A new cloud category called Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS) helps organizations accelerate mobile software development in the face of skyrocketing mobile app demand and a short supply of mobile savvy developers.
A subset of Platform as a Service, MBaaS offers cloud-based suites of mobile back end components, including data storage, access control, push notifications, social media integration and encryption, all accessible via APIs, connectors and native and hybrid software libraries. By taking advantage of MBaaS, developers can focus on perfecting the user-facing front end, rather than wrestling with the challenges and complexities of server-side development. MBaaS can also relieve organizations of the back-end scalability and performance tuning required to produce a satisfying user experience.
Until recently, MBaaS customers were mostly independent game and software developers. However, enterprise interest in the category has grown as businesses grapple with BYOD programs and competition boasting customer mobile application access and mobile first development strategies.
As MBaaS providers look to woo enterprise customers, they’ve also started offering toolkits for integration with enterprise line-of-business systems via the cloud.
What MBaaS offers
Some of the services offered by MBaas include:
- Storage and management of structured, semi-structured and unstructured information
- Third-party integration with Salesforce, Google Apps, SAP, WordPress and other enterprise software and SaaS providers
- Authentication with identity providers such as Google, Facebook and OpenID, which are often used to provide access to numerous third-party services
- Geolocation for delivery of location based services
- Push notifications alerting mobile users to presubscribed or important events when the device is either not in use or is otherwise occupied
- Social media integration with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other platforms used to collaborate and share information with peers
- Commerce services including product catalogs, shopping carts and payment services
- Virtual Private Network services for data encryption over the wire and encryption of data at rest
- Disaster recovery including real-time mirroring of cloud data to secondary sites
- Performance monitoring of application back ends via real-time dashboards
- User management that maintains user profiles and settings in order to deliver a personalized user experience and user behavior analysis
- Analytics for insight into user demographics, preferences and application use.
The MBaaS market is only about three years old and is still comprised mostly of startups, which is why enterprises have been slow to embrace the new category. However, acquisition interest has been perking up with Facebook acquiring Parse, a leading MBaaS provider, and enterprises such as Harper Collins, Avis, Zipcar, Cadillac and Toyota reportedly customers of MBaaS.
How to choose
Enterprises looking to take advantage of MBaaS should shop carefully. Some things to consider in include:
- Feature sets
Some providers focus on the enterprise more than others, with features such as line-of-business integration and optional deployment on a public or private cloud. Some offer more flexible data storage and custom coding capabilities than others.
- Subscription pricing model
Are there up-front costs? Does the provider charge by the application or transaction or is there unlimited usage for a monthly fee? Some providers let customers get started with basic features free of charge.
- Reliability and scalability
What are the uptime guarantees and service level agreements? Does the provider have other enterprise customers with scale, performance and uptime requirements similar to yours? Does their platform run on AWS or another IaaS provider that can scale infrastructure easily to meet demand? Investigate data backup and disaster recovery strategies if you plan to store any data in the cloud.
Look for features including data encryption over the wire and at rest and access control, especially if you intend to store information with the provider.
How long has the provider been in business and how many customers does it have today? The flip side is that a less mature provider might offer lower pricing.
Some of the better-known providers include:
- AnyPresence, founded by former Oracle, SAP and Siebel executives, is focused squarely on enterprise mobile software development with expertise in healthcare, finance and utilities, including compliance and security requirements. It offers role-based authentication and scores of connectors to third-party services such as Salesforce and SAP, as well as REST and SOAP Web services and Oracle, MySQL and MongoDB data stores. Users can also harness tools to build custom adapters. AnyPresence offers both cloud-based and on-premises deployment for security-sensitive enterprises.
- Appcelerator, founded in 2006, is a feature-rich platform for mobile application development and MBaaS across iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows 8. Appcelerator offers public cloud, virtual private cloud and on-premises deployment options. It includes connectors to a SaaS and internal line-of-business applications including ERP, CRM, SFA and SCM and access to a large number of partnerships and third-party components.
- Kidozen, founded in 2013, is a relative newcomer to the MBaaS market. Like AnyPresence, it has a strong enterprise focus with a complete enterprise mobile app platform and APIs for Salesforce, Marketo, ShareFile, MS Yammer, NetSuite, Coupa, SugarCRM, Podio, MS CRM Online, SAP, Google Apps for Business and MS SharePoint. It also offers identity federation, storage and application monitoring and deployment in the public, private and hybrid cloud. Kidozen claims a number of large enterprise customers, including Avon, Sunoco, DHL Europe, American Airlines and JetBlue.
- Kinvey stands out for its partnerships with Adobe, Google, Red Hat, HP, IBM, Oracle and Cloud Foundry, as well as video-hosting provider Brightcove and push-notification provider Urban Airship. Its flexible Datalink architecture lets developers choose among numerous third-party data providers including location providers such as Google and Foursquare and social services such as Facebook Open Graph, as well as back-end enterprise applications and data. Recently Kinvey announced it would allow customers to run their apps on premises or in a dedicated private cloud. Availability is enhanced by running Kinvey’s infrastructure across Amazon, Rackspace and Microsoft IaaS.
MBaaS is a space to watch for enterprises, especially as acquisition of MBaaS startups by established enterprise IT vendors picks up in the next two years.
Andriy Shapochka is the principal software architect at SoftServe, Inc. where he has designed and implemented innovative cloud, Web and mobile solutions for large-scale enterprises in a variety of sectors including healthcare, insurance and banking. Andriy is an expert in SaaS architecture and is a leading voice on Agile project management in the United States and Europe.