Mobile don’t need no stinking cloud

by Brian Katz on November 4, 2013 · 0 comments

I had the great fortune to spend an hour talking with Mark Thiele the other day (seriously, if you ever have the opportunity don’t pass it up). We had an awesome conversation about many subjects but the one that stuck with me was an aside on how cloud and mobile go together like peanut butter and chocolate, at least that’s what Reese’s and many people in the cloud and mobile world will say.

PB and CThe problem with this statement is that it’s just plain wrong. Yet I get to hear it everyday. One company or another will claim how you can’t build an app unless you have a cloud back-end. Your app won’t work unless it built with a cloud in mind. While it sounds great, it isn’t true.

It all starts with the data, which has to sit somewhere. The data, in itself, though is worthless. It has to be converted into information, and while information has some value, it becomes most valuable when it is turned into knowledge.

If one ascribes to this system, then an app is really the way to present knowledge, it is the tool a  person uses to acquire knowledge or turn data that they have locally into knowledge. Usually that app is part of a system that processes the data, and takes it through the process of turning it into knowledge. This requires a bunch of pieces, starting with a place to store that data, compute engines to crunch that data (some which may lie close to the data and others that may be in the app), and start to turn it into information and knowledge. Then we need a way to retrieve that knowledge and get it to the user. This can be done through a simple data connector or, done well, through an API.

So in it’s simplest terms, we need a back-end server, a network and a front end. (Notice, we are being overly simplistic here, identity and access management as well as security are quite important pieces). An app doesn’t require a cloud to be built or to work well. It doesn’t need a data center; all it needs is a server with power, pipe and ping on the back-end and a user endpoint that can connect to it.

This isn’t to bash cloud or mobile, but they are constructs. Cloud is just a different way of instantiating servers, which previously could happen under a desk, in a server closet or a datacenter. Cloud, done right, should enable speed and agility and possibly some savings, but it’s just a building block.

We know that cloud is being used as the basis for IaaS, SaaS and PaaS and a bunch of other services that we can probably attach acronyms too, but these are really just different platforms that we build a backend from. We can usually break this down back to the basic building block of a single server which crunches data into info and then knowledge. It transmits that data to an endpoint. That endpoint doesn’t need to be a mobile, it could be a desktop or kiosk. It’s just an endpoint. Cloud comes in because as you grow your user base it allows you to do things such as scale well and quickly and, of course, can make it easier for things like high availability and disaster recovery.

What we all seem to miss as we look at what we ‘need’ to build apps is the fact that regardless of the parts, someone is going to use this app once we build it. It has to meet their needs and allow them to be successful; otherwise our business will not grow. We have to provide the best customer experience. Remember, your users are customers too, or else they will walk away.

It’s not the mere providing of an app that will make people successful, it’s the fact that it enables them to do their job while the device and app disappear into the experience. Cloud and mobile are just ways to do things more flexibly and yes, using cloud enabled services can make things much easier. When the app is architected correctly on the back-end and built properly on the front end taking the user’s need and the way they want to work into account, you are successful. The peanut butter and chocolate moment is when the User Experience meets the needs and wants of the actual users.

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