Salesforce Focuses on Developers
Salesforce.com is hosting its Dreamforce user conference Sept. 16-19, with a strong focus on developers and software as a service. The companys vice president of developer relations, Adam Gross, sat down at Salesforces headquarters in San Francisco with eWEEK Senior Editor Darryl K. Taft in August to discuss what has given the company its head start in the SAAS arena as well as the companys growing developer focus.
How do you maintain your lead and your uniqueness in this arena of software as a service?
Well, let me answer that in part by telling you what my responsibilities are and then I can speak to that from my perspective.
Im responsible for developer relations. That means everything in terms of developer-based activities for Salesforce, which in and of itself is a relatively new phenomenon for the company. Salesforce started off focused on CRM [customer relationship management], and the folks around here are really focused on serving those customers. My job is to make our technology popular and successful to all the developers out there that are building enterprise business applications.
And its funny in that Ive had a little bit of the opposite problem from the developer relations point of view because were coming out with so much new stuff all the time that keeping developers up to speed with all the technology frankly is a new challenge.
And I think what that speaks to is the kind of waves of on-demand, and people get the technical evolution of on-demand technologies in general. I think the first one for us was the idea of multitenancy—the idea that theres one copy of your service. Theres one copy of Google. Im not using a different version of Google than the next person is. And you shouldnt have to worry about it when Google introduces a new feature. It should just show up. And thats our expectation of online services, and thats our expectation of on-demand services.
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Frankly theres still a debate going on in the industry, which is kind of fascinating unto itself, about whether or not multitenancy is the way to go. And some vendors are out there quite aggressively saying that multitenancy isnt necessary, which kind of reminds me of the folks who were out there when the Mac came out saying all we needed was command line, no mouse, etc. It kind of feels like that to me. Its going to happen; its just a matter of when.
One of the interesting things about Microsoft and [Microsoft Chief Software Architect] Ray Ozzies presentation at their financial analysts meeting [in July] is Microsofts on the multitenancy bus. They decided about a year ago after having a bunch of different strategies that, “Were going multitenancy, thats our strategy with regard to these applications.” And that sets them apart from a lot of the other vendors and puts them in our camp in terms of the technology.
But really, multitenancy is just kind of the first step. So the second wave was a lot of the core integration features, and thats really been my focus. A lot of my focus in the company over the last couple of years has been our Web services API. That speaks to one of the very fascinating trends for me, having been in the integration space before I came to Salesforce, and that is the merger of SOA [service-oriented architecture] and Web application technologies, and how theyve really complemented themselves and accelerated each other in ways I dont think that any of us anticipated. And our API that we launched in 2003—full SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol], Web services, WS-I 1.1 [Web Services Interoperability] compliant—this is like SOA-by-the-book. Thats now responsible for over 50 percent of all the activity we do as a company.
So if you were to sit in front of the server rooms of our data infrastructure and count the transactions as theyre coming in, youd see more than half the requests werent Web requests from Web browsers; theyd be SOAP requests over XML.
So thats the second phase of the on-demand revolution.
Now the interesting thing is for us that was 2003; multitenancy was 1999-2000. But for most of the vendors, even acknowledging multitenancy is a big deal. So when you think about it in terms of how we stay ahead, how do we keep our lead, and whats our vision for on-demand, the reality is that we still feel like were playing nine or 10 innings in front of these guys. And thats because weve been very focused on innovating and weve been able to increase the frequency with which we release and the amount of stuff we release. We rolled out our summer 07 release of our service to our 30,000-plus customers, and that was the third major release for us this year. So we have a very rapid pace of innovation.
Thats a long answer to a simple question. But for all the talk, theres not necessarily as much technology action happening around the other vendors. Theyre just beginning to get on that slope, which is great. And we think that at some point theyll reach the 2003 level of Salesforce, which is where they are with their APIs. And at some point theyll reach the 2007 level of Salesforce, which is where we are with our platform technology. But that is some way off.
I think if I were to sit Ray Ozzie down and show him what Ive got in summer 07, I honestly think as a technologist hed be pretty damn impressed. And I think hed say: “Wow, its going to be a long time before we can turn this ship to understand what we need to do.”
