Chapter 1. The Cloud-Native Platform

Cloud Foundry is a platform for running applications, tasks, and services. Its purpose is to change the way applications, tasks, and services are deployed and run by significantly reducing the develop-to-deployment cycle time.

As a cloud-native platform, Cloud Foundry directly uses cloud-based infrastructure so that applications running on the platform can be infrastructure unaware. Cloud Foundry provides a contract between itself and your cloud-native apps to run them predictably and reliably, even in the face of unreliable infrastructure.

If you need a brief summary of the benefits of the Cloud Foundry platform, this chapter is for you. Otherwise, feel free to jump ahead to Chapter 2.

Why You Need a Cloud-Native Platform

To understand the business reasons for using Cloud Foundry, I suggest that you begin by reading Cloud Foundry: The Cloud-Native Platform, which discusses the value of Cloud Foundry and explores its overall purpose from a business perspective.

Cloud Foundry is an “opinionated” (more on this later in the chapter), structured platform that imposes a strict contract between the following:

  • The infrastructure layer underpinning it

  • The applications and services it supports

Cloud-native platforms do far more than provide developers self-service resources through abstracting infrastructure. Chapter 2 discusses at length their inbuilt features, such as resiliency, log aggregation, user management, and security. Figure 1-1 shows a progression from traditional infrastructure to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and on to cloud-native platforms. Through each phase of evolution, the value line rises due to increased abstraction. Your responsibility and requirement to configure various pieces of the software, middleware, and infrastructure stack in support of your application code diminish as the value line rises. The key is that cloud-native platforms are designed to do more for you so that you can focus on delivering applications with business value.

Cloud-Native Platform Evolution
Figure 1-1. Cloud-native platform evolution

Cloud-Native Platform Concepts

In the Preface, I pointed out that Cloud Foundry’s focus is not so much what a platform is or what it does, but rather what it enables you to achieve. It has the potential to make the software build, test, deploy, and scale cycle significantly faster. It removes many of the hurdles involved in deploying software, making it possible for you to release software at will.

Specifically, here’s what the Cloud Foundry platform offers:

Services as a higher level of abstraction above infrastructure

Cloud Foundry provides a self-service mechanism for the on-demand deployment of applications bound to an array of provisioned middleware and routing services. This benefit removes the management overhead of both the middleware and infrastructure layer from the developer, significantly reducing the development-to-deployment time.

Containers

Cloud Foundry runs all deployed applications in containers. You can deploy applications as container images or as standalone apps containerized by Cloud Foundry. This provides flexibility. Companies already established with Docker can deploy existing Docker images to Cloud Foundry. However, containerizing applications on the user’s behalf offers additional productivity and operational benefits because the resulting container image is built from known and vetted platform components. This approach allows you to run your vulnerability scans against your trusted artifacts once per update. From this point, only the application source code requires additional vulnerability scanning on a per deployment basis. Essentially, there is less to check on a per deployment basis because all of your supporting artifacts have already been vetted.

Agile and automation

You can use Cloud Foundry as part of a CI/CD pipeline to provision environments and services on demand as the application moves through the pipeline to a production-ready state. This helps satisfy the key Agile requirement of getting code into the hands of end users when required.

Cultural shift to DevOps

Cross-cutting concerns is a well-understood concept by developers. Adopting Cloud Foundry is ideally accompanied by a cultural shift to DevOps, meaning that you need to break down traditional walls, team silos, and ticket-based hand-offs to get the most benefit from it.

Microservices support

Cloud Foundry supports microservices through providing mechanisms for integrating and coordinating loosely coupled services. To realize the benefits of microservices, a platform is required to provide additional supporting capabilities; for example, Cloud Foundry provides applications with capabilities such as built-in resilience, application authentication, and aggregated logging.

Cloud-native application support

Cloud Foundry provides a contract against which applications can be developed. This contract makes doing the right thing simple and will result in better application performance, management, and resilience.

Not all cloud-native platforms are the same. Some are self-built and pieced together from various components; others are black-boxed and completely proprietary. The Cloud Foundry cloud-native platform has three defining characteristics: it is structured, opinionated, and open. I’ll examine each of these traits in the following sections.

The Structured Platform

Within the platform space, two distinct architectural patterns have emerged: structured and unstructured:

  • Structured platforms provide built-in capabilities and integration points for key concerns such as enterprise-wide user management, security, and compliance. With these kinds of platforms, everything you need to run your applications should be provided in a repeatable way, regardless of what infrastructure you run on. Cloud Foundry is a perfect example of a structured platform.

  • Unstructured platforms have the flexibility to define a bespoke solution at a granular level. An example of an unstructured platform would involve a “build your own platform” approach with a mix of cloud-provided services and homegrown tools, assembled for an individual company.

Structured platforms focus on simplifying the overall operational model. Rather than integrating, operating, and maintaining numerous individual components, the platform operator just deals with the one platform. Structured platforms remove all the undifferentiated heavy lifting: tasks that must be done—for example, service discovery or application placement—but that are not directly related to revenue-generating software.

Although structured platforms are often used for building new cloud-native applications, they also support legacy application integration where it makes sense to do so, allowing for a broader mix of workloads than traditionally anticipated. The structured approach provides a much faster “getting started” experience with lower overall effort required to operate and maintain the environment.

The Opinionated Platform

When you look at successful software, the greatest and most widely adopted technologies are incredibly opinionated. What this means is that they are built on, and adhere to, a set of well-defined principles employing best practices. They are proven to work in a practical way and reflect how things can and should be done when not constrained by the baggage of technical debt. Opinions produce contracts to ensure applications are constrained to do the right thing.

Platforms are opinionated because they make specific assumptions and optimizations to remove complexity and pain from the user. Opinionated platforms are designed to be consistent across environments, with every feature working as designed out of the box. For example, the Cloud Foundry platform provides the same user experience when deployed over different IaaS layers and the same developer experience regardless of the application language. Opinionated platforms such as Cloud Foundry can still be configurable and extended, but not to the extent that the nature of the platform changes. Platforms should have opinions on how your software is deployed, run, and scaled, but not where an application is deployed; this means that, with respect to infrastructure choice, applications should run anywhere.

The Open Platform

Cloud Foundry is an open platform. It is open on three axes:

  • It allows a choice of IaaS layer to underpin it (Google Cloud Platform [GCP], Amazon Web Services [AWS], Microsoft Azure, VMware vSphere, OpenStack, etc.).

  • It allows for a number of different developer frameworks, polyglot languages, and application services (Ruby, Go, Spring, etc.).

  • It is open-sourced under an Apache 2 license and governed by a multi-organization foundation.

Closed platforms can be proprietary and often focus on a specific problem. They might support only a single infrastructure, language, or use case. Open platforms offer choice where it matters.

Summary

Cloud Foundry is an opinionated, structured, and open platform. As such, it is:

  • built on, and adheres to, a set of well-defined principles employing best practices.

  • constrained to do the right thing for your application, based on defined contracts.

  • consistent across different infrastructure/cloud environments.

  • configurable and extendable, but not to the degree that the nature of the platform changes.

For the developer, Cloud Foundry provides a fast “on rails” development and deployment experience. For the operator, it reduces operational effort through providing built-in capabilities and integration points for key enterprise concerns such as user management, security, and self-healing.

Now you understand the nature of Cloud Foundry. Chapter 2 focuses on explaining Cloud Foundry’s underlying concepts.

Get Cloud Foundry: The Definitive Guide, 1st Edition now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.