Salesforce mashes up the cloud so you don't have to

Force.com now comes with built-in integration to three other major cloud platforms: Google Apps, Amazon Web Services and Facebook. The strategy positions Force.com as the optimal gateway to access Web resources when developing to the Web-as-platform.
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor on

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff stitched several more constituents of the Web-as-platform into his company's own Force.com platform yesterday. Force.com now comes with built-in integration to three other major cloud platforms: Google Apps (announced in April this year), Amazon Web Services and Facebook (both announced yesterday). For many applications, anyone who wants to develop to the Web can now do that by developing on Force.com — as well as publish it to the Web using the new Force.com Sites capability [disclosure: Salesforce.com is funding my accommodation to attend Dreamforce].

Talking to press and analysts yesterday, Benioff jokingly defined the strategy as, "We love all vendors. This is our core strategy — love." But in its impact, it's deadly serious, and it's devastating for other more closed platforms — such as, for example, Microsoft's newly announced Azure platform. "This is not just about one vendor. That is over," Benioff had said earlier in his keynote. "We need a new world where all these platforms can interoperate."

The new strategy, first outlined at DreamForce Europe in May and now extended to embrace three major third-party Web platforms, positions Force.com as the optimal gateway to access Web resources. In doing so, it opens up a huge lead for Force.com over other PaaS platforms, none of whom have even begun to forge such relationships. Other vendors are going to have to do a whole lot of catchup now. That of course confers a lot of power on Salesforce.com, which is worrying for those not welcome on its platform.

A few notes about the link-ups that were announced yesterday:

Facebook and its 120m+ users getting hooked into Force.com is a massive boost for the social networking platform's enterprise credibility, in a deal brokered by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, who at Google also presided over the Salesforce.com integration. Yesterday's keynote included demonstrations of how enterprises might use Facebook friend networks for recruitment, for idea exchange, and for project management. "You can build social apps for the enterprise, for the first time," said Benioff. "It's transformational. It changes what you can do with the social graph. It changes what you can do with Force.com."

Amazon — which sources tell me was finally signed up just a few dozen hours before Monday's keynote started — is interesting because accessing EC2 allows developers to run code on any platform they like — PHP, Java, SQLServer, Oracle — and link that code into a Force.com application. They can even link in single-tenant instances if they want to ruin all the multi-tenant goodness Force.com provides. The deal covers every Amazon API, right down to Mechanical Turk. The new business card data recording app CardLasso, demonstrated in yesterday's keynote, not only uses PHP code executing on EC2 to sharpen the card image and read data, and processes payments via Amazon payments. There's also an option that uses a Mechanical Turk resource to transcribe the card details into the contact database.

Google Apps was first announced in April and is already in use by more than 5,300 Salesforce.com customers - more than 11% of the 47,400 total. That's phenomenal growth, even for a free product, and Salesforce.com's Kraig Swensrud, VP of marketing, told me today that uptake remains strong. "We're still at the front end of the curve of this" he said. "I would expect the trajectory we're on to be the same for the next six to 12 months."

With Force.com now offering built-in integration to such a broad footprint of cloud platforms, I'm wondering what special sauce an ISV has to have for it to be worth building all its own infrastructure rather than using what Force.com offers. Of course there is the concern at being tied to Force.com, not just as a deployment choice (as has always been the case with any software platform) but also continuously 24x7 as the service provider. But the cost of not being tied to Force.com is a two-year development timeframe plus all the operating overhead of an in-house infrastructure. It's going to be a tough decision for many ISVs.

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