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Using the Cloud to Enable Next-Generation Enterprise Mobility Solutions

Leveraging the economics of the cloud

Mobile computing has drastically impacted the social, commercial and even philosophical aspects of our society. Seeing the explosion of mobile applications in the consumer world, companies can't avoid dreaming about revolutionizing their businesses with the presence of mobile applications. The ability of extending business capabilities to mobile devices leads the priority list of most CIOs. However, the path to enterprise mobility goes beyond building sporadic applications for specific line of business systems. Companies embarking on the enterprise mobility journey need cohesive strategies for important mobile infrastructure aspects such as device management, identity, security, and monitoring, that are required to provide a true enterprise mobility experience.

The good news is that, as an industry, we have been addressing those challenges for a few years through platforms such as Research in Motion (RIM) enterprise server. The bad news is that the RIM model has severe limitations when adapted to modern mobile technologies. The good news is that we have various modern solutions to address those challenges. The bad news is that the solutions might seem a bit radical at first. The good news is that today's solution to enterprise mobility has been proven for years in the consumer world.

The good news is that you are reading this article.

Traditional Enterprise Mobility
As mentioned in the previous section, mobility is not a strange element to modern enterprise. For the last decade, companies have embraced different models to expose certain business capabilities through mobile devices. As effective as some of those models have been, they've all failed to quickly keep up with the wave of changes caused by the release of the first iPhone and the IOs stack. Fundamentally, IOs changed the game by mainstreaming the concept of application development and providing developers with the tools and infrastructure necessary to develop, market and commercialize new applications. This model was quickly followed by other mobile platforms rapidly making the predominant model to deliver a mobile experience in modern devices.

Witnessing the explosion of mobile applications in the consumer world, various enterprises decided to start building specific mobile applications to provide different business capabilities. However, they quickly realized that there is a fundamental difference between building mobile applications for the consumer and enterprise markets. While in the consumer model, each application operates in a well-defined level of isolation from other applications; in the enterprise space, applications need to share a common infrastructure in areas such as security, data sharing, monitoring, and provisioning. Orchestrating that foundation for enterprise mobile applications represents the biggest challenge of the current generation of enterprise mobility solutions.

Why is this?

The current solutions in the enterprise mobility space dangerously resemble the RIM enterprise server model. Even though this model has proven successful in previous years, it presents some serious limitations when applied to modern mobile applications. Figure 1 resembles the traditional model of enterprise mobility.

Figure 1:  Traditional Enterprise Mobility Model

Without going into too many details of each one of the technical components illustrated in the previous figure, we can quickly identity some major challenges with the previous model:

  • Complex: With current technologies, implementing this model requires assembling a fairly complex infrastructure in your corporate network in order to enable the capabilities listed below.
  • Hard to Scale Globally: Given its dependencies on on-premise infrastructure, the traditional enterprise mobility model is designed to work within the same network, or tightly connected networks, but it's almost impossible to enable it across disparate geographic locations.
  • Proprietary Frameworks: Most of the existing enterprise mobility platforms require the use of proprietary, and not highly popular, IDEs and frameworks in order to leverage the capabilities of the platform.
  • Unfriendly to HTML5: HTML5 is completely changing the way we think of and develop mobile applications. At the same time, most enterprise mobile frameworks are almost exclusively based on supporting native applications and provide very limited functionalities to embrace HTML5.
  • Complex to Update: Given the nature of enterprise mobile applications, performing updates to the underlying platform will result in major challenges for the users and applications relying on it.
  • Closed to Third-Party Applications: With the proliferation of mobile development communities, it's very common for companies to want to adopt applications developed for third parties as part of their portfolio. However, this is completely impossible given the closed nature of traditional enterprise mobility platforms.

In order to address some of the aforementioned challenges, we need a simpler, more open model that removes the constraints of proprietary frameworks and infrastructures. The rapidly emerging set of cloud computing services and infrastructures offer a unique set of capabilities to address these challenges and enable the next generation of enterprise mobility solutions.

A Better Model: Taking Enterprise Mobility to the Cloud
During the last few years, cloud infrastructures have pushed the frontiers of software development to areas never imagined before. In the context of enterprise mobility, the cloud computing model and services present a unique model to simplify the challenges of the traditional enterprise mobility model and to open new possibilities in the space.

Conceptually, an enterprise cloud mobility platform removes the complexities of the mobile enterprise server from your corporate network by placing it in a cloud infrastructure where it can leverage various cloud services to enable its native capabilities. Figure 2 illustrates this concept.

Figure 2: Enterprise Cloud Mobility Platform

Even though the previous model might seem a bit futuristic, we can quickly identity some major advantages compared to traditional enterprise mobility solutions.

A cloud enterprise mobility infrastructure represents a higher simpler model from the infrastructure standpoint than its on-premise counterpart. Think about it, with this new approach, the components of the mobile enterprise server will reside in a cloud platform that won't require any infrastructure behind the firewall. More specifically, in this model organizations will only be responsible for deploying the portion of the applications that interact with the on-premise data such as web services and message queues.

Globally Available
Using a cloud-based infrastructure will guarantee the global availability of our enterprise mobile server. This capability will allow organizations to expand their mobile capabilities across different divisions potentially located in different geographic regions.

