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Do I need a mobile backend as a service provider to develop mobile apps?

The MBaaS approach can spare mobile app developers a few headaches on the back end, so they can focus on the front end and user experience -- but that depends on the app.

It can be time-consuming, resource-intensive and expensive to develop mobile apps that tie into back-end infrastructure. A mobile backend as a service provider cuts through the red tape, saving IT and developers time and money.

Mobile backend as a service (MBaaS) eliminates the need to set up servers, build authentication components, plan for scalability, customize systems or take many of the other steps necessary to implement and support a complex back-end infrastructure.

As with any new technology, developers might not necessarily need MBaaS, but they should carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of this approach to determine whether it fits their needs. Under the right circumstances, MBaaS provides a lot of enterprise benefits -- but it might not be the right fit for every organization.

Developers must make certain their apps are a good fit for the API-driven model.

A mobile backend as a service provider offers developers a common set of APIs to connect to back-end resources, helping to simplify and unify development efforts across multiple platforms. MBaaS also eliminates the need for setting up redundant application stacks and repeating boilerplate code while providing a core set of back-end services, such as data storage, geolocation, push notifications and user authentication and management.

MBaaS allows developers to focus on the front-end application and user experience. They can also develop mobile apps and get them out the door faster and easier, with fewer obstacles to block their progress. It's particularly valuable for short-term projects IT needs to implement quickly. For example, a small startup might turn to MBaaS if it wants to establish itself quickly but doesn't have the capital or long-range need for an extensive back-end infrastructure.

A mobile backend as a service provider isn't for everyone

Developers must make certain their apps are a good fit for the API-driven model that MBaaS supports. In addition, the app's logic can't be too complex for the MBaaS environment or have unique back-end requirements that aren't available through MBaaS.

In this video, four mobile experts discuss the challenges of back-end integration and explore mBaaS as a potential solution.

Developers can choose features and manage their data, but MBaaS also offers little to no control over the back-end infrastructure, making even minor optimizations difficult -- if not impossible -- to implement. Anyone using MBaaS is also at the mercy of the provider's capabilities. For example, a provider might house all back-end operations at a single data center. If an app is distributed to users around the world, those farthest away are more likely to experience latency and connectivity issues.

As when using any cloud provider, companies should fully understand the risks and liabilities of outsourcing to a third-party service and ensure the provider is subjected to the same oversight and governance as internal operations.

Consider the costs of a mobile backend as a service provider

MBaaS services might look attractive when considering initial startup fees, but companies must also look at long-term costs. The more resource intensive an app and the longer its lifecycle, the less cost-effective MBaaS could turn out to be. Organizations should also investigate the financial stability of a potential MBaaS provider; if that provider goes out of business, developers might have to start their apps over from scratch.

Despite some disadvantages, MBaaS is gaining a solid foothold in the industry, and key players are likely to emerge, with MBaaS technologies growing more efficient and robust. Those considering MBaaS options, however, should evaluate them on an app by app basis.

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This was last published in May 2016

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MBaaS platforms: Making a seamless transition for developers

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Would you use MBaaS to develop mobile apps? Why or why not?
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MBaaS is good for 'informational' apps – but anything personalised, using data from multiple sources, for employees at multiple locations and SaaS offerings are just not powerful enough. It's a question of expectations: Customers of MbaaS are expecting simplicity, so any complex scenarios naturally are out of the question.
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