The first reports of Coghead customers having successfully transferred their applications to a new platform are starting to come through. Caspio, which was first off the blocks with the offer of a migration deal within hours of Coghead announcing its shutdown, is today unveiling its first completed migration. Hawaii-based health agency Quality Behavioral Outcomes took just days to migrate several "mission-critical" database applications and has already decided it likes the new platform better than Coghead, according to Todd Addleson, director of behavioral services.
That may seem like pretty fast work — a tribute to the rapid time-to-result that such platforms are designed to achieve, and which adds new meaning to the running (escaping?) figure in the Coghead logo — but other providers have been unveiling automated tools that instantly convert a Coghead application definition file into their own application format. As I noted in my previous post about the risks of PaaS lock-out, the Coghead platform stores the metadata that defines each application in an XML file, which users can download from their account. Upload those files to rival PaaS platforms TeamDesk or Wolf Frameworks and they'll be automatically transformed to work with the new platform, "without any manual intervention & restore all entities, screens, business rules, complete application design & even import data thru’ an automated utility," as Wolf's press release puts it.
Of course, Caspio has probably been using similar tools behind the scenes to help its customers get moving quickly (its 'Coghead transition program' includes free support and "expert consultation services" as well as two months' free usage). As situational apps expert Jonathan Sapir noted in a comment on my earlier posting, "Most of these platforms store the application definition in XML and use a runtime engine to interpret the XML in order to render the application. So theoretically, if there was a way to convert from one vendor's XML to another you could get to no-lock-in nirvana (or better still, have an open standard for this)."
To see vendors already doing this gives me a useful proofpoint with which to refute Microsoft SaaS architecture expert Eugenio Pace, who in a blog posting objected to my "uber-cross-platform-cross-cloud-ocean-boiling" ideals, arguing that Coghead didn't have to build its own platform — it could've just hosted someone else's, such as, ooh let me see, .Net.
I responded with an eBizQ blog post, Does PaaS Need Migration Standards or Standard Platforms?:
"My gripe is that, while I can see the advantage of harnessing developers' existing skills as well as providing an escape route if the PaaS provider folds or otherwise becomes unusable, it still locks the application to a specific platform, and I don't believe that's desirable ... I'd like to automatically migrate the business logic to the new platform. Then I can have a try-out and if I don't like it, I'm free to migrate yet again, painlessly and automatically, to some other platform."
The huge advantage of being able to choose between multiple competing platforms is amply illustrated by another blog post from Jonathan Sapir, Coghead refugees and Dr Seuss's Old Hat, where he's pasted in various comments culled from emails and blogs over the past few days. Each platform has its own strengths, weaknesses and limitations, and each user has their own preferences as to which of those matter most, whether it's the pricing model, the relational hierarchy, the workflow capabilities or simply how easy it is to pick up and get something done.
My conclusion is that, out of the necessity of Coghead's demise has been born some really cool innovation that, instead of putting people off cloud platforms for ever, could make PaaS even more attractive. The catalyst in this case has been the existence of a pool of desperate customers eager to transfer to an alternative platform, along with the knowledge that Coghead isn't in a position to start any legal action against its competitors for trying to steal those customers away. But perhaps the industry will use this experience as an incentive to further improve automated PaaS migration. I believe it can only enhance the attractiveness of cloud platforms if customers know they won't be locked in (and therefore can minimize the risk of being locked out when a provider unexpectedly shuts down).