Software development in the cloud: benefits & challenges

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Digital transformation touched most businesses operating today, and the transition to the cloud is an important step. The cloud became a primary environment for creating new software, particularly for software developers and IT professionals. Combining flexibility and efficiency for the price served as the new way of doing business.

Yet, not everything was all sunshine and roses — the outsourced model also brings a fair share of cybersecurity risks. This creates a head-scratcher for network administrators and developers in balancing the benefits with the risks to ensure a streamlined mode of operation that is as effective as it’s secure. Let’s take a deep dive into all things cloud software development.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is an infrastructure model in which resources and processes are outsourced to data centers rather than done internally. This method relies on the public internet as the primary mode of delivery, allowing a much wider reach than possible using conventional methods.

Cloud computing often provides services like data storage, management, device access, networking, and cybersecurity. Externalizing these operations to cloud-based infrastructure allows businesses to focus their efforts elsewhere. In addition, this also enables them to flexibly adjust their operations according to their needs allowing them to be changed at a moment’s notice. It’s a key driving force behind the startup culture and innovations.

Service models

Reliable, fast, and secure services are what every customer takes as a baseline. Businesses are pressed to deliver on the highest level at all times. However, IT infrastructures can’t always stretch that fast, nor can every business owner issue blank checks for upgrades.

Cloud computing solves these pressing issues by providing a streamlined model delivered via the internet. According to specific business requirements, cloud computing services are classified into three distinct models.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

SaaS is primarily used for the delivery of web applications. Fully managed by the service provider, cloud software is accessed remotely and typically has pricing based on plans and subscriptions. In most cases, this provides a much cheaper solution that manages software internally and relieves the teams from the need to perform maintenance.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

PaaS offers a remotely accessible environment allowing developers to build and deliver software applications. This bypasses the need to use Integrated Development Environments, which are expensive and difficult to set up and maintain. The model includes everything you’d need to start working on your applications, like various middleware tools and operating systems. PaaS uses the same pay-as-you-go model as other remaining cloud service models.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

IaaS offers core cloud computing services like servers, storage, and networking on demand. This type helps a company to adjust company resources on demand. In cases when new applications have launched, this type also helps to quickly provision them and extend the reliability of existing infrastructure. Usually, payment costs are collected based on using a particular resource, allowing you to install and manage your software on top.

Cloud deployment models

The cloud services deployment model may also have various distinct particularities like ownership, scale, access rights, etc. It defines the location of the servers your organization will be using, what can be changed, and the needed input from the client. This distinguishes different cloud deployment types.

Public cloud

As you can probably guess from the name, the public cloud is available for everyone to access. It’s provided for the general population, making it the least secure cloud type. Owned and managed by the cloud services provider, this type doesn’t require much maintenance but is also the most difficult to secure. On other hand, some public clouds are free to use, while some require a subscription to move beyond the basic plan. 

Private cloud

The polar opposite of the public cloud is a private type — it’s reserved for a single user using separate hardware. Often incorporated into the organization’s infrastructure, the private cloud facilitates handling all the hardware and software services within its perimeter. It offers the most flexibility of all the cloud service types allowing an organization to customize even the tiniest aspects of the setup.

Hybrid cloud

Hybrid combines the best private and public cloud features using proprietary software. This allows hosting applications in a safe environment and cheaper service due to reliance on the public internet. In a way, this functions like a partially locked public cloud with much more customization options.

Benefits of software development in the cloud

If your business rapidly expands, cloud technology is a natural addition to improving your operations. This allows you simultaneously to improve productivity and give more opportunities for your internal teams. Here is a list of the principal benefits related to cloud computing.

1. Scalability

Traditional server hosting always met various constraints as it was based on physical hardware — the capacity can only be proportional to your internal server stack. Cloud computing turns this premise on its head, removing all constraints. No matter the organization’s size or budget, it’s possible to find an option to fit any budget. 

When a bigger capacity is needed, allocating more servers to combine their processing power is easy. Various server service providers also offer flexible memory or CPU adjustments, so it’s possible to customize the cloud computing setup to the smallest details.

