The Critical Questions when choosing an MBaaS

Last week’s announcement from the Parse team that they would be shutting down in a year was a surprise to many, but for those following the ever changing world of MEAPs, MAPs and MBaaS it was just more of the same. The frustrating truth is that mobile connectivity to backend systems is a complex, and sometimes a costly endeavor that can affect developers whether they’re working  in garages or for the largest companies in the world.

Compared to similar events, Parse users are actually quite lucky as they get an entire calendar year to access their data. When StackMob shuttered their doors developers had 2-3 months to grab their code and go. At least one other provider shut down with nearly no warning!

It’s Not All Gloom and Doom

The good news is that there are still very strong, and robust offerings for those wishing to develop mobile apps. I’m a huge fan of Red Hat’s Mobile Application Platform since they’re the ones that pay my bills, but I’m a bit biased. All jokes aside, two recent resources, the Forrester Wave for Mobile Infrastructure Services and Computer Weekly’s Essential Guide to Mobile Application Platforms do a great job documenting the good, the bad and the ugly of the mobile platform space.

This leaves an obvious question though – how does one investigate, evaluate and choose a mobile offering? Since each engineer, project manager and company have their own processes, goals and technical desires, our team wanted to put out a quick cheat sheet of some not so obvious questions to ask during the evaluation process.

Be Prepared

Our team has the fortune to talk to dozens of mobile developers a week ranging from individuals playing on a personal project to Fortune 500 companies trying to scale to hundreds of apps and backend integrations. The world of mobile is often astonishing and we have the pleasure of getting an inside view to many of today’s projects that will be tomorrow’s hits.

That being said, we also talk to numerous customers who are still trying to figure out their mobile goals. During each of these chats we get to provide some advice that often works wonders – just a few simple questions that can clear up confusion and allow evaluators to look great in front of their bosses!

  • In 2-3 sentences, what are you trying to accomplish?
  • How many apps are you creating?
  • How many backend systems are you hitting?
  • Who will be writing the app? The integrations? The business logic?
  • Most Importantly: What are the timelines, goals and next steps for evaluation?

Seemingly simple questions, but also some of the most common blockers to our customers’ success. If you can answer these you are well on your way to a successful engagement. If you can’t, take a few minutes to answer them and start to realize how quickly the confusion clouds part!

The Technology

Even the best mobile strategies and plans will fail if the core technology is faulty, or even worse, disappears. We advise folks to focus on four themes when asking the technology questions:

  1. The Core Tech Questions
    • What are the core components in a product’s tech stack?
    • How do I avoid getting locked in with proprietary components?
    • What tooling does the product offer? What tooling will I need to bring myself? Why?
    • In bake offs, where is your product outstanding? Where can it be improved?
    • What does the product roadmap look like?
  2. The Uncomfortable Tech Questions
    • What happens when ____
      1. We want to move to a different platform?
      2. New iOS/Android versions are launched?
      3. A new front end toolkit or framework becomes popular?
      4. The number of users shoots through the roof overnight?
  3. The People Tech Questions
    • How does our team evaluate the product?
    • What training, support and guidance is available for quick ramp up?
    • What does successful adoption into an organization or environment look like?
    • What structures do you suggest for mobile success within an organization?
  4. The Business Tech Questions
    • What investments need to be made to make a team successful?
    • What hidden/indirect costs do customers typically encounter?
    • What’s the hosting model? How do cloud hosting costs compare directly and indirectly to on-prem or other models?
    • How will this technology plug into our current mobile efforts and future plans?

Naturally, many of these questions are focused on businesses since those are the majority of users we speak to on a daily basis. Individual developers will find that with a few tweaks these can be used to meet their needs.

The Business

Whether you’re an individual developer or a 500,000 person company, a basic understanding of the business behind a product being evaluated is critical. Both StackMob and Parse prove this point well – they were well regarded and highly used services that financially failed and left users without a long term provider. Naturally, there is no surefire way to avoid such an outcome, but some basic due diligence can help provide some ease.

  • What does the service cost?
  • Why does it cost that much?
  • If there is no cost, who is paying for the service?
  • What does the company future look like, both pre and post exit?

Sadly most tech companies can’t find ways to provide free or cheap services and have long lifespans at the same time. History is rife with great technologies that couldn’t find a market and went the way of the Dodo. If at all possible, make sure to take at least a few minutes to choose a technology that has some chance at being alive in a year or two.

Next Steps

The above is intended to help technologists who are actively evaluating Mobile Platforms, but what about those that are out in the cold due to Parse!?

My recommendation is to give the Red Hat Mobile Application Platform a try. There’s a great self-service instance available at https://openshift.feedhenry.com/ with community support at #feedhenry on freenode. Even better – you’ll get to learn a bit about Red Hat’s OpenShift Platform while you try it out!

If you’re looking for something a little more enterprise-y, read up on us on our Red Hat Mobile page or email us directly at mobile@redhat.com.

And remember, every time one door closes, a new one opens. See this closing of the Parse door as an exciting (although bit irritating) opportunity to explore some very cool mobile technologies!

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