Salesforce.com links with Amazon and Facebook

By , IDG News Service |  On-demand Software, Amazon Web Services, Facebook

Salesforce.com moved deeper into the world of cloud computing on Monday, announcing partnerships that link its Force.com hosted applications platform with services from Facebook and Amazon Web Services.

The deal with Facebook allows Salesforce customers to build applications on its Force.com platform that appear natively inside Facebook, CEO Marc Benioff announced at the start of Salesforce.com's Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.

He showed an example of a recruiting application that an employee could embed in their Facebook page, where they can then use their social connections to recruit new employees for their company.

The Amazon partnership makes the company's on-demand storage and computing services available from Force.com. A developer in need of extra storage, for example, could offload some of their data onto Amazon's S3 storage service, Benioff said. They can also use Amazon's EC2 computing service.

Addressing a packed hall of Salesforce.com customers, Benioff painted a picture of a computing Wild West in which cloud platforms from different vendors are combining to create new opportunities and challenges.

"These are crazy times; these are whacky times," he said. "No one can predict these times, but there's never been a better time for cloud computing."

China Martens, a senior analyst with The 451 Group, said it makes sense for cloud providers to combine their services. "They don't really compete and they each have their own specialty, so it makes sense to have the integration," she said.

Combining the services may also ease fears about getting locked into a cloud platform, she said, something some customers have worried about. But she wondered about the implications of mixing personal data with business applications on Facebook.

"What kind of issues does that throw up? Maybe we need to start drawing rings around personal and professional data," she said.

Executives from Facebook and Amazon joined Benioff on stage for the announcements. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, said she hoped the partnership would pave the way for a new wave of enterprise applications on the social-networking site.

In the recruiting application demonstrated here, the interface looked like a standard Facebook program but was hosted on Salesforce.com's servers and built using its Visual Force user-interface tool. Developers can download a new toolkit, Force.com for Facebook, free from the Force.com Web site today, Benioff said.

Salesforce.com added 4,100 new CRM (customer relationship management) customers during its July quarter, Benioff said, for a total of 47,700. It expects to pass US$1 billion in annual revenue for the first time this fiscal year.

Competition is increasing, however, as more packaged-software vendors start to offer their products as hosted services. Oracle, SAP and Microsoft already offer hosted CRM, and Microsoft last week announced a new project, Azure, that will compete with Force.com by providing a platform for building hosted applications.

Benioff mocked Azure, calling it "vaporware," and suggested that Microsoft will lock developers into its platform. The future will be about combining open cloud platforms that create "the best of all worlds," he said.

"This isn't about one vendor standing on stage and saying it's only our OS, our devices and our ecosystem, like we saw last week," he said, referring to the Azure launch. "Those days are over."

Monday's speeches here focused on the Force.com platform; Tuesday's will address the applications suite, Benioff said. He hinted that presidential hopeful Barack Obama will make an appearance during Tuesday's speech, though he didn't say if it would be in person or by video.

Monday's announcements take Salesforce.com further from its core business of providing an online CRM service. Force.com was a first step in that direction, providing a platform where companies can build and host add-ons for its CRM programs. Salesforce.com is now trying to diversify further.

Earlier Monday it announced Salesforce.com Web Sites, where it offers to host internal and public Web sites for its customers. Those Web sites link to a customer's back-end Salesforce.com applications, so that changes on the back-end appear immediately on the Web sites.

The service is in beta now and slated for introduction next year, Benioff said. Salesforce Professional customers get up to 250,000 page views per month for no charge, Enterprise customers get 500,000 page views, and Unlimited customers get 1 million. Additional page views cost $1,000 per month for 1 million pages, or $3,000 per month for 5 million pages.

Dreamforce ends Wednesday.

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