Overcoming mobile cloud computing challenges with distributed apps

Mobile cloud computing solutions are challenged by network latency and delay, but distributing mobile cloud applications so they're closer to users may be an answer to the problem.

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Mobile cloud computing solutions hold the promise of delivering corporate applications to employees on any device in any location, but for now, latency issues stand in the way. The answer to increasing efficiency in the mobile cloud may be in changing the way apps are served up.

"Mobile cloud computing is unique in its challenges," said Renaud Larsen, chief architect for cloud at Juniper Networks. "The mobile ecosystem has to traverse many complex layers, each of which adds network latency and transmission delay. In addition, the cloud allows users to swap devices and retain access to information—this is a disruptive development, and means that cloud apps need to cover the whole cross-device mobile infrastructure."

Networking pros face three key mobile cloud computing challenges:

  • Lowering network latency to meet application and code offload interactivity.
  • Increasing network bandwidth for faster data transfer between the cloud and devices.
  • Providing adaptive monitoring of network conditions to optimise network and device costs against the user's perceived performance of cloud applications.

Improving mobile cloud computing solutions with distributed apps

Cloud service providers can reduce network latency and slow downloads by moving applications closer to the user. “Just as pushing content, such as video and podcasts, closer to the device saves bandwidth and cuts transmission delay, [so does] distributing highly immersive apps, such as real-time translation,” Larsen said. 

Moving the application closer to the user will also change the cost model, Larsen said. "If we move the application closer to the user, we have to balance the saving of bandwidth against the additional OPEX," he said. Distributing applications can help the fact that “clouds today don't have carrier-grade features and Infrastructure as a Service is already a commodity.”

Additionally, while desktop applications such as email and remote desktop are moving into the Web browser, mobile platform apps will move away from the browser. “The browser will disappear on tablets and we will just have a store of apps. mobile apps will communicate directly to the cloud service itself, as opposed to needing the user to launch a Web browser and navigate through the mobile Web.”

When devices are the problem behind mobile cloud computing solutions

While optimising application delivery on the network will reduce latency, delays often occur at the device itself. That can also be addressed through mobile cloud applications.

“The mobile device is resource-poor, and that will not change in the coming years, so one element is to take processing away from the device and into the cloud. Rich interactions kill battery life too, so mobile applications will store your data in the cloud as opposed to on the mobile device, and applications will become more powerful as processing power is offloaded to the cloud,” Larsen said.

What mobile cloud application developers must consider

While distributing applications is important, developers will also need to change the nature of corporate applications for these apps to work in a mobile environment.

"A big question [for developers] is how to manage the multiscreen experience in the mobile world," Larsen said. "For example, if the user starts a session on a tablet, and then moves to a smartphone or car, how do we make data check in and out automatically? The issue is stickiness, not just provisioning. Then you need to have a decent interconnection with consistency of management."

Larsen concludes that ultimately, it is all about the app: "The cloud is about applications, so the key is to understand the application characteristics and to identify which applications are ready to be distributed."

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