Salesforce's Dreamforce show hints at the event-driven future of cloud services. As cloud capabilities get increasingly business-critical, how will enterprise IT's trust be earned?
Calgary, AB -- (SBWIRE) -- 12/02/2013 -- Last week's Dreamforce event, like Amazon's re:Invent show the week before, provided a snapshot of cloud computing's steady progress as it eats away at conventional IT. At the same time, thanks to a couple of interesting interviews, I was able to contrast the Salesforce hoopla with the opinions of those steeped in more traditional IT thinking.
Like Amazon, the first large-scale IaaS provider, Salesforce proudly proclaims first-mover status -- not only for SaaS, in Salesforce's case, but also for PaaS (in the form of Force.com) and for the app store model (in the form of AppExchange, launched three years before Apple's app store).
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I was reminded of the accumulated power of the Salesforce platform at a press briefing by FinancialForce, which offers the top accounting and PSA (professional services automation) apps in the Salesforce ecosystem. Over time, Salesforce keeps updating and adding to its arsenal of back-end business services. As CEO Jeremy Roche noted, FinancialForce can quickly benefit from whatever services Salesforce chooses to add. For example, the big announcement at Dreamforce was the new Salesforce1 integration platform -- which FinancialForce used to build its Mobile 360° BackOffice mobile app, already in release.
The idea of API-accessible services -- from auditing to order processing to social media messaging -- as building blocks for large, complex applications is as old as Web services. Keep piling them onto one platform (actually multiple platforms, when you include Force.com, Heroku, ExactTarget, and the like) and you add to the range of existing Salesforce applications while expanding possibilities for new ones.
Still proceeding with caution
The idea of shared services lifting all boats is at the heart of the public cloud -- which even in 2013 remains distasteful to corporate IT, says Bill Allison, a global "technology leader" at Deloitte Consulting. In the largest IT organizations, he says, resistance to the cloud is still strong, except for the least critical operations. His clients are more interested in souping up existing infrastructure with in-memory processing such as that offered by SAP HANA.
Specifically, Allison says, his clients want to use such new, high-performance, in-memory technology inside the firewall to enable quick response to events and to foster agility in core systems such as supply chain management. As for putting anything critical in cloud, he makes a joking reference to Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff: "Are you going to trust the guy in the Hawaiian shirt?"
Obviously, this doesn't mean enterprises are ignoring the cloud. While attending Dreamforce, Sanjay Rishi, a vice president at IBM Global Application Innovation Services, asked a big IBM customer this question: "What is the one thing you would say cloud enables you to do?" The simple answer: "It's all about customer experience." Rishi adds that the customer experience gets industry-specific very quickly. For example: "For the health care industry, unless I can speak their language and understand the transactions that are very healthcare-specific, and provide them as a service on the cloud ... I wouldn't even get to slide two of that discussion."
Gearing up for the Internet of things
In that example, Rishi is talking about customer-facing systems, otherwise known as systems of engagement. But he goes on to discuss what he calls cloud-based "systems of interaction," where sensors deliver data and events that core enterprise systems respond to -- a model similar to the event-driven agility Allison says enterprise CIOs want to instill in on-premises systems. In other words, Rishi is talking about a cloud platform for the Internet of things, custom-built by IBM (and deployed on IBM SoftLayer, among other clouds), while Allison sees his clients gravitating toward an on-premises version.
Guess what? Salesforce1 is primed to ingest such telemetry as well, as is Amazon's Kinesis service. The VMware spinoff Pivotal was conceived from the ground up with the Internet-of-things paradigm in mind.
Systems of interaction, as Rishi calls them, are crucial to the future of the cloud. Can the Salesforce multiplatform behemoth stretch to accommodate a huge influx of machine-to-machine data? You'd think that, as a first mover, Salesforce would know how to scale pretty well by now. On the other hand, as the first big multitenanted SaaS provider, it has operated continuously for its customers year after year as it has rolled out countless upgrades on the fly. Will architectural flaws be exposed in dramatic fashion when a whole new array of capabilities are piled on?
The truth is that the public cloud is not transparent, so it's almost impossible to know. Sure, many enterprises are happy to enhance the customer experience with new cloud-based systems of engagement. But as those systems get closer to the core, and events are processed that affect critical systems, intangible issues of trust and even Hawaiian shirts may sway the final decision
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