The Conception and Design of the SoftLayer Mobile Client for iPhone

June 4, 2010

A few short months ago, SoftLayer began a new application initiative, the Mobile Client. Our overarching goal is straightforward, take the powerful capabilities of the SoftLayer web portal, and put them in the palm of your hand. As is often the case, however, the things that are easiest to say, are not so easily done.

The fundamental problem we face in designing the mobile portal is the sheer volume of functionality available. On the web, the SoftLayer portal keeps the customer in control of their server environment. To offer that level of control the portal offers access to both a broad spectrum of information and a host of useful functionality. With the bar set that high, a mobile device with its comparatively sparse resources and small screen presents something of a challenge.

When computer scientists face a difficult problem, the first step is to narrow that problem down to a manageable size. There are some things you can do the vast, open range of a browser’s web page that are simply impractical on the small screen of a mobile device. Moreover, there are tasks you would perform when sitting at your computer in the office that you would likely never need to do from a mobile device when you are on-the-go. These two criteria helped us set aside some of the functionality found in the Web Portal as being not well suited for implementation on a mobile device.

Of course, a monkey wrench was thrown into this evaluation right in the middle of development. While we were working on the first version of the Mobile Client, Apple released the iPad. Suddenly things that would not have worked well on the small screen of a smart phone, were practical for a mobile device. Unfortunately (since happened in the middle of our development effort) we were unable to fully change our plans to incorporate the iPad, but it does offer an attractive avenue for future consideration.

In the end, what we decided was that the best way to focus our efforts, the best way to ensure that customers get the tools they need at their disposal as quickly as possible, was to make the customers a part of the design process. Our strategy would be to create a small application, one which could be developed quickly, and get that into our customer’s hands. From there we would let the customers help guide us to the additional functionality they desired the most.

Working with the body of experience at hand, we narrowed down the functionality of the vast web portal to a small seed, a set of features that are absolutely crucial for our customers. We focused on that small set of core functionality and planned out an application that would both be an asset to our customers and meet our goal of putting it in their hands quickly. The result is the Mobile Client we offer today.

At SoftLayer we are committed to providing customers with building complete access, control, security, and scalability into all of our portals. For the Mobile Client, however, we have intentionally started with a small, focused subset. As we grow the Mobile Client, we will do so in response to customer feedback to help ensure that the tool focuses on providing the functionality our customers need the most as soon as possible. The Mobile Client team invites you to try our application on your favorite mobile device and add your voice to helping it grow.