Cloud

How StrongLoop plans to make mobile app development more enterprise-friendly

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Editor’s note: VentureBeat reported on StrongLoop’s funding yesterday: See Can this startup steal Node from Joyent? VCs bet $8M on it. Today, we bring you a different view on the company from independent analyst Sam Charrington.

With $8 million in funding and a new CEO, StrongLoop seeks to make mobile app development easier for enterprises. Here’s why I’m excited about what they’re up to.

The arcane ritual of configuring application servers and writing deployment scripts is a rite of passage that many Web application developers experience early and often.

Mobile developers, on the other hand, are a different breed. As opposed to starting deep in the bowels of the backend, they are much more likely to start at the very front, often by launching their favorite mobile IDE and dragging some UI elements onto a canvas. It is for this reason that platform-as-a-service (PaaS), in promising to abstract all the nuts and bolts of the backend infrastructure, is a great fit for mobile developers.

Mobile Backend-as-a-Service (mBaaS) offerings take this one step further, abstracting the entire backend application behind a set of high-level APIs for handling common tasks such as storing and accessing data, managing users, generating notifications and integrating with social networks.

Not a new market segment, the mBaaS space seems downright dated in Internet years, with most of the leaders in the space — companies like Parse (recently acquired by Facebook), Kinvey, and StackMob — having been founded way back in 2010.

Cloud-deployment options

StrongLoop, a new entrant in this space, just announced LoopBack, its take on mBaaS. And the company just pulled in $8 million from VCs yesterday. StrongLoop claims that LoopBack is the first of the mBaaS crop to offer its product as software (the old-fashioned kind you install) as well as a service. In other words, it supports both public cloud and on-premise deployment right out of the gate.

Also interesting is how it supports cloud deployment. In addition to supporting Amazon’s and Rackspace’s IaaS offerings, the company also offers LoopBack as ready-to-deploy modules for leading PaaS offerings, including buildpacks for Heroku and Cloud Foundry and a cartridge for Red Hat OpenShift.

Overcoming the barriers of enterprise mobile enablement

StrongLoop believes that the company’s rich support for private deployment options will help overcome a key barrier to enterprise adoption of first-generation mBaaS offerings, namely the difficulty in integrating with enterprise data sources.

In fact, this is the first of three distinct advantages LoopBack offers enterprise users:

  • Simply allowing the mBaaS to run behind the corporate firewall, giving it access to corporate data, goes a long way in helping enterprises mobile-enable applications.
  • LoopBack’s model-driven architecture promises to allow enterprise developers to point to, for example, an Oracle database and, after its schema is auto-discovered by LoopBack, select those tables and fields they would like to incorporate into their mobile application(s). Behind the scenes, a model is created that encapsulates data, behavior, and business rules, is easily exposed as a business object on the mobile device, and simplifies future extension. The company will initially ship connectors for Amazon RDS, Oracle, MySQL, MongoDB and arbitrary REST APIs.
  • Connectors, the first few of which are mentioned above, ease integration with popular enterprise data stores. Current connectors are relatively low-level, but I would imagine higher-level connectors, for example an SAP connector, beginning to appear as deployments mature.

Beyond mobile: an app server for Node

Furthermore, the company has aspirations beyond the mobile-enablement market. LoopBack is essentially a Node.js application server initially targeting mobile developers, and the company believes that long-term LoopBack can come to be the JBoss for Node.js.

Node.js’ continued strong growth will help here, as evidenced by the fact that it’s the second most popular project on GitHub, and the fastest growing framework on OpenStack, Cloud Foundry, and Heroku, per Issac Roth, StrongLoop’s CEO.

Risks

That all this sounds great is not to say that there is no risk for StrongLoop.

Building commercial open-source companies is a difficult endeavor, as is building enterprise infrastructure and platform companies.

Building integration technology is difficult and made more complex as the number of connectors grows.

And the space has (relatively) mature competitors; will they parry this threat by offering their own software-based solutions? Will the enterprise vendors (SAP, Oracle, etc.) offer robust-enough mobile development offerings as part of their own platforms that the pain of exposing this data is low enough to prevent a new entrant from gaining traction?

Given the $8 million series A investment StrongLoop announced yesterday, they have a bit of time to figure out the answers to all of these questions.

Sam CharringtonSam Charrington is an analyst, advisor, consultant, and the principal of CloudPulse Strategies. He has been speaking and writing about cloud since “the beginning” as an industry advocate and insider. In 2008, he cofounded CloudCamp, a global series of “unconferences” where early adopters of Cloud Computing technologies exchange ideas. Before founding CloudPulse Strategies, he was VP of product management and marketing for Appistry, and previous to that, he was an early employee at Plumtree Software, where he worked in a variety of sales, marketing and executive roles as the company grew from pre-revenue to over $80 million in annual income. Earlier, he held sales and marketing positions in AT&T’s Business Multimedia Systems organization.