How To Win In Mobile App Development, Quickly

August 20, 2014 Sundeep Madra

featured-PCF-mobileWith over a billion smartphones, which 90% of people keep within arm’s reach at all times, businesses must shift their development priorities to “mobile first”. There is a popular concept that today every company is becoming a software business. The reality now is that every company must become a MOBILE software business.

Yet developing and operating mobile apps remains complex. Legacy platforms struggle to handle the heavier, highly dynamic workloads of mobile apps. Mobile app usage is far more intensive than web app usage; banks see cases where customers check their account balance on a mobile app thirty times in the course of a day to see if their paycheck has cleared. Downtime for upgrades or maintenance is not tolerated. Application updates must be seamless. Rich user experiences with clean, intuitive UIs are paramount. Enterprises that don’t deliver on these requirements will fail to see user adoption of their applications. Employees simply won’t use them and consumer-facing apps will quickly collect public, negative reviews, damaging brands and turning away prospective customers.

To build great mobile apps and keep their competitive edge and customer base, companies must embrace agile development. In fact, the threat to businesses is so stark that ComputerWorld UK recently published a post titled, “Adopt agile development for mobile apps or fail says Gartner”, citing that traditional development approaches for desktop apps will not work in the mobile arena.

This landscape set the stage for Pivotal’s acquisition of Xtreme Labs, an elite mobile development firm. Over the past several years, Xtreme Labs has built over 400 mobile apps, with over 400 million cumulative downloads, for the world’s top brands in financial services, media and entertainment, technology, retail, and other sectors; apps that you probably use regularly, and possibly even the app you are using to read this post. Xtreme Labs builds applications for enterprises which match the best consumer app experiences. In short, Xtreme Labs brought to Pivotal a deep reservoir of expertise from working on some of the hardest problems in mobile app development.

Announcing Pivotal CF Mobile Services

While the engineers that came from Xtreme Labs have boosted our agile capabilities at Pivotal Labs, they have also been busy working closely this year with our Pivotal CF team, helping to bake their mobile development best practices into our vision for the third platform. Today, we announce the next step in that journey: Pivotal CF Mobile Services.

Pivotal CF, Pivotal’s distribution of open source Cloud Foundry, provides companies with an enterprise PaaS ideally suited for agile development. Pivotal CF Mobile Services extends Pivotal CF with a set of services that lets companies build great mobile apps with less time and effort. The initial set of services includes Push Notifications, API Gateway, and Data Sync. With these services, developers can build apps that perform quickly and provide an ideal user experience. Service details include:

  • Push Notifications. Relevant and contextual notifications sent to an individual’s mobile device are an essential to building a great mobile app. While consumer apps have long used push notifications, enterprise apps can benefit as well. For instance, banks can notify customers about cash withdrawals, logistics companies can redirect drivers en-route, and so on. Push Notifications for Pivotal CF are highly scaleable: taking advantage of the scalability built into Pivotal CF, one customer has used the product to send 20 million notifications per minute. Push Notifications for Pivotal CF works with iOS, Android, and Microsoft mobile devices
  • API Gateway. Developing mobile applications involves integrating with multiple backend systems and data stores. But many of these are not optimized for mobile application use, deliver far too much data for consumption on a mobile device, or are too chatty for use on low bandwidth mobile connections. API Gateway for Pivotal CF lets companies create a mobile-optimized API that reduces mobile app latency by shrinking network payloads and reducing round-trips and increases application resilience by gracefully handling unavailability of mobile API endpoints. This is critical since mobile application sessions can span areas of poor or no coverage.
  • Data Sync. Practically every application requires access to data. One notable example is session state data, such as the contents of a shopping cart, or a travel itinerary. Data Sync for Pivotal CF simplifies data access for mobile apps by providing a RESTful data access API to sync data between a mobile device and backend database, and does so in a secure manner, authenticating via Oauth2, Spring Security, and OpenID Connect.

Why Pivotal CF Mobile Services is Enterprise Ready

Existing Mobile Application Development Platforms (MADP) and Mobile Backend-as-a-Service (MBaaS) tools are not integrated into a PaaS that can run all the backend middleware—app servers, databases, Apache Hadoop®, and more—that is required to power modern mobile applications. Consequently, this integration must be done manually, bogging down application efforts.

In contrast, Pivotal CF Mobile Services run on, and are fully integrated with, Pivotal CF and thus inherits all of its capabilities. These include nearly instant scalability, support for multiple programing languages, high availability, auto-healing, microservices support, application performance management, log aggregation, and much more. Pivotal CF Mobile Services can be installed via Pivotal CF Ops Manager, making it easy for operations teams to offer mobile capabilities for their developers to use.

Security, Compliance and Control

Another challenge is that MBaaS providers require storage of user data on their servers. This is a problem since mobile apps are increasingly used for enterprise transactions with sensitive information—think account numbers, bank balances, health information, and so on. Enterprises are understandably concerned about the legal implications of storing such data on a third party. Determining legal compliance takes time and can slow deployment of mobile apps into production.

Pivotal CF Mobile Services lets companies avoid these issues. Because Pivotal CF runs on-premises, data used to generate push notifications is stored only on company-managed servers, not third party services. Sensitive data is kept under company control, compliant with corporate security policies.

Control Over Platform and Resources

One of our customer’s projects underscores the need for control of mobile app infrastructure. The customer, a major sports brand, was working with a third party MBaaS vendor. Push notifications were sent slowly, or not at all. Concerns arose around whether there was a “noisy neighbor” problem, i.e., resource contention from other customers leading to overloaded infrastructure. Diagnosing these problems was impossible since the MBaaS was essentially a “black box” with insufficient diagnostic information.

To address this unreliability, the customer subsequently shifted to using Push Notifications for Pivotal CF. Because they had full control over the platform, the customer was able to scale the service to send up to 20 million push notifications per minute. They also collected beacon and video viewing data, and performed analysis using Pivotal HD and Pivotal HAWQ with assistance from Pivotal Data Labs, our in-house team of data scientists, resulting in insights that were invaluable for optimizing their application functionality and future campaigns.

The Bigger Picture

Pivotal CF Mobile Services fits into a comprehensive set of products and services to power mobile applications. The combination of software such as Pivotal CF Mobile Services, Pivotal CF, and Pivotal Big Data Suite, along with services from Pivotal Labs and Pivotal Data Labs, are helping companies today to address the imperative to transform to a mobile software business.


Editor’s Note: Apache, Apache Hadoop, Hadoop, and the yellow elephant logo are either registered trademarks or trademarks of the Apache Software Foundation in the United States and/or other countries.

About the Author


An Overview of Loggregator CI Pipelines
An Overview of Loggregator CI Pipelines

Cloud Foundry at Pivotal recently set up new continuous integration pipelines for loggregator, using Though...

Pivotal's Cloud Platform Roadshow Brings Pivotal CF to Cities in the U.S. and Europe
Pivotal's Cloud Platform Roadshow Brings Pivotal CF to Cities in the U.S. and Europe

The Pivotal Cloud Platform Roadshow is now touring major cities in the United States and Europe, featuringP...

SpringOne 2021

Register Now