Catching Up to Mobile Computing

Mobile computing presents challenges and opportunities for architects.

By Bob Rhubart

July/August 2012

If mobile computing isn’t already on your architect radar, it will be. Apple has sold 55 million iPads since 2010. Gartner expects a 98 percent increase in tablet sales in 2012, to 118 million. Nielsen reports that smartphones now account for nearly half of all mobile phones in the U.S., a 38 percent increase over 2011. And the mobile juggernaut is just getting started.

Karina Ishkhanova, technical lead for payment systems architecture and design at School-Day Solutions, sums up her take on the mobile challenge for architects in one word: uncertainty. That uncertainty, according to Ishkhanova, applies to the evolution of the operating systems for mobile apps, the availability of APIs and other necessary components, and the stability of data streams that can be interrupted at any time by lost connections or dead batteries.

“Properly designed, thought-through architecture takes center stage and becomes a matter of survival not only for single applications but for entire companies,” Ishkhanova says. “Mobile computing demands data loss–tolerant architectures with multiplatform adaptability and insanely optimized resource usage.”

Those mobile computing demands place an even greater importance on interoperability and standards, according to Oracle ACE Director Ronald van Luttikhuizen, managing partner at Vennster. “New developments happen so quickly nowadays that your architecture needs to be able to support the rapid development of new functionality and services,” van Luttikhuizen says. “Mashups, cloud computing, and service orientation are a few things that can help.“

Mike van Alst, an architect with MShift, believes that service orientation especially is key to mobile success. “Without service-oriented architecture (SOA), building mobile applications may be a bridge too far,” he says. “We need to make sure that mobile computing converges with a SOA environment by correlating service capabilities with the needs of the mobile applications.”

Addressing the needs of mobile applications will require a head-on approach. “The growth in mobile computing forces architects to think about multichannel delivery from the ground up rather than as an afterthought,” says Anbu Krishnaswamy, an enterprise architect at Oracle. “The challenge for architects is to identify the right content for the right channel and reuse the plumbing underneath to provide consistent access to the underlying business processes.”

An organization’s ability to reuse existing “plumbing” and meet the increasing demands of mobile computing depends a great deal on the viability and integrity of the organization’s existing architecture. “The introduction of multichannel support should have no major impact on an architecture that has always followed best practices and core architecture principles of abstraction, modularity, and reuse,” he says. “In theory, mobile devices become just another delivery channel.”

Even so, adding and supporting that mobile delivery channel won’t be without its challenges. “The scalability of enterprise systems will be put to the test,” says Oracle ACE Director Lucas Jellema, CTO at AMIS Services. “To alleviate that anticipated load, smart caching solutions that leverage a memory grid will play an important role.“

Jellema also cites user expectations and the unique characteristics of mobile apps as significant considerations. “Mobile apps are a mashup of various social networks, multiple types of rich data, and technical aspects such as communication protocols and types of data,” he says. “And the expectation of immediate response and constantly fresh data will have serious and interesting consequences with regard to event-driven architecture.”

Folding mobile computing into the enterprise IT mix seems inevitable as consumers’ enthusiastic embrace of mobile computing continues to change how they interact with commercial, governmental, and social institutions. But as with any disruptive change in the enterprise IT landscape, new challenges mean new opportunities for architects.

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