Why is Governance Critical to Cloud-Native Environments?
In recent years, cloud adoption has been accelerating across industries. It's the go-to solution to enhance operational efficiencies, boost productivity, and identify new opportunities, and so much more.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the cloud, together with containerization technologies, is going through a period of explosive adoption. This approach helps enterprises access improved agility and enable work from home initiatives.
For the most part, companies adopt cloud-native applications to solve problems like:
- Poor developer efficiency
- Poor communication and collaboration
- Slow-release cycles
- Unstable products
This approach also helps them recruit and retain talent. According to a study conducted by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, more than half of the planet's backend developers are using containers. Cloud-native technologies are widely used across Europe, America, Oceania and are growing rapidly in the MEA region and Asia.
But companies still struggle to realize the full potential of the cloud. This is because the jury is still out on what constitutes successful cloud implementation. While the advantages of building cloud-native applications are paramount, there are some security risks to consider (and resolve). The best approach here is to adopt cloud-native governance protocols.
What is Cloud-Native Governance?
Traditional IT infrastructure governance models were more static, and access was heavily gated and controlled by internal security teams. However, with cloud computing and cloud-native ecosystems, control transferred away from enterprise IT departments to application developers (following DevOps ethos).
The robust security perimeter maintained on-premise now spans across multi-cloud environments (and cloud services providers). This has turned IT governance protocols on its head and made it much more complicated.
By enforcing specific policies and standards within the cloud or individual clusters, security teams optimize applications while reducing the attack surface. Standardization allows automation of everyday tasks, helps minimize maintenance costs, and sets a standard to manage resources. You can also apply specific principles to administer the use of APIs and cloud services.
Robust cloud governance policies follow established company guidelines, industry best practices, and specialist knowledge. However, during the first few deployments, you won't find much use for it, but the trick is to prepare for the complexities that lie ahead.
1- Choose an Approach Based on DevOps Requirements
The first step is to choose a cloud application governance model based on an in-depth understanding of enterprise applications and DevOps requirements. As DevOps is now our go-to methodology for development, it’ll help to choose an approach that incorporates both DevOps and cloud computing best practices.
Selecting the right logical approach is essential to negate potential future conflicts. The wrong decisions raise concerns about security, compliance, time to market, and vendor risk. As there's a serious threat to business continuity, it demands careful planning and execution.
2- Implement a Software-Defined, Automated, and Abstracted Cloud
The complex dependencies between on-premise physical hardware, security components, and software layers often slow things down. By taking a software-defined approach to the cloud, enterprises can redefine everything as software to ensure abstraction, automation, and sustainability.
It's also a good idea to codify your policies following a Policy-as-Code (PaC) model. In this scenario, the operations team has the authority to verify and enforce specific standards and rules across the entire organization or within particular clusters.
When you follow the Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) model, codifying your infrastructure setup, you also minimize variations in your infrastructure and reduce maintenance costs. Furthermore, this approach reduces the potential attack surface (mitigating risk).
Codified infrastructure and governance policies enable seamless automation of everyday tasks and boost efficiency at an organizational level. This is because the codification of policies prevents the wrong setup and configuration from leaking into your production environment.
However, it's crucial to establish and enforce policies based on company guidelines, accepted industry-wide conventions, and best practices. If you have software engineers with years of tribal knowledge working in operations and development teams, make sure to engage them from discussion to deployment.
3- Choose the Right Technologies
Choosing the right technologies may sound easy, but it's incredibly challenging. Unfortunately, we don't have a single all-encompassing cloud service or resource governance tool.
Sometimes you'll end up with more tools than you planned for, and you'll have to find a way to make them work in concert. Often, legacy technology and new tools, together, create integration challenges and impact performance and overall security. So ultimately, some trade-offs are considered and made.
However, when you get this right, you’ll be rewarded. Instead of focusing on technology challenges, your team’s free focus on things like innovation and customer experiences. So take the time to think about the tools you add to your cloud infrastructure, not pipelines.
