To get a sense of what this really means for the many companies running applications on the Coghead platform, I turned to MCF Technology Solutions, a Cleveland-based software company that used the platform to develop "custom" apps for its SMB customers.
Now, this isn't the first time I spoke to MCF. They were a prime source for a story bMighty ran last November called What PaaS Means For Growing Companies . Back then, MCF honcho Don Larson was thrilled about Coghead's ability to let MCF create apps "fast and cheap" for companies like Art Window Coverings. But now it's been a busy day and a half, to say the least," dealing with this "unpleasant disruption in the business cycle."
In the short term, Larson says, "it's a debacle, a disaster," forcing him to start moving his customers from Coghead to an alternative PaaS technology. "There's no time to develop a new client/server application," he explains.
The first step is to export the data, which Larson says shouldn't be a problem. "From a continuity of data standpoint, I don't anticipate a problem."
But MCF solution designer Govind Davis is worried about the data. The Coghead platform has some "unique and valuable" aspects, Davis says, that export only to very complex XML structures. Dealing with those data structures could get "ugly," he warns.
Beyond the data issues, Larson says, moving to a new platorm inevitably means "redeveloping the application. There is no way to migrate the apps."
Davis predicts that MCF will likely move many of its customers' apps to Quickbase, adding that the company is offering to help make that happen. Still, he's "sure there will be some issues along the way."
Larson, meanwhile, is still hoping not to have to choose a new platform, as he looks to SAP to step up with "an announcement of a time frame and migration path" for Coghead apps. "I believe they must be doing this [buying Coghead assets] to provide a solution for customers who can't afford traditional SAP apps," he says. "I would definitely like to see it as soon as possible."
And what of the longer term ramifications? Davis says Coghead's failure is "likely to create a little bit of conservatism in the market... there is a real risk and people have to be aware of that... The value proposition is still huge," Davis says, but "people will be more wary."
And rightly so. "People become very dependent on the company, it's not just losing a little app -- the entire operational system is gone." As Davis sees it, there are only two really credible PaaS players: Quickbase and Salesforce.com.
Finally, despite the turmoil, Larson sees a silver lining in SAP's involvement. "I find it extremely encouraging that someone as big as SAP is getting into this space," he says. It shows that the technology is "going mainstream."
Maybe so, but clearly there are going to be bumps along the way.