Life is Easy for iPhone Apps on the Morph Labs Cloud
August 26, 2008 Alex Woodie
From the consumers’ point of view, the Apple iPhone epitomizes the ultimate in style and sophistication for handheld devices. For the sum of $200–plus a two-year service commitment to your local telegraph company (AT&T)–a consumer can gain entry to this exclusive club. For software companies developing applications for the iPhone, the equivalent mark of Web 2.0 sophistication may be Morph Labs, a cloud computing provider that ensures iPhone applications scale to meet demand.
Since Apple launched its new iPhone 3G and updated iPod Touch last month, the IT industry has been agog at the sheer coolness of the sleek new handheld devices. With 3G (third generation, or broadband) network connections and a new SDK (software development kit), Apple’s new tech toys have revived the hopes for the wireless Internet as a platform for mobile Web applications that are actually useful and easy to use, compared to the slow, cumbersome programs built on wireless application protocol (WAP) and other first-generation mobile Web standards.
The iPhone comes with a full-function HTML browser, which means users can browse the standard Web, and don’t need to restrict their grazing to Web sites that have been “WAP-ified.” While Web app developers would be smart to take into account unique iPhone characteristics–such as “gestures,” or commands that can be made with the finger swipe, the GPS, and the accelerometer–it’s fair to say the iPhone has ushered in a new generation of Web application development for mobile devices.
The success is reflected in the numbers. Currently the iPhone AppStore holds more than 2,200 applications, and in the first month or so, the AppStore recorded more than 60 million downloads. Developers of i OS (formerly i5/OS) applications are also getting in on the iPhone craze. Mochasoft has posted two 5250 terminal emulators, looksoftware will soon have an iPhone client for accessing modernized 5250 screens, and ERP vendors are also targeting the iPhone as a new user interface.
The interest in iPhone’s AppStore has been downright impressive, considering there are just 5 million or so iPhones that can run the apps. But it raises an even bigger question: Are iPhone developers–consumer and business–up to the task of scaling their apps with the success of the iPhone?
That’s where PaaS providers like Morph Labs come in. Morph Labs, which is based in Portland, Oregon, recently launched a new service that takes the guesswork out of setting up an enterprise-strength Web application infrastructure that can scale with the demand for iPhone applications. With the service, developers just have to present a functioning Web-based iPhone application, and Morph’s fully managed platform as a service (PaaS), called AppSpace, will do the grunt work of setting up the servers and administering the workloads.
According to David Abramowski, Morph Labs CEO, the PaaS offering frees developers to concentrate on writing better applications. “The application developer no longer has to think about system administration, configuration, architecture, and backups,” he says. “All that is handled inside the Morph service. This allow iPhone developers to build their Web-based application, deploy to our environment, and literally get up and running within minutes, instead of a delay of hours or days or weeks to build an architecture to support their requirement for their customers.”
Since Morph got started last year, it has attracted several enterprise customers, who are looking for an easy way to host Web-based front-ends for back-office applications. Lately, Abramowski has noticed customers are looking to the iPhone as a laptop replacement for field-based personnel. “They say, ‘We outfit every sales rep with a laptop to basically do one job: order entry and inventory checking,'” he says. “But it’s such a waste of a $2,000 platform, and with an iPhone we can get away with it for $200 and dramatically reduce our cost on the interface to that roaming salesperson.”
Morph–which has delayed plans to go public on the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE)–supports applications written in several languages, including Java, Grails, and Ruby on Rails, as well as amalgamations of technologies, such as AJAX. As part of its AppSpace service, Morph sets up and configures its clients applications on a JVM (for Java apps) or on a combination of Mongrel and Enginx for Grails and Ruby on Rails applications. MySQL and Posgres provide the back-end database, it’s all bundled into a virtual server package called a “cube,” and its ready for deployment on CentOS (Linux) operating systems running on X64 hardware in the data center.
Except, instead of running the “cubes” on its own X64 servers, Morph contracts out with data center owners that run the actual hardware. Today, it uses Amazon‘s cloud computing stack, S3 (Simple Storage Service) for storage and EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) for Web services, although it could plug in elsewhere on the grid. In this way, Morph completes the Web 2.0 circle of life.
The cloud computing model just makes sense, and in the future, many more applications will be deployed this way, Abramowski says.
“The whole idea nowadays is to start to automate the things that we know extremely well, to allow people who are experts in their area of business to do their job, and then just leverage it,” he says. “The skills to architect a Web application environment to handle millions of concurrent users is not a skill that a lot of developers actually have. That’s a skill that Morph has, and that’s what we’ve built into our platform.”
This article has been corrected. Morph Labs has not yet gone public on the Philippine Stock Exchange, as the story originally stated. The company has delayed its initial public offering due to unfavorable market conditions. IT Jungle regrets the error.