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10/14/2009
02:59 PM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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Benioff, Dell Link Arms: Here Comes Hybrid Cloud

Marc Benioff set aside his duties as master of ceremonies at the death of software Tuesday and announced on-demand applications and on-premises applications could work together. His venue was a Yerba Buena Center theater in San Francisco next to Oracle OpenWorld. He still took a swipe at enterprise software, but his talk was titled, "The Best of Both Worlds."

Marc Benioff set aside his duties as master of ceremonies at the death of software Tuesday and announced on-demand applications and on-premises applications could work together. His venue was a Yerba Buena Center theater in San Francisco next to Oracle OpenWorld. He still took a swipe at enterprise software, but his talk was titled, "The Best of Both Worlds."This is not mere expediency, although it walks, talks and quacks a lot like expediency.

In fact both Oracle, with its expanding applications empire, and Salesforce.com, with its expanding online application platform, would both benefit if their mutual customers could inter-operate more easily. What's good for on-premises applications might be good for online applications as well. Let's not be too hasty in rushing into the great die off.

What's changed is not the world but Marc Benioff's view of it. His online applications have expanded into a cloud platform, where customers can both run their Salesforce applications and build new applications that make greater use of their Salesforce applications. That works in a big way for Salesforce, but how to get more customers to take advantage of it?

That question can be answered in part by Dell, which wants to sell hardware and employ its newly acquired Perot Systems consultants in deploying it. Dell and Salesforce announced Monday that Dell consultants will help implement Salesforce applications and IT infrastructure for small and medium businesses, a huge under- serviced sector left up for grabs by the likes of Oracle, SAP and IBM.

One of the things Dell will seek to do is implement more Salesforce.com applications in small business, a task that could keep Perot consultants busy for several years. This alliance is powered by the fact that Dell has entrée to small and medium business because it sells them more servers than anyone else, hence the heart felt handclasp between Benioff and Michael Dell as he called the CEO up to the stage. Dell is Salesforce's ticket to reach a new set of customers.

What Marc Benioff said yesterday at the Yerba Buena theatre about the Best of Both Worlds was in fact a view of how the data center will evolve toward on-premises software working with software in the cloud. Sign up here, he was saying, because Salesforce plans to supply much of the software in the cloud. It's already much more than a Salesforce automation specialist. It's evolved into a platform company where certain integrations can be achieved through its online servers, linked to its database services and tied to its applications.

"Small companies, medium sized companies will have just as much computer power as Dell," Benioff explained to a somewhat puzzled, big enterprise audience. Earlier, he had pointed out that Salesforce already has three data centers around the globe capable of executing transactions from 63,000 customers. The key thing that he said was: "Half of our transactions are integrated transactions (using data from two or more applications). You can push or pull data from our environment as if it was your own environment." That's because Salesforce is on the Internet, its data centers have surplus capacity waiting to execute for people who bring it their data and they can be easily accessed through Salesforce online application conventions. (You conform to those conventions.) Getting data out of one application and into another or into a combined business process is something Saleforce will be good at, in the future. In effect, Benioff was trying to convince his listeners, this was the future of enterprise computing--on premises applications working with those on line, the Best of Both Worlds.

But to really understand what was afoot--and from some blanks looks in the audience, I'm not sure it was self evident--you needed to listen to Michael Dell's keynote address earlier in the day at Oracle OpenWorld. Dell has a view of the future that consists of data centers being remade. They will become less heterogenous in hardware and operating systems and more homogeneous in x86 instruction set servers. Of course Dell has this vision. That is what it sells -- but there are indications that it's in the process of coming true. As Linux, Windows Server and x86 servers all become more capable, they populate more and more of the data center. Virtualization extends their reach and efficiency.

Dell in his keynote described a future in which most x86 servers would be configured, deployed and run in an automated fashion. Likewise, they would be populated with virtual machines which would be configured, deployed and run in a highly automated fashion. With just a little variation, this x86 data center becomes a private cloud, running applications that can synch up with those in the public, multi-tenant cloud.

Dell and Salesforce.com are linking arms in hopes that many of their customers will be building out hybrid operations, an x86 (or IBM POwer) standardized server data center that is synchronized with an external cloud. They just didn't call it, "Here's the Hybrid Cloud.".

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