Salesforce.com Takes Aim at Java, .Net with AppExchange

 
 
By Renee Boucher Ferguson  |  Posted 2006-01-18
 
 
 

Salesforce.com Takes Aim at Java, .Net with AppExchange


SAN FRANCISCO—Salesforce.com began its campaign to turn its on-demand customer relationship management service into a development platform for Web applications with the official introduction of AppExchange here Tuesday.

The company rolled out AppExchange along with the Winter 06 edition of its core CRM application at the type of event that has become Saleforce.coms hallmark; it invited several hundred people to a small venue where guests are chest-to-chest, packed six deep into corridors and hallways. This time it was at the St. Regis, San Franciscos newest and trendiest hotel.

With his usual evangelistic fervor, Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com, talked about his companys plan for providing a common access point and development platform for many different kinds of Web applications.

"Our vision is to take killer applications on the Internet and transform that into a platform, just as our predecessors did with the PC," Benioff said during his keynote address.

"To do that we need a platform [where developers can] create and publish applications that are secure and scalable in global implementations with local [functionality] like currency. Also, we want mash-ups, like Craigslist integrated with Google. We want to have those mash-ups, but a lot of them, automating business. So weve been working on AppExchange."

Read here about performance slowdowns and outages that Salesforce.com and its customers have had to deal with.

To illustrate this concept, George Hu, Salesforce.coms vice president of strategy and marketing, demonstrated an application that combined regional sales reports built with Salesforce.com and Google maps. The report links were displayed as balloons over each geographic point.

Another key goal is to give software developers a platform for building on-demand applications to rival that of Java and .Net in terms of functionality, company officials said.

"Were sort of ecumenical. So if youre developing an outside service that now will become part of our business Web so that Salesforce customers can now take advantage of it, that development can be done in .Net, in PHP, in C, it really doesnt matter," said Lew Tucker, vice president of AppExchange.

"Our integration language is that of Web services, so weve standardized on the Internet protocol and then were leaving particular development environments that developers like to use up to the developer," said Tucker.

The AppExchange concept is not new. Salesforce.com announced last year its intention to build "an eBay for the business world" where users can develop and trade software from Salesforce.com and from third-party vendors. Tuesdays news was about the general availability of AppExchange, along with many new infrastructure upgrades to support a complete development platform.

"We had to rebuild our architecture. … MultiForce was the first version of the AppExchange operating system," said Benioff. "We also had to rebuild our software. We have installed two huge data centers that are now running the Salesforce Winter 06 release—thats a complete rebuild. After that, we wholesale replaced all our software and put that onto new hardware. Thats all completed, all running on Winter 06 architecture."

The two new data centers—one on the West Coast, the other on the East Coast—were a $50 million investment for Salesforce (one data center will be mirrored next month) and will provide the performance to support what Salesforce.com hopes will be a rapidly growing population of CRM users and AppExchange developers.

Salesforce.com also announced the Winter 06 release of its on-demand CRM software—its 19th generation. This latest release comes with a number of functionality upgrades including a new user interface, and 2.0 versions of Outlook and Office.

The upgraded Outlook offering brings integrated synchronization for better productivity and an upgraded user interface. Offline Edition 2.0, on the other hand, has been completely re-engineered to bring increased data volumes, field-level conflict resolution and leads, and custom-related lists, officials said. Also added to the suite are a new Territory Management module, an integrated Campaign Builder tool and streamlined analytics.

But make no mistake, Salesforce.com is moving beyond CRM. Its goal now: to become an on-demand business application development platform—one that developers think of first for building applications—that enables the exchange of all different types of services.

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Attracting ISVs


"Whats next? Helping developers understand new options—its not just Java versus .Net," said Adam Gross, director of product marketing at Salesforce.com. "[Were providing] an entirely different way of building applications, and ISV applications. We want that same level of love from developers [as Java and .Net]."

Unlike .Net or Java, however, AppExchange is meant for the purpose of developing business applications. Users wouldnt, for example, build games using the platform, according to Gross.

To help developers build on-demand applications faster and easier, the company has automated a number of those tools including form building, analytics, internationalization of applications, security, sharing, Web services and APIs.

Those automated services are important for taking some of the drudgery out of application development, according to Tucker.

"Things that motivate a developer are being able to invent new things that look cool" and that will thrill users, Tucker said. "And you want to do as little work as possible," he said.

Though it is relying on standard development technologies, Salesforce is putting its own spin on things. The company has completely rewritten its SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) stack from the ground up to include a new Web services processing engine, according to Gross.

"Its an orders of magnitude improvement," said Gross. "Our core protocols are all standard, but were writing our own implementations of this—its not new functionality, but its new speed."

Those customers familiar with AppExchange welcome the platforms potential.

"AppExchange is great. It gives us lots of opportunities to create things on the fly that we dont have the resources or time to try—and it makes things a little more central," said Melissa Caylor, director of IT at First New England Mortgage. "[But] I dont plan to move any time soon. Mortgage is so cyclical were not in a position to put anything in place."

Read more here about Salesforce.coms vision for AppExchange.

John Burgess, CEO at Yearmovie Inc., has had an opportunity to try out AppExchange. He recently integrated his Salesforce CRM applications with ERP (enterprise resource planning) functionality from Intacct Corp., using AppExchange.

"Through AppExchange we were exposed to Intacct. Its been very valuable," said Burgess, in Springfield, Mo. "Were looking at integrating our platform to Salesforce, through AppExchange, so we can have visibility on how we are progressing, and how our customers are using our product. Its a powerful concept."

Salesforce.com is also tapping partners for development might. The company announced Tuesday partnerships with Business Objects, Skype and Adobe that have resulted in new applications for AppExchange. Tata Consultancy Services, a global IT and consulting organization, announced a partnership with Salesforce to develop and deploy applications on AppExchange.

However, the partner community is not entirely sold on AppExchange yet. "We see a lot of demand, but we dont yet see the entire vision of AppExchange, where applications are just downloaded and used," said Stephen Savignano, CEO of Ketera Technologies Inc., which develops on-demand spend management applications that are integrated with AppExchange.

"The vision of that solution is the place where people can buy and shop for applications, and they have that, that part is working—were seeing demand coming from the channel. But the idea that companies are just going to download applications from Salesforce—thats going to vary. A lot of people that have come through AppExchange, do they download applications? No. Maybe in the future."

Editors note: This story was updated to with comments from Salesforce.com executives to explain their development strategy for AppExchange.

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