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Cloud services for mobile developers: Google vs. Amazon vs. Azure vs. Parse

Peter Wayner | Jan. 23, 2014
Cloud-based back ends for mobile applications combine key services with varying degrees of complexity

This is a clean way to build simple Web services. You edit the JavaScript functions, and the Web back end packages them for Node. I had a great time until I started making mistakes — there's not a great deal of debugging support. The code either works or it fails. When I left off a curly bracket, everything stopped functioning until I figured it out. The Web interface is fine for basic tools and quick front ends, but you can't build long, complicated filters on the data.

The Windows Azure dashboard graphs usage and tracks data flows for all of the services.

It's worth noting that you don't need to handle many of the details. When I added extra fields to the packet of JSON data I sent to the server, new columns to store them magically appeared. The back end does much of the work and makes the process much like using one of the unstructured document stores like CouchDB. It's possible to go a long way with little code.

Azure simplifies the process by giving you a template for all of the code needed for six platforms that range from Windows to iOS to Windows Phone 8 to Xamarin. In each of them, it takes only a few lines to add the right libraries and a few more to store data. You don't need Visual Studio for any of this.

I'm not sure how this will go over with the brand managers who want to deploy concepts like "brand extension," but I liked using the mobile cloud with a simple HTML5 app. Microsoft did a great job opening this up to everyone, which means it'll be easy to use for projects that need to span the traditional Web, the legacy desktop machines, and the new world of mobile apps.

Not every part is so simple or accessible. The push services are mainly for Windows apps. It's simpler to build them with Visual Studio. These can be linked with Apple's and Google's cloud messaging systems too with a bit of work. The programming on the Azure server is done in JavaScript, and you merely insert a library to send a message to the right channel ID. The programming for the client, though, is trickier and more involved.

There are more parts to Azure Mobile Services, and Microsoft is continuously adding to the stack. Features like scheduling and scaling are listed as "previews," though they seemed to work. The scheduled job is a JavaScript function, while scaling changes the capacity level of the service tier.

The entire package shows what can be done with JavaScript. If you're comfortable with the language, you'll enjoy spinning up fairly complicated systems with a few functions and some inputs to the forms. It's quite easy to add simple business logic to funnel data in and out of the databases. If you don't like JavaScript — well, it's not too hard to learn what you need for this.

 

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