Developers generally consider a mobile application's back end a necessary evil. After all, the fun part is the front end and the user experience. Vikki Kolbe, a consultant with Hurwitz & Associates, a technology market research and analyst firm, added that building a mobile back end requires more investment, specialized expertise, manpower and ongoing maintenance than development teams foresee. "It's brutal. This back end thing is brutal," she said.
For GSN Games, the cost, complexity and time investment that went into the back end caused a rocky start to their pioneering mobile initiative, according to Bret Siarkowski, VP of Research and Advanced Development at GSN Games -- the mobile, social and online games division of the television network, Game Show Network (GSN). Fortunately, his search for a better way led him to mobile back end as a service (MBaaS).
Siarkowski and the rest of the mobile team began exploring up-and-coming technologies and services that might help the development of their new mobile app: Swipe Hype. This led GSN Games to Kinvey, one of the first MBaaS providers.
We're not concerned with the scalability or the quality or the feature functionality. That just works.
VP, GSN Games
Siarkowski shared his experience with MBaaS and offered advice to mobile development teams considering the service. What follows is a look at the driving force behind mobile back end as a service and its impact on mobile application development.
Siarkowski said that Kinvey simplified the development process in the areas of testing, scalability and monitoring. The service also handled back-end features and functionality such as push notifications, data storage, file storage and connection to different cloud services. The time that the development team saved in building and maintaining all those bits and pieces was incomparable, Siarkowski said. "We were able to go from the idea, starting in a group, to actually launching a product in a much shorter period of time with a lot less resources internally."
"From a brand building perspective or a media perspective, a company like Game Show Network is thinking about how to build mobile games. That's a big part of their business. But they're also looking at how to drive content of new kinds into mobile and tablet devices because they've got a large TV and online presence," said Sravish Sridhar, founder of Kinvey. According to Sridhar, Kinvey helps them do just that, not only by handling the back-end features, but by freeing up GSN Games's development team to focus their efforts on the application's front end.
"We're not concerned with the scalability or the quality or the feature functionality. That just works. What we do is focus on what our value-add is: the user experience in the mobile app," Siarkowski said.
It was also cheaper to go with the service than to build and maintain the back end in-house, according to Siarkowski. Kinvey amortizes their service across a lot of clients so the cost for an individual enterprise is much lower than building it internally.
It should be pointed out that mobile back end as a service isn't necessarily for everyone. Companies that have a lot of compliance regulations might have to think twice before handing their data over to a third party. Siarkowski also suggests giving Kinvey a test run with a sample application, rather than trying it for the first time in production.
MBaaS down the road
GSN Games selected Kinvey because it met both their present and future selection criteria. "The features and flexibility and the roadmap of Kinvey was more in alignment with where we wanted to go," Siarkowski explained. He was referring to their enterprise-oriented direction, one that has led them to their newest service, Dedicated Kinvey. Released this past February, Dedicated Kinvey allows enterprise customers to have a dedicated instance of the Kinvey platform.
Siarkowski and the rest of the GSN Games team are now looking into Dedicated Kinvey for possible future projects. "A dedicated managed service will only be our traffic and our data in that environment and we're pretty excited about that from a scalability standpoint," he said, adding that if there was a performance issue, they would know that it was their own application and not interference from another offending application in the cloud environment.
On the whole, it seems that MBaaS has very little downside. Sridhar said that he had noticed a marked difference in applications that used a service for their back end. The applications were more interesting and more complex. This is likely because of MBaaS's primary benefit: time. As Siarkowski put it, with a third party handling the details, he and his team get to focus on their own areas of expertise. The application's front end could then be developed to fuller maturity.