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May the Force.com Be with You

There has been no lack of stories about Force.com , the new platform-as-a-service offering that Salesforce.com announced in 2007 and has been building on ever since. One analyst last week even went so far as to call Force.com a direct challenge to Microsoft and the bigger prize in the blog-inspired rumor that Oracle may acquire Salesforce.com.

While the rumor has not been confirmed by any of the parties involved, we do agree that Salesforce.com has a gem on their hands with Force.com.

Disrupting a Market, Helping Customers and Making a Few Billion - Not Too Shabby

For one, Force.com opens up a large market for Salesforce.com. Various analysts scope the market for core business applications like ERP, CRM and supply chain management at around $30 billion. While the market for specific niche and custom developed applications is estimated at more than twice this size. Force.com allows salesforce.com customers to leverage a platform that brings all the benefits of on-demand to address this larger market opportunity.

While this is certainly an appealing opportunity for Salesforce.com and partners like Appirio, CIOs should pay close attention to Force.com for another reason - because it has the potential to shape the way IT develops and integrates custom applications in the same way that on-demand computing changed the way companies purchase and deploy their packaged business software.

The Force.com platform provides all the necessary technologies and services that an IT organization needs to develop and run custom built applications - all delivered as a service over the Internet. The stack ranges from a secure computing infrastructure and back-end database to a powerful workflow engine, logic and presentation layer and APIs to integrate with existing systems. Like other on-demand applications, there is no need to buy, manage or maintain any hardware or software.


Bringing the Benefits of On-Demand to Custom Development

The most obvious benefit of on-demand development is the ability to forgo building out a locally-managed and maintained IT infrastructure. This means lower costs and less overhead, but it also enables organizations to more rapidly create and roll out applications.

With traditional application development, you need to build distinct staging, testing or production environments, all of which require their own hardware and software. Procuring, configuring and porting data to this infrastructure could take weeks or months. Force.com lets you get started innovating within minutes - you simply set up a new sandbox or developer org with a few clicks, and Force.com handles the provisioning details. Because the application is in the cloud and isnt directly tied to the infrastructure, you dont have to worry about breaking applications as new versions of the platform are introduced. This allows you to get more life from applications you create or buy from third-parties.

Force.com also provides a sophisticated application framework that allows even non-professional programmers to configure common rules and workflows. At the same time, those who need more customization can turn to the Apex on-demand programming language and the VisualForce user interface language. We tapped into both these for the Dolby cinema management proof-of-concept we presented at Tour de Force last month as well as the Employee Roster Application we built before Visual Force was publicly announced. Stay tuned for even more Visual Force and Force.com custom applications that we are in the process of rolling out in the coming weeks and months.

Why Buy When You Can Take From Others?

The Force.com platform uses the same back-end infrastructure that powers Salesforce.coms own on-demand CRM applications. Customers get instant access to a highly scalable and secure computing infrastructure that is powerful enough to support the two billion transactions a month that already flows through Salesforce.coms applications.

Amazon.com is another company that is allowing developers to tap into their own infrastructure and the investments they've made over the last decade. Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides storage, raw computing power and other infrastructure services on-demand. While it doesnt address application development like Force.com, the company is doing some interesting things in SaaS that offer great promise to IT organizations. More on this coming soon



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