Architectures for Mobile Computing

The Information Week article is with reference to Mobile Computing and may not have immediate and direct relevance, but this excerpt provides a context for thinking about computing architectures:

The client-server model was originally pitched as offering a future of networked, distributed services providing discrete, componentized business functions integrated via clean, standardized interfaces (a picture remarkably similar to the pitch for today’s Web services). The reality turned out to be, with a few honorable exceptions, fat clients exchanging SQL with remote databases.

Then along came the Internet and with it an entire generation of thin-client HTML interfaces, which have slowly grown richer over time. The latest wave is Web services, which will probably feature prominently in both server-to-server and client-to-server exchanges. Intriguingly, the short history of mobile devices in enterprise IT has rapidly recapitulated this history, having passed through its own fat client and thin client waves, and the current wave of misinformation about the relative network characteristics of fat and thin clients is largely driven by advocates for Web services on mobile devices.

Some have argued that rich clients using Web services are better than thin clients because they don’t waste bandwidth transmitting both data and apps as HTML does, while thin-client proponents argue that their model is better because it only has to transmit screen updates, not all of the application data. Both arguments sound superficially plausible, suggesting that deeper examination is required.

In reality it’s an oversimplification to believe that any single architecture is inherently better than another in this regard. A designer has to consider three dimensions–the overall architecture, the design of the specific app, and user behavior–to determine how efficiently a given application communicates and what the trade-offs are.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.