Cloud-Based App Development 101: All You Need to Know
It’s 2021 and everyone lives and works in the cloud. That’s not an old sci-fi prediction — it’s our current reality powered by cloud computing. Cloud-based applications offer companies a combination of scalability, increased productivity, streamlined operations, and decreased costs that’s impossible to resist.
According to Flexera’s 2020 State of the Cloud report, 90% of businesses surveyed were already using cloud-based applications, and the other 10% planned to adopt cloud technology in the near future.
Here’s everything you need to know to understand how cloud-based application development can impact your business and keep you on the leading edge.
What Is a Cloud-Based Application?
The term “cloud-based” sounds a bit mysterious, so what exactly is this technology that’s taking over the world?
A cloud-based application is simply a piece of software that users access and run using the internet instead of installing it on a device. Cloud providers maintain the data storage and infrastructure needed to support the applications and allow users to access these IT resources on-demand over the internet.
You access cloud-based applications using your phone or computer, but the stored data, code and processing power needed to use the software are located in the cloud, not on your machine.
Key Characteristics of Cloud-Based Applications
To users, cloud-based applications often don’t look any different than other kinds of applications. That’s intentional as they are meant to provide the kind of functionality and front-end interface that people are used to, with some key differences on the back-end.
- Cloud-based applications use caching to enable fast data retrieval and performance. Most of the data is stored in the cloud, but storing copies of the most frequently used data on users’ machines improves speed and provides a smooth user experience.
- Unlike web applications, cloud-based applications can operate offline. To do this, the apps temporarily store data on the user’s device and then sync it to the cloud when there’s an internet connection.
- Cloud-based apps offer a consistent experience across all devices and browsers. Whether you use a smartphone, tablet, laptop, Mac, or Windows machine, the app will work the same way and give you the same user experience.
- APIs form the link between the cloud infrastructure and cloud-based software. This configuration enables unlimited customization options for new features and enhanced performance.
Examples of Cloud-Based Applications
You may not realize it, but many of the services you use every day at work and home are powered by cloud computing. Here are some of the most well-known cloud-based applications:
- G Suite provides everything from email to navigation and photo storage.
- Netflix gives you instant access to millions of movies and TV shows.
- Salesforce helps companies manage customer relationships and make data-driven business decisions.
- Microsoft 365 enables workers to create and share business documents, presentations, and spreadsheets from anywhere.
- Spotify connects you to your favorite music and podcasts on demand.
Common Cloud Application Models and How They Differ
If you’ve done much research at all on the cloud, you’ve undoubtedly come across the acronyms SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS. These three acronyms describe the most common types of cloud application service models, each of which has unique features and use cases.
The SaaS model delivers a complete application to end-users. The application and all the IT infrastructure needed to support are hosted and maintained by the SaaS provider. All customers have to do is connect to the internet, log in to the software, and then use it. Access is granted using a subscription model instead of purchasing limited long-term licenses.
By using SaaS apps, you save money on IT infrastructure and software licensing. SaaS is the most common cloud service model, accounting for 63.6% of total cloud services revenue in 2019. Popular examples of SaaS include Google Docs, Salesforce, Slack, and Zoom.
Instead of focusing on delivering a complete software product like SaaS, PaaS provides a platform and runtime environment so developers can develop and manage their own apps.
The PaaS provider maintains the required hardware and supplies integrated development software. You control the apps you develop on the platform and the data needed to run them, and the PaaS provider is responsible for the supporting infrastructure.
PaaS is a great option if you want to quickly develop apps, but don’t want to spend time and money setting up and maintaining the architecture. Heroku and the Google App Engine are good PaaS examples.
The best way to describe IaaS is infrastructure rental. IaaS providers maintain the servers, network, storage, and visualization you need to power your operations, and you control everything else including middleware, operating system, data, and applications.
IaaS gives you the most flexibility and control of the cloud service models. You can easily scale your IT resources up and down when needed, and you avoid the necessity of investing in on-premise hardware.
