Salesforce became the proving ground for software as a service with its Web alternative to premises-based sales force automation applications, and dozens of SaaS companies followed. Salesforce's next act: platform as a service.
Marc Benioff's company is making its Web application platform, Force.com, available to other companies as a foundation for their own software services. Force.com includes a relational database, user interface options, business logic, and an integrated development environment called Apex. Programmers can test their Apex-developed apps in the platform's Sandbox, then offer the finished code on Salesforce's AppExchange directory.
In the early going, developers used Force.com to create add-ons to Salesforce CRM, but they're increasingly developing software unrelated to Salesforce's offerings, says Adam Gross, the vendor's platform VP. Game developer Electronic Arts built an employee-recruiting application on Force.com, and software vendor Coda crafted a general ledger app.
At the same time, Salesforce continues to advance its own applications, which are now being used by 1.1 million people. An upgrade due this summer will include the ability to access Google Apps from within a Salesforce application, more than a dozen new mobile features, an "analytics snapshot," enhanced customer portals, and improved idea exchange and content management.
Salesforce is getting into other cloud services, too. In April 2007, it jumped into enterprise content management with Salesforce Content, which lets users store, classify, and share information similar to Microsoft SharePoint and EMC Documentum.
Salesforce has adopted a multitenant architecture, in which servers and other IT resources are shared by customers rather than dedicated to one account. "There's no question there's an evangelism involved with doing multitenancy, but, with education, customers quickly come on board with the model," says Gross.
The proof is in the sales figures. Salesforce's revenue grew to $248 million in the quarter ended April 30, a 53% increase over the same period a year ago, keeping it on pace to become the first billion-dollar company to generate almost all of its sales from cloud computing.