MBaaS platforms: Making a seamless transition for developers
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Customers may not be getting what they want out of MBaaS, and Built.io is looking to solve that.
According to Built.io CTO Nishant Patel, the value proposition for mobile backend as a service, or MBaaS, rested on the fact that it allowed users to "use and deploy their apps fast." However, Patel said the apps its customers were building became larger and more complex, and the typical way in which MBaaS handles access to underlying databases was not exactly conducive to those apps.
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San Francisco-based Built.io has released a new version of its MBaaS product, Backend, and hopes this release will help the company break free of perceived performance limitations associated with the way MBaaS offerings traditionally approach access to underlying databases.
"We realized some customers started building really big apps with a lot of load," Patel said. "They needed to tweak the database to get faster performance."
One of these customers was ZenContent Inc., a content creation platform provider in Orlando, Fla. Its app runs on Built.io's back end, and COO Matthew Baier said ZenContent developers made a lot of requests to tweak the underlying back end and database structure to meet their needs. Traditional MBaas structure made it hard to fulfill such requests, Baier explained.
"Traditionally, if you're building a stack from scratch and you have control over the database ... you can change the underlying database structure for faster performance," Baier said. "That's typically not something that was available in the MBaaS world, because [it often] gives that to you as a layer of abstraction."
Patel agreed that the abstraction layer found in MBaaS made it difficult to alter the database for just individual customers. So, he said, Built.io decided to redesign their database in a way that allows custom indexing at the database layer, as well as provide direct access to the database layer via a new MongoDB software developer's kit (SDK).
ZenContent, one of the first Built.io customers to "take the plunge" with the new release, reportedly saw good results from the reworking of Backend, Baier said.
"It enabled us to create a custom back-end stack tailored exactly to our needs," said Brianna DeMike, co-founder of ZenContent, which was acquired by IZEA in August, in a press release. "Because the core is so lightweight, our apps now run three times faster in the cloud and with fewer resources needed."
Baier also said the increased sophistication with which organizations approach mobile development was a major factor in reworking Built.io's approach.
"In the beginning, it was all about, 'I don't want to deal with the database, please abstract it away from me so I can get to building my app,'" Baier said. "Now that we've gotten really good, as an industry, at building mobile applications, now we actually have opinions and custom requirements again. No, I don't want to stand up my database from scratch -- we're past those days -- but I do want to tweak things."
This release is a significant pivot for Built.io. While the company is not willing to shed the MBaaS title in order to show it provides continued support for mobile, Baier suggested that Built.io may be more comfortable describing Backend 3.0 simply as backend as a service, rather than add the mobile prefix.
"Apart from being sort of a terrible acronym, the MBaaS moniker is inherently very limited," Baier said. "A lot of our workloads aren't actually strictly just mobile. We have workloads that run for web applications, mobile applications and IoT [internet of things] applications."
Baier said, moving forward, Built.io will focus heavily on supporting the increasingly popular IoT space, and he stressed that the company is well-prepared to do so.
"A lot of the requirements on the back end are very similar," Baier said. "While mobility is definitely a big trend, the next big wave is IoT."
Other new features in Built.io Backend 3.0 include:
- Data set segmentation. Built.io Backend's hosted, multi-tenant cloud instance already separates environments from each other, but they now segment data further into entirely separate collections.
- Direct database access via SDK. Built.io Backend features the MongoDB SDK, which is designed to allow for direct access to the underlying database, exposing previously hidden parameters.
- Direct object data access. Data can now be accessed in its raw format for direct object manipulation by a developer.
Built.io Backend 3.0 introduces a pluggable architecture that enables developers to integrate custom business logic directly into Backend's code base. Developers can write plug-ins that call third-party services, query or write data to another system, or execute custom code as needed.
According to Baier and Patel, this feature will help companies, particularly in their efforts to increasingly make microservices part of their application strategy, which often calls for the quick integration of custom or third-party components and capabilities. However, Baier said moving toward a plug-and-play design was more or less necessary in order to ensure the value of their offering.
"When we introduced Backend ... the big value prop for the market then was to have a stack that was already integrated -- that basically had all of these services out of the box." Baier said. "[Now], the value of having everything in one box isn't as attractive as the idea that you can start with something that's ready to go, and then plug in the pieces that you prefer ... It's almost become essential to become plug-and-play."
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