BaaS: The One Cloud Acronym Every Mobile App Developer Should Know

By Bobby Gill on April 25, 2013 / 2 Comments

You might know of SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) and IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) , but have you heard of BaaS (Backend-as-a-Service)?  No, BaaS is not some cloud based escort service, instead it describes a new type of cloud service which allows mobile app developers to offload many common ‘backend’ operations like online storage, push notifications and social network integration that they would have otherwise had to build themselves.

BaaS is one aspect of cloud computing that all mobile app developers should pay attention to, it will save you time, money and probably more than a few tears.

Imagine you are building the next greatest photo sharing app. The obvious thing you need to build is the actual native app on the phone, but the less obvious component is the web-hosted server that will support this app. This backend server stores all of the photos in a cloud database, sends push notifications to users when a photo of theirs is liked, in addition to pushing photos to Twitter and Facebook. This server sits on the Internet and is a completely separate component from the actual app for the phone, but without it, there’d be no app. As one can imagine, building these back end components can take as much time as the app itself, and is in general a pretty big pain of the ass.

Now picture a world where you as an app developer only need to worry about building the actual app itself, with all of that cloud mumbo jumbo is taken care of by a service your app delegates those tasks to. Not only will you save  yourself the tears and time to build the backend yourself, but given the pricing models of the major BaaS vendors, you might also end up saving a whole lot of money!

Let’s take a look at 3 of the best known BaaS providers: Parse, StackMob and Kinvey.

Parse

Parse is my favorite of the BaaS providers as it gives you a great deal of flexibility along with a very easy to use iOS and Android SDK that automatically takes care of synchronizing your app’s data with the their cloud database via a REST API. Parse can support apps of all sizes, with some users claiming to have apps with hundreds of thousands of users sitting atop of it. The best part of Parse is that if you are building an MVP or the first version of your app, it’s very likely that you won’t need anything more than the Free tier! Parse’s free tier gives you up to 1 million requests against the Parse API per month. For $199 per month, you get 15 million requests per month, along with 5 million push notifications. With Parse, you are either not going to be paying anything to use it, or $200 /month.

StackMob

StackMob is the leader in the BaaS  space and provides a similar set of services Parse, but with a different pricing plan. Unlike Parse, StackMob doesn’t bill based on the number of API requests submitted by your app, but rather based on features you use. The free plan at StackMob gives you the same functionality as Parse, however it offers dedicated databases and servers for a price.  Another difference is that StackMob lets you run Java or Scala code on their servers for additional processing of your data, while Parse provides only a Javascript API.

Kinvey

Kinvey is another alternative in the BaaS space. While they provide much of the same functionality as StackMob and Parse, they excel in the third party integrations they provide through their platform. With Kinvey, you can pull rich video content from Brightcove’s App Cloud, or for those of you who really want to go old school, you can connect with 3rd party LDAP servers using Kinvey’s plugins. Kinvey is free between 0-100 app users, $20 per month between 101-1000 app users with an additional $7 for each 1,000 app users.

The idea of BaaS is simple and powerful, app developers should focus on creating a great app, not mucking about putting together the plumbing system to support it. BaaS providers like Kinvey, Stackmob and Parse simplify your work by providing well-tested and developed platforms that take care of a lot of the pain that comes with building mobile apps.  If that wasn’t enough, they’re free!