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From time to time in CMSWire we’ve talked about Mendix, the proprietor of a rapid development platform for mobile apps hosted on a public cloud platform.

Today, Boston-based Mendix announced a point release to version 6, which may not in and of itself merit a sounding of the trumpets.

Mendix is the story of a good technology in search of a good cause.

Totally

Rapid application development was given the acronym “RAD” back when saying it made one sound as gnarly as Bill & Ted, which gives you an idea of when RAD was last considered totally radical. 

Halfway through that excellent adventure is just about when Mendix jumped on the bandwagon.

When “social engagement” was the gnarly thing to say, Mendix was a social collaboration platform. During the peaks in-between the many valleys of “project management’s” popularity, Mendix counted itself among the “PM” tools. Just last April, as the wagons were forming around hybrid cloud platforms, Mendix aligned itself with Cloud Foundry.

Now, a concept called microservices is emerging. And as Mendix CEO Derek Roos told CMSWire, his company is there, too.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for our customers to build applications that essentially behave as a microservice,” said Roos.

Mendix 6 IDE

Matters of Faith

“We really believe in small, contained business services that, when combined, make up a larger system or application. You can build fairly large applications with a single model, but one of the things we focus on is to make it easy for our customers to break the app up into many different services, and deploy them with one click to the cloud, on Cloud Foundry.”

In the sense that many movies today are “inspired by true stories,” it’s fair to say Mendix 6 has been inspired by the idea of microservices.

You can see what Mendix is aiming for: Cloud Foundry was established with the aim of enabling data centers to host any number of different types of applications on an elastic platform — one which is not subject to the constraints of hardware, but which takes full advantage of the hardware nonetheless.

Cloud Foundry is also the very essence of hybridization: using on-premises resources as the root and public resources as the extensions. Currently, Mendix supports HP Helion, IBM Bluemix and Pivotal’s public cloud resources, as well as its own. And Mendix 6 should soon become available for purchase on Amazon’s AWS marketplace.

It only makes sense that such a platform should have a simplified mechanism for conceiving and deploying these applications. Roos told us, “We want to be the de facto — or, we think we are the de facto — rapid app deployment capability for Cloud Foundry customers.”

Baggage Claim

The basic approach of RAD platforms has remained much the same over the last quarter-century: You have a platform on which to place controls. Those controls are bound to fields in a database.

The combination of those controls produces an input form. Just by organizing them, you establish the order of fields in records in a table.

Within a few seconds of plugging the blocks onto the substrate the way you’d construct a Lego tower, you have an application that queries a database.

I authored a book about something that did this back in 1991.

The way Gartner’s “Magic Quadrant” works, a company capable of completing its vision and executing on that vision is apportioned a spot closer to the upper right corner. Gartner’s March 2015 “Magic Quadrant” for enterprise Platforms-as-a-Service, which includes the major RAD platforms that became PaaS (or “aPaas”), sags as badly as a week-old diaper.

That Mendix did not fall to the bottom of Gartner’s pile has actually been a reason for celebration at Mendix, which is why you can get Gartner’s report from Mendix’ Web site (PDF).

Mendix’ strategy for capitalizing this time around begins with Gartner’s declaration of “bimodal IT,” and the way it lends itself to the appearance of a slow pace and a fast pace happening simultaneously (which may not be how Mary Mesaglio approaches the topic at all).

In a company white paper (PDF), Mendix suggests that its customers adopt a bimodal-like IT management strategy. But stopping just short of declaring “Slow bad; fast good,” Mendix aligns itself with what it perceives as the most advantageous side.

“Gartner’s second mode of development has many names in the industry. Most recently, we’ve seen an increase in innovation labs that act as incubators within larger enterprises. In other places, we’ve seen executives create a ‘Fast Track’ or ‘Fast Lane’ team to help speed discussions and delivery of applications that tie into innovation initiatives,” the white paper reads.

“However you choose to name this new group, remember that you’re building a fast lane through the business to drive digital innovation. Speeding end-to-end results requires the right people, process, and platform.”

In today's announcement, Mendix said it will help customers craft such fast lanes, through a new department it’s calling the “Digital Transformation Practice.”

Slow and Steady

What would surprise the author of that white paper is how “Mode 1” Mendix’ CEO actually sounds when discussing the heart of his company’s platform.

Mendix users in recent years may not have realized this, but when developers build database queries and transactions with it, under the covers it constructs a kind of workflow model. Long-time users will recall this, from back when Mendix was lumped in with BPMs.

Roos told CMSWire that, along with the release of version 6, his company will publish to the open source community via GitHub the specifications for Mendix’ Model API, in hopes that third parties will build supporting applications around the platform.

“That was always part of the platform that we provided, and we never exposed that to third parties,” the CEO said. “But now with Mendix 6, we said, let’s not be the only one to access the underlying metadata.

“All of a sudden, there’s no magic any more. It’s all very clear and out in the open.”

Hoisting the contents of Gartner’s aPaaS Magic Quadrant by its own petards, if you will, has been Salesforce. It managed to enter the RAD market through the side door, by first building up a cloud-based data platform with tremendous value, and then by offering tools that tap into this wealth of data.

In his talk with us, Mendix’ Derek Roos said he didn’t believe the broader body of enterprises want to converge all their data on someone else’s cloud.

“I think Salesforce had the obvious advantage in that they are, in essence, a CRM system, and they hold a lot of that CRM data already,” he remarked. “But that’s only one part of the data that’s available in that application.”

He reminded us that Mendix is also capable of leveraging Salesforce’s data. But “our approach is, we want to be able to provide microservices — applications that are relatively small, but can scale up as far as they need to, and leverage data from all sources, including Salesforce.”

Roos is referring here to Salesforce’s so-called Bulk API, which is that company’s way of bringing large data sets in by touting its platform’s ability to process it all asynchronously. Mendix’ CEO believes it should be easier for an organization to build an application on a platform without having to migrate the core of its data just to bring it closer.

Perhaps Mendix has never, in its decade-long history, re-invented the proverbial wheel, instead aligning itself with many different technologies and methodologies in an effort to gain equal footing.

Then again, think of how many “fast,” “nimble,” and “agile” startups have tried to revolutionize the RAD industry in a very “Mode 2” way (sorry, Mary), only to end up in the Internet Archives. Mendix is still here, proving there may yet be something virtuous in the “Mode 1” approach to “Mode 2.”

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(Full disclosure: Scott Fulton has previously contributed material to Mendix’ corporate blog.)

Title image by Luis Llerena.