Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS) is a relatively new platform in the development ecospace, making the technology ripe for tinkering by developers. Not only is a trend emerging of the infrastructure being taken to the cloud, but the availability of open source is on the rise, according to OpenMobster CEO Sohil Shah.
In this Q&A, Shah compares open source MBaaS to cloud MBaaS, discusses implementation barriers and shares his insights on usage trends.
What factors should be taken into account when considering cloud MBaaS?
Sohil Shah: There are two factors that make cloud integration a challenge. One is enterprise integration -- how to extract data which is stored in your on-premises enterprise system and make [it] available to your cloud MBaaS and mobilize it to your mobile device.
The second (factor) is security. The data has to leave your on-premises system and go into someone else's server, and then it is mobilized somewhere else. It is not like an on-premises system where the data never leaves your network until it's ready to go to your mobile device.
What are some pros and cons of cloud MBaaS and open source MBaaS?
Shah: The best thing about open source is the flexibility and ease you get with implementing your MBaaS solution. Your integration framework does not have to put holes in the firewall, it's all on-premises. If your information system is on-premises, you can install open source software wherever you like, deploy it on-premises and integrate it with an enterprise system.
This a growing trend; if you are not on this train, you need to be on this train.
With the cloud, that's a con because the cloud MBaaS engine that runs outside the firewall is not an on-premises system, so it has to integrate back with an on-premises system. It's a little bit more involved to make that integration happen.
One con of open source is that getting started can be more complex depending on the project. It's not as easy as just going to a cloud provider, giving them a credit card and getting started. With open source, you have to take the project, build it or use binaries to run the system, and set it up within your enterprise system.
Another con of open source, along the same line of deployment issue, depends on the app you are mobilizing. If it's a consumer app, it's probably easier to use a cloud provider so you don't have to install anything on your own infrastructure or server. With open source, you have to run your own server and infrastructure.
Now if you're an enterprise system, the whole equation changes. That is a pro of open source: You can run your own servers and integrate with your own enterprise systems without having to poke holes in your firewalls.
In short, consumer apps are better with cloud, while enterprise apps are better with open source because you can integrate with it on-premises.
Also on the enterprise side is data movement. In a cloud system, depending on the app, data moves from the enterprise system to a cloud provider server. Therefore there are some security issues between the cloud deployment and enterprise integration.
With open source, there is no such thing [as security issues] because it's deployed inside the firewall along with the on-premises system. The only time the data leaves the network is when it goes to the mobile device, which is already secure. Data never leaving the network is a big, big plus for open source and in the enterprise space.
Do you have any insights into the open source MBaaS market?
Shah: This is a growing trend; if you are not on this train, you need to be on this train. I am talking about MBaaS in general, as an industry standard. The trend started in the consumer space back in 2011, when StackMob and Parse came out with offerings, and it has been growing from there. Now it's starting to penetrate the enterprise space.
As [MBaaS] is penetrating the enterprise space, open source comes in. As I mentioned, open source is not great for consumer apps, but it's great for enterprise apps so that you can mobilize your enterprise information systems. When that comes in, the open source MBaaS movement is going to gather more steam because when organizations need to mobilize enterprise systems, they look to open source as the way to build out their mobile infrastructure.
What are some potential roadblocks that may hinder growth?
Shah: Training; it's all going to come down to training, training, training. So far, app developers have been developing without a back end. Consumer apps don't necessarily need a back end, like games and other small apps, but a back end is needed for enterprise apps.
It's a different story from an enterprise standpoint. App developers and IT will have to go through two learning curves. One, to learn the mobile platform side, like Android andiPhone. The second would be integration in the back end. They [developers and IT] will have to learn the application program interface for their back-end system including how the technology works and the security framework of the system. All of that will be packaged together in the back end, but you have to learn those features to use them in your app.
This was first published in July 2013