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Earlier this year I analysed the state of SAP’s available mobile apps on the new SAP mobile app store.  One of the challenges I highlighted was the infrastructure demands for the mobile middleware.  I believed that if mobile middleware components such as Sybase Unwired Platform and Afaria as well as apps could be available as a Software as a Service (SaaS) / Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering, this would solve one hurdle for customers looking to adopt the platform.  This idea is not new.  In my research for this blog I found that SAP Mentor Richard Hirsch also mentioned this possibility in an earlier blog (see his Option 3).

Thinking about it more carefully in recent times, I am even more convinced about this.  Here are 7 reasons why … 

  1. A mobile abstraction layer such as Sybase Unwired Platform and Afaria needs to evolve quickly to keep pace with the rapid evolution of new mobile client platforms, SDKs and handsets.  And this rate of evolution is significantly faster than the pace of traditional on-premise enterprise platforms.   This also means frequent upgrades, patches, etc. to keep up with the latest new mobile device, operating system, etc. By way of example in the past few months we have seen SUP move from version 2.1 to 2.1.1 to 2.1.2.  And if we believe in the concept of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), then the timing of upgrades to the mobile abstraction layer will be driven moreso by end users (eg. to support the latest OS versions) rather than by the IT department.  This level of constant ‘up keep’ is something many customers I believe would much prefer to see delivered as a managed service.  
  2. The availability of this mobile middleware layer as a PaaS removes the burden on customers to justify capital spend to commission on-premise middleware.  In this situation customers wouldn’t need to ‘bet the farm’ on purchasing a heavy weight on-premise solution, but rather can take advantage of low barriers to entry with a PaaS offering.  Customers can then attain easy access to SAP's app store apps, using the PaaS as a runtime platform.  And after using the solution if in future it doesn’t suit customers’ needs, they can find alternatives without needing to decommission systems and hardware.
  3. If we assume that a PaaS provides for more transparency in pricing, then customers will be more readily able to formulate a business case for adopting the service.  This blog by SAP Mentor Kevin Bennedict outlines the challenges faced by customers encountering licensing obfuscation currently.  In an ideal world, the PaaS / SaaS offering would bundle pricing for use of specific apps into a transparent per month / per user charge, inclusive of licensing for SUP, Afaria, and invocations through NetWeaver Gateway. In a perfect world, it would all be free.
  4. Availability of this mobile middleware in the cloud also brings more access to developers, insofar as developers don’t need to source their own local installation of the middleware.  A more engaged developer community brings with it the natural benefits of powering the app store through scale.  I know Dennis Howlett and others have been sending this message to SAP for quite a while.  To be fair, SAP’s SUP Developer Center when made available to the public will help address the skills and access issues.  Interestingly the new SUP Developer Center itself provides developers with their own SUP image hosted on CloudShare rather than using a shared instance.
  5. Mobile platforms hosted in the cloud have a natural advantage insofar as the internet connectivity to handsets can be made available ‘out of the box’.  To some degree this is also why cloud SaaS solutions (including SAP’s) have been able to offer mobile apps so readily (an example is SAP StreamWork).  Of course, organisations would still need to figure out how to connect their on-premise SAP systems securely to the mobile middleware layer.
  6. Mobile Consumer Application Platforms (MCAP) in my opinion belong in the cloud, where they can scale more readily for the consumer populations.  To the extent that SAP has outlined an intent to one day bring together its Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP) which is based on Sybase Unwired Platform, and its MCAP platform, this in my mind places the unified platform in the cloud.
  7. Competitive pressures from some cloud-based mobile platform vendors may force SAP to move its platform to the cloud.  There are already mobile platform vendors that operate cloud-based platforms, whether for enabling mobile apps or for managing them.  The allure for customers of these types of platforms is high, when the licensing is clear and transparent, and barriers to entry are low.  To be fair, some SAP partners have seen this opportunity and are working to establish this SaaS / PaaS offering for SUP / Afaria themselves.  My hope is that these offerings will be successful and can achieve the scale needed to provide customers with a cost-effective avenue to kick-start their enterprise mobility ambitions.

One thing I haven't considered is what technical or architectural limitations there might be with hosting SUP / Afaria in the cloud.  There are references to multi-tenant support in the SUP manuals, but I'm no expert in the area of on-demand systems. 

In any case, I hope that my reasoning has some merit.  Tell me, do you see value in the mobile platform in the cloud?

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