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Building applications and achieving scalability with Backendless

Building applications and achieving scalability with Backendless

Miguel Amado

There are many codeless solutions being offered right now. But how do they work and can you build applications to reach thousands or even millions and deliver good experiences and value? All of that without being a developer?

Those are some of the subjects we talked about with the CEO of Backendless, Mark Piller. Check out the interview below!

Please present Backendless to our audience.

The shortest answer to this question is: Backendless is a visual application development platform designed for anyone who wants to build a mobile or web.

It is a single place that one can go to turn an idea for an application into reality. You can do that by creating a complete web or mobile application, and the platform itself provides all the necessary elements for you to create two primary parts that constitute any application – the front-end and the back-end.

The front-end is basically anything that the end user sees on the screen of their device or computer, and with what they interact. So, Backendless provides a complete system where you can create your front-end, which could be a set of pages that constitutes the web application, linked with each other, a set of screens for mobile application.

You do it by dragging and dropping all the elements that constitute the UI onto the canvas that represents your front-end. And you can add all the logic that you need to have in your application without any coding – it’s an approach we call ‘codeless’, a graphical programming paradigm.

The second part is the back-end, which is probably more complex for quite a wider audience of developers. Typically, it is where your database is, where your users are stored, and where the files reside. It has a business logic that is responsible for any kind of data transformation or processing or analysis; that’s where the security rules reside and from where you can send out push notifications and email.

Backendless is probably the most feature-rich system for back-end, providing pretty much every single element that one would need from a back-end. What makes Backendless different here in this perspective is that everything is visual. You don’t need to be a developer nor a data scientist, but rather just model and operate your back-end entirely through the browser, which is a window into our platform.

Most importantly, the level of integration between the front-end and the backend in Backendless is unparalleled. If you need to save something in the database, it literally is just a single digital block that is responsible for those. If you need to log in a user or send out an email, or send out a push notification, all of those tasks that could be driven from the front-end can be done with a simple visual blog that represents that functionality. 

What is the main differentiation of your company to other app developer platforms? Is it the features’ part?

It depends on whether you are talking to a back-end developer, a coder who writes Android or iOS or JavaScript and needs to have a back-end system. If you’re talking about a non-coder, who wants to build an application without knowing a specific programming language, that’s going to be a different one.

However, the common point of differentiation that we have is that, when we started working on the platform, the vision was to build an end-to-end complete system, where you can build the entire app.

However, unlike many other companies in the similar space, we started with a back-end. For a good while our audience were just coders creating UIs and integrating with Backendless as a universal back-end without any front-end capability.

We had this vision because one of the most important things that is often overlooked by many companies in the application space is scalability. It is very hard to achieve.

Creating functionality to save something in the database is not that hard. But it is hard to create the technology that can handle database integration, and to do it in a way that doesn’t slow it down as the size of your database and user base continuously grow.

For instance, if you launch an app and one person is using it, everything’s fast. Then, you have thousands of users, tens of thousands of users, millions of users… If the system is not built to scale, it will start slowing down and eventually it will crash. If the scalability was an afterthought or was not considered and the server crashes, the value of your application becomes absolute zero, it does not matter how beautiful your user interface is, no matter how much money you have spent on designers or graphics.

In fact, it’s going to be worse than that because people will be leaving negative comments on your application in the app stores. We set a task to provide scalability as a service: whether you as a regular developer, a coder or not, whenever you build with Backendless, we guarantee that if your application gets to the point where you have millions of users, it will work exactly the same way, just as fast.

We spent considerable time designing the system that can truly scale infinitely. And it took us some time just because the problem was very complex to get to the point where we were confident that Backendless can scale.

The same technology stack that Backlendess is, can be installed anywhere where Docker and Kubernetes runs, which allowed us to create additional installations of back-end lists for specific customers. Those customers include banking, healthcare and public education sectors, with very high-intensity types of applications, putting a significant load on the system.

 

Who do you see as your main group of clients?

 Backendless as a technology stack is available through three different products. So, it’s the same technology, packaged in three different ways, and one is called Backendless Cloud.

It’s a clustered installation that we maintain in Europe and North America and we’re going to be expanding to Asia. You can just register and start building, without installing anything and with very affordable pricing plans. Solo developers, smaller firms, small to medium-sized businesses, high traffic, tens of thousands of registered developers are building with that system.

Now, the same technology stack can also be installed pretty much anywhere Kubernetes runs. It’s truly unlimited. That attracts some larger organizations. We actually have a couple of Fortune 1000 companies as our clients. The third one, it’s sort of a hybrid between the two others.

 

And what tips do you have for a small business owner, for example, that wants an app, but doesn’t really know how to start?

 There’s definitely a process to building an application. It becomes harder to just start approaching typically what I recommend for someone who is not technical and just has an idea for an app.

The number one step is to start drawing what the user experience will be. You can put it on paper but if you search for mock-up systems or storyboards, the system that I like to use is called Balsamiq. It doesn’t need to be pretty, in fact it will not be pretty, but it will create the skeleton of what the user experiences.

Once you have that, it becomes significantly easier for the subsequent steps to happen specifically. You can hire a graphics designer that will take a look at those sketches and mock-ups, and we’ll create a prettier version of it. Then we’ll think about all the UX.

The next step would be to come up with your data model and understand how the data that your application deals with is going to be represented in the database with Backendless, and there is a visual modeler that allows you to design your database.

After that you start mapping out how you, why we’ll be communicating with the back-end. Now that you understand what the UI looks like, what the data that resides on the server looks like, you can start connecting the dots together.

 

What are Backendless’ plans for the future?

 First of all, we continue adding new functionalities just to make it even more universally adaptable to different business cases. We’re enhancing our database and providing new ways to start. We are providing integration with other systems.

Automation is very important. It is the process where you can create some kind of controller, some kind of a system that integrates different parts of the same application together. As modern world applications become more complex, you will come up with specialized applications for different types of users.

If you think about Uber, there is an app for passengers. There’s an app for drivers. There’s an app for customer service. Those apps need to be coordinated together. We believe that, for us, it will be important to provide a way to coordinate those elements together. So, that’s one of the things that we’re working on is for more complex applications, creating a system that enables coordinating your business processes.

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