This blog comments on a variety of technology news, trends, and products and how they connect. I'm in Red Hat's cloud product strategy group in my day job although I cover a broader set of topics here. This is a personal blog; the opinions are mine alone.
One of the challenges with mobile app development is that they require a number of services, such as user authentication, that can take a lot of effort to develop--even though the requirements are largely common across many different mobile applications. Kinvey offers hosted services that mobile applications on clients can consume.
Haff: Hi, everyone. This is Gordon Haff, cloud evangelist with Red
Hat. I'm sitting here with Shravish Sridhar, who is the founder and CEO of
Kinvey, which is a backend app development platform. Greetings.
Sridhar: Hey, Gordon. It's great to be here.
We actually used to work together for a while a few years back.
We did. I was always star‑struck by how awesome Gordon was. It's just
funny that I'm now sitting at a podcast with him.
You're embarrassing me. Let's talk about your company. What is Backend as
Backend as a Service started with the premise that mobile and tablet
developers need an entire backend stack to build really, really rich
applications. In order to build these rich applications, they needed access to
data, to push notifications, to file storage, and to interconnectivity with
various other data end points like an Oracle database or a Salesforce CRM, et
cetera. When you think about it, how is a mobile developer going to build this
entire backend stack from scratch? That's what we do. We've taken the entire
backend stack and provide it as a cloud service and tied it to iOS, Android,
Really, when we were talking about app development these days, I think a
lot of the time, if you're not talking about mobile, you're really ignoring the
elephant in the room.
I fully agree. When we find people thinking about new user experiences,
they're actually thinking of both mobile and web. They need to connect to their
user where and when the user wants to connect to the information. And so,
whether the user is mobile or sitting behind a desktop, you need to do both all
the time from here on.
We'll talk a little bit more about exactly what your company does, but
maybe for our listeners who may have heard various types of terms applied to
this space. There's this idea of MEAPs for enterprise application platforms.
Where do you fit into that space?
We get asked this question in two fronts. One is, we often get asked the
question, "How is Backend as a Service different than Infrastructure as a
Service or Platform as a Service?" The way we think about it is that
Infrastructure as a Service provides you with hardware on demand and lets you
scale it up and down. Platform as a Service lets you run applications, so it
solves the hosting and scaling of the runtime, but you still have to build the
entire backend if you want to have a backend stack.
think about it as, Infrastructure as a Service and Platform as a Service helps
you with the plumbing, so they're in the plumbing business, and Backend as a
Service helps you with the data, so we're in the water business. If you look at
mobile enterprise application platforms, or MEAPs, they started off about five
or six years ago as classic on‑prem enterprise software.
takes a lot of money and effort to install them, customize them, and learn how
to use them, and they lock you in, into a specific, WYSIWYG, HTML5 SDK that
each one of them have. As an enterprise, you don't have the flexibility to use
any native or hybrid SDK of your choice.
philosophy is we want to deliver everything through the cloud, the entire
backend stack through the cloud, securely bridge your enterprise backend
systems, and do the whole thing through a self‑service mechanism so that any
developer that you employ or that's part of a dev shop or an SI can use the
platform immediately, day one, without any setup upfront.
Let's say I'm a mobile application developer. I'm developing for Android,
developing for iOS, probably both platforms in many cases. I need to
authenticate users. I maybe need some data store in the backend to maybe store
information about my users across different instances of the application and so
forth. What do I do?
You come to Kinvey, you sign up for an account, and we have this notion
of add‑ons. An add‑on is a specific backend feature that you want. You can use
us as the entire backend stack, for your entire application, or you can use us
for only a handful of features. You would say you want user management, and in
that case, you can use us either to authenticate your users via regular user
name and passwords, or you can use any one of the numerous OAuth providers we
work with, or you can use us to integrate with an LDAP or Active Directory
system that you have. You can use us only for user management if you want, and
that ties down to your mobile libraries. You can also turn on a data store, and
that gives you a full data store as well as a file store, to store anything
from data to large files and videos. You can also use us to run business logic
or connect to your enterprise OAuth system.
essentially, you decide, as a developer, which backend features you want, you
turn them on, and then you consume them through our libraries. The one nice
thing that you get is, whether you use one feature or whether you use all the
features, we have an in‑house mobile analytics platform, so we track all of
your usage and tie them into identity of the users so you know who's doing what
over time with your mobile application.