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Fascination with Ozzies Presentation
You said you were fascinated by Ozzies presentation. What fascinated you? Just the fact that Microsoft has committed to a SAAS presence?
Yes, the fact that theyre into it and that they are beginning to internalize [and] having made the step of acknowledging multitenancy, which is kind of table stakes for being in this business. Once you get past to that step—and opposed to SAP and others who are still having that debate—once youre multitenancy, then you kind of think to yourself, What does this really mean? And you lay it out and you say, What is it going to take to get from here to there? And looking back to where we were in 2000, we knew we had to start thinking about operating as a service. We knew we were going to need a lot of iron to run this thing, and we had to think about how as a company we operate server infrastructure for our customers. You have to think about the stack, what are the services and identity management.
Its just interesting to see somebody approach that problem from step one. And I think its fantastic. Its such an exciting time in the software and enterprise application industry.
Id rather get my office online. Thats going to be better for us because the more stuff thats on the Internet, the easier it can interact with everything else. Thats why we have such a great relationship with Google.
I was curious what you thought because I think Ozzies made a lot of progress, but he obviously has a long way to go even in getting the message out broadly.
Theres a little bit of a thing that they just cant shake yet. Theyll ultimately shake it, but they still are very defensive about the role of software. And you can hear it. They say its not about services, its not about the Internet; its about software plus services. And what are they saying? Theyre not communicating to us. Theyre not talking to customers—customers have said they want this as a service. Theyre saying to like the 14,000 people they have working on software internally, “Dont worry, were not going to require you to rearchitect yet.”
Theres something inauthentic about that. And … I feel bad for Ray because I truly believe Ray Ozzies a true visionary. Its like, let him go. Dont saddle this vision. Nobodys going to be upset if you have this services vision and its not 100 percent intellectually aligned with software. Its like IBM. IBM did mainframes and they did PCs. It was OK. It wasnt like some great intellectual challenge. They didnt say, “Well, it was a PC, but it had to be connected to the mainframe.”
It wasnt like IBM would only sell you a mainframe if it had PCs hanging off of it. And thats the same thing that theyre [Microsoft] doing. And its reflective of an internal organization, its transparent that thats the case. Its like, Come on, get over it. Its fascinating to see how companies are responding to these changes.
So you welcome it then?
Absolutely. Our vision, [Salesforce founder and CEO] Marcs [Benioff] vision since starting the company is pretty simple: Its the end of software. And when I think of the word “software,” the first thing that comes to my mind is Microsoft. And when Microsoft gets up in front of the entire investment community—frankly, one of the most important audiences for the operation of a company—and basically says, “This is our strategy to handle the end of software,” that is an enormous, profound validation of your strategy.
And not to speak for anybody else, the expectation isnt that Salesforce is going to exist and every other companys going to go away. No, its that were going to have a bunch of new companies on the Internet, and were going to have bunch of existing companies transitioning to the Internet. So … I give Microsoft a lot of credit. For Ray Ozzie to get up there and do that … SAP isnt doing that, Oracle isnt doing that.
But thats what the knock was, that initially people felt like Microsoft couldnt really articulate their strategy.
And frankly, there was less real content when they first started talking about it. The reality is even now there were a lot of slides and then when it came time to demo, all they did was talk about Silverlight.
But then again, Microsoft is spending real money on data centers, and there is some activity for them. But its very, very early days.
I remember when Microsoft made the change in its messaging for its strategy, and it became software plus services. The company did a lot to reinforce that. What are your thoughts on how that went?
To be honest, I dont want to get in too deep about Microsoft, but one of the things theyve gone out of their way to do is try and say we dont believe in that vision.
One of the things that Ray Ozzie did that I thought was just weird at Mix 07 was to say, “Guess what, Salesforce has an offline client. Yeah, and it won PC World Editors Choice in 2003.” Were not hiding this fact. We dont have any great philosophical issue. We believe in rich devices and rich clients connecting to Internet services. Our problem is not with the client. Silverlights great. My problem is the server. My problem is Windows Server 2003, not Silverlight. The things that are putting the bane on IT organizations are not the clients. We dont have this issue.
