Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS) Blog

Three lessons for the enterprise from Xamarin Evolve 2016

evolve2016We recently saw the fourth installment of the largest cross-platform mobile conference in the world, and the excitement in Orlando was palpable. Straight off the high of the Microsoft acquisition, over 1,500 developers, industry leaders, and Xamarin experts came together to discuss all things Xamarin and the future of mobile apps.

It was good to hear that even at a developer conference like Xamarin Evolve, the enterprise got a shout-out in the keynote. Nat Friedman observed correctly that if you want to build high-quality apps that will transform your business, you need an intelligent cloud to power these experiences. So let’s dig into what that means in real life by exploring three common themes that kept coming back throughout the sessions and across the vendor booths.

First, you need a mobile backend that is easy to spin up, easy to scale and easy to manage. Companies like Kinvey, Couchbase and Microsoft all provide a backend for your mobile app, but beware: The devil’s in the details, not all of them are a true mBaaS stack offering fully managed mobile backend services. The session on Azure App Services showed that Azure’s “App Service” is configuration wizard on top of Azure’s infrastructure-as-a-service, where the developer manually has to choose web server tiers, code up an backend, and configure a SQL Server database for storage. In contrast, Kinvey’s fully managed mBaaS platform comes with a turn-key secure API, storage backend for data and files, integrated engagement features such as push notifications and the ability to use no-code connectors to third-party data and auth systems, all managed by a full-time devops team that takes care of availability and scaling for you.

Second, the ability for the app to be able to function offline was a common theme across many of the technical sessions at Evolve, and across the many vendors in the exhibition hall.

By the way, going offline is the easy part. Coming back online is where the magic happens. Which records need syncing back? How do you prevent the app pulling down the full dataset over and over? How do you resolve conflicts when multiple parties, both online and offline, edit the same record?

It was striking to see how much attention across the conference was dedicated to offline functionality. Various vendors all implemented the same requirement with different client-side implementations. Couchbase allows you to code a client-side map-reduce to enable offline querying, while Kinvey’s new “v3” SDKs –available not just for Xamarin but also for native iOS, native Android as well as various javascript-based hybrid platforms– feature a simple to use “datastore” object type that can be configured in various ways: as a full offline sync for field-technician use-cases where the workplace has no network at all, with a delta-sync based on on-the-fly last-modified-time comparisons to reduce network traffic for when those technicians come back online; or as a cache to accelerate repeated fetches and to support the app’s continued responsiveness when you step into an elevator for a minute or so.

And finally, the mBaaS platform needs to be connected to your (often on-prem) data and authentication systems. Where Evolve exhibitors such as Zumero focus on specific systems like SQL Server, Kinvey has a growing list of no-code connectors to many enterprise authentication and data systems, including connectors to cloud-based systems such Salesforce, ADFS and Sharepoint365, and connectors to on-prem systems such as Oracle, SAP, SQL Server and Active Directory. On top of that, Kinvey provides a generic REST connector as well as an option to run your own javascript connectors inside a Kinvey-managed PaaS.

Kinvey is the only mBaaS provider that provides all three features critical to an enterprise mobile strategy: a turnkey mBaaS platform that doesn’t require you to think about individual components such as databases, PaaS platforms, webservers; an easy-to-use SDK that includes intelligent offline sync for Xamarin and many other mobile development platforms; and a rich set of connectors to enterprise data and authentication systems such as SAP, Oracle, Sharepoint, Salesforce, and more.

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