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Parse closure opens door to other mobile development platforms

Facebook acquired Parse MBaaS in 2013 with great promise. Now, it's about to shut down, forcing developers to move their mobile app code and data elsewhere.

It didn't take long for alternative vendors to begin wooing developers of mobile cloud applications abandoned by the abrupt Jan. 28 statement that Facebook was shutting down its Parse mobile backend as a service.

At last count on the Twitter #parseshutdown page, nearly a dozen consultants and platform providers were either tweeting advice for migrating data and applications or offering replacement mobile development platforms.

Shutdown notice came without warning

The shutdown announcement was sudden. "I saw a message on Reddit from a developer who said he had deployed his app on Parse literally two hours before the announcement," said Burke Holland, director of developer relations at Progress Software, which provides its own mobile backend as a service (MBaaS) platform. "These are small developers who may have built their entire business on Parse and who don't have the latitude to take a hit like this," Holland said.

Richard Mendis, chief product officer at MBaaS provider AnyPresence, said Parse freed mobile developers from worry about where to save their apps' back-end data or user-authentication information. "While there were some enterprise apps out there, Parse targeted non-enterprise developers building games and tracking high scores."

For Facebook, it simply wasn't a profitable business, Mendis said.

Facebook acquired Parse with great fanfare for $85 million in April 2013, part of an initiative designed to assist mobile app developers in their efforts to build applications that integrated with Facebook. As developers of enterprise-class apps turned to other mobile development platforms that offered greater sophistication and a wider breadth of tools, Parse became a home for smaller, often independent developers.

Public clouds now more compelling for app development

"The reality is that fast-dropping prices make public clouds more compelling for app development," said David Linthicum, senior vice president at the consulting firm Cloud Technology Partners. "Developers are motivated by money and stability, and the public cloud provides the most lucrative development work, as well as being the fastest growing."

Al Hilwa, program director of software development research at IDC said Facebook likely had been planning to shutter Parse for some time. "Facebook provided all the tools for people to get their data out and even run the Parse platform on their servers or in other clouds," he said.

In studying Facebook's business model, Hilwa surmised the company had hundreds of developers working on Parse, at a cost approaching $50 million that could better be spent elsewhere. "The opportunity cost of not having Facebook's developers work on the 'right' thing might be in the billions given the company's ability to make money at this moment."

Facebook allowing a year to migrate

To its credit, Facebook is taking a year to wind down Parse, affording developers plenty of time to migrate their applications and data to another platform. Facebook released a database migration tool to ease the transition of data to any MongoDB database. Facebook also published a migration guide and its open source Parse Server, which provides developers with the ability to run much of the Parse API from any Node.js server of their choosing. Final shutdown will occur on Jan. 28, 2017, exactly one year after the closure was announced.

These are small developers ... who don't have the latitude to take a hit like this.
Burke Hollanddirector of developer relations, Progress Software

In a published statement, Kevin Lacker, co-founder of Parse said, "Once you have your data in your own database, Parse Server lets you keep your application running without major changes in the client-side code." As for a reason Parse was shutting down, the statement said, "We need to focus our resources elsewhere."

With the documentation and tools Facebook is providing, developers must begin planning for the inevitable transition. "It's hard to migrate your database; it's like trying to move your house," Holland said. "Just be sure to choose a provider whose interest is vested in yours. And don't put this off until next January."

Choose from mobile development platforms carefully

Mendis suggested researching mobile development platforms before choosing another MBaaS. "When picking a vendor, whether it's us or someone else, developers should choose a place where they can control their destiny. You have to control your source code and run it where you want."

AnyPresence, which provides a fee-based MBaaS to businesses developing enterprise-class apps, is also providing a scaled-down, free service to developers left orphaned by the Parse closure. "JustAPIs.com will serve most of the requirements of smaller developers to save their backend data somewhere," Mendis said. He noted that the platform was designed and implemented in a way that will not cannibalize the company's revenue model. Similarly, Progress Software offers its Telerik platform for developing mobile cloud applications.

Are we likely to see other services shut down as the result of changing priorities or consolidation among providers? "The next domino could be anything," Holland said. "That's the scary part."

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