A Look Inside a Mobile App Server

Published on: December 18, 2014

I recently wrote about how mobile infrastructure is essential to the successful development and deployment of enterprise mobile apps.  It is worth taking a moment to look inside the proverbial box and considering what functionality is included in a mobile app server.

Mobile devices throw three new challenges into the mix:

  • Battery and bandwidth limitations – the rate-limiting resources on a mobile device are power and bandwidth, and unlike traditional apps mobile apps have to be designed to conserve processing energy and send small data payloads.
  • Intermittent connectivity – wifi and cellular service are infamous for their dead zones, and apps running on mobile devices need to be able to work off-line.
  • Security on the move is hard – mobile devices are easily lost, often mix personal and business use, and can be accessed by people other than the owner, all making it difficult to properly govern data access and system usage.

The infrastructure of most enterprises includes a considerable amount of middleware that governs usage and makes back-end systems available though standard interfaces, but it is not enough to accommodate for the challenges listed above.  This gap is precisely what is addressed by the mobile app server; the mobile app server bridges the gap from existing infrastructure to mobile.

We all know we need this functionality, but the question becomes, should it be built into to a development tool, or into the infrastructure.  As I discussed in my last blog, “Enterprise Mobile Apps: It’s All About the Infrastructure,” decoupling the front-end from the back-end is the key to success.  Development teams are maniacally focused on the user experience, and IT is responsible for security, data management, and system integration.  By decoupling  these two functional areas these two groups – who have very different objectives – can work independently and productively. Development teams can choose the dev tools and processes that maximize their efficiency and reduce time to market.  IT can govern the systems the way they see fit, and provide reusable mobile services. The lynchpin that makes this work is the mobile app server.

So what is in the box?  A mobile app server includes:

  • Data routing – data is packaged in smaller (REST) objects with some business logic to minimize demands on bandwidth and battery;
  • Authentication service – secure connectivity to back-end systems is managed by the mobile middleware;
  • Authorization service – govern who is allowed to do what;
  • Off-line support – allows users to access and use data even though device is not connected;
  • Security – data encryption, device control, SSL, call logging.

With a mobile app server, organizations have the infrastructure they need to allow development teams to focus on the UI/UX, while giving IT visibility into and control over security and governance.  Finally, the best of both worlds.

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