Each month, an NN4D technical consultant will answer popular questions on map development. This month Ashish Bedekar answers the following question:
Q. Why should mobile developers care about cloud services/cloud computing?
A. “I see the rain clouds," said the wise man, “I hope you have done the field pre-work so that you will have a bumper crop.”
“No!” said the farmer, "The rains are still far away. I will do things when the right time comes."
“There is no better time than now!" said the wise man.
Similarly, now is the right time to think about mobile cloud-based services, or the cloud, as they are colloquially called.
In fact, this is quite an important topic. Gartner1 identifies cloud computing as a top 10 strategic technology for 2011. Considering that mobile applications are also in this list, you can do the math. To use a cliché, we are in an always-connected world, so offloading content/storage/processing from the device to a cloud for access through multiple channels is a natural trend.
What is it?
The term “cloud computing” has been defined by the U.S. Government's National Institute of Standards and Technology2 as “a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”
This is already happening in some way in many applications. Internet-enabled handsets need to borrow storage and computing power from the cloud because of their limited resources. In addition, they can also access real-time data from the cloud. For example, consider modern wireless connected devices or smartphones with navigation apps: these devices not only can locally store maps and calculate routes, but they rely on the cloud to get real-time information about traffic conditions and plan the routes accordingly. Accessing data in the cloud from mobile devices is becoming a basic need.
Think of the cloud as a three-layered cake:
- On the top is the application layer cloud. This is SaaS (Software as a Service).
- The second layer is the platform layer cloud. This contains various platforms like SF, Azure, zoho, etc.
- The third layer is the infrastructure layer cloud. This provides the processing and networking in the cloud, e.g., Amazons EC2.
- The cloud will obviously have some hardware elements supporting this, e.g., hardware and/or computer software products that are specifically designed for the delivery of cloud services, including multi-core processors, cloud-specific operating systems and combined offerings.3
Why think about it?
- There are already many legacy cloud apps/services that involve syncing across mail, music, contacts, etc. What are popularly called “widgets” can also be thought of as cloud apps.
- Initiatives by handset OEMs in mobile cloud services are likely to accelerate the consumer adoption of cloud services.
- Increasing mobile web adoption and a trend towards “always-on real-time access,” coupled with newer web technologies, allow apps to work in an offline mode from their cache. This reduces the back-end server load, a boon for emerging markets.
- Initially, enterprise solutions are likely to have more cloud-based applications; soon, however, consumer apps will increase in adoption. It should be noted that IT gurus see the shift similar to that of electric generators to a grid: reduced capex or flexibility of billing on consumption is driving cloud computing.4
- The processing power of the cloud itself is also key to the future of mobile. Cloud-based mobile apps can scale far beyond the capabilities of any smartphone. Instead of being limited to the data storage and processing power contained in a mobile device, cloud apps have all the power of a server-based computing infrastructure accessible through an app's mobile interface. This not only allows owners of low-cost "feature phones" (non-smartphones) the ability to access the same mobile applications used on more advanced platforms; it also allows the apps themselves to become more powerful and capable of more. Could this operating agnostic platform be the Holy Grail for developers, allowing an application to be written once while working across multiple mobile platforms?5
The supporting ecosystem/accelerators6:
- Increasing mobile OS fragmentation
- The accelerating migration towards mobile broadband services
- The dramatic improvement in mobile browser solutions and UIs
- The advances of Internet transcending and multimedia transformation
- The emergence of widgets and widget runtimes as efficient solutions for easy content discovery
- Deep integration of Web services with the device capabilities and features to enable the creation of contextual applications
- Joint operators, infrastructure initiatives like JIL, One API, etc.
Show me the money7 :
- "Mobile Cloud Computing Subscribers to Total Nearly One Billion by 2014" by ABI Research
- The market for cloud-based mobile applications will grow 88% from 2009 to 2014. The market was just over $400 million this past year, per Juniper, but by 2014 it will reach $9.5 billion (in the same timeline, the app store business is likely to reach $29.5 billion, per Gartner).
- Though it may not be disruptive to the current ecosystem, it is still a significant revenue opportunity that cannot be ignored.
Of course, there will be areas that will need more focus, e.g., cloud reliability and privacy controls.
In summary, cloud computing is an important area on which to focus. Let’s keep the conversation going!