Is Backend-as-a-Service(BaaS) a right choice for your app development plan?
In the ever-growing list of ‘as-a-service’ space, there’s yet another service that is less heard in the tech world but well known in the developer community. We’re talking about backend-as-a-service. So, what exactly is backend-as-a-service, and how different is it to custom backend development?
Firstly, every web/mobile application consists of frontend and backend. The frontend is what a user sees and interacts, and for every action/request that a user makes, the backend is responsible for sending an appropriate response to the user. To make it simple, if a human body is considered similar to a web application, the eyes, nose, hair, and other body parts are the frontend components other humans see and interact with. Similarly, organs such as the kidneys, liver, brain, and heart are the backend components that help the frontend components respond to external activities.
To that extent, building a backend system takes a lot of time and resources. While large enterprises can afford to build such systems, for early-stage businesses that are coming up with new products and services, time to market is vital. Hence, they cannot take a lot of time to build each backend component from scratch, which would delay their product shipment. Here’s where we see a new trend emerging, called the Backend-as-a-Service. This platform has a set of pre-built modules that are made available to businesses for use, using which a backend engine can be built in a short span of time.
Backend-as-a-Service(BaaS) is the usage of cloud platforms that have pre-built SDKs and APIs to build a backend engine in a considerably lesser time that powers a mobile or web application. Using BaaS platform allows the business to focus more time refining and creating a good user experience(user-facing components), rather than juggling between the development of both frontend and backend. The BaaS pre-written software will enable developers to use a pre-built code for a set of cloud-backend services,and server-side activities, facilitating the exchange of data, authenticating a user, interacting with an external system, and so on.
If it still confuses you, we’ll try and explain it in simpler terms. Let us consider an example of driving a car. As users, to commute from point A to point B, we operate components that we see and interact with, such as the steering, brakes, gear system, infotainment system, the body of the car, and others. However, a vital part known to all, which runs and powers a vehicle is the engine. The engine enables a vehicle to coordinate with the other components, and helps in the smooth functioning of the vehicle. In the case of our example, car manufacturers focus on the user-facing and the non-user-facing parts of the vehicle to build one.
The traditional way of manufacturing a car is that the manufacturer produces/builds each component individually, and then assembles them to a ready-to-use unit. However, building each part in-house takes a lot of time and resources. To avoid this, manufacturers outsource components, say parts of an engine, from another supplier, and assemble the engine, which reduces the time taken to build a car. This outsourcing process will allow the manufacturer to focus more time and effort into making the interiors and the exteriors of the car better.
If you can now relate the manufacturing of a car to developing a web/mobile application, the interiors and the exteriors are the user-facing interface of the app. In comparison, the engine and other components are the backend of an application. BaaS is similar to an outsourcing plan.
BaaS vendors pre-build services built and hosted on cloud such as data management/storage; file management; user authentication; messaging and push notifications; media playback; location and other services.
Developers then integrate these services into their apps to simplify their application development process. This process would also lead to lower the time required to ship the app to the market. Some of the familiar BaaS platforms include Google Firebase, Apple Cloudkit, AWS Amplify, Backendless, and others.
Startups that are willing to validate their product-market fit could use such services and quickly ship their product. Also, the cost of development is considerably low, and since the backend is hosted on a cloud platform, the app scales as the users grow. However, there are also some disadvantages to this. The integrations of various APIs and services need fine tuning for optimal performance, even developing a custom business-logic is a challenge, which is why most growth-stage businesses and large enterprises focus on using some of the existing APIs but develop their custom backend engine.
During growth-stage, a lot of businesses have their unique functionality that serves a specific user problem. In that case, BaaS platforms do not help, as the ability to write a custom business logic is limited. Also, debugging the source code in case of issues is much more simpler when you own the code base. The performance and cost of development can also be optimized better when a custom backend solution is developed. Most businesses we know of have such requirements during their growth and mature stages, and hence they invest in custom backend solutions.