The Internet has been abuzz lately with talk of a potential pairing between Google and Salesforce.com--a line of speculation that I find particularly intriguing.
For one thing, with the amount of ink that's been spilled over Google-DoubleClick and Microsoft-aQuantive, and what it all means for the future of advertising, it's refreshing for once to ponder a Google rumor that might actually hold some relevance for enterprise IT.
Ad wars fatigue aside, what I find most interesting about a potential Google-Salesforce deal--either in the form of a blockbuster acquisition or a strategic alliance--are the compelling new sorts of services and products that might come out of it.
I've become a fan of hosted applications, such as the task list keeper at Todoist.com and the programs that make up Google Apps for Your Domain, and I look forward to seeing other applications in the SAAS (software as a service) mold emerge to meet my needs. Google has recently adopted the concise "search, ads and apps" as a mission statement. So far, the company has gotten off to a promising start on the "apps" part of motto, which is the only of the three areas for which Google doesn't enjoy a dominant position on the Web.
In particular, Google's enterprise SAAS roots are still awfully shallow. If Google is out to carve itself a piece of the enterprise applications market, there doesn't appear to be any sharper implement to address this task than Salesforce, which has grown to be practically synonymous with SAAS.
However, beyond the reputation for enterprise SAASiness that Salesforce could bring to Google, I think that the pair could go a long way toward blazing new trails for hosted applications.
The most frequently cited drawbacks to hosted applications are security and uptime concerns. However, for a significant number of companies, particularly small to midsized concerns, it's not clear that the security and uptime they can assure for themselves wouldn't fall short for what an established SAAS provider could offer.
Moving forward, I believe that a bigger SAAS concern for companies will be too few customization opportunities--if letting your apps live on Google's data center means being limited to running only what Google offers, the possibilities of these apps will remain bound.
One path forward for Google could resemble Amazon's EC2, or Elastic Compute Cloud, the very cool service in which the online retailer rents out some of its considerable data center capacity for running arbitrary virtual machines. During my recent tests of EC2, I couldn't help but wonder when Google would get into the act.
Rather than actually host Xen machines, as Amazon does, or, on a higher level of abstraction, host grid applications in the way that Sun's now doing, Google could find in Salesforce a way to offer customers customization opportunities that better match the sort of simplicity for which Google strives.
Salesforce announced at its Dreamforce conference last fall a platform, called Apex, for building applications that run on the Salesforce infrastructure and integrate with Salesforce's existing CRM (customer relationship management) applications. Marrying Apex with Google's infrastructure would take some work--the first thing that comes to mind is that Google is a MySQL shop, while Salesforce sports an Oracle database back end. Also, Apex is still rather young, and it remains to be seen how many developers will opt to code for a platform without a clear emigration option.
I'm not suggesting that Salesforce won't manage to take Apex to great heights on its own, or that Google couldn't eventually come up with a framework like this on its own, but a match between the two could take both providers' offerings to the next level.