Microsoft recently announced Windows Azure Mobile Services, an app infrastructure stack that will allow mobile developers to focus on developing their app rather than the infrastructure. In doing so, Microsoft is trying out what many startups have attempted: offering a mobile backend as a service to its app developers.
The problem with mobile app development is that developers in the past essentially had to start from scratch, building out their mobile apps, supporting them across multiple devices, and scaling them when necessary. To remedy this problem, many startups have emerged that offer app infrastructure. Microsoft’s will be built on an platform as a service (PaaS), hosted on Microsoft’s servers, and attached to an SQL database.
In what Microsoft calls a matter of “minutes”, app developers can add a cloud backend to their Windows Store apps. Currently, this is only available for Windows 8, but Microsoft plans to add support for iPhone, Android, and its own Windows Phone soon.
Whenever an app developer offers any type of service along with the app, whether it is a free trial, a sales promotion, simple notifications, or user authentication, the cloud backend can handle all of it, eliminating the need for the developer to also be a system administrator, hosting servers and pushing out services to customers.
Microsoft’s developer division president Scott Guthrie explained, “When you create a Windows Azure Mobile Service, we automatically associate it with a SQL Database inside Windows Azure. The Windows Azure Mobile Service backend then provides built-in support for enabling remote apps to securely store and retrieve data from it (using secure REST end-points utilizing a JSON-based OData format) — without you having to write or deploy any custom server code. Built-in management support is provided within the Windows Azure portal for creating new tables, browsing data, setting indexes, and controlling access permissions”.
Windows Azure is Microsoft’s cloud platform. With it, Microsoft users can deploy anything from single applications to full virtual operating systems from within the Azure interface. Like software as a service, Microsoft’s platform as a service is hosted at Microsoft’s data centers and is fully managed, offering the user a noticeably hands-off approach to server management. Microsoft has plenty of competition in this arena, and the company has even instituted the capability of installing non-windows operating systems, such as Linux, in order to stay competitive.