Elastically Scalable
Scalability is one of the biggest limitations of traditional enterprise mobility platforms. Leveraging a cloud infrastructure will inherently make our enterprise mobile server elastically scalable. This means that we will be able to add computing, storage and other functional instances as needed in our enterprise mobile solution.

HTML5 Friendly
HTML5 is highly supported by the majority of, if not all, Platform as a Service (PaaS) solutions. This capability enables our cloud enterprise mobility platform to take full advantage of HTML5 websites as a complement to native applications.

Transparently Updatable
A cloud-based enterprise mobility platform will inherit all benefits of the Software as a Service (SaaS) model. Among those benefits is the ability to perform continuous updates without the need to install any on-premise software, which will make a significant difference in a rapidly changing context such as mobile computing.

As any other cloud infrastructure, a cloud enterprise mobility model should be automatically open and interoperable with heterogeneous applications. The reason openness is a relevant concept when it comes to enterprise mobility is simply because it facilitates incorporating third-party applications as part of the enterprise mobile platform.

Economically Affordable
Given the economic characteristics of cloud platforms, an enterprise cloud mobility platform can be offered at a really affordable price to small business or big enterprises. This highly contrasts with the almost prohibitive cost of most traditional enterprise mobile platforms, which frequently limit its adoption to very big enterprises.

Enterprise Mobility in the Cloud: Dream or Reality?
As explained in the previous section, leveraging a cloud infrastructure to enable enterprise mobility capabilities presents significant advantages over traditional models. However, as with any software paradigm we have to challenge the feasibility of the solution. Is a cloud-based enterprise mobility model really achievable? Could we truly enable an enterprise mobility foundation using cloud services?

The answer is absolutely yes. If we think about it, the key to a solid enterprise mobility platform, whether on-premise or on the cloud, is centered around a series of foundational capabilities in areas such as identity, security, messaging, analytics and other aspects that power the rest of the platform. In today's cloud technology ecosystem, we can find incredibly robust service platforms that enable those different capabilities. Figure 3 illustrates this concept.

Figure 3:  A Robust Service Platform Enables the Needed Capabilities of a Mobile Enterprise Platform

The keys to enabling this platform are:

  • Identity Services: In an enterprise mobility platform, it's important to authenticate users from their mobile devices against directory services in your corporate network. Federating user identities between cloud and on-premise environment is a common practice in today's cloud solutions. Technology platforms such as Okta, OneLogin or the Windows Azure AppFabric Access Control Service offer a seamless and highly interoperable model to achieve this functionality.
  • Data Storage Services: Data storage is a fundamental element of an enterprise mobility platform. In the cloud technology ecosystem, Platform as a Service(PaaS) platforms such as Windows Azure, Heroku or even Amazon AWS offer both relational and non-relational storage models.
  • Messaging Services: Message and data exchange are an essential aspect of any enterprise mobile application. The ability to exchange messages or consume data from on-premise or cloud environments in a mobile device is, arguably, the most relevant element of an enterprise mobility platform. Today, technologies such as PubNub, Pusher or the Windows Azure AppFabric Service Bus offer simple cloud-based messaging platforms to broker the communication between different endpoints that it's one of the most important.
  • Business Intelligence Services: Reporting and analytics are fundamental to a great enterprise mobility experience. Technologies such as GoodData, Chart.io or even SQL Azure Reporting deliver great BI experiences leveraging cloud infrastructures.

Leveraging the Economics of the Cloud
The benefits of a cloud-based enterprise mobility model extend way beyond the technology aspects with an economic model that is impossible to emulate with an on-premise alternative. Essentially, a cloud model will natively inherit the scalability benefits of dozens of cloud services that improve almost on a daily basis. The economies of scale of that model simply outperform any on-premise alternative in which a single vendor is providing the complete infrastructure for your solutions. In simple terms, your enterprise mobility infrastructure will naturally evolve with the cloud services its using.

Nowadays we are experiencing a deep contradiction between the importance of enterprise mobility and the severe limitations of the most products or technology stacks in the space. The traditional model to enterprise mobility is, conceptually, based on the RIM model, which simply fails to deliver the required agility in a world in which building mobile applications is becoming mainstream. Cloud computing infrastructures offer a unique opportunity to enable a simpler, better and more agile approach to enterprise mobility. In addition to its numerous technical benefits, a cloud-based model to enterprise mobility can leverage the economics of scale that, at the end, have made cloud computing the most important technology movement of a generation.

More Stories By Jesus Rodriguez

Jesus Rodriguez is a co-founder and CEO of KidoZen, an enterprise mobile-first platform as a service redefining the future of enterprise mobile solutions. He is also the co-founder to Tellago, an award-winning professional services firm focused on big enterprise software trends. Under his leadership, KidoZen and Tellago have been recognized as an innovator in the areas of enterprise software and solutions achieving important awards like the Inc 500, Stevie Awards’ American and International Business Awards.

A software scientist by background, Jesus is an internationally recognized speaker and author with contributions that include hundreds of articles and sessions at industry conferences. He serves as an advisor to several software companies such as Microsoft and Oracle, sits at the board of different technology companies. Jesus is a prolific blogger on all subjects related to software technology and entrepreneurship. You can gain valuable insight on business and software technology through his blogs at http://jrodthoughts.com and http://weblogs.asp.net/gsusx .

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