Salesforce.com Platform as a Service Review
From SaaS to PaaS
Salesforce.com pioneered the cloud expansion strategy whereby the publisher delivers a comprehensive platform suite with accompanying tools and then embraces partners to deliver industry, process and niche solutions through an organized online ecosystem.
Force.com is Salesforce.com's cloud computing platform as a service (PaaS) development framework. It facilitates developers in building multi-tenant applications to be hosted by and presumably integrated to Salesforce.com. The company pushes the tag line "development as a service", however that phrase has not gained acceptance outside its own marketing context. Other vendors and the industry at large continue to describe this type of service within the "platform as a service" cloud category.
Force.com development is performed using nonstandard, purpose-built tools and a proprietary development language called Apex. Specialized tools are designed for the presentation layer, application layer and data model. For example, Visualforce uses an XML-like syntax for building user interfaces in HTML, Ajax or Flex.
The Apex language mimics a C-style syntax and is a pseudo-combination that resembles Java and SQL (structured query language). To maintain integrity, extensibility and continued evolution, custom developed code is positioned in layers of abstraction whereby Force.com's runtime engine can interpret the metadata at the point of execution.
Force.com accelerates development time for cloud-based applications that tap into the core Salesforce.com application and hosting delivery network. Developers inherit cloud infrastructure components such as a strong multi-tenant architecture, security and scalability as well as consumer benefits such as mobility and social media tools. On the flip side, many ISVs (independent software vendors) are reluctant to commit to a proprietary development environment that does not have the maturity, depth, tools or market acceptance as compared to more mainstream products such as Microsoft .NET or Java/J2EE. Also, as Salesforce.com's CRM application does not offer cloud portability programmers become locked-in to Salesforce.com's technology, application and hosted delivery network. When considering Force.com, developers often find themselves balancing the sale opportunity from the sizable Salesforce.com captive customer base versus the broader industry at large.
Salesforce.com is continuing its PaaS push. In December 2010, the company acquired Heroku—a Ruby-based PaaS that supports a global development community and powers many social and mobile cloud applications. The company has most recently introduced database.com—a language-independent hosted database seemingly on the path to compete with Microsoft SQL Azure. How these tools strategically compliment Force.com has yet to be fully understood.
There's an App For That
AppExchange is an online marketplace of integrated third party applications built for the Salesforce.com community, managed by Salesforce.com and delivered by partners or third-party developers. The AppExchange solutions are either developed natively on Force.com or built with non-Salesforce.com technologies and hosted externally by the provider. The majority are not native Force.com applications. AppExchange has filled core software gaps as well as expanded Salesforce.com's reach and extensibility into new business processes, vertical markets and geographies. There are about 1000 AppExchange apps, however, it appears that about 10% of those make up the lion's share of customer purchases. Nonetheless, there are some great productivity tools, such as the Meeting Mapper which I've become fan of, that will both aid user adoption and staff productivity.
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