Cloud // Software as a Service
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1/16/2009
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Innovators & Influencers

A SaaS trailblazer, a REST activist, a firewall revisionist, even a president will all shape technology in the coming year.

Marc Benioff
Taking On The Cloud

Marc Benioff -- Photograph by J.D. Lasica Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com's CEO, is the poster boy for Web-based business apps, having turned his upstart sales force automation service into a billion-dollar business and gotten his company on the S&P 500. Now, he's on to his company's second act: cloud computing.

By the time 500 people showed up at Salesforce's CloudForce event last month at New York's Pierre Hotel, Benioff had already pushed Salesforce headlong into cloud computing with the Force.com application platform. It lets developers use Salesforce's CRM services and workflow features to build their own applications and has an application catalog, AppExchange, to help them distribute their apps.

CRM, key to Salesforce's early success, "is still our Trojan horse," Benioff says. Companies like Dell buy into Salesforce's CRM service first and then try the vendor's other products, like Ideas, a portal aimed at spreading innovative ideas. Benioff is hoping the same model works for cloud computing: Harrah's Entertainment recently signed up to have Force.com power business-critical apps, including its room reservation system.

2008 was a busy year for Salesforce: It announced a Web hosting platform, increased its number of paying customers by 36% and revenue by 44% (at least for the third quarter), expanded partnerships with Google and Amazon.com, and added features to Force.com.

Partnerships are a big part of what's next for Salesforce. Its growing relationship with Google includes letting customers access Google word processor, e-mail, and other apps through Salesforce's CRM dashboard. And last month, the companies said they would make Google's App Engine consumer Web app platform interoperate with Force.com. Another burgeoning relationship is with Amazon, letting Salesforce developers extend their Force.com applications with Amazon's EC2 Web services interface and S3 Web storage services.

Benioff hasn't lost any of his edge as his company has grown, and he's still busy prophesying software's demise in hyperbolic sound bites. "Microsoft's cash cows have mad cow disease," he recently said. "And they don't have long to live." That said, Salesforce's roughly $1 billion in annual revenue is about equal to that of SharePoint, just one of Microsoft's many applications.

Though Benioff's quick to pound on Microsoft, the 800-pound gorilla in Salesforce's ring, he says, is Oracle. Oracle chief Larry Ellison has stutter-stepped around software as a service and cloud computing, claiming in the last few months that SaaS isn't a profitable business and that Oracle On Demand had a number of significant wins against Salesforce. To Benioff, that's little more than posturing. "You know he's worried," Benioff says of Ellison, his former boss.

Ever brash, never boring, Benioff will continue to loom large over the business technology landscape in 2009.

-- J. Nicholas Hoover

Photograph by J.D. Lasica

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