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How to Deploy Mobile Apps at Scale

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Posted November 30, 2015 By Drew Robb     Feedback

Deploying the first few mobile apps is rarely a big deal – but scaling up mobile apps is another matter. We've compiled some expert advice that will help.

Mobile applications are all the rage, and most companies have deployed lots of them. What many failed to realize, however, is that mobile app success can cause headaches for IT a year or two down the line.

Scaling mobile apps beyond a certain amount of users and managing a large number of mobile apps can be challenging. As the number of apps used by a single organization grows into the hundreds, managing -- and organizing, testing, bundling, reviewing and deploying -- them becomes an arduous process.

"App distribution can quickly choke existing network bandwidth and without the appropriate implementation management tools, you have a catastrophe on your hands, especially since app updates can pile up quickly," said Chris Isbrecht,IBM-Fiberlink's director of Product Management. "Another issue is usability, which becomes problematic when there are a large number of applications available on devices with small screens."

Some mobile application management (MAM) and enterprise mobility management (EMM) systems were equipped to manage about 10,000 devices, he said. This will not satisfy the needs of large multinationals, that need to look after far more devices than that.

Target Mobile Apps to User Groups

Isbrecht has plenty to say about how enterprise mobility scaling should be done. First, he recommends a scalable cloud delivery model. He also recommends that organizations formally poll users -- or use asset inventory -- to understand the apps users are utilizing.

IT organizations should also ensure they have group-based deployments to target specific users and enable administrators to target users with pre-defined bundles of applications that can be installed with a single click. That, he said, means leveraging content delivery networks (CDN) that allow for cloud-based, on-demand bandwidth that is capable of pushing apps to large groups of users without clogging up network bandwidth.

Utilize Enterprise Mobility Management

Additionally, EMM should be in play.

"When an enterprise starts managing a significant amount of apps, it's critical that their management tools scale, for both the IT administrator and end-user," Isbrecht said. "They cannot get by without implementing EMM, which provides MAM capabilities. Attempting to do it with other tools might work with fewer apps but not at scale."

EMM gives administrators the ability to create a corporate app catalog, distribute apps and leverage volume purchase programs. With larger deployments, supporting user groups -- through Active Directory -- drastically improves management and provides a better user experience, he said. Using EMM has enabled some IBM customers to manage close to 1,000 applications in their corporate app catalogs, with some having over 500 iOS and 500 Android apps available.

Get an Enterprise App Store

When users enroll their device for EMM, they should instantly get the apps they need to be productive. That can be achieved if IT takes advantage of Active Directory groups so that apps are pushed down to the user automatically with no need to request them. If they don't see the app they need, they should also have a one-stop shop at hand to download them -- which is where an enterprise app store can come into play.

"Having a store where users can search for corporate authorized apps -- while being able to review the app's rating and co-worker comments -- is a powerful, self-service tool," Isbrecht said. "This keeps users happy and simplifies how they get supported apps."

Self-service options increase efficiency, saving the support team from being involved in mundane mobile app delivery tasks. In large organizations, they may well get nothing else done. That said, it's important to limit user access to application catalogs in order to maintain user productivity. For example, IBM manages 75,000 devices for one large company with a catalog that spans 1,000 public and private applications.

Fine Tune Self Service

"By restricting the scope of apps available to users based on employee function and providing them with the tools to search, sort and filter apps, time is saved, user frustration is avoided along with any possible loss of productivity," Isbrecht noted.

Test All Layers of Application Stack

An EMM system must be supported by the right underlying infrastructure. Nishant Patel, CTO of Built.io, said that anyone seriously thinking about scale has to pay attention to the database and application servers as these can act as bottlenecks. A typical application stack, after all, consists of many layers that together determine the experience for the app's end user. This includes the application layer, the database layer and the caching layer. All of these layers need to be tested to ensure they are able to scale.

"Building apps by using different platforms or backends becomes unmanageable at scale," Patel said. "If you build a mobile stack and haven't tested it at scale as well as run it in production multiple times at scale, the chances are you'll find all the kinks and hidden bugs when it's least convenient."

Therefore, rely on existing, tested, proven software components as much as possible, he suggested. For example, don't build a custom backend to power a mobile app. Use a mobile backend-as-a-service (MBaaS) that has been around a couple of years, has plenty of references and a large-scale use case.

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