Mobile Is A Key Focus For Today’s Businesses

Business Apps

With the plethora of smartphones and tablet devices now on the market mobile application development is very much a key focus for today’s businesses. In fact, Apple has just announced it has reached its 25th billion app download since starting its App Store in 2008. Web developers and designers are now moving into the app space, with many digital companies now specialising in this channel.

To add to this, the rise of m-commerce recently predicted by retail leaders such as Ebay and Tesco, is strengthening this emerging app culture, as consumers are increasingly purchasing items on the move. However, for businesses to really maximise on mobile shopping they should be looking at developing apps that offer a good shopping and purchasing experience.

It’s no secret that the mobile applications market is going through the roof. Gartner predicts that consumers will spend $6.2 billion in mobile application stores in this year alone. While this is good news for the likes of Apple and Google, it is also great news for mobile application developers. Although there are many large companies hoping to create the next great application or service, there are also plenty of start-ups hoping to make their mark in the market.

Having a great idea for an application or service is all well and good, but if people are unable to access it or performance is patchy it is very unlikely that it will be a success. While it may seem an obvious task to ensure there is sufficient supporting IT infrastructure and resources in place, it is still often an oversight. The challenge for those hoping to make it big in the mobile space is to learn from the mistakes of the traditional web world and ensure that services and applications have the right mix of technology to support them.

Bandwidth issues

One critical factor to mobile application success is ensuring that there is enough bandwidth available to support an application or service once it goes live. The challenge is that mobile services can be hard to benchmark and it can be difficult to estimate how many people will want to access the service initially. This means that if the initial demand exceeds expectations, mobile services can start creaking or even be rendered unavailable which immediately creates a negative impression.

For example, when new iPad application Flipboard launched, influential technology blogger Robert Scoble urged others to try it out. However, this created such a buzz that Flipboard couldn’t cope with the user demand and the internet soon became filled with disgruntled people saying they couldn’t access it. There is no excuse for this to happen as it shouldn’t come as a surprise, yet these familiar patterns still frequently happen in the traditional web world.

For example, Virgin Money’s sponsorship of last year’s London Marathon got off to a bumpy start when the www.virginlondonmarathon.com website crashed as the online entry ballot opened up. Start-ups and those hoping to break into the mobile space would be wise to learn from these mistakes and ensure they have sufficient bandwidth to cope with peaks in demand.

Latency concerns

One popular growth area in the mobile space is location-based services, which are becoming increasingly popular for mobile advertising. An ideal scenario would see a user walk down the street and, as they stand outside a shop, receive an ad on their mobile for a sale or coupon for that shop encouraging them to enter.

However, in order for the user to receive the ad at just the right time the advertiser needs to ensure that latency is minimised. Equally, users aren’t going to want to wait ages for a mobile advertising image or video to load so ensuring a customer’s interest is held is essential, otherwise, mobile advertisers risk missing out on potential sales opportunities.

Choosing the right IT

All of these problems can be avoided by having the right level of IT support and infrastructure. Particularly with mobile start ups there is a pressure to get as many people as possible using an application or service, usually in a short space of time. At the same time costs must be kept low often at the behest of the venture capitalists backing them. In this case, a “pay for capacity” model would allow the business to purchase capacity and bandwidth as it goes along, making it easier and more cost effective to scale the technology alongside the growth of the business.

With this in mind, hosting applications in the ‘cloud’ is seen as a possible solution. However, while a cloud environment would seem a convenient solution in theory, it does have its limitations. Firstly, it often limits how much application customisation you can do. Considering the best mobile applications and services are the ones that are constantly evolving this can be quite restrictive. Even if customisation is possible with a cloud provider it can be quite expensive so the costs can soon rack up.

Second, is the issue of latency, which is of paramount importance to mobile applications using location-based services. In the cloud, you will be sharing servers and bandwidth with other users. Therefore, if a competing application or service is seeing high demand at a particular time this could have a negative impact on the performance of your mobile application. Cloud services do not offer service level agreements (SLA) on performance, only uptime and availability.

There is never a guarantee of performance with a cloud service, whereas with a physical solution performance is consistent and can be guaranteed. Physical server-based solutions typically will outperform equivalent specified cloud server based solutions in tasks where memory and speed are critical, which are key requirements low latency applications. For this reason a number of mobile application providers will still choose physical solution over the cloud.

Therefore, an attractive alternative to the cloud is to use dedicated servers from an external provider to support the application. These will provide application developers with the faster data access and flexibility they require without the IT overheads of hosting and managing the servers themselves. In addition, many mobile application developers tend to work in Linux, meaning that they need to utilise system admin techniques which aren’t necessarily enabled in the cloud.

Regardless of the service chosen, the first and most obvious question to ask is whether your network and internet connection is resilient enough and whether your service provider’s servers have sufficient capability to handle the demands of your applications. It is therefore important to establish the necessary service level agreements, backed up with meaningful penalty clauses in the event of services going down.

A successful strategy

Mobile application development is a rapidly growing market, with room for many entrants to grab a slice of the action – and revenues. However, in order to prevent a launch from turning into a disaster companies need to learn from mistakes made in the online world and ensure that they have the right infrastructure in place before they go live. Only by making certain that they have enough bandwidth in place to cope with a rapid influx of users and that there are no latency issues can businesses ensure they have a successful mobile application launch that builds a positive reputation.

Andreas Edler is Managing Director UK at Hostway, in addition to Director of European Systems Operations and Engineering. Andreas has vast experience in multi-vendor ISP, webhosting and e-commerce, with IT operations and projects as technical lead as well as operations and business management.