IaaS is great for companies who are growing and need to scale their IT resources quickly and for startups who need IT infrastructure but don’t have the resources to purchase and deploy their own. Digital Ocean, Rackspace, and Google Compute Engine are leading IaaS providers.
A Quick Note on Public vs Private vs Hybrid Clouds
We can’t move on without mentioning the three types of clouds:
- Private clouds are extremely secure clouds designated for use by a single business or organization. They’re favored by companies who either handle sensitive data or want increased control over their IT environment.
- Public clouds are maintained by third-party cloud service providers operated on a pay-as-you-go basis. Multiple companies share the IT resources and scale their use up and down in response to business needs.
- Hybrid clouds are a combination of private and public cloud computing resources. Most companies consider hybrid clouds as the ideal IT model.
Cloud App Development: Pros and Cons
Investment in cloud-based software keeps growing as companies of all sizes seek to simplify their operations, lower their IT costs, and take advantage of the increased scalability and enhanced customization offered by the cloud.
Companies around the world spent $371 billion on cloud computing in 2020, and that’s expected to grow to $832 billion by 2025.
Cloud computing and cloud-based applications are here to stay. As with any technology, there are both pros and cons associated with developing and using cloud-based apps.
Below, we’ll cover both to make sure you know what you’re getting into.
The Good Stuff: Cost Savings, Agility, Scalability, Innovation & Faster Value Delivery
Cloud app development offers your team several unique advantages and can provide significant value to you and your customers.
- Infrastructure cost savings: By using cloud app development, you avoid the high costs associated with purchasing the data centers and physical servers needed to develop and run your application. Instead, you pay as you go for the resources you use, leading to significant capital cost savings for your business.
- Agility: The resources you need to develop and test features and functionality are available at your fingertips. You can quickly develop new software or features in response to user requests or changing customer requirements. This agility is extremely valuable in today’s fast-paced business environment.
- Maximum scalability: With scalability being one of the main selling points, cloud-based app performance isn’t affected when traffic is high. Resources are automatically scaled up and down based on user demand. Users don’t experience lags or crashes and you don’t have to pay to maintain servers to support peak demand at all times.
- More innovation: Cloud computing lets you work with your data without managing the complex storage infrastructure needed to support it, so you can devote more resources to innovating, quality testing, and developing new features.
- Faster value delivery: Without the need to purchase and configure new servers, you can quickly deploy new features to users, meaning they can experience the value of improvements right away instead of waiting for infrequent batch updates.
Challenges to Consider: Internet Reliance, App Dependencies, Security, Interoperability & Efficiency
The cons of cloud application development aren’t disadvantages or bad things — they’re a list of challenges you need to consider to make sure your app works as intended and delivers the value you want.
- Internet reliance: Cloud-based apps are dependent on the internet. There’s no way around that, but you should consider designing your app so that users can work offline in case of a lost connection.
- App dependencies: Cloud app developers need to understand all the data sources an app depends on to run and function properly. Since an app may depend on several databases or codebases in different cloud locations, you need to put extra time and effort into mapping dependencies and building the required connections.
- Security: Security is shared between the cloud provider and the owner or developer of the application. Make sure you understand how the security responsibilities are divided and incorporate the features you need to keep your data secure.
- Interoperability: Cloud-based apps have to be able to function well across different devices and platforms and interact with data stored in clouds from different vendors, making interoperability a big deal for cloud app developers.
- Data & cost efficiency: Cloud-based apps use IT resources on-demand, which means you pay only for the data storage and processing you use. If you don’t consider how your app uses these resources, your usage costs will add up quickly. To avoid this, you should design your app to use data as efficiently as possible.
- Performance & Scalability: Your app’s performance depends heavily on how efficiently you distribute your data to servers. Make sure that you have enough servers to ensure consistent loading speeds and that you can effectively scale your resources to maintain performance during high-traffic times.
Fundamental Components of Cloud-Based Application Architectures
Now that you understand the concept, benefits, and challenges of cloud app development, let’s dig into the details of the architecture needed to support cloud-based apps.
