Cloud-First vs Cloud Native
January 16, 2024
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Cloud-First vs Cloud Native

A year after the term 'cloud computing' was coined (in 1996), Steve Jobs said:

"I don’t need a hard disk in my computer if I can get to the server faster… carrying around these non-connected computers is Byzantine by comparison."

Cloud technology has evolved a lot since then. But the principle remains.

Today, understanding modern cloud approaches is key for businesses. The differences between cloud-first and cloud-native approaches are a big part of this.

What is cloud-first? (A definition)

'Cloud first' is a strategic approach of prioritising cloud-based solutions over traditional local infrastructure.

It involves businesses or other organisations leveraging cloud platforms for new projects or applications. This brings vastly improved scalability, reduced infrastructure costs, and simplified resource management.

Examples of these cloud platforms include AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and others.

Cloud-first solutions are increasing in popularity and have even received official backing. Back in 2013, the UK government implemented a "cloud first" policy to encourage businesses to prioritise cloud options.

What is cloud-native? (A definition)

Cloud-native is a software approach for building flexible cloud applications from scratch specifically for cloud environments.

Developing cloud-native applications involves leveraging several cloud architectures to take full advantage of dynamic cloud environments. These include containerisation, microservices, and DevOps practices.

By using cloud-native technologies, companies can scale quickly with enhanced performance and reliability.

Similarities between cloud-first and cloud-native

1. Flexibility and scalability

Both approaches help organisations gain the flexibility to scale their cloud infrastructure up or down as needed.

This flexibility empowers organisations to respond promptly to changing business needs, ensuring optimal resource utilisation, reducing cloud wastage and improving cost efficiency.

2. Cost optimisation

Both cloud-first and cloud-native solutions seek to optimise costs by using cloud services and minimising unnecessary infrastructure expenses.

Rather than investing in physical servers, networking equipment, and data centres, organisations can leverage cloud services on a pay-as-you-go basis.

This eliminates upfront capital expenditures and enables businesses to shift their IT expenses from fixed expenditures to being operationally variable.

Cloud providers services include infrastructure maintenance, upgrades, and security. This further reduces the burden on IT staff and lowers costs.

3. Accelerated innovation

Both strategies enable innovation and agility.

Cloud-native development practices such as continuous integration and continuous delivery (often collectively called CI/CD) help organisations scale. It also helps them to release new features or updates more frequently.

Similarly, cloud-first organisations can leverage the rapid innovation of other cloud-enabled technologies. Examples include emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

This streamlined development process reduces time-to-market and equips companies with the essential agility required for ever-changing business landscapes.

Cloud-first vs cloud-native: The key differences

1. Timing of adoption

Cloud-first is an organisational approach that gives preference to incorporating cloud solutions. This strategy is implemented once the technology has been introduced using other means.

Cloud-native usually focuses on designing and using cloud native environments and building applications specifically for cloud environments before technology is launched.

2. Migration

Cloud-native technologies can migrate between providers relatively easily. They are designed to fully leverage the cloud environment. This enables companies to maximise the benefits of the cloud's flexibility and scalability.

One of the primary challenges of adopting a cloud-first strategy is migrating apps from existing legacy systems. Legacy applications may require significant modifications to fully leverage the cloud. This can be a complex, time-consuming and costly process.

3. Designing microservices and containers

Cloud native involves designing applications as a collection of loosely coupled microservices using containers (self-sufficient units to run applications).

By leveraging these, software systems can automatically scale up or down. They offer modularity, scalability, and other valuable benefits for cloud environments.

A cloud-first strategy does not mandate designing these specific architectural patterns. However, it does make use of them whenever developments or upgrades are going on.

4. Complexity and learning curve

The complexity of a cloud-first strategy lies mainly in the organisational and strategic aspects required to implement it.

But adopting cloud-native practices involves an even higher level of complexity and a longer learning curve that can increase project timelines.

This is because it requires expertise in many cloud technologies, such as containerisation and microservices. To navigate the intricacies of building and managing these, training teams or hiring cloud-certified professionals is required.

5. Vendor lock-in and dependency

Cloud-native applications often rely on a specific cloud provider (AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure or Oracle etc.) or proprietary technologies, which can result in vendor lock-in.

Organisations need to assess the potential challenges with vendor dependence. Migrating cloud-native applications between different cloud providers or on-premises environments can be complex and time-consuming.

It requires significant effort to ensure cloud compatibility and adaptability. This can potentially limit the freedom of choice in selecting cloud providers. Careful consideration and planning are necessary to mitigate these risks associated with vendor dependency.

Other cloud strategies

Besides cloud-native and cloud-first, there are other approaches to cloud computing to consider. Multi-cloud is an attractive option for businesses looking to avoid vendor lock-in.

1. Multi-cloud solution

The multi-cloud strategy involves utilising multiple cloud service providers to host different workloads or applications.

It avoids vendor lock-in whilst enabling usage of different specialised services offered by different providers. Additionally, distributing workloads across multiple clouds enhances data resilience.

However, managing multiple clouds requires careful coordination and governance to ensure a seamless operation. It also requires a greater emphasis on cloud FinOps (finance DevOps) to optimise cost for performance.

2. Hybrid cloud solution

A hybrid cloud strategy combines public cloud, private cloud solutions, and on-premises infrastructure to create a unified and flexible IT infrastructure.

It enables organisations to leverage the scalability and flexibility of the cloud while maintaining control over sensitive data and critical workloads on their private infrastructure.

This strategy offers a balanced approach, harnessing the benefits of the cloud while addressing security and compliance needs.


Cloud-native is a software approach for building scalable and flexible apps within the cloud whereas cloud-first is a strategy that priorities cloud technology over traditional infrastructure for existing technology or platforms.

The key benefits of both strategies are scalability and flexibility.

Cloud-native primarily focuses on cloud application development principles. Cloud-first guides an organisation's decision-making and adoption of cloud technology.

The key difference is that cloud-native apps are built from scratch in the cloud, whereas a cloud-first strategy prioritises migrating infrastructure to the cloud.

While both approaches have their complexities, the cloud-native solution tends to have a more technical focus, requiring a deep understanding of cloud technologies and architectures.

Cloud-first, on the other hand, involves broader organisational considerations and planning.

The complexity in both cases can be managed by acquiring the necessary knowledge, expertise. And by leveraging best practices such as seeking guidance from experienced professionals or cloud service providers.

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