Salesforce.com - less show-stopping Chatter but more action

Cloud computing still flying high at Dreamforce
Written by Tim Ferguson, Contributor

Cloud computing still flying high at Dreamforce

Salesforce.com - one of the early proponents of cloud computing - continued to stir up the software world at its annual user conference, says Tim Ferguson.

Salesforce.com's recent Dreamforce user conference in San Francisco showed the company is in rude health and taking good advantage of the growing popularity of the cloud computing model.

At this year's jamboree three things really stood out as demonstrations of how the company is developing.

Chatter hype
The first development was the announcement of Chatter, billed by CEO Marc Benioff as the social network for business and the "biggest breakthrough ever" for Salesforce.com.

Chatter is a platform very similar in functionality to social networking site Facebook but designed to interact with business applications as well as the individuals and groups that make up the network.

Benioff suggested this kind of technology could replace email and other forms of communication but more likely, it will be yet another communication channel that staff will have to deal with. As if email, instant messaging, phones, meetings and Twitter weren't enough.

Compared to the products unveiled at last year's Dreamforce, I found Chatter disappointing.

In 2008 Salesforce unveiled the final piece which would allow businesses to run their whole IT infrastructure in the cloud.

The company already had its online CRM capabilities and Force.com platform which allowed developers to build almost any kind of business application in the cloud. With the launch of Force.com Sites last year, companies could run their external and internal websites on Force.com - while the integration of Google Apps added even more functionality.

This to me is more innovative than a new social networking tool.

Success with the cloud
This year's Dreamforce demonstrated more than anything the continued success of the company in spreading its message about the benefits of cloud computing.

The company is doing well. It saw record revenue in the third quarter of 2009 and now has almost 68,000 customers compared to 47,000 a year ago.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of businesses - either software developers or business IT departments - are building and running applications on the Force.com platform. This year's big wins include BMC Software and CA which announced they are developing for the Force.com platform. More than 135,000 applications that have been built and run on Force.com, according to Salesforce.

More partners and more applications is just what the company needs to make this platform succeed.

Benioff bluster
No Dreamforce would be complete without Salesforce chief Marc Benioff having a pop at his competitors. SAP was the target of some choice comments this year.

Of the German business software giant, Benioff said: "I would say that [SAP's] religious and zealous denial of cloud computing may have destroyed the company."

He then called SAP an "innovationless" company.

In SAP's defense, it has dipped its toe in the cloud computing waters with its Business ByDesign software-as-a-service ERP technology.

And interestingly, SAP's Community Network has produced a similar technology to Chatter called Enterprise Social Messaging Experiment, which the company is yet to fully endorse but which could see the light of day at some point.

Benioff's comments may be over the top but it reveals his confidence in Salesforce.com and his view that the days are numbered for traditional software companies.

"We think we're very much still the leader of the new companies that are trying to redefine what software can be," he said at Dreamforce.

He has a point.

Benioff's vision of traditional on-premise technology being replaced by software delivered via the internet has become more and more accepted in recent years - as evidenced by the rise of cloud computing.

Although Dreamforce 2009 lacked any show-stopping announcements, it demonstrated Salesforce is still alive and well - and chipping away at the dominance of the pre-cloud vendors.

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