Private PaaS offerings: Benefits, challenges, best practices and more
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Enterprises have been interested in worker mobility for years, but today that interest borders on obsession. The ability to empower workers away from their desk is now recognized as the key to a whole new productivity paradigm: point-of-activity empowerment.
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Securing mobile benefits means addressing mobile device management challenges, and to do that, companies are increasingly turning to private Platform as a Service (PaaS) tools. These private PaaS offerings can provide the consistency, auditability and efficiency benefits needed to make a mobile business case sing.
The term "private PaaS" has come to mean any set of tools that an organization could add to a public or private cloud IaaS to create what's almost a special form of middleware. Most private PaaS offerings don't try to provide full operating system and middleware capabilities; instead, they focus on a particular aspect of application support. Mobile application management is one such specific private PaaS focus, and it can support three primary missions:
- A harmonious development environment especially valuable for bring your own device support
- Security and compliance management
- Application lifecycle management
Private PaaS development is supported via a server-hosted software component that supports user access through mechanisms such as browser-friendly HTML or app-friendly Web services. Enterprises can build applications that link these access mechanisms with application and database resources, both those provided by the company's own IT and those available from third parties, including sources such as Apple, Google and Yahoo.
The goal: providing a single set of interfaces that virtually any device can use, even a laptop or desktop computer, based on common applications.
The effect of this form of private PaaS is to allow a mobile enterprise to create Web services to empower mobile workers based on a common set of resource tools and flexible-access application program interfaces. That will then harmonize the way that mobile workers use company (and third-party) information, which in turn makes it easier to support these employees as their use of company data expands.
Companies that don't intend to develop mobile applications themselves may not find this class of tools useful. Note, though, that these developer-directed private PaaS applications do not directly support building the mobile side of the applications.
The second class of private PaaS tools are those designed to wrap mobile applications in a secure envelope that in most cases will also provide at least some governance capabilities for compliance auditing and assurance. In many cases, these tools depend on a component that runs on the mobile device as well as PaaS software, and the tools are also often integrated with PaaS mobile development tools to create a more comprehensive package.
It's virtually impossible to secure or audit a cooperative system of application components (specifically, mobile and data center) from only one end. Security and compliance will nearly always demand some cooperative component in the mobile device to secure and monitor the device, and gaining access to that remote agent will be critical for building your security-compliance framework.
That means that if you don't choose an integrated tool, you will probably want to factor in the capabilities of the mobile agents that a given security-compliance PaaS offering supports.
Application lifecycle management (ALM) has proven to be problematic for mobile applications, particularly for companies that intend to develop their own applications on mobile devices and integrate them with applications running in their data centers or on public clouds. The challenge is that the device and the host application are two interdependent subsystems that have to be designed and upgraded in a cooperative way. PaaS tools can facilitate this in a number of ways.
The most obvious way to approach mobile ALM is to find a standard ALM platform that offers satisfactory mobile support. Such support can be offered either by allowing for mobile development processes and testing activities to be integrated into standard ALM flows, or by having the mobile development PaaS offering support ALM.
User experience with integrating mobile and "normal application" ALM through standard platforms is variable; many report that these traditional ALM tools don't support mobile development well. In particular, they don't address the specific issues of aligning the Web services that support mobile users with the apps the users employ to gain access to those services. Thus, traditional ALM tools are probably not optimal unless you're accessing your applications through mobile browsers.
Where ALM is at least somewhat integrated with PaaS application development support, users report more favorable outcomes. Because ALM is typically charged with sustaining security and compliance practices, that may also mean making security and compliance a part of the mobile PaaS, which then creates a clear justification for a complete mobile PaaS offering that covers all three sets of requirements.
If it sounds like the requirements are pointing to a single solution to all three problems, you're hearing correctly. Application development, security and compliance control, and ALM are tightly linked conceptually. Having them implemented independently could create major integration issues, perhaps enough to compromise the requirements. Add in the need to support the mobile and server development environments being used, and it's clear that a careful review of tools will be necessary.
IT teams should take their time in assessing their options and accept multiple tools only if they can't find a single one that meets their needs. A complete PaaS offering in mobile application support is absolutely worth the effort.