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Salesforce.com Makes Friends With CIOs

Parade of CIOs at CloudForce shows how social networking inroads are making Salesforce.com a larger part of the IT infrastructure.
Building out additions to the existing Rypple application, and tying them into CRM or Chatter, won't be too difficult, Harris said, now that the initial single sign-on, identity management issues are resolved.

Harris suggested another way that Salesforce.com customers may find to add to or enhance their Salesforce applications, whether CRM or HR. In December 2010, Salesforce.com acquired Heroku, a developer's platform, and it's still not running in Salesforce.com data centers. It runs on Amazon Web Services' EC2 public cloud, and developers like it that way.

Heroku has attracted thousands of Ruby, PHP, and other Web-oriented developers who use it to host projects and produce code at a rapid pace. Harris said some Salesforce.com customers have asked that a version of the Heroku platform be run in a Salesforce data center. That would give them the chance to run code produced on Heroku alongside their Salesforce applications, with short lines of communication between the two. In addition, the Heroku code would then be running in a more restricted environment, one they already trust to run business software.

Harris has thought about this and concluded Salesforce should leave general purpose Heroku where developers like it--in Amazon--but add an ability to run Heroku-generated software inside the Salesforce.com data center. To do so, his staff will have to recreate a mini-Heroku platform separate from--but close to--Salesforce's application environment in the Salesforce data center and allow customers to run their code in this "Heroku layer."

This would amount to a copy of the Heroku developer platform running on Salesforce servers instead of Amazon's, but this Heroku would still be separate from Salesforce's multi-tenant applications. That way, an often-changing business process, for example one built in Ruby on Amazon but supplying needed results to a Salesforce app, could be run in a Salesforce environment with Salesforce identity management and security controls still in effect.

Heroku users work in open source code and the flexible languages frequently used on the Web. In developing an application in Force.com, on the other hand, customers are limited to the proprietary Apex and Visual Force languages. Parker wants to allow useful customer code generated from Heroku to supplement Salesforce's applications, without diluting the security and privacy features of the Salesforce platform.

"Customers say they want to run on Heroku in our data center ... Then they could supply Apex calls to Heruku to run processes for them there," he said. Salesforce has work to do to bring such a capability about, but watch for announcements later this year, he said.

In other words, Salesforce appears to expanding its product line slowly, proceeding step by step deeper into the enterprise. It will also enable customers to customize or add callable functionality to it as quickly as they choose.

Benioff is sounding uncharacteristically cautious as he lays out his expansion plans because the enterprise door, formerly shut, is opening to Salesforce's SaaS approach. And instead of the sales staff, now it's the IT leaders often who are the ones opening it.

The pay-as-you go nature of the cloud makes ROI calculation seem easy. It’s not. Also in the new, all-digital Cloud Calculations InformationWeek supplement: Why infrastructure-as-a-service is a bad deal. (Free registration required.)