Speed-building apps on Force.com

ComputerWorld Canada –

It took just over 15 minutes for Shaul Gorsht to create a custom expense application from scratch complete with custom fields, a modified sharing model, adjusted layout and an approval process.

On stage at the Cloudforce tour in Toronto, the Salesforce.com sales engineer demonstrated just how quickly developers can build their own apps using Force.com --Salesforce.com's application development platform.

Force.com is faster to deploy and develop because the components are pre-built, pre-integrated and pre-tested, said Rob Cheng, director of Platform Product Marketing at Salesforce.com. "It really comes down to the platform services," he said.

Developers configure the components with clicks instead of building them from the ground up with Java or .NET code, Cheng explained. "The difference between Force.com and traditional platforms like Java or .NET is like night and day," he said.

According to Cheng, 80 per cent of the time is spent on declarative point-and-click configuration and 20 per cent is spent on code with Force.com, whereas 20 per cent of the time is spent on clicks and 80 per cent is spent on code when using Java or .NET.

"The phase that traditionally takes by far the most time in the traditional development lifecycle, we're talking about the coding phase, is the phase that Force.com improves the most. There is a 73 per cent reduction in development time for that aspect of the development cycle," said Cheng.

In its recent analysis of 17 Force.com projects, Nucleus Research Inc. found"significant savings" in time to development and ongoing support costs. "On average, developers found that they could deliver applications 4.9 (times)faster on Force.com than on JAVA or .NET," states the Boston, MA-based research firm.

Recent research from IDC found five key benefits for enterprises using the Force.com platform compared to traditional in-house development of custom applications: faster time-to-market, lower cost, higher quality, better performance and accelerated pace of innovation.

The IDC report notes a 76 per cent reduction in time to develop and deploy custom apps, a 54 per cent reduction in three-year TCO (total cost of ownership), a 97 per cent reduction in annual downtime and 60 per cent reduction in time spent dealing with the service desk.

"Force.com changed the process of custom application development so much that companies tripled their output of custom applications and doubled annual upgrades from one to two," states the IDC report, released in September and based on interviews with ten small to large enterprises.

The majority of the savings result from the productivity of the platform, according to Cheng. The cost of engineering resources and staffing devoted to the development, maintenance and upgrade of applications"totally outweighs the infrastructure costs," he said.

"Even though developers are supposed to be doing coding to develop your custom business processes and applications, they spend a lot of time having to deal with managing the infrastructure. With the cloud platform ...you don't have to build nearly as much custom code," he said.

Cheng compared the pros and cons of virtualized platform stacks to virtualized servers. With a virtualized platform stack, developers focus on building the app and "the platform does the rest," he said. There is no software to install or manage, deployment and scalability are automatic and developers configure the platform services, he said.

With virtualized servers, Cheng argued, developers are forced to act as infrastructure managers. They give developers the flexibility to quickly add CPU and storage capacity, install any software they want and manage scalability, upgrades and patches, but they don't save on the costs and complexity of building and managing the entire software stack, he said.

Developers can customize apps on Force.com with programmatic logic using Apex Code and build it in Eclipse, Cheng noted. "The important thing about Apex Code is, for developers who are familiar with developing Java or .NET, the syntax is very similar," he said.

With Force.com's Visualforce technology, developers can also create customized user interfaces with standard Web technologies like HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AJAX and Adobe Flash or AIR, Cheng pointed out.

Apps built on Force.com include real-time features such as database services, security, workflow, analytics, an approvals engine and mobile deployment for iPhone and Blackberry platforms. The apps can be instantly deployed to the Web, connected to existing public Web sites,integrated with existing applications and used to collect CRM data from end-users.

"What is important to realize is regardless of whether you're doing declarative configuration or custom coding or a combination of both, all the information about the application you are building is stored as meta data on the Force.com platform," said Cheng.

More than 900 applications and services are also available on Salesforce.com's application marketplace, AppExchange.Three hundred of them are free, Cheng pointed out.

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