Mobile middleware developer Dexterra is to announce that its technology is underpinning an in-the-cloud hosted offering from Vodafone to enable corporate customers to extend enterprise apps to mobile devices.
David Shoup, executive VP of the Bothell, Washington-based ISV’s global telecoms business unit, said the Vodafone Application Service, which was launched at the end of March with the UK as its first market, is the first hosted in-the-cloud implementation of its technology, though other carriers such as AT&T and Telstra resell Dexterra to corporates for behind-the-firewall deployment.
Dexterra’s portfolio consists of three main components. There is the Dexterra SmartClient, which can sit on Symbian, Windows Mobile (Smartphone and Pocket PC), BlackBerry and, shortly, Linux devices to talk to the Dexterra Concert Platform in the network, which in the Vodafone context means the carrier network, while in others it is the actual enterprise’s network.
Then we have the Dexterra Adapters into specific apps like SAP, Oracle, Siebel, Remedy and certain file systems, said Shoup. They do the mediation of information from the different data sources, while our clients and application framework deal with the rendering and operation on the various mobile devices and operating systems.
Beyond that, we have three tools for different functions, he went on. There is Composer for building and deploying apps, Conductor for administering security, authentication and authorization and conflict management, and Orchestrator to manage the Adapters.
Shoup recalled that Dexterra was founded in 2002 as a pure enterprise play via ISV, but in 2004 it diversified its go-to-market, starting to target carriers as resellers. That is the business unit he heads up, with the other being the ISV business unit that works with companies like IBM and SAP to embed our technology directly into their products, he explained.
The Dexterra platform works by obscuring the actual network and connectivity from the user, such that Concert handles all the connectivity and, since it is web services-based the messaging and data integrity.
We don’t use synchronization technology as such, he said, instead we use patented metadata technology to hold the state as the data passes through our system, communicating only the delta changes to the back-end systems.
He added that there is no need for a VPN in this scenario, since the communication is not punching a hole through the corporate firewall to access the app on the server. Instead, the amount of data a user requires to work remotely on their mobile device, be it one, two or more day’s data as appropriate, is downloaded to the phone/PDA, then changes to what’s on the server are transmitted back.
This is transactional data, such that a request for data or a blob of data to be written back to a database hits the firewall and, if allowed in, goes preferably to an API rather than directly a database, since that way the business processes can be safeguarded.
Dexterra’s customers to date have been primarily in the field force automation and logistics space, where data mobility is clearly an important enabler of productivity — it sells a lot with ruggedized devices from Symbol as a result, and indeed has Symbol’s new owner, Motorola, as an investor.
That said, there is at least one company using its technology to provide key performance indicators to its top execs on their BlackBerry handhelds, so enterprise mobility is evidently seeing a broader uptake. The company sees competitors like Sybase, RIM with its MDS offering, Nokia’s Intellisync and Good with the GoodAccess platform (now also part of Motorola).
However, they all assume integration back to Web services, with some other platform such as IBM’s WPS, Tibco or iWay doing the heavy lifting, he said.
Shoup said future development of the technology will see privately-held Dexterra move towards a pure SOA model in which the Adapters will be separated completely from the platform and function as Web components in their own right. That will enable them to be put behind the firewall, which will enable a company to carry out any onerous data management locally then do a Web service into the Vodafone App Service. He added that there are also plans to make the design and runtime of its tools more seamless and consumable, enabling developers to work more quickly with them.
The fact that Vodafone is using Dexterra technology to mobilize enterprise apps for its corporate customers is in itself a major fillip for the small US ISV. That it is doing so with a hosted in-the-Cloud service, rather than just reselling the technology for a DIY deployment by the corporates themselves is an innovation, and one which other carriers will doubtless keep an eye on.
It will be interesting to see how many enterprises will buy into this mobile data-via-Web-services offering, particularly from the security point of view: will they be happy to run data out to a smart phone or PDA without a VPN, because the device itself won’t be going behind their firewall to get it?