Opinion: Why open source is the future of MBaaS

Opinion: Why open source is the future of MBaaS
Tony is the president and a founding partner of Yeti LLC, a product-focused development and design studio in San Francisco.

(Image Credit: iStockPhoto/stevanovicigor)

Linux, the leading open-source operating system, never gained much popularity as a desktop platform. As of October 2015, its market share as a desktop OS was an abysmal 1.57 percent.

So how is it possible that Linux has grabbed such an extraordinary share of cloud servers for the enterprise market? In 2014, Linux was used for 79 percent of enterprise cloud deployments, while Windows OS comprised just 36 percent. And 87 percent of enterprises planned to add more Linux servers in 2014, while 82 percent plan to add more Linux servers in 2015.

There are many reasons why enterprises might choose Linux rather than Windows for their cloud servers: It’s generally more stable, secure, scalable, and free (or very low in cost). And best of all — it’s open source.

The open-source advantages of Linux have spurred enterprise adoption of the OS. For many of the same reasons, an open-source Mobile-Backend-as-a-Service (MBaaS) framework is also the right choice for enterprise companies looking to support their branded apps.

The rise of MBaaS

MBaaS, quite simply, is a cloud-based architecture that provides web and app developers a way to link applications to back-end cloud storage and application programming interfaces (APIs) while offering features like push notifications, user management, advertising management, security, data storage, and social network integration.

MBaaS offers enterprise developers a lot of advantages over back-end management done in-house. Because 80 percent of app developers’ time is spent on back-end functionality and integration, MBaaS generally enables enterprises to develop apps faster, get them to market sooner, and manage them more adeptly. And by decreasing app developers’ time spent building and managing apps, MBaaS is generally cheaper as well.

For these reasons, MBaaS is a crucial path toward a functional mobile app for many enterprise companies. A Mendix survey found 71 percent of enterprise companies aren’t equipped to handle today’s app delivery demands, meaning their in-house IT departments can’t keep up with market demand. MBaaS offers these companies a comprehensive and secure solution to back-end management that their IT departments are otherwise unlikely equipped to handle.

For many enterprise companies, MBaaS is an easy choice. But that brings enterprise developers to a more weighty decision — which MBaaS framework can offer the best value, functionality, and future opportunities for their companies’ branded apps?

Proprietary or Open Source?

There are plenty of MBaaS providers available. Proprietary options — such as Kinvey, Parse, and Amazon’s Mobile Hub — offer nearly out-of-the-box functionality, lower initial costs, and user-friendly interfaces.

But as your company’s server administrators might already guess, open-source MBaaS holds some significant advantages over proprietary frameworks. While open-source solutions are newer and need continuous care from developers to offer the out-of-the-box functionality proprietary solutions do, open-source frameworks are more powerful and more versatile than their proprietary counterparts.

Here’s why open-source MBaaS beats proprietary frameworks for enterprise companies:

1. No vendor lock-in. Proprietary MBaaS providers are a lot like drug dealers. Many offer their software at initially low prices because they know once you’ve purchased their MBaaS platforms and begin building your app within its framework; you’ve committed your company to a long-term relationship. Apps developed and managed on a proprietary MBaaS platform generally cannot be transferred to another MBaaS platform without significantly recoding the app.

But what happens when the proprietary MBaaS provider goes out of business? What if the provider chooses to change its pricing model unexpectedly? As opposed to an open-source solution, a proprietary MBaaS framework leaves your company’s app (and its budgets) at the mercy of the MBaaS provider.

2. Practically unlimited customization. Many proprietary MBaaS systems are “black boxes,” meaning your team’s developers cannot customize the back end. With proprietary MBaaS frameworks, your company is generally dependent on the MBaaS provider to release new features such as new APIs, integration points, and security patches.

In contrast, open-source MBaaS options have no (or very few) limitations on what you can customize or the layers you can peel back. With open-source frameworks, there is no magic black box — you have the ability to look at everything down to the ones and zeros if you want.

3. Community development drives innovation. Proprietary MBaaS systems are built, managed, and upgraded by their corporate providers. While many of these systems have great minds at work behind them, they can’t compete with frameworks that are built and improved by the wider community of developers.

This is truly the beauty of open-source MBaaS — by being community-driven, it harnesses the power of thousands of developers who are constantly tweaking, improving, and releasing new code for the MBaaS network. And this means open-source MBaaS frameworks often win out in the long run — just look at how Linux has won a clear victory over Windows in the enterprise server space. Although Windows is a robust and powerful OS, it eventually lost out to the stability, security, and low cost of community-driven development that Linux employed.

The future of MBaaS

While proprietary MBaaS provider Parse has open sourced a few elements of its system; its core remains closed to third-party developers.

Plenty of proprietary MBaaS providers offer elegant and user-friendly solutions upon which to build and manage enterprise apps, but proprietary frameworks can’t offer the customization, agility, and community support of open-source frameworks. When compared with proprietary options, open-source MBaaS promises a brighter future for enterprises looking to build and support tomorrow’s branded apps.

Do you think open-source MBaaS is the future? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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