By Sramana Mitra and guest author Siddharth Garg
Salesforce.com is an enterprise cloud computing company headquartered in San Francisco that distributes business software on a subscription basis. Salesforce.com hosts the applications offsite. It is best known for its customer relationship management (CRM) products and, through acquisition, has expanded into the area of social enterprise. It has been one of cloud computing’s biggest champions through devising and delivering its cloud-based CRM, collaboration, and platform services to its customers.
Salesforce.com has its services translated into 16 languages and, according to Wikipedia, currently has 82,400 customers and more than 2.1 million subscribers. Its CRM solution is broken down into several broad categories: sales cloud, service cloud, data cloud (including Jigsaw), collaboration cloud (including Chatter) and custom cloud (including Force.com).
About Marc Ferrentino
Marc joined Salesforce.com in February 2007. His responsibilities included early-stage product development and marketing, evangelism of the Force.com platform, and promoting Salesforce.com’s open source initiatives. Marc is also involved with developing Salesforce.com’s collaboration and platform strategies. Prior to Salesforce.com, Marc served as the vice president of Engineering at Vettro Corp, a global leader in mobile on-demand applications. Prior to Vettro, Marc served as vice president of development at InternetCash.com. Over the course of his career, he has held technology positions at Goldman Sachs and Westinghouse/Cutler-Hammer.
Sramana Mitra: Hi, Marc. Welcome to the Thought Leaders in Cloud Computing series. Would you please give us some background on your role at Salesforce and also on Salesforce’s perspective on the cloud today from where you are.
Marc Ferrentino: My name Marc Ferrentino, and I am the chief technical architect at Salesforce. I have been working at the company for about four and half years now. I have held a series of roles, actually, and R&D for a large portion of that time. Over the past year I have stepped out from behind the computers and have taken on a more public role; getting out there and helping CIOs work through cloud computing, assisting in the “journey to the cloud,” as we are calling it at Salesforce, and really just getting out there and being a thought leader and helping people understand what is cloud computing today. There is a lot of confusion and obviously, there is a bit of dilemma right now as far as what the definition of a “cloud” is. It has been an interesting time. I do a lot of conferences organized around that question, and it has been interesting to hear where people are, where the CIOs are as a whole, and where the industry is.
SM: What do you see as the prevalent definition of a cloud, and what is your definition of the cloud? Further, where are you steering people?
MF: There has been a progression of thought, and you can trace this back to the virtualization craze a few years ago. During that phase, I think what CIOs started to conceptualize is a unit of computing; that is the image in this case. So for them it was removing physical boxes and then creating the concept of an image and being able to put mobile images on its face. All of a sudden, this concept of imaging in cloud computing became much more fluid. When Amazon came out with their infrastructure as a service, it was thus very easy for CIOs to comprehend that; it was a very straight one-to-one concept. And so that is where a lot of CIOs still are right now. They look at the consolidation they did a few years ago and they say, “OK, well I can run this images out in the cloud or I can run it in my own cloud.”
So, this definition of the cloud is dominated by the idea of infrastructure as a service. But I think it is beginning to change right now and the next conversation is starting to emerge, which I think is a much more interesting conversation. It’s not a conversation about consolidation, it’s not a conversation about cost savings. This conversation is really about platform as a service. Within platform as a service, you have all other shades of gray within it. You have environment as a service where there is something like an apps engine that is just the interpreter sitting with the infrastructure and some sort of data store.
Then you move up the stack, up the cloud stack as we are calling it, to framework as a service. We have some Salesforce products such as VMforce, and then we have other applications components as a service, which is where Salesforce.com is; where you are abstracted away from languages. You abstract almost all the bits and bytes of application development, and what we have done is broken down the enterprise applications into a series of re-usable application components that are geared toward business analytics in that case. We have abstracted all of the technology, in essence, and you are really talking about things like workload, database, things that are not techie concepts – they are components of an application, and that is what we think the next set of conversations is going to be about from a platform standpoint.
SM: Yes. Recently I was talking to the CIO of Intel, Diane Bryant, and Intel basically has written its own platform as a service layer. Are you familiar with what is going on there?
MF: Yeah, we are familiar from press releases and my relationships over there. I personally don’t know a ton about it.
SM: We published the interview recently. My point is that when I brought it up, Diane said that platform as a service is starting to feature in these conversations, and you are absolutely right. I think infrastructure as a service has dominated the conversation for a while, but to be fair, Salesforce.com and software as a service have dominated the conversation even before that. Don’t you think?
MF: Yes. That points to the other flavor; it is coming in from the software as a service angle. The reason I didn’t bring up software as a service initially is that the conversation has been more of a point conversation: “My HR will be in the cloud, my CRM will be in the cloud, but these other things won’t,” as opposed to just a broad, basic knowledge of computing. That is the way I think about it. To be honest, it is not necessary that that is the position of the company or anything.
It is how I view the world, and software as a service is really been a best-of-breed conversation over the past few years, which has been terrific. Early on in Salesforce history, a lot of it was about cost savings, but now it is about agility, about speed to market. And it is really about getting power and broadness of functionality without having to have a massive IT staff in place. In the case of our products here, we are the best in breed in a lot of those categories. So, it has been under a very powerful movement for us, but I would say I spend most of my time evangelizing the platform itself.