The New Mobile-Cloud Enterprise

Editor’s note: Sravish Sridhar is the founder and CEO of Kinvey.

Enterprise IT is undergoing a platform shift from web-based, client-server systems to a mobile-cloud platform. This shift has caught the attention of all the major tech vendors who have either acquired or launched Platform as a Service (PaaS) or Backend as a Service  (BaaS) technologies to address this growing opportunity.

Facebook acquired Parse, PayPal bought StackMob, Salesforce launched Salesforce Platform Mobile Services, AWS released a suite of their own mobile tools, Pivotal launched Pivotal CF Mobile Services and RedHat just recently acquired FeedHenry.

PaaS has long been heralded as the future of application development. It provides developers with self-service access to an app server and scalable infrastructure, freeing them from dependency on their infrastructure teams. BaaS, however, takes this to the next level (or two) by providing mobile-specific features with context and abstraction, such as push notifications as part of “out of the box” apps.

In addition, BaaS provides an identity database, data and file storage, as well as an environment in which to run custom business logic. Put another way, BaaS is a cloud computing category of companies that make it easier for developers to set up, use and operate a cloud backend for their mobile, tablet and web apps.

What makes them different? What’s the driving force behind these changes in enterprise ? Why is there so much activity happening now? I can think of two (interrelated) reasons: PaaS only gets you halfway there and PaaS is becoming commoditized, and mobile toolset providers can influence which cloud their customers run on.

PaaS Only Goes So Far

PaaS is a blank slate that needs to add the mobile feature layer (whether built in-house or purchased from a vendor) to enable enterprise IT to start building next-gen apps.

But with a BaaS platform, you skip that part and go straight to development. BaaS provides the full client device mobile feature set (caching, data sync, encryption, location, etc.) and the mobile backend features required for every next-gen app: identity management, data services, engagement services (push notifications, analytics, etc.), and business logic — in the form of a full PaaS — to tie it all together in context for a good user experience.

The first generation of mobile tools – MEAPs and mobile SDKs – provided lines of business with tools and services to launch these one-off apps. Now enterprise IT is starting to realize they need a standardized platform across the business to enable any app for any use case, and to provide this platform to the individual business lines on a self-serve basis.

The Commoditization of PaaS

Mobile is driving the adoption of cloud in the enterprise. The two are a perfect fit. As organizations struggle to simultaneously gain a competitive advantage with innovative mobile applications and use cases while keeping up with the relentless pace of change in the mobile world, they are increasingly turning to cloud-based mobile services providers for help.

At the same time, infrastructure and platform providers are seeing their offerings become increasingly commoditized. OpenShift is available as open source, Google App Engine is free, and the well-publicized Google and Amazon price wars are pushing infrastructure prices to incredible lows. Throw in that there is often low friction to move between cloud providers, and it’s easy to see why PaaS vendors want to make their offerings “stickier” with value-add mobile services. It also explains the acquisition frenzy – an independent BaaS can be configured to run anywhere, which the big PaaS players don’t want.

Where Are We Going?

I see BaaS players continuing to build out their mobile toolsets, in order to make their offerings more attractive for lines of business (enabling any use case), developers (providing ease of use and elegance), and IT (ensuring they can maintain security, scalability, and control). PaaS providers with BaaS offerings will attempt to lure organizations in to secure them on their own cloud, while independent BaaS vendors will choose whatever cloud provider best meets their clients’ needs.

For enterprise IT, we will start to see a new internal development ecosystem emerge, with BaaS as the backbone. The ecosystem will include integration services like Jenkins, source control management software like Git, issue-tracking services like Jira, and more. The difference will be that, instead of purchasing an entire application development suite from giants like IBM or SAP, the modern, effective mobile enterprise will purchase modular, best-of-breed solutions to create an environment that best suits their specific needs.