After years of showing you how to integrate the principles of Gartner MEAP into your organization’s mobile strategy, it’s now time for me to show you how to roll up your sleeves and actually build the Microsoft Mobile Enterprise Application Platform.
I’ve travelled all over the world assisting Chief Information Officers in the development of their end-to-end mobile strategies. Time and again, these CIOs inform me that pushing corporate data from their backend systems out to the wireless devices used by their employees is a top priority. This makes perfect sense because of the productivity and efficiency gains an organization accrues when employees are allowed to work anytime from anywhere. That timely information from backend systems empower employees to make better decisions at the point of activity. Of course, this works in two directions. Employees capture data at that same point of activity and it flows from the field to those backend systems. When data is allowed to flow bi-directionally in real-time, this speeds up the cadence of decision-making and gives the organization a competitive advantage. We saw this years ago with mobile email. When you combine wireless data networks, mobile devices, and a mechanism to seamless move critical data, you’ve created the most powerful weapon in business.
The Real-Time Enterprise. This is where a Mobile Enterprise Application Platform comes into play.
Just in case you’re unfamiliar with MEAP, it represents software and services that allow IT organizations to extend corporate apps and data out to mobile employees and business partners. This is most often accomplished via reusable mobile middleware components capable of supporting multiple mobile apps, multiple mobile operating systems, and multiple backend systems to maximize your ROI vs. tactical point solutions. Think of this as a server façade in front of your backend systems and databases. You might consider using a MEAP solution if your organization doesn’t have a mature SOA infrastructure or if your backend systems aren’t vertically-integrated to provide mobile client apps and connectivity. Gartner has a technology checklist of critical capabilities that a given MEAP solution must match up with in order to be considered. Since this series of articles is all about building the Microsoft MEAP solution, I’ll provide you with some guidance as to how Microsoft aligns with each of the critical capabilities:
- Integrated Development Environment:
- Gartner Definition: Dedicated environment or plug-in for composing backend server & client side logic, including UI.
- Microsoft Offering: Visual Studio
- Value Proposition: As the world’s most widely-used commercial IDE, you’re more likely to find plenty of proficient developers than with any other MEAP offering. Additionally, developers are more productive since they don’t have to use different or specialized tools to target laptops, tablets, smartphones, servers, or the cloud. Competing MEAP vendors have unfamiliar native and hybrid SDKs or 4GLs while Microsoft has millions of seasoned developers.
- Application Client Runtime:
- Gartner Definition: The client runtime logic for the application, either in native format or packaged within a container.
- Microsoft Offering: WinRT, .NET / Silverlight for thick clients and Internet Explorer for thin clients.
- Enterprise Application Integration Tools:
- Gartner Definition: Tools for integration of mobile server with back end systems, both bespoke & purchased apps or application suites.
- Microsoft Offering: Visual Studio SQL Server Data Tools.
- Value Proposition: Developers visually compose connections, actions, events and data movement rather than writing separate sets of integration code. Adapters provide consistent connectivity to dozens of backend systems and data sources. Microsoft is providing unrivaled, easy to use, drag and drop tools to connect ETL adapters with backend systems and databases.
- Packaged Mobile Apps or Components:
- Gartner Definition: Self standing mobile applications or components.
- Microsoft Offering: Cross-platform offerings include Office, Internet Explorer, Bing, Lync, Skype, Tag, .NET Portable Class Libraries, and Exchange ActiveSync (EAS).
- Value Proposition: Same business productivity apps available across Windows, Windows Phone, the Web and the Mac. Corporate and consumer communications are available across all platforms. Portable class libraries allow developers to reuse code across phones, tablets, laptops, and the web. The EAS client found in every major smartphone and tablet gives more people around the world access to Microsoft email, calendaring, contacts and device management than any other technology from any other competitor.
- Multichannel Tools or Servers:
- Gartner Definition: Tools that allow for “write once, run anywhere” thick or rich mobile clients, cross compilers or environments or platforms that allow business logic to be supported across thin, thick, and rich mobile architectures.
- Microsoft Offering: Tools like Visual Studio allow development of cross-platform thick and thin apps. Multi-channel transports like HTTP/SOAP/REST/EAS/XML/JSON, OData, and the Sync Framework support communication with any mobile client. Server technologies like Unified Access Gateway (UAG) and Azure securely publish services to any device.
- Value Proposition: Microsoft provides more tools, transports, and servers to securely enable any device than all competitors combined. There’s a strong chance that your organization already owns these technologies.
- Management Tools:
- Gartner Definition: Tools to provision, support, debug, update or decommission mobile apps.
- Microsoft Offering: System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), Windows Intune, Exchange Server, Windows Store.
- Value Proposition: Exchange Server is a great BYOD solution that provides policy enforcement to every device that support EAS. SCCM 2012 and Windows Intune support software distribution + device management of Windows, Windows Mobile, Windows Phone, Symbian, iOS, and Android devices. Yes, this is the same SCCM product that has been around since the early 1990’s and already manages hundreds of millions of desktops, servers, and laptops with its enterprise-proven capabilities. If you haven’t bought an MDM package yet, don’t panic. The Exchange Server that most of the world’s organizations use for email will provide you with a solid baseline of policy enforcement and security to keep you covered.
