Everyone from early educators, bloggers, and even President Obama himself, is encouraging the general public to “write an app”. While there are an abundance of tools and interfaces at our disposal, even for the rookie programmer, an important factor to consider is determining requirements on the back-end infrastructure. The general populace expects a certain level of app speeds and functionality; what kind of new or changed infrastructure will be needed to provide a reasonable mobile experience? Moreover, considerations of support and manageability must be made as well.

In a recent “Silly Things in IT” blog, blogger Steve Herrod proposed the mission statement for IT Infrastructure:

I exist to run applications. I shall run them quickly, efficiently, and safely. I should minimize the time it takes humans to use me.

I think what Steve is getting at is that the infrastructure exists to support the front end and is more or less just “a means to an end”. So, in the age of near-instantaneous internet search results, app availability, and access to on-demand data computations, how is mobile infrastructure being changed and molded to fit these evolving needs?

In a recent article, Steve referred to several application trends causing changes in mobile infrastructure:

Mobile-ification: the evolution of apps going from mobile-challenged to mobile-enabled and finally to mobile-first.
SaaS-ification: the move from on-site licensed software to on-line subscription pricing and delivery hosted on the cloud.
Data-ification: massive amounts of “big data” coming from all over the web offering more detailed analysis and comprehension capabilities.

With each of these emerging trends comes a need to create an infrastructure that can deliver, support and manage these requirements. So, what tools are needed to meet our mobile infrastructure goals? Here are a few “means to an end” traits that will help form the mobile infrastructures necessary for effectively running the apps of both today and tomorrow:

APIs before apps: When creating new mobile applications, companies and vendors quickly realize that more formal APIs are essential. In this recent article, APIs are highlighted as “the fossil fuel of business growth.” Whether part of a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), fronting Backend-as-a-Service offerings, enabling common back-ends for web and mobile apps, or exporting data sources for programmatic access, APIs are a vital part of mobile infrastructures.

Permeable perimeters: With mobile apps often handling data coming from both private and public data sources, the days of a concretely defined network infrastructure are in the past. A new class of security will emerge that combines today’s VPN, firewall, VLAN and MPLS technologies into more secure and convenient access for the mobile-first era.

Managing mobile scale: The rapid increase in BYOD in the enterprise brings substantial stresses of scale to supporting infrastructure, further impacted by cloud computing. Everyone expects access to resources anytime/anyplace, with considerable impact on availability requirements as well as cost-to-serve models. Associated with this architectural shift will be a new set of tools to monitor, manage, and optimize the cost/performance/availability tradeoffs that must be made. Integrated mobile management solutions from companies like Apple and Microsoft will assist IT managers in managing mobile devices within their infrastructures. Furthermore, the need to make sense of large amounts of data will bring about a marriage with analytical tools like Hadoop.

Identity crises: One last emerging trait is how to handle authentication and authorization in this mobile-first world. The drive for unlimited access to sensitive data and applications presents ongoing security challenges to mobile infrastructure, as does the utilization of commerce to and from mobile devices and users. The risk of data leakage, fraud, and other threats is unprecedented. Biometric fingerprint analysis, mobile systems with integrated LoJack hardware and software solutions… these tools and others will aid us in threat analysis and policy creation.

As with all rapidly evolving developments in technology, the key to “coming in first” in the mobile-first technology race, is for IT managers and staff to arm themselves with the hardware and software tools that will enable them to effectively manage their infrastructures in a mobile-first world.