I had some business to take care of in downtown San Francisco this morning, and on my way to my destination, I strolled past Moscone Center, the site of this year's Dreamforce conference. The news coming out of that conference had peaked my interest a day earlier--I'll get to that in a minute--but when I saw the graphics and catch phrase of the conference, I had to laugh. Not in mockery, mind you; it was just ironic.
There, spanning the vast entrances of both Moscone North and South was nothing but blue skies and fluffy white...wait for it...clouds. In other words, the single theme of the conference visuals was, I can only assume, cloud computing. Not CRM, not "making your business better", but an implementation mechanism; a way of doing IT. That's the irony, in my mind; that in this amazing month or so of cloud computing history, one of the companies most aggressively associating themselves with cloud computing was a CRM company, not a compute capacity or storage provider.
Except, Salesforce.com was already blurring the lines between PaaS and SaaS, even as they open the door to their partners and customers taking advantage of IaaS where it makes sense. Even before Marc Benioff's keynote yesterday, it was clear that force.com was far more than a way to simply customize the core CRM offering. Granted, most applications launched there took advantage of Salesforce.com data or services in one way or another, but there was clear evidence that the SF gang were targeting a PaaS platform that stood alone, even as it provided the easiest way to draw customers into the CRM application.
The core of the new announcement, Sites, appears to simply be an extension of this. The idea behind Sites is to provide a web site framework that allows customers to address both Intranet and Internet applications without needing to run any infrastructure on-premises. Of course, if you find the built in SF integration makes adopting the CRM platform easier, then SF would be happy to help. Their goal, you see, is summed up in the conference catch phrase: "The End of Software". (Of course, let's just ignore the fact that force.com is a software development platform, any way you cut it.)
Skeptical that you can get what you need from a single PaaS offering? Here's where the genius part of the day's announcements come in; simply utilize Amazon for the computing and storage needs that force.com was unable to provide. Heck, yeah.
Allow me to observe something important, here. First, note that Salesforce does not have an existing packages software model; thus, there is no incentive whatsoever to offer an on-premesis alternative. Touche, Microsoft. Second, note that Salesforce.com has no problem whatsoever with partnering with someone who does something better than them. En guarde, Google. Finally, pay attention to the fact Salesforce.com is expanding its business offerings in a way that both serves existing customers in increasingly powerful ways, while inviting new, non CRM customers to use productive tools that just happen to include integration with the core offering. PaaS as a marketing hook, not necessarily a business model in and of itself. (If it succeeds on its own, that's icing on the cake.)
In a three week period that has seen some of the most revolutionary cloud computing announcements, Salesforce.com managed to not only keep themselves relevant, but further managed to make a grab for significant cloud mindshare. Fluffy, white, cloud mindshare.