Worried SAP rubbishes Salesforce.com's Apex

A SAP executive has attacked Salesforce.com's newly announced multitenant development language, Apex. He would have been better off keeping his views to himself.

In an email to selected journalists, SAP has attacked Salesforce.com's newly announced multitenant development language, Apex. In a follow-up interview,Peter Graf, executive vice president for solution marketing at SAP, dismissed Salesforce.com as "a one-trick pony". SAP's line is that enterprise customers will steer clear of Apex because of security and reliability concerns — claims that of course were rapidly refuted by Salesforce.com. [The original version of this opening paragraph wrongly attributed Peter Graf as the author of the SAP email, and has been rewritten to correct the error.]

Reporting the rebuff yesterday, internetnews.com's Michael Hickins draws a different conclusion than SAP would have wanted:

"There is no doubt that, one-trick pony or not, the company has become a force to be reckoned with.

"Salesforce.com boasts more than half a million users.

"Moreover, the 400-plus applications available to customers on its AppExchange platform demonstrates the strong hold it has over its partner community.

"This may explain why SAP has gone so far out of its way as to send e-mail to the press in order to disparage Apex.

"This is in sharp contrast to the past, when it treated Salesforce.com with benign neglect.

"'If they were in passive denial before, they're in active denial now,' said [Beagle Research analyst Denis] Pombriant."

It's not unusual for SAP to shoot itself in the media relations foot like this — I had my own run-in with the company earlier this year — but on this occasion it would have been better off keeping its views to itself until it had worked out a more effective strategy to counter Apex. All it has succeeded in doing is showing how worried it is about Apex, which of course plays exactly into Marc Benioff's hands. Nor has it made a very effective attack. If really does mean to go onto the offensive, its spokespeople should at least do their homework first.

Another SAP insider, Charles Zedlewski, blogged his own personal verdict on Apex earlier in the week. His criticism was more effective because at least it acknowledged that Apex was a step forward, while still highlighting areas of potential weakness:

"... what exactly am I supposed to be buying?

"A programming language.

"Based on an 8 year old technology (Java & SQL).

"That’s not in beta yet.

"... The runtime for Apex purportedly does some nifty stuff to enable developers to write customizations, run code in a multi-tenant architecture, all while preserving upgradeability. This is not easy to do. Over the course of the next year, we’ll learn more about how confining Parker Harris made his sandbox to achieve this and how easy it is to build different types of castles.

"Apex makes Salesforce applications much more customizable than before and this will increase their viability in more demanding environments. It will also increase their cost and complexity. Hate to be the guy who says "I told you so," but 6 months ago I wrote how the closer SaaS got to meeting the needs to the large enterprise, the less distinct it would become from on premise."

The problem with Zedlewski's line of attack is that it doesn't play well as a marketing spin: "At this rate, Salesforce.com's software will soon be as complex as ours, so you might as well carry on buying ours." But it does highlight the most serious challenge for the on-demand application vendors: will they still be able to differentiate on 'faster, cheaper, better' once they reach functional parity with the established conventional packaged software vendors?

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