App development in the cloud gets speedy, gains traction

With existing frameworks in the cloud, app developers can now quickly revise software, allowing for fast response to business needs.

Wade Sendall, vice president of IT at The Boston Globe, had to build an application that would allow both employees and customers to add their photos to advertisements.

The new app was slated to replace a service costing $80,000 annually, so the potential ROI was significant, he says.

Yet even with such a clear financial gain in sight, Sendall didn't assign a team to develop the new app from scratch. Instead, he needed just one developer to do the job.

And that single developer delivered big-time, taking only a month to build an app that had the same functionality and workflow as the prior service, a software solution that the vendor no longer offers.

Sendall credits a new development strategy for the success. His developers now build apps in a cloud environment using the Mendix App Platform. This service, and similar ones from competitors such as CloudForge and MIOsoft, essentially replicates corporate app development tools and frameworks, including business rules and models, as a cloud service.

Since adopting this approach in December 2013, Sendall's team has built three apps, two of which were live by May 1. "It's a huge difference. With the cloud [development environment], you spin up very quickly," he says.

Sendall estimates that those projects would have required more staff and more time to complete -- months more time -- if the development had taken place in a traditional on-premises environment. In fact, he says he doubts that the projects would have happened at all because he wouldn't have had the manpower to dedicate to them.

There's no question that enterprise use of cloud computing in general is on the rise. And now a small but growing number of IT departments are also moving their development work to the cloud. In Evans Data Corp.'s November 2013 North American Development Survey, 28.2% of the programmers surveyed said they are developing in the cloud, up from just 8.7% in 2009. Moreover, another 22.6% said they planned to start using the cloud as a development environment in the next 12 months.

Enterprise IT leaders and IT management consultants cite several benefits to making the move. In the cloud, they say, developers can respond more quickly to requests to build new applications or upgrade existing ones, and they can take on the projects with fewer people, disruptions and costs.

"You can do more with less," says Curt Jacobsen, a principal who focuses on technology consulting in the U.S. advisory practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers. "You don't have the overhead of a lot of administrative people. And you're not worried about networking and load-balancing because you don't have to think about that. Developers who move to a cloud environment spend less time researching and waiting for infrastructure tests to complete and more time focusing on business value."

Slimmed Down and Speedy

Many of the benefits commonly associated with cloud computing are also found with app development in a cloud environment. Proponents say it eliminates the cost of hardware, as well as the manpower required for the hardware's upkeep.

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