In building the software infrastructure as a startup, you generally have a few options:
1. Build custom Backends on top of an IaaS provider (AWS, Rackspace, or Azure)
2. Build your own Hardware and COLO at a Data Center,
3. Use one of the Pizza Delivery as a Service Providers; SaaS, PaaS, or MBaaS.
Which you choose is highly dependent on your needs:
1. Is your software infrastructure critical to your business?
2. How much downtime can you withstand?
3. How much control do you want over performance? Latency? Stability? Bugs?
4. How much cash do you have? Can you afford to weigh multiple approaches that may span tens of thousands of dollars in development time decisions regarding #3?
I’m talking about this because I’m neck deep in these choices.
My initial plan was to use AWS: I’m familiar with it, it’s run by a giant in the industry, and it’s unlikely that it’s going to go down any time soon. The problem with choosing AWS is that for our needs, they only go as far as the Infrastructure: All of the Database, Backend, API, and networking infrastructure is left up to me (in this particular use case). I’m familiar with that, so that that doesn’t bother me, but what does bother me is the time/cost tradeoff. For the sake of argument, let’s assume a normal developer costs 12-15K per month (assuming NYC or DC; San Fran is probably a bit more). If we also assume it’ll take a month of development time to build the backend, then we can safely say it’ll cost 12K for the backend (This doesn’t take into account the cost of the IaaS; which is a few hundred a month, starting out — sometimes less).
The biggest problem with that 12K number isn’t the number itself — it’s non-trivial, to be sure, but the real cost is the opportunity cost. The time spent building a backend is not spent building a product; it’s not spent making sure the product gets out the door to get traction/testing/money/all those things that Startups depend upon.
Another option for my specific use case is to use a MBaaS, (pronounced “Mmmm Bass”, but not nearly as delicious) or a “Mobile Backend as a Service” as they’re known.
The largest one out there is Parse.com, and they’re powered by Facebook. They’re by far the most startup-oriented MBaaS provider I’ve seen, but they’re not the only one. They also frighten me a little bit, especially with their reliability and bugs.
In researching this blog post, I took a look at all of the MBaaS providers mentioned in this Hacker News post, as well as their cost, focus, and whether or not they’re still alive as a MBaaS.
|Appcelerator Cloud||MBaaS + App Platform SDK||$39-$259||Alive|
|App42||Startup MBaaS + Managed Analytics||$0-$99||Alive|
|Kumulos||Startup MBaaS||$10/month based on “fair usage” (not defined)||Alive|
|Kinvey||Enterprise MBaaS||$2000/month (Free for Startups)||Alive|
|Apstrata||Indie MBaaS||<$800/month for Startup ($.08 per user)||Dead? (Last update to Google Code 2 years ago)|
|Buddy||Enterprise MBaaS (unknown, they hide the service behind a “ContactWall”)||Unknown (call for demo/pricing)||Dead? (Last commit is November 2014 for their platform SDKs.|
|StackMob||Indie MBaaS||Unknown||Dead (Acquired and shutdown by Paypal in February 2014)|
|Proxomo||Unknown||Unknown||Dead – Site gives an Azure 403 code (seriously Azure? 403?) “Site is Stopped”|
|IKnode||MBaaS||$9/month||Alive? – Last commit to their 4 months ago.|
|Kii||Enterprise MBaaS? (Unclear from their site)||ContactWall – Call for Pricing/Demo||Alive|
|Cloud Mine||Enterprise MBaaS||ContactWall (Call for pricing/demo)||Alive|
|Applicasa||Game Developer MBaaS||Pay Per user < 10K users = $249/month||Dead.|
|MobDB||BaaS||Unknown||Dead (Site 404s)|
|Windows Azure Mobile||MBaaS||Totally confusing||Alive|
|Storage Room||MBaaS||Unknown||Dead (Pivoted from BaaS and became/merged with “Contentful“).|
|Feed Henry||Enterprise MBaaS||Unknown (ContactWall)||Alive (Acquired by Redhat in Late 2014)|
So there you have it, out of 15 providers, 6 are dead (or appear dead), 9 are still around. It appears that most are either targeting Enterprise customers or Game developers.
There are only two conclusions I can draw from this:
1. If you choose to go the MBaaS route, you have a high probability of losing your provider.
2. Go Enterprise or Go Home.