Rackspace and Salesforce.com have joined Microsoft as providers of cloud-based mobile back ends, which are intended to make it easier for mobile application developers to build, test, deploy and scale their applications.
The three companies have all released mobile cloud application platforms in the past eight months to address the growing trend of mobile computing driving adoption of the cloud in the enterprise, according to Michael Facemire, senior analyst of application development and delivery at Forrester Research.
Initially shipped last September, Azure Mobile Services is part of Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud application platform. This month, Rackspace announced its new mobile cloud stacks, which it created through partnerships with various service providers. Salesforce.com also announced this month its new Platform Mobile Services, which contain a mobile SDK and what the company called Developer Mobile Packs.
Mobile Backend-as-a-Service providers have been seeing this trend for a while, according to Facemire. “StackMob, Kinvey, FeedHenry, Parse and all the other Backend-as-a-Service companies came at this a year-and-a-half to two years ago by saying, ‘We just want to make mobile developers’ lives easier, and one of the best ways to do that is to have a hosted offering in a cloud that provides this capability,’ ” he said.
“They came out as mobile-first, and now Rackspace and the others are coming at it cloud-first. Now you’re starting to see them come forward and make mobile adoption much easier. The cloud folks are realizing the value of that Backend-as-a-Service space and are starting to provide feature parity.”
Rackspace’s mobile cloud stacks comprise everything that a mobile application developer would need on the back end for his or her application. “What we’ve done is distilled down all of the best practices and all of the right components into one pre-packaged, ready-to-go stack,” said John Engates, CTO of Rackspace. “The word ‘stack’ we describe as the operating system plus Web server plus database plus application development environment. Those components make up the stack. This is the first time we’ve ever put that all together in a very easy-to-consume, easy-to-deploy product that we can turn on in a matter of minutes, literally, for a customer.”
Engates said Rackspace’s mobile cloud stack is comprised of a Linux operating system, a Web server and a MySQL database. “As we look out into the future, it’s very likely that we’ll have more stacks and more flavors of this stack as we start to go into other languages and other architectures,” he added. Rackspace partnered with FeedHenry, New Relic, Sencha, SOASTA, StackMob and Trigger.io for its push services, mobile Backend-as-a-Services, testing and monitoring capabilities.
“So for us at Salesforce, we looked at that growing trend, especially in the consumer space and the agency space that are building these really killer consumer mobile applications. We saw that there was a bit of a disconnect in terms of how enterprise mobile applications are built.”
Microsoft’s Azure Mobile Services is a Backend-as-a-Service capability that enables developers to build mobile apps that can target any platform, according to Scott Guthrie, corporate VP in charge of Windows Azure at Microsoft. “Mobile is a huge thing, and it’s getting bigger every year. Pretty much all really good mobile apps are connected to some back end,” he said.
“Most apps that typically users are consuming need to get data from somewhere, and they want to store data. They want to enable a security model where the user can sign in and they can roam things across their different devices. They want to be able to be notified with push notifications when something is changed on the back end.”
Guthrie said that one of the things that makes Azure Mobile Services unique compared to Rackspace, Salesforce.com or mobile Backend-as-a-Service providers such as Parse is the fact that it’s not a standalone Backend-as-a-Service. “It’s really designed such that you can use it standalone, but it also integrates with all the other services we provide within Windows Azure,” he said.
“So if you wanted to, for example, integrate with enterprise security, we have a nice way of doing it. If you’d like to use our storage capabilities to store petabytes of data, you can plug into Windows Azure Storage, which provides that capability.
“If you wanted to data mine the data that your Backend-as-a-Service is collecting or processing, you can spin up a Hadoop cluster and you can use Map/Reduce jobs against it. And if you wanted to have something that only ran in a virtual machine, with our Infrastructure-as-a-Service capability, you can create VMs in addition to your Backend-as-a-Service.”