Mastering the mobile cloud using IBM Mobile, Bluemix and Xamarin

By Dan Hermes

Developers love tools because tools make their jobs easier. Management loves tools because they save money and speed up delivery times. Both are worth addressing in the context of mobile application development.

Some things haven’t changed. Mobile cloud apps are just desktop apps with a touchscreen that fit in the user’s pocket. Although device specs continue to approach the power of PCs, they’re not quite there yet, and most mobile business apps work best when they’re designed as clients as opposed to standalone projects. Clients require a back end, and back ends are evolving, too. Physical servers at your self-hosted location are becoming virtual servers, which are becoming virtual servers in the cloud. Virtual cloud servers reduce costs, move away from the physical maintenance of machines that scale and allow clients to pay only for machine resources they use. Yet cloud savings is old news. What’s new?

Containers

A recent development in cloud server technology is called a container. In the same way virtual servers in the cloud draw away the responsibility and complexity of physical devices, containers draw away the responsibility and complexity of the operating system, leaving a simple place to host a service. Containers self-scale, adjusting their resource allocations and number of instances on demand.

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A mobile client doesn’t need to be concerned with the environment the server is running on (just like web services), but even the service doesn’t need to know where it lives. The container environment manages all the containers’ resources on the server, housing entire service apps and individual services with minimal administration and maintenance. Using the combined magic of platform-as-a-service (PaaS) with infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), Bluemix provides the perfect environment for mobile services and the back end for mobile apps.

Bluemix

Bluemix is based on Cloud Foundry, an open-source PaaS that lets developers quickly create and deploy applications in the cloud. A container-based infrastructure such as Bluemix offers more finely granulated units of service than a cloud-based virtual server. Instead of paying to use the entire server, it’s only necessary to pay for a specific container for on-demand, as-needed mobile services. That means Bluemix can save mobile app-building enterprises money by providing a secure, scalable, on-demand cloud hosting option for all of their mobile cloud services.

This is the future of the IBM Mobile Foundation and IBM mobile cloud.

Diagram of IBM Bluemix containers

Mobile Foundation

It’s now possible to create an IBM Mobile Foundation application in Bluemix containing an instance of the IBM MobileFirst Platform Foundation server. Developers can perform the following tasks, all hosted within a scalable container on Bluemix:

  • Secure apps using MobileFirst adapters
  • Track app performance using analytics
  • Send messages to user devices using push notifications

Without an infrastructure such as Mobile Foundation, developers need to build security and communications infrastructure from scratch, then go find a tool to conduct analytics. All that can add up. And what are the chances any of their code is reusable across a company’s different app projects?

Mobile Foundation provides built-in toolsets for all of that so developers can stay focused on solving business problems and seizing mobile opportunities. Once they are accustomed to Mobile Foundation, additional projects will have faster development times, since Mobile Foundation is designed to be reused in any mobile app. There’s even a pay-as-you-go consumption model for Mobile Foundation. These advantages can be of considerable value.

Then there’s the risk of letting developers handle security. Are they security experts? There can be a considerable financial risk for a successful hack. Mobile Foundation contains security libraries built by IBM security experts. Many Mobile Foundation users consider it to be an insurance policy against cybercrime.

Xamarin

Developers can build native, cross-platform apps for iOS, Android, phones, tablets and more using Mobile Foundation in tandem with cross-platform tools such as the Xamarin Platform. Xamarin allows developers to build award-winning native cross-platform apps using C#. IBM maintains its Mobile Foundation integration with Xamarin so .NET shops may leverage IBM’s cloud offerings without giving up Xamarin, one of the most powerful and versatile app-building toolsets in the industry. Cross-platform development means code reuse across iPhone and Android projects. It also means a streamlined build, test and deployment pipeline. After the initial learning curve, that’s all money in the bank with measurably faster development cycles.

Some things haven’t changed, such as the importance of ease, money and time. Developers love these tools because they’re easy to use. Management loves them because they save money and development hours. On all these accounts, the Xamarin Platform, IBM Mobile Foundation and Bluemix are a mobile match made in heaven.

Written By

Dan Hermes

IBM Champion, Xamarin MVP, and Founder and CEO of Lexicon Systems, IBM Partner

Dan Hermes is a thought leader and management consultant in the mobile industry. His latest book is a best-seller, Xamarin Mobile Application Development, an in-depth look at cross-platform mobile app development. He speaks nationwide about how to build visionary apps and leverage…