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The New World of Infrastructure Apps

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Just 10 years ago, deploying applications involved assembling the entire food chain down to the physical hardware. The process was lengthy, expensive, and complex. While product choices existed, infrastructure deployment was a requirement, not an option.

Fast forward to today’s cloud era. Deploying applications no longer mandates a soup-to-nuts approach from hardware infrastructure on up. Rather, applications can be created and assembled atop a variety of infrastructure services that, due to the availability of cloud computing, are consumed more like applications themselves. I call them infrastructure apps.

Unlike Infrastructure-as-a-Service, which focuses on virtual compute cycles and storage capacity as examples, infrastructure apps enable companies to build new end-user facing applications without having to do all of the heavy lifting. These infrastructure apps can be consumed as services themselves, procured via simple web sign-up forms, purchased with a pay-as-you-go model, and integrated into higher-level applications with software development kits and APIs. In short, the infrastructure consumption model is finding its way into the Software-as-a-Service framework.

There are great examples of infrastructure applications emerging from a bevy of startups in the following categories:

  • Voice. Twilio (see disclosure) integrates the world of voice and SMS communications with web applications.
  • Logging. Loggly, which we profiled earlier, offers logging and log management as a service.
  • Location. SimpleGeo enables application developers to build location services on top of their APIs. The company recently raised a Series A funding round.
  • Video., Zencoder and other hosted video encoding services were profiled in Putting the Cloud to Use for Video Encoding.
  • Performance Management. New Relic offers web application performance management as a service.
  • Mobile Notification and Purchase Services. Urban Airship gives mobile application developers robust, out-of-the-box push notification and in-app purchasing capabilities.
  • Security. Dasient provides Security-as-a-Service with hosted malware monitoring.

Too often, companies building applications are presented with horizontally focused infrastructure solutions that require time and understanding to envision where they fit. Infrastructure apps mask that horizontal reach with simple, purpose-built solutions for specific application needs. This clean and direct sales message is coupled with a straightforward adoption model.

Infrastructure apps represent a significant shift in how new computing architectures will be designed, built, and maintained. The technical flexibility, combined with the economic advantages, presents dozens of opportunities to displace dedicated enterprise approaches with pure software-based offerings. These software services, backed by robust cloud architectures, will eventually deliver greater capabilities than any single end-customer could build themselves.

It seems like there is no better time than the present to build new solutions using these infrastructure applications. There will certainly be plenty to choose from. What are the infrastructure areas and companies that we missed?

Gary Orenstein is the host of The Cloud Computing Show.

Disclosure: I have consulted previously with Twilio.

Loggly and Urban Airship are backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

9 Responses to “The New World of Infrastructure Apps”

  1. Great article. As you point out, organizations need to rethink how they will design, build, and maintain this new class of applications. A more agile and adaptive approach to both development and test is needed.

    Commercial test solutions have traditionally focused either on web application testing or on throughput testing/bit blasting of the network. For these new “infrastructure applications”, an application testing approach is needed, but one with far more sophistication about the thousands of underlying protocols working in combination to deliver the service.

    Here is a short video illustrating the testing challenge.

  2. Nice article Gary. I would like to add Netmobo to your list. Netmobo is an On-Demand back office for mobile developers, currently in private beta. With Netmobo’s FeeFactor API, developers can explore and exploit new revenue models by controlling pricing, charging, payment and customer usage as if they owned a high-end content billing and service delivery platform. For example, developers can offer discounts or incentives to specific mobile customers based on their user profile, or deploy metered subscription services that would be impossible to manage without owning a sophisticated service delivery (BSS/OSS) platform. The solution complements existing app stores and third-party mobile payment providers (so it is easily integrated within the existing mobile ecosystem) and currently processes 1+ million real time transactions daily.