SAN FRANCISCO - In an unusually tame appearance at the Web 2.0 Summit, Salesforce.com (NASDAQ:SFDC) CEO Marc Benioff declined to lash out at rival Oracle and its mercurial CEO Larry Ellison and even praised the company for its success.
Web 2.0 Summit co-host Tim O'Reilly engaged the straight-shooting Benioff in a word-association game by throwing out company names such as Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), HP (NYSE:HPQ), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) and asking the CEO to say what came to mind.
When O'Reilly said "Oracle," Benioff paused and answered in diplomatic fashion: "I think that they are actually a strong company because of all of the acquisitions they've made, and they have a very good strategy."
At O'Reilly's prompting, Benioff did, however, reiterate his caution that companies must "beware the false cloud" Oracle and other virtualization software vendors offer as private clouds that come on disks. True cloud computing, he explained, is hosted, multi-tenant and lives on the Web-not on a disk.
That false cloud discussion has fiery pretext and comes one month after Oracle's Ellison denigrated Salesforce.com at the Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco Sept. 21. Ellison essentially wrote off Salesforce.com as a one-off software as a service (SAAS) application for CRM.
One day later at the same conference, Benioff said Oracle's new Exalogic server boxes are "false cloud" computing environments.
At the Web 2.0 Summit, Benioff cited Facebook, Amazon and eBay as examples of cloud-computing enablers. "That's not about building a virtualized machine inside your data center and saying, "Oh, I have cloud, too."
Benioff actually saved his greatest praise for Facebook, which he claimed epitomizes what the next-generation consumer operating system should be like. "Everything I want in a consumer operating system, I see in Facebook," Benioff added.
When O'Reilly asked if Benioff looked to model Salesforce.com after Facebook, Benioff said "yes" without explicitly saying yes, noting that he "would like to be doing as many amazing things as Facebook is doing."
He sees Facebook is setting the direction for where the enterprise application space is going, from the way it works on tablet computers and smartphones, to its ability to easily enable third-party developers to write software for the Facebook platform.
He noted that it's extremely relevant for his enterprise customers, because Facebook is where their customers are going, and it's how their employees are being trained on how to collaborate with each other and work with customers on the social network of 800 million-plus users.
Salesforce.com has already taken several steps to leverage the environment Facebook has wrought, including two significant software purchases.
Facebook's allure to boost CRM in Salesforce.com's own business led Benioff and Co. to acquire Heroku, which enables developers to build Facebook applications from within Facebook itself using Ruby on Rails, Java, Python and other languages.
Benioff and his team earlier this year also acquired social analytics provider Radian6 to help it get a handle on reputation and brand management. Salesforce.com uses Radian6 software to provide social media clarity across Sales Cloud, Service Cloud as well as the company's Force.com application platform.
The CEO also lamented the lack of engineering and other high-tech talent he and at least 100 companies he knows of are experiencing.
Despite the recession, he said that not enough people in the U.S. understand the economic opportunity that lies in high tech and that we need to show them the possibilities.