There are multiple ways to build your cloud app architecture, but they all involve the same basic components. Once you understand the basic building blocks, you can move on to complex configurations and custom architectures to fit your needs.
But first, we need to cover the fundamentals.
- Application: The application layer is the link between the back-end resources that process requests and the user interface. It facilitates the delivery of data and results to the end-user over the internet.
- Services: This is where the application’s calculations are performed and user requests are executed. Cloud-based applications use interconnected APIs to connect components, pull data, and perform requests from users.
- Storage: This is where your data is stored. With the cloud, you can store your data in multiple locations across different clouds to increase flexibility and performance.
- Data management & communication logic: To ensure good performance, you need to manage how your data is organized and optimize communication between your data storage and your services.
- Security: This component of the architecture handles data encryption and implements data access controls, such as firewalls and identity management, to keep your system secure and prevent data loss.
Testing Cloud-Based Applications
The last thing you want to do is develop an awesome application, release it to users, and then find out that a critical feature doesn’t work or that there’s a gap in security. The solution is to test the application thoroughly before deployment.
Cloud computing makes it possible to do robust testing to assess your cloud-based applications’ features, interoperability, performance, security, and more.
Good testing is extremely thorough and examines the application from every angle. Here are eight tests to make sure your cloud-based application is ready for prime time.
- System testing, also known as feature testing, ensures that all the features and functions of the application work properly.
- Interoperability testing is meant to test whether the app can still function if there are changes to the cloud infrastructure, such as moving a data source to a different location or cloud vendor.
- Performance testing tests the application’s performance under heavy loads such as high numbers of concurrent users and multiple requests for large amounts of data.
- Availability testing makes sure that the app will be up and running even when the cloud provider is working on or making changes to the system.
- Multi-tenancy testing is similar to performance testing and assesses the app to make sure it doesn’t slow down or become unresponsive due to requests from concurrent users.
- Security testing is one of the most important tests you’ll run. A good security test examines the security of your data and code from every angle and exposes any gaps so your team can fix them before releasing the software.
- Disaster recovery testing assures you that you won’t lose data or experience other negative consequences if the cloud goes down for some reason.
- Browser & device performance testing is a kind of interoperability testing that compares app performance on different combinations of devices, operating systems, and internet browsers to make sure the app delivers a consistent experience to all users.
Best Cloud Application Development Tools & Technologies
As demand for cloud computing has steadily increased in recent years, so has the number of companies offering tools and platforms for cloud app development. The market is largely dominated by the big three cloud service providers of AWS, Google, and Microsoft, but other companies continue to innovate and gain ground, giving you lots of good options.
- Amazon Web Services (AWS): AWS has been the biggest player in the cloud market since 2006. They offer the widest variety of PaaS and IaaS services available. Developers appreciate the extensive functionality and flexibility available to them.
- Google Cloud Platform: Like AWS, Google offers a range of both PaaS and IaaS options to customers. Their strength lies in AI, machine learning, innovation, and expertise in open source technology such as containers. They also allow developers to access Google engineers for support and co-development.
- Microsoft Azure: Microsoft is the last of the big three. They also offer extensive PaaS and IaaS services, but their solutions work best for enterprises who appreciate the ability to easily integrate programs like Office 365 and Microsoft Teams.
- Digital Ocean: This small American company has developed a reputation as a developer favorite based on its budget-friendly pricing, excellent UI, and thorough documentation. Digital Ocean also features very fast speeds thanks to their use of Solid State Drive-based virtual machines.
- Other good options: IBM Bluemix, Heroku, Oracle, and Xen are other popular development tools offering a range of features and price points.
One Last Thing to Consider
We’ve covered a lot of information here, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of cloud-based application development. Cloud-based apps offer tremendous potential for your business, but developing them takes time, expertise, and resources. We have good news: you don’t have to figure it out alone.
At Thinklogic, we offer custom web application development services. If you’re interested in developing a cloud-based application either for internal use or to benefit your customers, check out our app development services or contact us to learn more.