The "right technologies" are (of course) relative to your unique needs and available infrastructure. But in general, they all enable and complement the DevOps approach. Immutable infrastructure, declarative APIs, containers, microservices, and service meshes exemplify the combination of the DevOps used with appropriate tools.
Right technologies also help build and run scalable applications in dynamic multi-cloud environments, build workflows on top of it, integrate seamlessly with CI/CD, and provide useful violation reports.
4- Deploy Data Governance at the Core
Data governance is critical, so it should form the foundation of your cloud-first initiatives. It’s important because everything you do circles back to your established data governance policies.
Make sure to focus on tracking changes to the schemas and establishing written guidelines to manage changes made to the applications and databases. All changes and configurations must also be tracked and versioned.
For example, when migrating to the cloud data lake and data warehouse, you don’t want to move bad or untrustworthy data. Doing so will have severe implications for your company. Some potential risks of inadequate data governance include:
- Negative impact on regulatory compliance activities
- Unreliable data leads to poor business decisions in the short term and long-term
- Inability to experiment and innovate rapidly
So set the stage for proper data governance from the beginning and avoid potential problems down the road.
5- Deploy a Smooth Approval Workflow with Real-Time Monitoring
The days of raising a ticket to commission the necessary servers are long gone. As the barrier to consuming cloud services is minimal, implement a smooth approval workflow to monitor cloud consumption.
When you have policies in place to examine your cloud environment's performance, you can judge (with accuracy) areas that can be improved.
Whether it's native monitoring tools provided by your cloud services provider or other third-party systems, you can implement policies on consumption and performance to ensure that your baselines are met.
6- Take a Proactive Approach to Security and Automate Real-Time Monitoring
If you take a traditional approach to security where it's essentially an afterthought, you're bound to fail. In the current threat landscape, bad actors are relentless and demand a monumental effort to stay a step ahead.
In this scenario, robust security protocols should be baked into the application architecture and infrastructure platforms. Enterprises that "shift-left" and adopt DevSecOps fortify their infrastructure by making security an essential part of the development cycle. They check and recheck the code for security issues from the first iteration before things get too complicated. While this approach goes a long way to help mitigate risk, it also saves a lot of time and money.
As cloud services providers follow different security protocols, your governance platform must operate natively. In this scenario, the service provider's APIs are leveraged to ensure security under your governance. Without using their APIs, it's impossible to exert complete control over security.
In the current threat landscape, it's also vital to go beyond traditional security monitoring technologies. It's humanly impossible to monitor multi-cloud environments. You need to automate real-time monitoring and employ predictive analytics by leveraging logging and tracing data. This approach will also help you maintain regulatory compliance.
Four Failure Models to Avoid
Large organizations tend to experience cloud failure due to the presence of new and legacy technologies. Other reasons include the need to remediate and re-architect and the skills shortage. This makes server virtualization and cloud deployments more challenging.
Some of the common cloud failures are as follows:
When companies don't reference architecture or leverage automation, they end up with long queues. In this scenario, it's imperative to build reference architecture in a compliant, resilient, and secure manner.
When there's no planning, aligned vision, or guidance from the leadership, developers end up taking divergent approaches to configure cloud services. This has a significant impact on security and opens the door to compliance violations.
Not Deriving Value from "Lift and Shift"
Migration of significant parts of the technology environment must always take advantage of cloud-optimization levers. When IT teams fail to do this, they fail to cut costs or increase flexibility. More often than not, these initiatives collapse.
Sometimes enterprises deploy some greenfield applications on public clouds but fail to derive the most value from them. Whenever this happens, they fail to scale or make further progress.
Cloud-native governance policies aren’t rigid. They evolve with the dynamic changes in the cloud environment. The real value of cloud-native governance is closely tied to the cloud computing model and best practices.
When you get this right, your ROI will be defined by business continuity (by averting cloud failure), avoiding data breaches, and maintaining brand value.
At Magalix, we're highly experienced in defining, deploying, and managing Kubernetes-focused cloud-native governance policies. To find out more, request a commitment-free consultation.