Something is happening and you don't know what it is, goes the song. Strangely, it's turning out that the Web operating system we all thought would one day challenge Windows and serve as a portal to a universe of online-hosted apps turns out to be cloud computing. I breathed the buzz of cloud's success the other day as I caught up with the New York City edition of Salesforce.com's tenth anniversary, cross-country victory tour, and I shot a video.The Cloudforce event, which brought together Salesforce.com's partners, customers, and the press, had the air of revival meeting. That's unavoidable when you get a force of nature like Salesforce.com chairman and CEO Marc Benioff up on the stage, working the audience like only a master showman and salesman can. Interestingly, there's a little bit of Sun Microsystems chairman Scott McNealy in Benioff, as witnessed by his seemingly playful but actually quite biting jabs at competitors. (For example, Benioff said: "Microsoft is even threatening one day to have a [cloud] platform called Azure.")
You can see this in my video, which mashes up five snippets from the event to bring you a whirlwind tour of the day without have to sit through the whole thing. I've combined pieces of Benioff's keynote, a demo of new features on Salesforce.com's CRM app, Benioff's on-stage chat with Starbucks CTO Chris Bruzzo, and an interview I did with Salesforce.com marketing manager Kraig Swensrud.
I close with a snippet from a Salesforce.com promo video, which talks about the wonders of cloud hosting. I didn't include the part where it beats the crap out of Microsoft Exchange, because quite frankly I don't think the point about cloud is that it's going to sweep away, tsunami-like, the entire world of hosted applications and familiar operating-system paradigms.
Rather, cloud and cloud offerers (is that a word?) like Salesforce.com, Google, Amazon, and now Sun Microsystems are going to coexist alongside licensed software powerhouses like Oracle, SAP, Sybase, Microsoft, and IBM. I know, you're thinking, how can I say that when all of the companies I've listed in the "licensed" bucket are rushing, to a greater or lesser degree, to articulate a cloud strategy?
Perhaps it's because -- and here's where I loop back to the tenth anniversary idea on which we began -- pretty soon the notion of "cloud" per se is not going to be the big differentiator. Rather, it's going to be, how effectively can you host my application, how much is it going to cost me, and how much control do I have over my own data?
When I sat down to write this post, I was planning to natter on about the big challenges facing Benioff now that Salesforce.com has turned 10. Mostly, they revolve around his ability to maintain the insane growth rates that Wall Street (unbelievably, still) demands, in the face of the sagging economy.
I was also going to write about how the main "gotcha" question at all these cloud events has shifted from the "How do I know my data is secure?" of six months ago to "How do I avoid vendor lock-in?" and "How do I maintain control over my data once I've got petabytes of storage up in your cloud?"
Instead, I'm going to end this post with that mash-up idea I floated above, because I actually think it's quite interesting. Sure, cloud undeniably has the advantage when you're talking CapEx. (Financial jargon alluding to the fact that you have to take a capital expenditure hit against your budget when you go out and buy self-hosted software, whereas cloud/SaaS are pay as you go.) However, it seems to me that as the cloud/SaaS field settles out, customers will have a Chinese menu-like mix which'll allow them to configure their own customized complement of cloud and self-hosted software, and the same for storage.
Which pretty much is the software nirvana that cloud promised in the first place, though probably not in the way a pure cloud vendor would like to see it evolve.
OK, so watch the video:
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Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.