Thought Leaders in Cloud is a series where we bring insights from the most influential leaders of the cloud computing world. Sravish Sridhar is the founder and CEO of Boston-based company, Kinvey, that provides a Backend as a Service (BaaS) platform for enterprises, agencies and developers building mobile, tablet and web apps.Tell us about Kinvey?
We provide a Backend as a Service (BaaS) platform for enterprises, agencies and developers building mobile, tablet and web apps. Pre-built features in our platform include user management, data store, file store, social integration, location context, push notifications, mobile analytics, custom business logic and plug-ins to various cloud APIs. For our enterprise customers we include integration with on-premise data sources like Oracle, Siebel, SAP, WebSphere and Salesforce etc., and authentication systems like LDAP and Active Directory.
What made you start Kinvey?
I wanted to build a technology company, which, if we hit it out of the park, would bring value to a billion people. With the proliferation of mobile apps and connected devices, millions of new apps will be built in the coming years, and all of them will need a backend. I want Kinvey to be the largest hub for apps in the cloud, thereby being the ‘backend’ that drives these apps and user experiences.
What benefits does MBaaS offer to developers?
Simply put, developers who use Backend as a Service just focus on creating unique and engaging app experiences on any client platform. The BaaS provider takes care of the rest. By using a BaaS platform, developers don’t have to build databases or APIs, or worry about security or scale, not even learn how to connect to other backend systems. On the front-end, the client libraries provided by the BaaS platform takes care of online/offline data caching, data encryption, etc. – features that a client developer doesn’t have to build into the app.
It results in a much faster time-to-market, significant cost savings, and most importantly focuses on the important parts of the app, leaving the redundant work to the platform. A joke you’ll hear at Kinvey is that “app developers have realized that no user has ever complimented them on their backend, so why would you want to build it yourself?”
Like most cloud service delivery models, developers fear vendor lock-in with MBaaS. What’s your take on this?
Developers lock themselves into technology every day. The programming languages you use, databases you standardize on, infrastructure that you run your backend on, SDKs you use to build your apps, etc. Once you’ve made a technology decision, it’s very difficult to rip-and-replace your stack. From Kinvey’s standpoint, we believe that our customer’s data and code is their intellectual property. We give APIs and tools which allow them to export their data and code in multiple output formats, and they can walk away from Kinvey if they want to migrate to any other service of their choice. It’s that level of trust with our customers that has driven our success.
With so many choices available, why should developers use Kinvey?
Here’s why …
- We are built to drive simplicity for developers – a complete self-service platform that makes it really easy for developers to build apps. We talk to developers every day and use their feedback to make our product easier to use, while adding features that brings them significant value.
- We operate our service to ensure peace of mind for our customers with enterprise-level SLAs -- security, scalability and reliability for internet-scale enterprise apps.
- We provide choice and flexibility to build apps for any platform – with client libraries for various web and mobile SDKs so that it’s dead simple for developers to integrate Kinvey into their apps.
- We provide complete visibility and transparency into product roadmap by publishing our product timeline – something no other vendor does.
- At the end of the day, the proof is through our customers. We have the widest range of mobile-first businesses and venture-backed startups using Kinvey as the entire backend for their apps, in addition to enterprises building complex apps on our platform.
Does Kinvey support UI templates? Are there plugins for Eclipse, XCode and other IDEs?
We go one step further than just UI templates. In our Dev Center, we have numerous sample apps for various app platforms, which we have published under an open source license. These sample apps have fully functional code with UI templates, so that developers can get started with fully working code for the most common features and app use cases. They can add the code to their projects and make progress quickly, seeing real results.
What differentiates enterprise MBaaS from the regular mobile backend platforms?
- The ability to integrate with on-premise data sources like Oracle, Siebel, SAP, WebSphere, Salesforce and legacy APIs etc., and authentication systems like LDAP and Active Directory.
- The capability to provide a dedicated version of your platform instead of a multi-tenant system for enterprises that require a single-tenant environment.
- Data encryption on the backend and the client for compliance.
- Having an enterprise service and support SLA that meets the highest standard.
To provide all four things well, you need a team with many years of experience delivering a platform and software to enterprises. Most startups in the BaaS space don’t have the right team in place to provide a flawless service to enterprises.
Many MBaaS players, including Kinvey support hosting custom code and basic websites. Do you think MBaaS is turning into a PaaS?
The ability to help developers host, version and run custom business logic on the BaaS platform, and host full-featured websites that live “close” to your backend is a key requirement for a successful BaaS platform. Those are the two PaaS-like use cases that the top BaaS vendors support, but full-featured PaaS platforms go a lot further that just those two use cases. I don’t see BaaS vendors supporting complete PaaS capabilities. PaaS and BaaS deliver a different set of value propositions for a different set of use cases.
How do you plan to leverage your partnership with Red Hat (OpenShift) and Google (AppEngine)?
Kinvey has some PaaS features, but many of our enterprise customers want full PaaS capability, such as the ability to run and host custom code in any programming language, access to features that Kinvey doesn’t provide like real-time messaging, etc. By integrating with OpenShift and AppEngine, we are able to handle a few use cases that we don’t support natively.
What’s the most interesting customer scenario that you have seen at Kinvey?
There are quite a few. For example, ZigoTaxi is a company based in Ecuador, which provides an Uber-like service. We are their entire backend. Hord by GovTribe is aggregating US federal contracts from various data sources and using Kinvey to consolidate and ‘mobilize’ all this data. We have another interesting customer bringing together EverNote and Microsoft Dynamics CRM to sync meetings notes from sales meetings stored in EverNote into a single CRM.
I fully expect startups to innovate on Kinvey. But what excites me even more is when I see enterprises like Schneider Electric, Johnson & Johnson, GameShowNetwork and Holder Corporation building very creative apps on our platform – it’s really amazing to see how enterprises are pushing the limits of innovation while implementing their mobile initiatives.
How do you see MBaaS in 2014?
In 2014 and 2015, the true leaders in Backend as a Service will emerge. Enterprise mobility is a classic IT disruptor. It's the kind of disruptor that companies like IBM, Oracle and VMware etc. were built on. It may look like a peripheral part of IT infrastructure now, but since mobile will be the primary access point to apps and data for many enterprises, many if not most new apps are going to be "mobile first" and thus the entire IT infrastructure is going to have to become very mobile friendly, very quickly or risk becoming a legacy platform.
With the progress Kinvey is making, I clearly see that enterprise IT is looking to standardize their mobile stack. It's a fact that enterprise customers are building and launching mobile apps every day, and every day that goes by where IBM, Oracle, SAP or VMware don't have some kind of end-to-end mobile development, and hosting solution in the market, they lose account control.
Major independent Backend as a Service companies like Kinvey will start to win in these accounts and a new mobile stack will take on a life of its own as corporations experience the ease and speed with which they can build, deploy and manage mobile apps. It’s an exciting time.
How do you see Kinvey growing internationally?
With significant ROI from Backend as a Service, we see a growing number of customers emerging outside the US. I am personally starting to travel internationally more, talking to new customers and establishing partnerships with consulting and SI partners to work with us and deliver on the mobile needs of our international customers. And closer to my heart, I’m actively looking for partnership opportunities in India, because I see the mobile ecosystem growing very rapidly in the country and scaling across the APAC region as well.