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Cloud Wars – Can the Force Disrupt the Battlefield?

The cloud market is not going away. Gartner predicts that cloud spending from 2013 to 2016 will be $677 billion worldwide

The cloud wars battle rages on. Gartner predicts that one in four cloud providers will be gone by 2015, making this a very high stakes battle for all concerned. The 800lb gorillas, AWS, IBM, Google, Microsoft, et al. continue their efforts for dominance. The latest salvo has been a price war between Google, AWS and Microsoft for their services. Pricing is spiraling downward at breakneck speeds. The others are sure to follow. Into this fog of war, another player has been working on winning the hearts and minds of customers and developers. SalesForce.com, one of the first and best known Software as a Service (SaaS) vendors, has set its sights on becoming the platform of choice for cloud development and deployments.

Will they succeed? They definitely can be considered a gorilla in their own right, approaching $5B in sales, and with a reported 1.5M developers, should not be taken lightly. Their approach is having an impact in the battle, forcing the other vendors and the industry to re-think how they look at cloud services, and could ultimately change the battlefield tactics in the ongoing cloud wars. To understand how a CRM vendor rose to that level of impact, becoming a contender in the cloud wars, one must trace their roots.

This Is Not Your Father's CRM
I know I am dating myself, but there was a time I worked in the industry when customer relationship management was literally a sales person's rolodex. Then, in the early 1990s, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) came into being as a concept. We graduated to digital rolodexes and small marketing applications like ACT. CRM really started to take off in the mid-90s when large ERP vendors such as Oracle and SAP joined the game. These vendors wanted to leverage their size and installed an ERP base to fuel the growth. CRM systems like those were large in-house applications with a myriad of marketing and sales services being added along the way.

Salesforce.com took CRM in a very different direction when they were founded in 1999. They were one of the first companies to truly push the SaaS model with their ‘End of Software' marketing pitch and campaign. While we take SaaS for granted nowadays, this was a pretty radical approach at the time. To set some context, in 1999

  • Approx four percent of the world's population was on the Internet
  • Google had been founded just six months prior
  • Amazon.com had been around for approximate five years (AWS was still seven years away)

Eleven years later, Salesforce.com rose to become the industry market leader in CRM, bypassing the ERP stalwarts SAP and Oracle, capturing 14 percent marketshare according to Gartner. In that timeframe their name became synonymous with SaaS (think, how many presentations on the cloud have you seen that give Salesforce.com as an example of SaaS?).

May the Force Be with You
In 2007, Salesforce.com again took the cloud industry by storm launching Force.com. Force.com provided a mechanism for customers and partners to build cloud-hosted applications that could easily integrate with the Salesforce.com core systems. Just as Salesforce.com had become synonymous with SaaS, Force.com led the way into the Platform as a Service (PaaS) world (some even credit Salesforce.com founder Mark Benioff as coining the term PaaS). According to Salesforce.com, within three years they had over 300,000 developers that had written over 180,000 custom applications. Recent reports have them at 1.5M developers. At their recent DreamForce 2013 conference, there were 130,000+ registered attendees from 84 countries and 350 partner companies participating.

Gartner's latest magic quadrant for Enterprise PaaS places Salesforce.com as the industry leader. Gartner views one of their key strengths as having the "...longest strategic and successful presence in the cloud application and platform markets. This gives salesforce.com the name recognition and reputation that, for many prospects, translate to a safe choice in the otherwise immature and unsettled PaaS market." The have become the ‘safe' choice, just as in decades past the ‘nobody got fired for buying IBM' concept.

This does not mean they are a perfect solution. One of my favorite phrases is "Everything is a tradeoff," and the Salesforce.com PaaS offering is no different. It is built around a proprietary cloud native relational DBMS (which is the underlying DBMS for the Salesforce.com product suite as well). Gartner cautions ‘The proprietary nature of the Force.com platform deters adoption by many independent application development projects seeking to avoid vendor lock-in and prevents application migration projects from utilizing the platform.'

The Convergence of IaaS and PaaS, Changes in the Battlefield?
A recent article in Network World, ‘Is the PaaS Market as we know it dying?', discusses changes and trends that are happening in the IaaS and PaaS space. The article raises the theory that these two major cloud models are moving towards consolidation. David Linthicum reinforces that viewpoint. He describes it as ‘PaaS isn't dying, it's becoming part of IaaS'. As the ongoing price wars between the IaaS gorillas continues, it reduces IaaS to just a commodity item. Differentiators are needed to attract customers (and developers) to use this commodity for their cloud applications and deployments. Some of those differentiators can be platform services to facilitate development and application marketplaces to provide customers with easier transition to the cloud environments. IBM recently announced such a marketplace, and added PaaS to their portfolio with the acquisition of SoftLayer last year.

These differentiators are how Salesforce.com has been marketing and selling Force.com and what has made them the industry leader in the PaaS space. They have had their own marketplace, called AppExchange, with over 2,200 partner built applications including integrations with all the key social media technologies such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. The convergence of the IaaS and PaaS models can potentially play to SalesForce.com's sweet spot and make them a strong competitor to all the other 800lb gorillas in the ongoing cloud wars.

Will this be enough? Time will tell. The cloud market is not going away. Gartner predicts that cloud spending from 2013 to 2016 will be $677 billion worldwide. There is a lot at stake, so the cloud wars will continue for some time. SalesForce.com is more than capable of holding its own against the other 800lb gorillas in the ongoing battle for the cloud market share. Salesforce.com was born of the cloud and has not looked back nor rested on their laurels. When the predicted shakeout occurs, I think they will still be one of the ones left standing.

More Stories By Ed Featherston

Ed Featherston is a senior enterprise architect and director at Collaborative Consulting. He brings more than 34 years of information technology experience of designing, building, and implementing large complex solutions. He has significant expertise in systems integration, Internet/intranet, client/server, middleware, and cloud technologies, Ed has designed and delivered projects for a variety of industries, including financial services, pharmacy, government and retail.

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