For better or worse, Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) will continue to pull business workflows into mobile and personal devices. Efforts to keep business functions in their traditional channels have largely failed and according to analysts, we should expect sharp double-digit growth to continue.
This paints a picture of a much more challenging application development environment. More applications must now be accessible, directly or through some intermediary, to a wider range of environments than ever before. Management and rank-and-file people now expect access to once sacrosanct information -- inventory data or customer files, for example -- no matter where they are or what time of day it is.
All these challenges point toward mobile application development, and ultimately almost all development moving to Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) if it is to achieve needed productivity. The mosaic of functions, platforms and users, must be cemented into place and made more robust.
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
Why PaaS? Last year was an important, stake-in-the-ground time for the Platform-as-a-Service market, as vendors defined their vision and moved more actual capabilities to market. Although some suggest that PaaS will eventually get squeezed out of existence because it sits, implicitly, between infrastructure as a service (IaaS), a la Amazon AWS, and software as a services (SaaS), as exemplified by Salesforce, this is untrue. For many organizations PaaS will be indispensible as a tool for leveraging IaaS -- providing the needed tools and controls -- and delivering the organization- or market-specific SaaS capabilities that end-users need.
Although it will have competition among buzzwords from the “Year of the Internet of Things (IoT)” -- a challenge that further reflects the growing complexities that IoT is creating for developers -- I see 2014 as the “Year of PaaS.” Indeed, IBM’s and Cisco’s recent announcements that they will each invest a billion dollars in their cloud market is a sign that the pioneers have been on to something important.
More organizations are adopting PaaS. Gartner published in January of this year its first Gartner Magic Quadrant for aPaaS. What's driving the interest? Developers and IT in general are dealing with stiffer competition and limited resources. PaaS can help them solve those problems by supporting better and faster development, agility, analytics and scalability, while offering more favorable cost structures.
In 2014, PaaS will begin to drive a wave of change, within IT and across organizations. It’s also a fit for the "do business anywhere, any time" trend. Here again, consumers have shown the way, with smaller, more focused and easy to deploy apps that are better tailored to the needs of roles and individuals than the giant, “monolithic” applications that have long dominated corporate life.
App Development and PaaS
PaaS is moving towards a more central position in IT -- whether on-premises, in the cloud or in a hybrid situation. When developers turn to PaaS they do so to save time and increase productivity. This approach is rapidly moving to the mainstream.
To date, developers have generally had to pick separate tool sets, depending upon their target deployment platform -- one choice for fat clients and something totally different for web apps, mobile and tablet. Developers learned to use different tools for each different platform. If you decided your “fat” app needed to work for a mobile device, you may have had to put up with delivering a problematic user experience based on that tooling. If something was optimized for the web or a fat client, it might work for mobile, but it wouldn’t work very well. The alternative was more or less starting over from scratch.
Developers will look to PaaS vendors to provide unified delivery of tools. When people choose to create an app they will increasingly look for a development environment that will have all of the required tools needed to easily create a mobile app, a web app or a fat client, from one tool set. That is why developers will turn to PaaS to provide wide tooling breadth and strong integration. It’s common sense.
Even within the specific requirements of mobile development there can be daunting complexities. If you choose to write a native app your testing complexity goes up considerably. You have different operating systems and different handsets. With a hybrid approach you can write the UI code once and deploy to multiple devices because you have a container that runs on top of all operating systems – so you don’t need to learn device-specific environments for development.
By 2015 the choice to write a native app or a hybrid app will be increasingly dictated by tooling available through a PaaS, not just for deployment and runtime but also as the app dev tooling for creating the mobile front end.
And when developers look to create apps for the Internet of Things (IoT) and the next generation of mobility -- wearable devices like Google Glass -- they will want similar support. Application developers will have to think about picking tool sets not only to deliver for their already complex spectrum of choices but also for Glass, or some kind of smart sensor or a refrigerator.
To meet these expectations, application developers need to look at mobile development challenges in a broad context that includes traditional platforms as well as mobile and emerging IoT. It’s an overwhelming challenge, but increasingly capable PaaS providers will make it possible – and successful.