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Your Apex language … Salesforce has taken a lot of criticism from some elements of the developer community about why we need another language. What do you say to them?
The first thing I say is, what has been the reaction? And I run a developer community thats about 40,000 people strong, and those developers are thrilled. Theres a lot of buzz about Apex because people are talking about being able to create code that runs on a service without having to manage any of the lower-level infrastructure. Thats a pretty profound technical innovation.
I remember Telescript and General Magic. They had a similar concept, and it was incredibly complex and nuanced. But to be able to run code on the network and [having it perform] actions has been a dream of developers for a long time.
So I think by and large developers have been thrilled with what they can accomplish. And so have end users.
Now there are people who are unhappy with it, and there have been some bloggers that have been unhappy with it. But funny enough, they work for SAP.
So I take the feedback and comments on Apex very seriously, but at the same time, I have to look at where some of those things are coming from.
Let me just speak to why Apex is what it is because we get this question a lot, which is, Why not just use Java? The answer is, if we could we would. Why didnt we just use a database and run Salesforce just off a database that we bought from anybody? Well, databases in 1999—and, it turns out, in 2007—arent multitenant. I think increasingly the technical community is aware that multitenancy is a predicate for being in on-demand and they understand that they cant just go buy multitenant technology from a vendor. Its a carrier-class technology that you have to build yourself. In fact, one of the key pieces of intellectual property that Salesforce built itself was this idea of a multitenant database.
It wasnt an aim to be proprietary. It was because we believe in the benefits of on-demand, and they have to be delivered in a multitenant way to achieve those benefits, so we had to invent a lot of stuff.
So now we get to this next area of programming languages. We had a way of storing the data. Now we wanted a way of acting on that data and intelligently manipulating that data, and doing all that in a programming language.
I love Java. I love Java in a deep, profound way because Im a crappy programmer. And when I had to do my own memory management in C++ and C, I wasnt very good. The fact that Java ushered in an era that I could do memory management and garbage collection automatically was the only reason why I think I was able to enter this industry. So Im a huge fan of Java and I still write Java code, but Java has one problem with regard to the on-demand world: Its not multitenant. Its a very big difference to go from a single-tenant language to a multitenant language.
And in a way, whats so interesting about Apex is we really inverted the relationship between code and its execution. So if I write a piece of Java code, or I write a piece of C++ code, and I write it on this laptop or any other laptop or server in a way the operating system and everything on the stack down become subservient to that piece of code. Well, you cant do that on the Internet. You cant have your server environment be subservient to a piece of code. We had to invert that relationship. So its very technically different under the hood that Apex code runs in this managed way that is always safe.
What the real achievement is, is how much we were able to make Apex look like Java, and look like things that are out there, and not have to go down and require developers to require new technologies, given how different it is in its execution and behavior.
So we made huge efforts to try to make this thing look and feel as familiar as possible.
Are you doing anything to link with any of the new Web 2.0 technologies or companies?
Sure. For us just as a philosophy—and this is something else that Microsoft could benefit from embracing a little more aggressively—we believe that innovation starts in the consumer Internet. A lot of people have problems with that because SAP, theyre a really fancy company. They have really fancy ads, and they charge a lot of money for their stuff, and if they were to go running around saying. “Our inspiration for our technology and our products comes from Amazon and Goggle,” then it starts to lose its mystique and a couple zeroes on its price tag.
For us, we dont have any problem saying that. And thats where we do draw our innovation. The original user interface for Salesforce.com was developed by looking at Amazon.com in 1999.
We look at a technology like Adobe Flash, which is changing how people use the Internet. So we partnered with Adobe to use the Flex toolkit. And we use our SOA technology to integrate with Googles applications. And there are several Web 2.0 startups that integrate with our CRM processes.
We are watching how those changes in technology are affecting the business because its happening pretty quickly.
However, Im more interested in the new APIs than I am in the new tools. When you get the new APIs, thats like Christmas morning. When Google introduced their spreadsheet API, it was like, “Wow, now I can create all these integrations with Google Spreadsheet.” And every week there seems to be a significant new API that comes out.
This is where the next generation of new software companies is going to come from. Now its about what APIs are available out there on the network.
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