New enterprise Mobile Backend-as-a-Service (MBaaS) provider ClearBlade today opened up public beta access to its platform, promising "immediately usable APIs."
ClearBlade CEO and founder Eric Simone talked to ProgrammableWeb about how enterprises can use the MBaaS APIs to become mobile-enabled and explained why the platform chose MQ Telemetry Transport (MQTT) over HTTP REST protocols for its messaging system.
"A funny thing happened during enterprise modernization," Simone says. "Mobile and enterprise MBaaS will make it easy for the Fortune 500 to connect enterprise mobile apps to existing systems. But there's a big difference between claims processing via mobile for a top-ten insurance provider and an all-in-cloud consumer-facing app. So we are focused on opening up that pipe to the enterprise. We've built a platform to target that market. Large companies are building APIs to their existing systems. But how to abstract that from SOA down to JSON and mobile is a lot of work."
Simone is hoping that these enterprises will choose ClearBlade to do the heavy lifting between an enterprise's mobile apps and the mainframe behind a firewall. In an industry encumbered by legacy technologies, many enterprises are seeking to shift their operations to take up the new world order of mobile and big data. Already this year, AT&T has talked about its focus on supporting enterprise efforts to become mobile-enabled. Public data platform Enigma.io has received seed funding in part to assist enterprises to make use of big data analytics opportunities, and SOA Software has created APIs for mainframe environments.
Enabling enterprises to take advantage of mobile technologies and big data analytics is a huge undertaking for companies operating at a global level and, in the past, has given rise to cumbersome solutions that have frustrated and infuriated developers.
Side note: Enterprises weighed down by legacy tech—the JSONx example
Late last year, for example, tweets erupted in shock and dismay at the continued use of JSONx. It started with one developer tweeting, "I can't make this shit up: JSONx is an IBM standard format to represent JSON as XML." Even though JSONx was introduced in 2011, the mere mention of it as still being used in the enterprise at the end of 2013 was retweeted more than 1500 times among an incredulous developer community who shared their shock that such a burdensome technological solution was still in play.
Oz Katz, CTO at Israeli content discovery start-up Swayy (covered in our recent article on API aggregation business models) explains: "I think most people (outside the enterprise software world) actually find JSONx a tad amusing.
"The reason JSONx exists is (probably) to allow interoperability between older XML-based services and newer JSON-based environments. This need makes a lot of sense for a company like IBM, whose software is deployed in many enterprise settings, where customers aren't really fast to adopt new technologies and such transitions may take many years. JSONx is not so much a technology as it is a way to standardize that conversion between the formats.
"That being said, I don't think the concept is specific to IBM DataPower users [who use JSONx] or even to IBM users. It's probably a problem that many other enterprise vendors face, and although it's quite easy to solve, a standard needs to emerge in order to ensure that interoperability. Question is, will JSONx catch on with other enterprise vendors? Given that it is a proprietary, narrow-focused standard, I doubt it will ever be adopted by anyone else."
How ClearBlade hopes to solve enterprise mobile agility
The JSONx solution demonstrates the way legacy systems make it even more difficult for large, global companies—in which, as Katz says, "transitions may take many years"—to move quickly to mobile enablement.
ClearBlade believes it has the ideal solution to speed up enterprise uptake of mobile solutions, without a repeat of the JSONx-type of workaround.
"We have engineered a scalable, enterprise-first solution, where we expect that for 95% of our customers it will be deployed behind a firewall. The ClearBlade MBaaS platform is made up of three components:
- A NoSQL database
- A messaging system built on the MQTT standard
Simone is particularly proud of the use of the MQTT protocols to power API integrations on the platform and sees this is as a jumping-off point for enterprise developers looking to create the next generation of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions:
"We're seeing the embedding of sensors in houses to detect moisture for actuarial insurance. We are also seeing in-car systems using telemetry data to undertake a health check of your vehicle, and in logistics there is greater use of RFID tagging. As we expand to mobile and sensor technology, the protocol for communicating needs to be more efficient than over HTTP today. This is the point of using MQTT. If I've got a mobile app or scanner with this messaging system, for example, I could swap it out with sensors and not have to rebuild the system. We're providing the platforms to build the logistical solution, or the connected car, that can scale and be highly performant. We can't wait for people to look under the hood at what we've built."
MQTT vs. REST: Avoiding a repeat of JSONx in enterprise IoT
MQTT is a publication/subscription protocol designed for machine-to-machine messaging that is beginning to see a resurgence for use in the design of real-time, mobile, and sensor-based applications. ClearBlade has chosen to use the messaging standard as a core component of its MBaaS platform as it has a much lower battery impact than REST interfaces, does not suck up bandwidth, and has a faster throughput on mobile networks. IBM IoT Chief Joe Speed summarizes some research on the power of MQTT on his blog, referencing results indicating that over 3G networks, MQTT protocols were three times faster and took half the power needs to maintain an open connection than HTTPS.
Simone is confident that as a result, enterprises can begin developing mobile solutions for a global market now, while also preparing for the next wave of sensor-technology enablement that is fast becoming a requirement. "We have been in private beta with about ten customers over the last four months, but now any enterprise developer can try our product in a sandbox environment," Simone said.
By Mark Boyd. Mark is a freelance writer focusing on how we use technology to connect and interact. He writes regularly about API business models, open data, smart cities, Quantified Self and e-commerce. He can be contacted via e-mail, on Twitter, or on Google+.