queue. On the other hand, cloud-native software is multi-tenant. When an issue pops up, the resolution of that issue benefits all customers and is shelled out universally across platforms.
Q: How often are updates and new features released? Do they require downtime?
The way a vendor releases updates is a telling sign of the platform’s cloud functionality. If companies release updates quarterly, semi-annually, annually or require downtime, the platform isn’t cloud-native. With cloud-native software, features are available immediately, and critical companies deploy updates quickly to all customers without a disruption in service.
Phew! Now you have a handle on what’s really cloud-native software and what’s not. Take the next step in your research and dig into what tools are right for your business.