- Gartner Definition: Secure enterprise data on device, while moving through wired & wireless networks, peripherals, & with backend systems & integration packages.
- Microsoft Offering: Policy enforced login, AES encryption for data at rest on the device and SSL for data in transit. Apps tested, digitally signed & securely delivered via Windows Store or privately within enterprise. Data at rest in client and middleware databases is encrypted. SSIS integration packages are encrypted and signed. Perimeter protection is accomplished in the DMZ via Unified Access Gateway with deep packet inspection. Data leakage is mitigated via Microsoft’s Information Rights Management Server to lock down and/or expire emails and documents.
- Value Proposition: Microsoft technologies provide end-to-end security at every tier. All bases are covered including data at rest, data in transit, perimeter protection, and data leakage prevention.
- Gartner Definition: The ability to host all development, provisioning, management functions, and optionally corporate data in the cloud.
- Microsoft Offering: Windows Intune, Windows Store, Windows Azure, Office 365, Team Foundation Service.
- Value Proposition: All Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 apps are provisioned from the cloud. Seamless location-based services and push notifications are provided to apps and live tiles from the cloud. A wide range of mobile clients can access Azure services and storage via interoperable protocols like SOAP, REST, OData, XML, and JSON. Azure Mobile Services provides rapid cloud development, storage, authentication, and push notifications across multiple mobile platforms. No other MEAP vendor even comes close to providing this deep level of PAAS, SAAS, and IAAS capabilities as Microsoft’s cloud.
Looking at the picture above, you see a thin line going across horizontally. Everything below the line represents client capabilities whereas everything above the line lives in your data center or in the cloud. On the left side you see both the client and server elements of device management and your integrated development environment illustrated in blue. Staying below the line you see green blocks that represent thick and thin client runtimes as well as offline storage. You might be wondering why I included native and web-based offline storage when they aren’t listed as critical capabilities. In a world where there’s no such thing as a ubiquitous wireless network, you must be able to pre-fetch and store data offline so that your employees can keep working in the absence of connectivity. Moving above the line, you see that all clients connect to your server infrastructure via a multichannel access gateway. This is an edge server that provides reverse-proxy and/or VPN services. Above that you have mobile middleware components that handle data integration, web communication, auth/security, caching, and potential data aggregation.
The use of corporate-liable wireless devices combined with the BYOD phenomenon has made “Mobile” the largest megatrend in the world of enterprise technology. It’s already the largest megatrend with consumers. Nothing else even comes close. Now while I’d prefer that you use Windows Phones, tablets, and laptops, I want to make it easy for you to use your existing Microsoft server stack to support any mobile endpoint. I realize that there is one large, and many small MEAP vendors in the marketplace. In fact, the largest of those vendors is making a concerted effort to corner the enterprise mobile market via a number of MDM and MEAP acquisitions. You should realize that there’s limited value in dropping potentially millions of dollars on unfamiliar server infrastructures and development technologies that aren’t nearly as easy to configure and work with as it says on the sales brochure or in the marketing demo.
Pragmatically speaking, you should use the Microsoft server stack you already own to provide your organization’s MEAP solution.
In the forthcoming articles I’ll be writing, I’ll bring your CIO’s top priority to life:
- I’ll show you how to configure your own Mobile Middleware that integrates multiple data sources and acts as a server façade. Microsoft SQL Server forms the core of your system where SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) adapters connect to dozens of data sources and backend packages. SQL Server aggregates, caches, and secures the composite data retrieved from those systems to boost client performance while reducing the load on backend systems.
- I’ll show you how to easily expose this composite data via Web Services in a format consumable by any device. Business entities built using .NET will model the schema created by the aggregated data. Internet Information Services (IIS) and the ASP.NET Web API will expose those business entities to mobile clients.
- I’ll describe how you can horizontally scale out your data tier in your Private Cloud while also providing geo-replication to additional data centers using SQL Server Transactional Replication. This will be combined with the scaling-out of your web service tier via load-balancing. If that’s not enough, you can take this high-level of scalability and performance to the next level using Microsoft AppFabric Caching to provide an in-memory distributed cache.
- A Multi-channel Access Gateway is used to securely publish this data out to the Internet. I’ll discuss how this task can be carried out by Microsoft Forefront Unified Access Gateway via the same mechanism you’re already using to provide email from your Exchange Servers to mobile devices.
- Last but not least, I’ll show you how to consume these web services from a Windows 8 tablet app so your employees can work with data and perform transactions offline. All along the way, you’ll see how I use a single IDE, Visual Studio, to bring every tier of your solution to life whether it be server logic, integration with backend systems, client logic, or UX.
Remember, the infrastructure folks in your IT department already know how to build, configure, and maintain the servers needed to build Microsoft MEAP. At the same time, your developers get to leverage the .NET and web service skills they’ve been perfecting for the last decade. The top priority for CIOs is to extend their organization’s critical data from their backend systems out to mobile devices. I’m going to show you how to build it using the skills your IT folks already have, and the software and servers you already own, with support from the world’s largest software company.