In this blog post, I will take a look at Cloud Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS) and how we can leverage Cloud based Mobile Backend as a Service for building enterprise mobile apps. Today, mobile apps are incredibly significant in both consumer and enterprise space and the demand for the mobile apps is unbelievably increasing in day to day business. An enterprise can’t survive in business without a proper mobility strategy. A better mobility strategy and faster delivery of your mobile apps will give you an extra mileage for your business and IT strategy. So organizations and mobile developers are looking for different strategy for meeting this demand and adopting different development strategy for their mobile apps. Some developers are adopting hybrid mobile app development platforms, for delivering their products for multiple platforms, for fast time-to-market. Others are adopting a Mobile enterprise application platform (MEAP) such as Kony for their enterprise mobile apps for fast time-to-market and better business integration.
The Challenges of Enterprise Mobility
The real challenge of enterprise mobile apps, is not about creating the front-end environment or developing front-end for multiple platforms. The most important thing of enterprise mobile apps is to expose your enterprise data to mobile devices where the real pain is your business data might be residing in lot of different systems including legacy systems, ERP systems etc., and these systems will be deployed with lot of security restrictions. Exposing your data from the on-premises servers, is not a easy thing for most of the business organizations. Many organizations are spending too much time for their front-end development strategy, but they are really lacking for building a strategy on their back-end for exposing the business data to mobile apps. So building a REST services layer and mobile back-end services, on the top of legacy systems and existing middleware systems, is the key part of most of the enterprise mobile apps, where multiple mobile platforms can easily consume these REST services and other mobile back-end services for building mobile apps.
For some mobile apps, we can’t predict its user base, especially for products where customers can gradually increase at any time. And for today’s mobile apps, faster time-to-market is very critical so that spending too much time for mobile app’s scalability, will not be worth. The real power of Cloud is the agility and on-demand scalability, where we can scale-up and scale-down our applications very easily. It would be great if we could use the power of Cloud to mobile apps. So using Cloud for mobile apps is a natural fit, where we can use Cloud as the storage for mobile apps and hosting mechanism for mobile back-end services, where we can enjoy the full power of Cloud with greater level of on-demand scalability and operational agility. So Cloud based Mobile Backend as a Service is great choice for building enterprise mobile apps, where enterprises can enjoy the massive scalability power of their mobile apps, provided by public cloud vendors such as Microsoft Windows Azure.
Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS)
We have discussed the key challenges of enterprise mobile apps and how we can leverage Cloud for hosting mobile backend services. MBaaS is a set of cloud-based, server-side mobile services for multiple mobile platforms and HTML5 platform, which can be used as a backend for your mobile apps with the scalability power of Cloud. The information below provides the key features of a typical MBaaS platform:
- Cloud based storage for your application data.
- Automatic REST API services on the application data, for CRUD operations.
- Native push notification services with massive scalability power.
- User management services for authenticate users.
- User authentication via Social accounts such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter.
- Scheduler services for periodically sending data to mobile devices.
- Native SDKs for multiple mobile platforms such as Windows Phone and Windows Store, Android, Apple iOS, and HTML5, for easily accessing the mobile services from mobile apps, with better security.
Typically, a MBaaS platform will provide native SDKs for multiple mobile platforms so that we can easily consume the server-side mobile services. MBaaS based REST APIs can use for integrating to enterprise backend systems. We can use the same mobile services for multiple platform so that we can reuse the application logic to multiple mobile platforms. Public cloud vendors are building the mobile services on the top of their PaaS offerings. Windows Azure Mobile Services is a great platform for a MBaaS offering that is leveraging Windows Azure Cloud platform’s PaaS capabilities. Hybrid mobile development platform Titanium provides their own MBaaS services. LoopBack is a new MBaaS service provided by Node.js consulting firm StrongLoop, which can be hosted on multiple cloud platforms and also for on-premises servers.
The Challenges of MBaaS Solutions
If you are building your mobile apps with a new data storage, it will be very easy, since there is not any integration challenges you have to face. But most of the use cases, you have to extract your application data in which stored in on-premises servers which might be under VPNs and firewalls. So exposing these data to your MBaaS solution with a proper security would be a big challenge. The capability of your MBaaS vendor is very important as you have to interact with your legacy systems for many enterprise mobile apps. So you should be very careful about choosing for MBaaS vendor. At the same time, you should have a proper strategy for mobilizing your application data which stored in on-premises legacy systems, where your solution architecture and strategy is more important than platforms and tools.
Windows Azure Mobile Services
Windows Azure Mobile Services is an MBaaS offerings from Windows Azure cloud platform. IMHO, Microsoft Windows Azure is the best PaaS platform in the Cloud space. Windows Azure Mobile Services extends the PaaS capabilities of Windows Azure, to mobile devices, which can be used as a cloud backend for your mobile apps, which will provide global availability and reach for your mobile apps. Windows Azure Mobile Services provides storage services, user management with social network integration, push notification services and scheduler services and provides native SDKs for all major mobile platforms and HTML5. In Windows Azure Mobile Services, you can write server-side scripts in Node.js where you can enjoy the full power of Node.js including the use of NPM modules for your server-side scripts.
In the previous section, we had discussed some challenges of MBaaS solutions. You can leverage Windows Azure Cloud platform for solving many challenges regarding with enterprise mobility. The entire Windows Azure platform can play a key role for working as the backend for your mobile apps where you can leverage the entire Windows Azure platform for your mobile apps. With Windows Azure, you can easily connect to your on-premises systems which is a key thing for mobile backend solutions. Another key point is that Windows Azure provides better integration with services like Active Directory, which makes Windows Azure as the de facto platform for enterprise mobility, for enterprises, who have been leveraging Microsoft ecosystem for their application and IT infrastructure.
Windows Azure Mobile Services is going to next evolution where you can expect some exciting features in near future. One area, where Windows Azure Mobile Services should definitely need an improvement, is about the default storage mechanism in which currently it is depends on SQL Server. IMHO, developers should be able to choose multiple default storage option when creating a new mobile service instance. Let’s say, there should be a different storage providers such as SQL Server storage provider and Table storage provider where developers should be able to choose their choice of storage provider when creating a new mobile services project.
I have been used Windows Azure and Windows Azure Mobile Services as the backend for production apps for mobile, where it performed very well.
MBaaS Over MEAP
Recently, many larger enterprises has been adopted Mobile enterprise application platform (MEAP) for their mobile apps. I haven’t worked on any production MEAP solution, but I heard that developers are really struggling with MEAP in different way. The learning curve for a proprietary MEAP platform is very high. I am completely against for using larger proprietary ecosystem for mobile apps. For enterprise mobile apps, I highly recommend to use native iOS/Android/Windows Phone or HTML5 for front-end with a cloud hosted MBaaS solution as the middleware. A MBaaS service can be consumed from multiple mobile apps where REST APIs are using to integrating with enterprise backend systems.
Enterprise mobility should start with exposing REST APIs on the enterprise backend systems and these REST APIs can host on Cloud where we can enjoy the power of Cloud for our services. If you are having REST APIs for your enterprise data, then you can easily build mobile frontends for multiple platforms.
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