At its first developer conference May 21 centered on Apex, Salesforce.coms yet-to-be-released on-demand programming language, the company announced a new platform capability that will help developers build on-demand applications.
Salesforce SOA, revealed at the Santa Clara conference, allows the Apex code to not only produce Web services—Salesforce users have been able to do that since 2003—but to consume Web services as well.
"This is really the fabric for coordinating multiple Web services across systems," said Adam Gross, vice president of developer marketing at Salesforce.com, in San Francisco.
The Apex programming language, due in December, is designed to enable developers to build multitenant on-demand applications using Apex as a service. So there is no infrastructure and no set up costs; its just a flat out development environment.
The Apex code sits on the Apex platform—a set of tools for building applications including models and objects to manage data, a workflow engine for managing collaboration between users, a user interface model to handle forms and the Salesforce API for programmatic access and integration with other applications.
The idea with Salesforce SOA, essentially a bit of functionality thats part of the overall code, is to use Web services to bring in workflow or processes from outside applications or systems. It will help users to build applications that integrate to Web services from billing, inventory, or order entry systems, for example.
At the same time developers can call out to internal Web services such as Oracle financials or SAP order management, to external Web services the likes of FedEx, Hoovers or Yahoo.
Narindar Singh, founder and chief marketing officer of Appirio, a Salesforce.com partner, has used Salesforce SOA to create a service that allows users to customize their Google homepage with Salesforce data geared toward their business. While Google and Salesforce already have a capability that lets users customize their home page, what Sing did is create an additional component inside of Salesforce that lets any administrator, anywhere in the world, go in and change the parameters of the gadget to show real-time information.
"This was made possible by the underlying technical capabilities of [Salesforce] SOA. This allowed us to make real-time updates and make them massively customizable to anyone in the world," said Singh in San Francisco.
"Prior to SOA the real time piece was much harder. We were going around things and the massively customizable piece we had to put on hold because it wouldnt have been a clean user interface. Now its real time and its bi-directional from Salesforce."
While developers—particularly those partners that have their boat tied to Salesforce—are intrigued by the Apex model, what many are waiting for is a pricing and licensing signal from Salesforce.
During its fiscal first quarter 2008 earnings call last week CEO Marc Benioff handily sidestepped a question from an analyst as to how Salesforce plans to monetize AppExchange, the marketplace where Apex-built applications can be marketed and sold. "AppExchange is a strategic initiative ... that we have fully integrated with our [Apex] platform," said Benioff. "Today AppExchange applications have been installed by more customers and used by more ISVs [independent software vendors]. And about half of our 250 ISVs have signed up for the AppStore [the monetization and marketing arm of AppExchange]. We are optimists. But its early days."
The monetization issue has carried over to Apex. In a March interview with eWEEK, Bill Emerson, an officer with Salesforce partner ForceAmp, said he is looking for the business model to evolve around Apex.
"We like the innovation and technology ... were part of the [Apex] beta. Now we need to see the other elements of the business to see if its viable: the per-user infrastructure cost, and what we can add on top of that to sell to customers. The key thing is going to be the cost of infrastructure," said Emerson, in Denver, Colo.
"If we want to sell something at $65 per month per user, what do we have to pay Salesforce? If we have to pay $60 to Salesforce then it doesnt work."
Should Salesforce become successful in building a large developer and partner base around Apex, it will propel the company from an on-demand CRM (customer relationship management) company to the go-to platform company for on-demand development, a position that would put Salesforce miles ahead of encroaching competition from the likes of Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.
The Salesforce SOA capability of Apex is expected to be ready for developer preview in August.