Windows Azure as a Mobile Backend Platform

Today, I posted a video blog discussing why using Windows Azure as a mobile backend platform is an attractive option. I wanted to quickly summarize the contents of that video and also supplement it with some helpful links.

Summary

Backend platform selection is important because, unless you’re talking about the most trivial of apps, most mobile applications will have some need to connect to backend services and data. It’s important to select a platform that’s flexible, scalable to your app and users’ needs, and provides tools that make building and managing your applications easier.

Windows Azure and SQL Azure is a compelling PaaS for mobile for the following reasons:

Cost

Windows Azure has an attractive pay for what you use pricing model. You only pay for the bandwidth, storage, and compute processing that you consume.

For more details on pricing, see the following:

Scalability

Windows Azure is a highly-scalable platform. You can start small (for example, a single instance of a VM with a single 1GHz CPU and less than 1GB of memory or a 5GB SQL Azure database), and scale up and out as the need arises. This is an especially good strategy for mobile consumer apps (where app usage will probably not be as demanding initially) until you’ve determined that your running at or near maximum capacity with your resources.

Windows Azure also provides usage monitoring tools and management APIs so you can detect and react appropriately to predictable or unpredictable bursts in usage patterns by dynamically starting more instances. There are also third party tools available, like AzureWatch, that help you monitor and dynamically adjust instances based on demand.

High Availability

Windows Azure is also a platform that can provide your mobile application with highly-available back-end services. If your service or virtual machine is down, Azure will automatically try to restart it. If the service or virtual machine can’t be restarted due to hardware failure, then the platform will automatically create a new virtual machine on another physical server and deploy and run your service on it. And if you’ve got at least two instances of your service running, then Microsoft’s Service Level Agreement (SLA) guarantees a 99.95% uptime rate.

Development Platform Support

Azure supports using the .NET framework but if you're not accustomed to the .NET framework, Azure also supports Java, PHP, and Node.js if those are the development environments you're more familiar with.

Java SDK

PHP SDK

Node.js SDK

Platform Services

The Azure platform also provides the following services that are typically essential for mobile applications:

Data Storage

Several different data storage options are available:

  • Relational Databases with SQL Azure
  • Non-relational, semi-structured databases with Table Storage (NoSQL)
  • Blob Storage for storing large, unstructured binary files like images, audio, and video
  • Queues for reliable and persistent messaging between applications and services

Data Syncing

For applications with the need for offline capabilities that synchronize to a back-end data store when the application is back online, Microsoft Sync Framework, through OData, supports syncing to and from mobile devices.

Sync Framework Toolkit

Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Mobile applications targeted for global use can take advantage of Azure’s CDN to help build responsive applications. Your mobile application’s assets (images, videos, etc) can be hosted on edge servers around the world and devices can retrieve these assets from the server that is closest to their location.

Authentication and Authorization

If your application has a need for authentication and authorization, Windows Azure App Fabric also has Access Control Services (ACS) which can be used to set up and manage that for you. ACS has support for different identity providers, including Facebook, Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS), and others.

Note that in the video, I mentioned Twitter; however, this is incorrect. Right now ACS supports OAuth WRAP and OAuth 2.0 and Twitter only officially supports OAuth 1.0A. So Twitter is out, for now.

Native Toolkits

Finally, the Windows Azure Platform Team has done a nice job of providing toolkits for most of the major mobile platforms (none for Blackberry). Using these toolkits makes it easy to connect to and leverage the Azure platform services.

 

Conclusion

I hope you found the video helpful and the subsequent summary useful. I have hopes to turn it into a series with tutorials on how to use these various services and toolkits in the future. If that is something that is of interest to you, please let me know in the comments below!

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About the author

Bart X. Tubalinal is a Solutions Architect with over 10+ years experience in building enterprise applications. He also considers himself to be, pound for pound, one of the best developers there is.

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