Look for VMware and Red Hat to get with the mobile development program

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Mobile app development is big. If you don’t believe it, check out Microsoft’s Azure Mobile Services. Or AWS Mobile Services. Or Google’s Mobile Back-end Starter. Or Facebook’s acquisition of Parse last year. IBM is also trying to weave together SoftLayer, BlueMix and WebSphere to come up with its own mobile-focused dev platform. There’s clearly a lot of action here.

The theory is that mobile app developers need something more tuned to their experience than a general-purpose Platform as a Service (PaaS). Since mobile-first is now the law of the land, look for the enterprise IT players that don’t already field a mobile toolkit or a Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS) to assemble one, buy one or partner with one. Fast.

Wanted: Enterprise-class mobile apps

Amazon debuted its long-rumored mobile app development tool set at its New York Summit last month. And even though that may be seen as consumer-oriented, since Amazon is the focal point of most cloud companies, it is just about certain that VMware will talk about mobile development capabilities for its vCloud Hybrid Services at VMworld 2014 next week.

I would not be at all surprised to see Red Hat make some news around mobile development soon since that company seems to enjoy putting out press releases in advance of VMworld. Red Hat invested in Appcelerator, but there’s also some rumbling about the company being interested in buying FeedHenry, an MBaaS provider that VMware has invested in.

VMware is in an interesting spot, having offloaded a bunch of developer-focused SpringSource tooling to Pivotal last year and remaining tools like Wavemaker to third parties since then. I don’t see an acquisition in its future, but perhaps an alliance with a mobile development platform player is in order. Other independent MBaaS companies include Kinvey, FeedHenry, and AnyPresence.

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It’s pretty clear that both VMware and Red Hat need to address their lack of mobile development tools. Paraphrasing a mobile developer who follows this space, VMware needs enterprise-focused mobile development capabilities to complement its $1.5 billion Airwatch acquisition last year. Airwatch manages and deploys applications.

Why is a PaaS not enough?

The broader question is why a plain ol’ PaaS isn’t enough for mobile developers.

The more general-purpose platforms give developers lower-level access and a ton of flexibility. A developer can use them to build a solution, but “it’s up to you to figure out the details of your application layer and API,” Greg Raiz, CEO and founder of Android and iOS app developer RaizLabs, said via email.

“Mobile back-end providers, on the other hand, provide more turn-key solutions. Parse, Kinvey, StackMob and others have made decisions on how back-end APIs and databases will work. They contain GUIs for non-technical people to do things to the application without programming knowledge. These solutions have the advantage of simplicity but a disadvantage for their lack of flexibility,” Raiz added.

Given the near-universal emphasis enterprise IT vendors are placing on mobile enterprise apps, the clock is ticking for Red Hat, VMware and others that haven’t already done so to put their stakes in the ground.

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