Analyst Watch: From pipe dream to true force
By Al Hilwa
October 24, 2012 —
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Related Search Term(s): Amazon, Heroku, Salesforce
For a company that has wanted nothing to do with software, and whose stock is in applications, Salesforce seems an unlikely company to want you to build software on its platform. But, nothing is further from the truth.
In 2006, Salesforce hatched its plan to bring a programmable environment for its CRM software under the umbrella of its Force.com platform. Force was a successful approach for partners to bring extensions and companion products to Salesforce CRM and market them under what likely was the world's first modern "App Store," called AppExchange. The language used to program these apps, Apex, had Java-like syntax but operated at a relatively high conceptual level, somewhat like a 4GL in the cloud. Data and metadata stored in Salesforce's CRM application was readily available for programmers to build upon and deliver new application functionality.
At about the same time, another group of clever developers was hashing a cloud implementation of the Ruby programming language, which was taking root as an elegant and productive way to write Web application back ends. Heroku was at the right place at the right time, and with the social and mobile revolution starting to catch fire in 2007, Heroku saw an explosion in usage.
Building a large application base was also enabled by Heroku's freemium pricing and by its multi-tenant architecture that allowed it to operate efficiently. By Dreamforce 2010, Heroku caught Marc Benioff's eye (and about 200 million of his dollars), which was then considered incredibly rich for a company with about 30 employees (this was before Facebook acquired nine-employee Instagram for a billion).
While Force.com appealed to business developers and application extenders, Heroku appealed to Web developers. Over the last two years, the company has been harnessing these two assets to create a coherent application platform. At Dreamforce 2012 this October, we got to see some of the fruits of this labor, most of it destined for the winter 2013 release.
Supporting diverse back ends
One of the important new capabilities Salesforce showcased is a technology known as Canvas, which allows existing applications to integrate into the Salesforce world. Canvas exposes Salesforce metadata through REST APIs to other applications. To better support this type of integration, Salesforce also introduced Identity and Chatterbox to allow applications to authenticate with a single ID, and to store files securely in the cloud. Canvas can also allow new Force.com and Heroku components to be integrated into a single application.
Another important announcement was a deeper level of support for enterprise-grade Java applications. The new Heroku enterprise for Java offers JDK 7 and JDK 8 support, staging and provisioning support, a continuous-integration capability, an Eclipse plug-in, and enterprise-grade support.