2. Cost-efficiency

For businesses looking for various entry points to test the waters before committing to a full-scale infrastructure, the cloud computing model's cost efficiency is the key benefit. Unlike hosting everything internally, cloud doesn’t need any upfront investments, making it a perfect starting spot to increase usage, on a need basis.

Pricing-wise, cloud service providers widely adopt pay-per-usage fees, meaning that organizations are only charged for the resources they use. This means it’s much more convenient to manage overspending and provides a safety net if the operations need to be quickly shrunk. 

3. Disaster recovery and redundancy

No matter which method for application and data hosting a business chooses, emergency data recovery methods will have to be set up. Admittedly, cloud services should be much easier as they come out of the box with easy data mirroring and backup solutions.

Traditional on-premise setups will have to be configured from the ground up, meaning that additional investments are very likely. Setting the mirroring within the internal perimeter doesn’t help in case the whole network becomes infected. This could potentially damage the backup as well. This is one of the biggest advantages of cloud computing.

4. Fast provisioning of resources

Relying only on the currently available on-premises leaves companies with only a few resources. Various software development and test environments require thorough planning in advance and take a while to get running. However, with the cloud model, everything can be available instantly.

Brand-new environments for testing or development purposes can be created instantly. This can speed up cloud software development by skipping preparation steps and getting the work environment ready instantly. The cloud provider periodically introduces new adjustments, ensuring that the prepared application seamlessly integrates into the new technological landscapes.

5. Multiple models and offerings

The cloud model is less restrictive and doesn’t operate in one-size-fits-all absolutes. By design, it’s flexible and aims to adapt to accommodate the organization’s needs, not the other way around.

On average, each provider has at least several options to choose from, while most will allow even greater personalization for an extra fee. As it was mentioned previously, various internal and outsourced cloud infrastructure models can be combined to develop a hybrid approach if that’s the direction in which a business wants to progress. 

6. Wide geographic reach

Unlike on-premises hardware, cloud-based infrastructures have a much wider reach. This can be helpful when connecting your globally distributed workforce and reaching your customers. The latter could be improved by optimizing the server load by leveraging cloud architecture.

Even if an application is hosted in a single location, a distributed cloud model allows users to easily access it through multiple points of presence scattered around the globe. This is further facilitated by content delivery networks allowing instant access to various resources and services.

7. Easy deployment

The innate flexibility of cloud infrastructures brings easy deployment capabilities. In practice, some operations could be automated by integrating various cloud processes into your existing setup. This could significantly speed up the application testing process.

Simultaneously this allows a business to ramp up the cloud software development speed allowing instant updates in testing environments. If everything works well, the slots could be easily swapped to go into production. This works wonders for testing new features and ensuring new upgrades work as intended before releasing them to the public.

Possible challenges of cloud software development

While it opens many doors of possibilities, cloud software development isn’t without its fair share of challenges. Outsourcing can be difficult, especially for companies with a functioning system. Here are the major challenges that face cloud application software development.

Seamless interoperability

The major challenge facing organizations that are considering cloud frameworks is interoperability. The written code needs to work with multiple cloud providers despite their differences. This even gets more complex when portability is involved. The same code might be difficult to transfer from one environment to another.

This needs to be addressed by introducing standards and facilitating data access across different software platforms. For this reason, operating protocols must be highly standardized to avoid potential interoperability errors.

Performance issues

When we’re talking about the cloud, we’re talking about distributed physical servers. This still means that their physical location is important, and customer connection to them could impact their experience.

Therefore it’s important to prepare in advance and figure out which data centers will be hosting your data. It will be much easier to set everything up correctly in advance rather than to plan the move once the operations are up and running. End-to-end testing is critical. Cutting corners will result in an inefficient mechanism that hurts your company in the long run. 

False promises of scalability

While it is true that all cloud computing providers can provide scalability, this still has the constraints of the provider’s capacity. Scalability is always limited to the number of resources a provider has, so if your scaling needs are beyond what the provider can deliver, you may be stuck with a service that doesn’t cover your needs.

