Salesforce Ascends Beyond SaaS Into Cloud Computing - InformationWeek

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Salesforce Ascends Beyond SaaS Into Cloud Computing

Salesforce will let customers build and run applications on its platform, customize their applications, and tap into other Web-based services., the software-as-a-service poster child, has a new mission: cloud computing.'s doing it, Google's doing it, and with its new Azure Services Platform, Microsoft says it wants to do it, too--someday. For Salesforce, it's a logical next step.

At the company's Dreamforce conference in San Francisco last week--with tethered balloons floating as "clouds" in front of the Moscone Center--CEO Marc Benioff laid out a plan for transitioning Salesforce from online applications to broader cloud services. Salesforce will let customers build and run applications on its platform, customize their applications, and tap into other Web-based services. "There's never been a better time for cloud computing," Benioff said.

One new service, Sites--based on the company's development and hosting environment--can be used to develop Web pages and register domain names. Tools include Visual Force (a graphical user interface development environment), the Apex programming language, and a "clicks and components" development environment where parts of an application can be assembled without writing code. Sites, scheduled to be available next year, will be priced according to site traffic, ranging from 50,000 to 1 million page views per month, though fees haven't been set.

Salesforce's cloud consists of two U.S. data centers. It will open a third data center soon in Singapore to support new services and growth, and two others are planned, in Europe and Japan.

Even with its own brick, mortar, and servers, Salesforce struck a partnership with Amazon through which its customers can tap into Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service and Simple Storage Service (S3). The advantage is that tasks needing an extra blast of processing power or storage capacity can be handled by Amazon, so-called cloudburst computing. "Imagine a application that needs to do massive number crunching. That's where Amazon comes in," said Salesforce co-founder and executive VP Parker Harris.

Benioff (in a rare moment of silence), with Harris

Photo by Katy Dormer
For developers, a for Amazon Web Services toolkit contains templates for creating Amazon Machine Images, virtualized files that can run on EC2. That makes it possible to build an application that runs on Salesforce, then send it to EC2 in a ready-to-run format. A second toolkit, for Amazon S3, performs a similar trick for on-demand storage.

Also at Dreamforce, Informatica introduced a Web-based integration service for synchronizing data between a company's on-premises applications and Salesforce CRM. The service, starting at $1,000 per month per integration, might be used to synchronize sales account information in a Salesforce application with a company's financial system, for example.

Salesforce also introduced a way to tie in to Facebook's social network, making it possible to connect employees, customers, and partners in new ways. A development tool lets customers build applications that call functions at the Facebook site through standard APIs. It's not a complicated process, but it illustrates how the Salesforce cloud can be combined with other Web services in interesting ways.

Salesforce is no longer presenting itself solely as the agent of online software. It's an advocate of the future--the future, in its view, being cloud computing--giving its platform the ability to reach out to Facebook, Amazon, and, in previous steps, Google.

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