Microsoft joins startups in building the new app infrastructure stack

Microsoft (s msft) just announced Windows Azure Mobile Services, a cloud offering that joins the ranks of Parse, Apigee and Kinvey in establishing a backend as a service designed for the mobile ecosystem. The goal of such a service is to provide a platform for mobile developers that will allow them to worry less about their infrastructure and only about their app.

If in the last four or five years the question for a promising startup has been whether to use your own servers or use Amazon Web Services (s amzn), that calculus is changing. Now, startups should ask themselves, “Why architect your app for Amazon when you could forget having to architect an app at all?”

Microsoft’s Windows Azure Mobile Services

The development of these mobile infrastructure backends and the ecosystem for mobile developers is a topic that I’ll be discussing with Kevin Lacker, CTO at Parse, at our Mobilize conference on Sept. 20 and 21 in San Francisco. Parse, though, is just one of the vendors offering a mobile backend as a service.

What many of these vendors think developers really need is a way to build apps that perform flawlessly and scale rapidly up from a few to thousands (or millions) of users without requiring years worth of operations knowledge. The rise of startups like Parse is a response to the growing complexity of building out a mobile app and supporting it through spotty connections, delivering offline access to apps, and keeping an app up after a tweet or a “like” from someone famous enough to send millions of users to a service.

Microsoft’s new service envisions it as a platform as a service (hosted by Microsoft) attached to a SQL database also hosted in Microsoft’s data center. Today, Azure Mobile Services are available for Windows 8 apps, but later releases will support iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

Meanwhile, over at Kinvey, CEO Sravish Sridhar sees value in letting developers host their apps on their choice of cloud, hook into their choice of database, and basically serving as the glue bringing those underlying choices together.

Sam Ramji, VP strategy at Apigee
Apigee has a different view that focuses on the pipeline that API calls travel as its key value add. Sam Ramji, head of strategy at Apigee, argues that in many cases APIs are the real value in today’s apps because they provide the channels that data can run through to be amalgamated on the other end in the form of services, mashups or whatever else the developer wants to do – and developers shouldn’t have to mess with the back end infrastructure at all.

Either way, all of these players are recognizing a fundamental shift in the type of infrastructure needed to host mobile applications. Expect more competitors to pile on.