What would be the relationship with something like your Backend as a
Service to, say, an on‑premise Platform as a Service, like OpenShift? How would
you use those things together?
We find that relationship very important. The reason is we believe that
mobile is one of the key drivers of cloud in the enterprise. As CIOs are
championing mobile and tablet projects, they want to build those mobile and
tablet projects using cloud infrastructure. A lot of the data that these mobile
and tablet projects have to access is sitting inside the firewall. By partnering
and working together with a company like OpenShift that provides both on‑prem
as well as cloud‑based Platform as a Service, the enterprises have the
flexibility to connect their data with Kinvey by running what we call a data
link on these PaaS environments. It's completely secure. It stays on‑prem,
running on OpenShift, and then can be consumed by the mobile developer through
a mobile‑developer standpoint, all that connectivity is abstracted. It's
connected via their library into Kinvey, and Kinvey then connects to an on‑prem
OpenShift environment and moves the data back and forth through OpenShift.
What's your business model here?
We are a classic cloud‑based subscription model. Customers pay us on a
monthly basis, as long as their apps are alive. The kinds of research that
we've done is, for a classic enterprise application, on average, enterprises
spend anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000 per application per year, and this is
to build it and then maintain it on an ongoing basis. With Kinvey and companies
like OpenShift, the joint value proposition goes from a half a million dollars
to closer to about $50K to $100K for an application. It's a substantial savings
for the customer. They pay us anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand
dollars a month, as long as the app is live. It's a very small buy‑in for an
enterprise to keep an application going.
You're very involved in the mobile‑development space. What are some of
the interesting trends you see happening that our listeners might be interested
I think a couple of years ago, when folks were using Kinvey, we found
that iOS was, by far, the number‑one platform people were building apps on.
kinds of apps on Kinvey. We find a tremendous number of Java developers that
are picking up Android and building Android apps. We find a large number of Web
developers that are migrating to building HTML5‑based mobile applications and
using tools like PhoneGap to create hybrid applications.
development. Then the other is enterprises are now making buying decisions
today to build a standard mobile stack. Most enterprises are slowly and surely
building out their mobile reference architecture, and as part of that, cloud is
becoming an integral solution for how they deliver these mobile services.
enterprise mobile applications, are two big trends that we're seeing today with
That's actually interesting, because one of the things we at Red Hat are
seeing with our OpenShift PaaS, in the enterprise space in particular, is a lot
of organizations are really looking at PaaS to standardize their development
work flows. Part of that is obviously having common sets of composable services
that you can plug into your applications rather than writing a new
authentication module every time you write an application.
That's absolutely right. The same explanation also exists for mobile.
People want a standardized mechanism to build mobile applications. Part of the
issue, quite frankly, is skills. If you go to an enterprise and say,
"Who's building your mobile applications or tablet applications
today?" very few of them have complete in house skills to build these
mobile apps. And so, they are using SIs or dev agencies to build up these
so, they don't want to make the mistake where every project is built in a silo
and then they have to deal with all this legacy. Instead, they're looking at
what are these standardized building blocks that every stakeholder uses on a
consistent basis to build the same kinds of mobile applications.
Of course, you talked about things like dev team security. There's a real
risk if somebody who doesn't have the skills just sort of hacks something
Absolutely. In this BYOD world where data's sitting on an employee's
device, security keys are sitting on people's devices, authentication tokens
are sitting on people's devices. You need to make sure that you're providing
all the developers, in house or outsourced, the same kinds of frameworks and
rules so that you're ensuring that you have a secure application being built.
