What is a Cloud Development Environment?

A Cloud Development Environment (CDE) is implemented with a container or virtual machine accessible for the purpose of supporting code development activities. Here is a brief history of this technology, how it was recently recognized as a Gartner category and a summary of the benefits of coding online.

Published: November 14, 2023

Author:Laurent Balmelli

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A Brief History of Cloud-Based Development

The aim of Cloud Development Environments is to enable software development to move online. This approach to coding online has an interesting history that dates back to the mid-2010s when a handful of innovative startups took their first steps into this emerging field.
Bringing development online
Figure: Bringing development online brings new benefits, from productivity to security aspects.
As time went on, several of these early ventures were acquired by larger tech companies, who saw the promise in their innovative ideas. So, when we talk about Cloud Development Environments today, we are actually looking at a concept that had its roots in the forward-thinking landscape of the mid-2010s.

Grasping the Concept of a Cloud Development Environment

Fast-forward to 2023, industry analyst Gartner suggests calling the technology a Cloud Development Environment. A CDE is like connecting to a remote machine through a terminal command window, such as using an SSH client. Such a remote machine can be a physical host or a virtual process like a container or virtual machine.
For the sake of efficiency, running CDEs online might typically rely on technologies such as lightweight virtualization, e.g. Docker or Podman, but virtual machines are also viable candidates albeit slower.
CDE or Cloud Development Environment
Figure: A CDE is a container or virtual machine dedicated to development.
The typical specification of a CDE is typically a Linux OS with a series of applications and packages, with the goal to provide a ready-to-use, fully-configured development environment. Embed an IDE as a web application and you have all the components to start writing code online.
Using a web-based IDE (try Microsoft Visual Studio Code) a typical onboarding on the CDE goes like that: the developer opens a URL that loads the IDE into the browser and, in addition, gets a terminal prompt to the online CDE.

What Are the Benefits of CDEs for Developers and Organizations?

Managing developments online has a benefit. Organizations can offer a self-service option for developers. This allows them to access pre-set environments without IT help. These environments include approved software, packages, and computing capabilities provided by the CDE.
This method works for any developer, but self-service is best for internal employees. In contrast, a managed access to environments is also possible for contractors or temporary employees.
CDE platform Strong Network
Figure: CDE platforms can be used as a self-serve mechanism for developers.

Improved Governance and Security for Development using CDEs

CDEs can be managed, updated, and improved online without needing the developer's computer. They can be checked in real time, like monitoring a process in the Cloud, to see productivity and security metrics. In addition, the online nature of cloud development environments make them extremely attractive to onboard developers regardless of their location.
Lastly, there is an opportunity to handle security better from the standpoint of resource access control, network monitoring and data loss prevention. You can find more information about security for CDEs in this article
running CDEs from Strong Network
Figure: A centralized view of running CDEs increases management efficiency.

How CDEs Automate DevOps and DevSecOps Workflows

Bringing development environments online strongly benefits interactions with commonly used DevOps tools and applications. Most importantly, the use of CDEs cannot hinder any existing tools.Communication is easier because CDEs, DevOps, and DevSecOps tools are all available online. This makes automation easy.
CDEs for DevOps Automation
Figure: Properties of CDEs brings opportunities for DevOps automation
In conclusion, CDE technology is driving the fastest DevOps transformation trend today with the entire cloud-native development industry moving development environments online.
An extended version of this article is available on DZone, the best place for community exchanges around DevOps.
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