February 26, 2009, 10:00 AM — A lack of portability standards in cloud computing was cited as a contributor to the shutdown last week of PaaS (platform-as-a-service) provider Coghead, which was acquired by SAP.
Coghead provided a service enabling developers to build Web applications and sell them through a solution provider program. The company partnered with Amazon.com for hosting on the Amazon EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) service. But the issue of lack of standards hurt Coghead's cause, said Paul McNamara, Coghead chairman. "I think some customers raised [the lack of standards] as an issue," wanting to see standards before moving to the cloud, he said.
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Coghead was becoming active in development of standards for XML-based application definitions, he said. Coghead represented applications as XML documents. "We'd like to see standards evolve in terms of how that's done," McNamara said. Coghead's approach was different from other approaches, so "interoperability is currently not there" with other cloud platforms, said McNamara. Thus, applications on the Coghead platform must be re-created to run on another platform. "We're giving them time to take all the data out of the system," McNamara said.
An analyst concurred that lack of standards presents a problem for platform-focused cloud computing. "There's no portability standards, which locks customers to a given PaaS," said John Rymer, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. The lower-level cloud services offered by Amazon "may turn out to be a standard," according to Rymer. "[Interoperability there] is much better due to REST and to a lesser degree, SOAP."
Coghead had posted a notice of discontinuation on its Web site from McNamara citing a February 18 shutdown. He blamed the current tough economic conditions as a reason for the sale to SAP and said customers have until April 30 to transition to a new service provider. "SAP did not assume any of Coghead's customer relationships or obligations and, at this point in time, SAP does not have plans to continue offering the Coghead service commercially," McNamara's statement said.
SAP declined to explain why it bought Coghead, saying only that it would use Coghead technology internally in an unspecified way.
SAP has not been a player in cloud computing, Rymer noted. SAP hired IBM to host its on-demand offerings and, although SAP had SaaS intentions when it brought its Business ByDesign on-demand business software offering to market, "the company has since backed away from that product, apparently for performance reasons," said Rymer.
Rymer also cautioned potential PaaS users not to make too much of the Coghead failure: "Coghead was a startup, and they didn't make it." More established companies are always a safer bet, but if a startup offers interesting features, customers need to have a contingency plan in case the company goes out of business, he said. But "you might not want to build an app that's absolutely mission-critical to your company on that vendor," he added. Rymer contrasted Coghead's precarious state as a startup to that of Amazon.com, the most established PaaS provider. "EC2 is being carried along by the larger Amazon. Besides, it's grown very rapidly as far as we can tell," he said.