You mentioned BYOD and enterprise apps. Of course, historically you had
enterprise apps that were very much designed for a specific type of client with
some sort of proprietary data connect or going back to a specific backend. But
today, you really have to develop apps, whether or not they actually end up
running on a mobile device or not, so that they can run on a mobile device
because really, the movement is towards having client side just being whatever
and connecting to a backend.
I wholeheartedly agree. I think it's definitely a ubiquitous use case.
People need access to data when and where they need it. As an enterprise, you
can't decide anymore whether somebody should only have access on a desktop or
not. Furthermore, it's not only connecting to one backend. I think enterprise
thinking has changed, where they're thinking about, "How do I make my
employees most efficient?" That includes connecting to multiple backends.
example, it's no longer that I want to give my employee field Salesforce rep
just a CRM app. I want to connect my CMS with my CRM so that, through this
single app, my sales rep can not only update customer information but can also
download and access presentation material or brochures that I want to show my
customer when I'm talking to him or her.
apps are getting sophisticated and connecting to multiple backend systems, but
providing a much more streamlined capability through one application.
It's interesting, this mega trend of things coming from the consumer
world, and enterprise certainly needing more things in terms of authentication
and governance and audit and that kind of thing, but still, in many ways, being
an outgrowth of the simplicity and so forth of the consumer area. Your company
itself has kind of evolved from a B2C‑oriented business towards increasingly
Yeah, fair and absolutely. In fact, there's a parallel there. The
parallel is we're all familiar with the phrase "consumerization of
IT," where employees and enterprises want services to look and feel like
the B2C applications that they're used to. I also feel that there is a thing
called the "developerization of IT." I think developers today that
work in big companies go and muck around with Amazon Web Services or other
public services, and they know what self‑service looks and feels like. They're
demanding the same level of usability for enterprise development tools in‑house.
think it's forcing ISVs, like Red Hat and like Kinvey, to start providing its
tools and its services in a completely documented, self‑service fashion, to
make it really easy to stand up applications for customers.
I think the case can perhaps be overstated, but my former colleague,
Stephen O'Grady, has a new book out called "The New Kingmakers," and
the idea really being that developers really are increasingly in control of
buying decisions within enterprises.
That's definitely true. In fact, a lot of our focus was building a strong
developer community from day one for Kinvey. In the last two years, we've been
able to do so. Now that we have an enterprise product that's up and running, a
lot of these developers who are using us for their side projects and for their
personal apps have contacted us and said, "Hey, we would love to see if
you can come in and provide value in our day jobs."
so, it's the folks that were using us for their side projects that are not
becoming our proponents inside their companies.
That reflects what we've been doing with OpenShift as well. We've been
putting a lot of energy into not only being open source but making that open
source simple to consume and really putting a lot of energy into putting
information for developers out there that isn't even necessarily product
specific like how do you write a very geolocation aware type of application?
Totally. Examples, examples, examples. If developers can learn through
your content, then they will start to create a brand affinity with you where
they respect the fact that you're actually helping them with their skills and
they're more in tune with wanting to work with your products.
Anything else you'd like to add?
No, this has been fantastic. The next time we chat, I look forward to a
much more detailed integration on how OpenShift and Kinvey can work together.
That would be great. If our listeners want to get out there and try out
your service, what do they do?
They go to Kinvey.com. K‑I‑N‑V‑E‑Y or you can just search for Backend as
a Service on Google and we're the first link that shows up. You can sign up.
It's free. You can start building mobile applications tomorrow.
I'm in the cloud product strategy group at Red Hat. Prior to Red Hat, I wrote hundreds of research notes, was frequently quoted in publications like The New York Times on a wide range of IT topics, and advised clients on product and marketing strategies. Earlier in my career, I was responsible for bringing a wide range of computer systems, from minicomputers to large UNIX servers, to market while at Data General. Among other hobbies, I do a lot of photography and enjoy the outdoors.