Comment lines: Understanding the value of IBM Worklight

Breaking away from the pack

When it comes to the strategically important area of mobile application development platforms (MADP), there is no shortage of choices. Here is a high level look at some of the inherent (and critical) characteristics of IBM® Worklight™ that make it truly stand out from the rest in terms of function, integrity, and value. This content is part of the IBM WebSphere Developer Technical Journal.

Dustin Amrhein, WebSphere Technical Specialist, IBM

Author photoDustin Amrhein joined IBM as a member of the development team for the WebSphere Application Server. While in that position, Dustin worked primarily on web services infrastructure and web services programming models. In addition, Dustin worked on the development of a RESTful services framework for Java runtimes. In his current role Dustin is a WebSphere Client Technical Professional.



24 October 2012

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Mobile application development platforms

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Go ahead and ask a CIO or CTO to list out his or her top three priorities for the next two years. While I would not presume to be able to list each person’s top three, I would be willing to bet that mobile application development appears on nearly every list.

Setting and executing on a mobile application development strategy is top-of-mind for many organizations in today’s landscape. And why wouldn’t it be? Mobile devices, smartphones, tablets, and otherwise, are now firmly woven into our social fabric. If you are a smartphone or tablet user — regardless of whether you use it constantly or casually — stop and think about how much you have grown to rely on the device. If you are like me, then you probably use it for everything from keeping up with email, to getting driving directions, to browsing special offers from your preferred shopping haunts. The modern enterprise knows this, and they understand that “mobile” fundamentally changes the way they need to interact with their users (and employees) going forward. As such, they are actively looking for a technological platform on which they can develop, build, run, and manage their mobile applications.

The good news (and bad news, quite frankly) for enterprises looking to do this is that there is no shortage of choice. There are literally dozens of different offerings out there for what Gartner refers to as a Mobile Application Development Platform (formerly Mobile Enterprise Application Platform), or MADP. It probably comes as no surprise, then, that IBM® provides one of those MADP choices.

IBM has a long history of providing enterprise-grade, best-in-class application platforms. IBM WebSphere® Application Server is perhaps the best known of our application platforms, but the portfolio goes well beyond that to include IBM WebSphere DataPower® SOA Appliances, IBM WebSphere Portal, IBM Business Process Manager, IBM WebSphere Operational Decision Manager, IBM WebSphere Commerce, and many more. In June of 2012, the IBM Worklight mobile application development platform became the latest member of the IBM application platform community.


Why IBM Worklight

With all of the choices out there in the market, why might IBM Worklight be your best choice?

A fair question if ever there was one, especially since the marketplace is so crowded with MADPs, making thorough due diligence a requirement. Between working with clients on adopting the Worklight platform and helping deliver updates to the platform to keep up with the pace of the mobile ecosystem, I have had the occasion to answer that question in different situations on multiple occasions, and so I thought I would share some of my thoughts on the subject with you here. Mind you, this is not about listing every technical differentiator of the Worklight platform; instead, it’s about pointing out at a slightly higher level what makes IBM Worklight truly stand out. With that in mind, here goes:

  • An open platform

    If I was asked to use one word to describe Worklight, it would likely be "open." The openness of the platform is evident in both the development and run time environment. From a development standpoint, the platform enables you to choose the appropriate application architecture (mobile web, hybrid, or native) as well as the libraries that you use to build your application. Worklight ships with the Dojo Mobile JavaScript™ framework and Apache Cordova, but you can use any other web or native libraries you need to get the job done. Furthermore, the development environment is not built on the premise of code generators or transcoders. When using Worklight, you retain full and direct control over the source code of the application.

    Like the development environment, the runtime provided by Worklight is open as well. This starts with the data and service integration capabilities of the platform. Worklight Adapters deliver a means through which you can connect your applications to web services, REST services, databases, Enterprise Service Buses (ESBs), proxies, queues, and more. These adapters are based on open integration techniques, and can extend the reach of mobile applications to both IBM and non-IBM infrastructure systems. There are, of course, other elements to the runtime where openness is evident. In particular, the user authentication approach in Worklight is built in a pluggable manner so as to enable you to integrate into existing security systems. This opens the door for integration into enterprise single sign on systems, multi-factor authentication frameworks, and more.

  • An optimized platform

    While being open is an important tenet of the Worklight platform, it is not done so at the sake of optimizing certain paths. For example, if you choose to use the Dojo Mobile framework for application development, you will benefit from the ability to use Worklight’s drag-and-drop visual editor to quickly build out the user interface of your mobile applications. As mentioned above, service integration is achieved via flexible and standards-based Worklight Adapters. If IBM Cast Iron® or IBM WebSphere Message Broker is a part of your service integration flow, you can take advantage of configuration-based integration provided by IBM for using Worklight with either of these products. Worklight ships with many built-in approaches for user authentication, and it also readily integrates with the underlying security system of WebSphere Application Server. In addition, you will find prescriptive guidance on integrating Worklight with solutions such as IBM Security Access Manager and WebSphere DataPower appliances for providing enhanced security.

  • A secure platform

    I already mentioned the user authentication capabilities of the platform a couple of times, so let’s dive into that and the other security elements now. User authentication in Worklight consists of two primary components: authenticators and login modules. Authenticators are responsible for collecting a user’s credentials, and login modules are responsible for validating said credentials and asserting identity to the runtime. The platform provides a number of authenticators and login modules that make many of the common user authentication approaches (such as forms-based login authenticated against a credential database) rapid and simple to implement. Again, the user authentication framework is open, meaning you can write your own authenticators and login modules, thereby implementing the approach that best meets your security requirements.

    While user authentication is an important element of security, it is not the only facet of security in Worklight. The platform equips you with the ability to check that mobile applications connecting to the IBM Worklight Server have not been tampered with after installation on a user’s device. This helps to prevent attackers with malicious intent from altering and repackaging installed mobile applications. Additionally, Worklight has a feature called device provisioning that enables it to enforce application and device pairings. In other words, the platform can restrict connectivity to the Worklight Server to only approved applications running on approved devices.

    While most of what I have mentioned so far is security applied in the Worklight Server runtime, security capabilities extend all the way out to the device itself. Perhaps the best evidence of this is the on-device encrypted cache provided by the Worklight device runtime. You can use the encrypted cache to store application data securely on the device, thereby supporting the secure use of your application when in a disconnected state.

  • An end-to-end platform

    When talking about building mobile applications, it is often easy to focus solely on the development portion of the challenge. This is usually the more exciting and flashy part of the mobile application discussion. That said, while it is imperative to be able to quickly develop mobile applications that are rich in both functionality and user experience, that is only part of the challenge for implementing a truly effective mobile application strategy in any enterprise. In addition to being able to develop an enticing mobile application, you need the means to integrate it with services and data, secure it, and manage it. In this respect, Worklight delivers on every point. In addition to the development, integration, and security aspects we have already talked about, Worklight equips you with the ability to easily manage your deployed mobile applications. Whether you need to deliver updates directly to an application installed on a user’s device, or you need to force users to upgrade to the latest version of your application, Worklight delivers the necessary management tools. Simply put, the platform is built with the entire mobile application lifecycle in mind.


Conclusion

I hope this information serves to bring out the unique nature of IBM Worklight compared to other vendor platforms, and I hope this helps answer the "Why Worklight" question that you might be asking. Personally I am excited to have a chance to work side-by-side with organizations in this exceedingly, strategically important area of mobile application development and delivery. There are exciting and, likely, paradigm shifting times ahead. I am confident that the Worklight platform will serve to enable these shifts and deliver true value for our clients looking for an MADP.

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