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Salesforce.com's Ambitious Cloud Push

Salesforce.com put its partners, customers and competitors on notice that it doesn't want to just be known as a cloud-based CRM provider. Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff wants his company to play in the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) space and he made a number of interesting moves to help achieve that goal.

Benioff gave two consecutive keynote addresses this week at Salesforce.com's annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco where more than 23,000 stakeholders were in attendance to hear an avalanche of announcements.

Among the highlights: On day one, Benioff announced Database.com, a hosted online database service that the company said will be a language independent repository, and Chatter Free, the company's Facebook-like social network interface that it is offering free of charge to all employees of customers.

On day two, Benioff announced the acquisition of Ruby cloud provider Heroku for $212 million in cash, a roadmap to expand its Force.com platform and a new IT service platform called RemedyForce (with help from Remedy supplier BMC Software).

All of these announcements and others were aimed at moving to what Benioff and company describe as Cloud Two. "As the world moves from cloud one to cloud two, how do we evolve, how do we help all of our customers get there faster," was the call to action by Benioff.

"What's obvious is they are going headlong into the platform space," said IDC analyst Al Hilwa, in an interview. "It's not enough for them to be an application-as-a-service they want to be a platform-as-a-service."

 

Database Entrée

Of all the announcements, the plan to offer Database.com at some point next year is aimed squarely at two companies Benioff likes least: Microsoft and his onetime employer Oracle. Database.com will compete with Microsoft's SQL Azure, while potentially throwing a wrench into Oracle's core database business.

"Now we can start using Database.com to provide a new level of information management of managing and sharing our information in the cloud," Benioff told attendees.

"The difficulty Database.com will run into is it doesn't natively speak SQL," said Jonathan Bruce, senior product manager for Progress Software. The ISV is offering a fix for that. The company released the beta of JDBC drivers that will enable developers to build connectivity to Database.com, he said, adding that ODBC drivers will come in the second quarter of next year.

"The standalone Database.com capabilities are being offered to respond to the changing way in which applications and databases are being architected in a more pluralistic fashion in the cloud," noted Thinkstrategies analyst Jeff Kaplan, in a blog post. "The goal of Database.com is to democratize database development, and give Salesforce.com's customers and partners another reason to expand their use of its applications and PaaS."

Extending Force.com

Force.com is Salesorce.com's site for developer-built applications. Though Database.com is an outgrowth of that, Force.com adds more services and applications. In a key move, Salesforce.com is opening Force.com to Ruby developers with the acquisition of Heroku, a leading cloud service for Ruby-based apps.

Founded in 2007, Heroku is among the most prevalent Ruby-based cloud providers, Hilwa said. "Heroku is a multi-tenant architecture," Hilwa said. "It's very much in line architecturally with the way Salesforce thinks." Benioff pointed out there are more than 105,000 Ruby apps running on Heroku, with 200 million Web requests per day and 3,000 new apps per week. Heroku customers include Best Buy, General Mills and ESPN.

"You can build apps faster and quicker and easier for the Web than ever before," Benioff said. "What Heroku and Salesforce.com give when they come together, they're going to give Ruby developers a path to the enterprise, which is something that's been badly needed."

Kaplan pointed out that the addition of Heroku and Database.com, are focused on the new world of social and mobile apps. "They are also intended to offset Microsoft's aggressive efforts to gain customer and partner acceptance of its Azure PaaS, and undercut Oracle's 'false cloud' offerings which it calls 'Cloud-in-a-Box,'" Kaplan noted.

While Salesforce.com has put a stake in the ground in supporting Ruby-based cloud apps, it also has a major play for Java developers, though that appears to be moving a bit sluggishly, Hilwa pointed out. Salesforce.com announced the private beta of VMforce. The product of its partnership with VMware, VMforce uses that company's Spring Framework. VMforce will let Java developers run their apps natively on Force.com.

Among other extensions to Force.com:

  • Appforce: designed to let users build forms, custom reports and visually create business processes. It supports workgroup collaboration via the company's Chatter service.
  • Siteforce: A hosted content management system designed to let business users create and update sites.
  • ISVforce: An application platform for ISVs that enables trials, provisioning and automatic updates with a console that allows for monitoring of usage. It includes the company's AppExchange Marketplace, which now hosts 1,000 apps, the company said, adding that venture capital firms have invested more than $1 billion in companies on the marketplace.

A Remedy for Salesforce

Benioff, a big fan of BMC Software's Remedy IT services management platform, wanted to bring that to the cloud. The two companies inked a partnership and delivered ServiceDesk for Force.com earlier this year. But Benioff wanted more than just the IT helpdesk component of BMC's Remedy suite, which led to this week's launch of RemedyForce.

With RemedyForce, customers get a cloud version of BMC's Remedy, which includes core service desk capabilities that offer change management, knowledge management and problem resolution; service management including a configuration management database, support for Chatter and support for mobile devices.

BMC chairman and CEO Bob Beauchamp joined Benioff on stage where he said IT services management is conservatively a $15 billion market. "Traditionally the issue with it is that it's been something that all very large enterprises understand, they get it, they have to have it, but it's been expensive for other enterprises to implement," Beauchamp said. "We've taken our knowledge of how customers use the service management environment and we've ported that onto [Force.com] with new technology."

Bottom line

Salesforce.com, backed by Benioff's strong personality, made a strong statement that it wants to be a key player in the cloud. And the company wants a piece of Microsoft and Oracle's business beyond just CRM. Salesforce.com has put a lot out there but it still has a lot to prove.

"I think the question is their credibility with developers, they've historically been known as lightweight," Hilwa said. "The application platform had a lot of controls and governance and limits because of this multi-tenancy. They were afraid certain applications might take too much resources and compromise the level of service for the others, but it looks like they are taking some of those limits away, driving them down, trying to really build credibility with developers."

Kaplan agrees: "Salesforce.com has also been working hard to fend off competitive claims and developer concerns that its Force.com PaaS is too proprietary," he said, pointing to Salesforce.com's teaming with VMware to create VMforce and the Heroku acquisition.

"The buzz and activity at Dreamforce 2010 is not only a clear indication of Salesforce.com's growing success, but also an impressive illustration of the widening movement to the cloud."

What's your take on Salesforce.com's moves? Do you see it as too lightweight compared to Microsoft and Oracle or is it a legitimate threat to the establishment? Post your comments or drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/09/2010 at 1:14 PM


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