If there was any doubt that mobile development is where the action is, witness two pieces of news. First, Rackspace, the infrastructure-as-a-service and hosting company, is launching a pre-packaged mobile “stack” specifically for mobile applications. Second, Salesforce.com is beefing up its mobile software development kit (SDK) and is coming out with “quick start” packs to jump-start HTML5 or hybrid mobile applications.
Given these developments, and rumblings that public cloud king Amazon Web Services is gearing up its mobile development push, it looks like legacy cloud giants are crowding into a space pioneered by smaller, more focused providers of mobile back-end services. (GigaOM Pro analyst Janakiram MSV has a good take on choosing an MBaaS here — subscription required.)
Who needs an MBaaS?
Salesforce.com’s pitch is that, while there are tons of useful consumer mobile apps, enterprise apps to date are still lacking. ”It’s hard to build mobile apps that don’t just look nice but are engaging and that comes down to data. They need to be connected into your work data,” said Adam Seligman, VP of developer relations at Salesforce.com. “You have to make it easy to build the apps, the client side stuff, but you also need those hooks into corporate data.”
The new mobile packs, which support three lightweight mobile frameworks — jQuery Mobile, Backbone.js and AngularJS — should help on the ease-of-development front.
Salesforce, which backs both Force.com and Heroku Platforms as a Service (PaaS), subscribes to the school of thought that a specialized Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS) — from Parse, Kinvey, Kii or Stackmob — isn’t necessary. Those smaller competitors would no doubt argue that developers need to build applications that connect to myriad applications from many sources — not just those from one company.
Rackspace wraps up mobile stack in an easily deployable package
Rackspace already hosts “tons of mobile apps” but it wants to make it easier for developers and companies to deploy and run them, CTO John Engates said. So the San Antonio, Texas-based company wrapped up a mobile-focused technology stack as a sort of prepackaged cloud for that type of user.
“We want to streamline things. We put together a stack — including Linux, MySQL, PHP, Memcached, Varnish cache in a sort of blueprint that we can deploy consistently and quickly,” he said.
This backend runs in Rackspace’s public cloud infrastructure, but on cloud servers that are dedicated to that customer. “We’re basically running a single tenant infrastructure on a multi-tenant cloud,” Engates said. “Heroku is a multi-tenant platform that lives on Amazon, a multi-tenant infrastructure cloud. We’re trying to build a single-tenant platform atop a public cloud so you can build your own deployment and spec and scale it for what you need.”
The entire stack is open source and developers can use their SDKs of choice to develop for any mobile device. Rackspace has also signed up some partners to work with its stack: FeedHenry, New Relic, Sencha, SOASTA, StackMob and Trigger.io.
“The idea there is you use our infrastructure but then SOASTA can test your application from many perspectives — not just Rackspace — and throw a load up there to make sure it scales before you deploy it,” Engates said.
Bring on the consolidation
As more of these bigger, broader “cloud” companies add mobile development and hosting capabilities, it may be time for consolidation in the MBaaS business to kick off for real.
Forrester senior analyst Michael Facemire said consolidation in the MBaaS space, which started to happen last year with Apigee’s acquisition of UserGrid, a pure-play MBaaS and Appcelerator’s buy of CocoaFish, will likely heat up now that these bigger players finally see how important mobile developers are to the future of their overall businesses.
And, it will be extremely interesting to see what Google has up its sleeve vis-a-vis Google App Engine (GAE). Oracle, a power among enterprise applications, will be another company to watch.
This story was updated at 7:50 a.m. PST with analyst comment