The key risk here is choosing a predefined program that isn’t as flexible or adjusted to your needs. In some cases sticking with a hybrid model allows for the best solutions from the best worlds.

Reliability and availability

While the cloud model helps to maintain high uptime for cloud apps, this isn’t always a guarantee. Cloud providers rarely offer around-the-clock service, so outages could be left unresolved. Similarly, the provider might not inform leniently about maintenance schedules or other problems.

This requires additional effort on the client’s part. The used cloud service should be monitored using additional tools. Things like service usage and performance should be something that an organization knows at all times.

Dependency on the provider

When building applications, it is very convenient to tailor-make the code to work best within its cloud environment. However, this also has the side-effect of becoming heavily reliant on the external partner for your operations. Sometimes, changing the provider might be expensive, time-consuming, or difficult from a technical standpoint.

Your services should follow good architecture practices to avoid being tangled with underlying service logic if a business decides to move operations elsewhere. For developers, this means understanding different protocol particularities and responsibly adjusting application behavior.

Programming modes

Developing applications in the cloud require different programming skills. While most developers are familiar with SQL operations passing application-specific functions aligned with federated data sources, cloud software developments don’t work the same way. This requires developers to adopt query-oriented processing to derive federated data sets performing complex queries or function compositions that align better with cloud computing models.

Application security

Outsourcing such critical elements as application software development means their access should be heavily restricted. This makes application security a challenge due to the web delivery model and the state of the browsers.

For this reason, the connection outside the browser must be properly secured using encryption and tunneling protocols. Still, it’s a broad topic that could be addressed separately.

What measures should developers take to secure software in the cloud?

Software security measures

Transferring developing workflows in the cloud is one of the most important moves that a company could make. While it provides various benefits for developers, security is one of the most important concerns related to it. Here’s how it could be improved.

1. Establish governance policies

Clearly defined governance policies help to achieve better security in cloud software development operations. They put procedures and policies in place and give employees clear guidance in the workplace.

When aligned with your company’s internal security requirements, these policies create a holistic system defining organization-wide operational standards. This even out security across the board, creating transparent processes.

2. Segment your network

An architectural approach of dividing networks into smaller segments helps to manage various security risks in case of a data breach. As free lateral movement across the network is restricted, hackers are isolated within a subnet limiting the pace and time during which they could undetected could stage an attack.

Resources can be shared between segments, so no additional processing power is needed. In addition, this approach helps from the security standpoint and allows control of traffic flow between subnets based on granular policies.

3. Automate security processes

Security automation is an essential component of a solid cloud software development operations model. Code analysis could be automated during the building and testing phases. Meanwhile, infrastructure as code practices can automate configuration management. Finally, various potential threats could be instantly responded to without human intervention preventing potential damage.  

4. Conduct vulnerability management

Identification, evaluation, and security vulnerability reporting is a critical procedure that is paramount to secure cloud software development. Applications should be provided to the customer if they have unresolved known vulnerabilities. Otherwise, hackers could easily exploit them. Penetration testing mechanisms are therefore needed to assess potential exploits better and address critical application shortcomings.

5. Regularly audit security

Organizations’ security practices should match their policies. If the two don’t align, this catalyzes a cybersecurity incident. Periodic evaluations of security practices should be one of the cybersecurity strategy pillars. Various improvements should also be considered helping to set benchmarks and progress measurements.

How NordLayer can help secure the cloud

As the cloud-first approach is a firmly established infrastructure organization method among modern businesses, its security is one of the most important disciplines of modern cybersecurity. Application software development relies heavily on cloud computing to make the heavy lifting possible, but this must always be secure.

NordLayer offers cloud-native tools incorporating ZTNA practices within a Secure Service Edge model. Allowing secure remote access by encrypting traffic from end to end can protect data, whether it’s hosted locally or on the cloud.

Features like IP allowlisting enable network administrators to approve authenticated connections and block everything else. This helps to create an airtight system that provides a secure access model when using external cloud services.

Get in touch with the NordLayer team and explore our cloud-based products today.

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