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Salesforce chief brags of cloud for grown-ups

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Salesforce.com's CEO has tried to nudge potential partners and customers away from the hosted computing services of Amazon, Google and Facebook by saying that Force.com is for serious business developers who want to make some coin.

Marc Benioff made his cloudy pitch at a Salesforce.com evangelism event in Silicon Valley, where he said Salesforce.com's focus in the next 10 years is on a "platform as a service". For those of you not keeping track, the company's focus for the first 10 years was on software as a service (SaaS) where Salesforce.com made its name in hosted customer relationship management (CRM). And now Salesforce is all about Force.com where developers can "create any type of business application."

Benioff also used the event to announce an expanded relationship with Google, an aspiring provider of tools and infrastructure services for developers.

Benioff announced a Force.com Toolkit for Google Data APIs that will let Salesforce's metadata-based Apex language directly call Google Data APIs. The move will make it easier to link applications built for Force.com, using the company's Apex programming language, with data-based services from Google.

Separately, Benioff committed to the delivery of the planned Force.com Checkout service at the company's Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, in November. Checkout, announced in December 2006, is expected to provide billing, invoicing and check out for partners' applications hosted on Salesforce.com's AppExchange. Salesforce.com is expected to levy a 20 percent commission fee for applications sold through Checkout.

The announcements came on the latest stop in Salesforce.com's global partner evangelism roadshow, Tour de Force, where Benioff repeated his standard message that the future is for applications built and delivered online, and not in a client/server configuration.

According to Benioff, hosted infrastructure - platforms, like Force.com - deliver everything an entrepreneurial developer could possibly want, from application servers, data storage and provisioning to development environments and integration with third-party software.

He advised against newbies trying to buy, integrate and license "late twentieth century" software such as Microsoft's .NET and Visual Basic, BEA Systems' WebLogic, and IBM's WebSphere and Lotus Notes. He made great play of the fact Force.com acts like an application server.

"It's time for them [partners] to go forward and change... there isn't a reason to be building on SQL Server anymore or .NET anymore," he said. "We've seen this before: 'Am I going to chose the mainframe or the client/server'? 'Am I going to buy more SQL Server databases and client/server licenses, or am I going to move'?"

Benioff continues to try and move Salesforce.com beyond being seen as "just" a provider of SaaS, despite the fact this is where Salesforce.com made its name and Salesforce.com has been a major evangelist of SaaS.

Specifically, Benioff associated Force.com with Google's App Engine, Amazon's S3 and EC2, and Facebook.

There's been much chatter about the potential of using Google App Engine and Amazon's EC2 and S3 for building applications and storing data online. Facebook, meanwhile, has been kicked around as a potential delivery channel for applications.

Benioff, though, subtly differentiated Force.com from these services by talking about their different focuses and the fact Force.com has a large business audience, thanks to Salesforce.com's customer base. According to Benioff, Google, Amazon and Facebook are "heading in different directions". Amazon is focused CPU and storage, Google App Engine is for web applications and Facebook is for social applications.

Force.com's focus is the enterprise, according to Benioff. He claimed 43,600 customers overall, while AppExchange contains 800 SaaS applications from 460 ISVs, including Salesforce.com. Benioff claimed 3.8 million lines of Apex code have been written and 1.5 million Apex system requests are made each day, with code running on the Salesforce.com servers not a sandboxed environment.®

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