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Salesforce.com makes two-pronged cloud push with Force.com, Heroku

Salesforce says it won't merge its two cloud platforms

By , Network World
May 24, 2011 12:03 AM ET

Network World - Salesforce.com's acquisition of the Heroku cloud platform last December has led to some confusion about how Salesforce plans to pitch two completely separate platform-as-a-service offerings.

The company already had perhaps the most successful PaaS cloud with Force.com -- why bother with a new one? But Salesforce showed its devotion to Heroku by putting the acquired company's CEO -- Byron Sebastian -- in charge of both Force.com and Heroku. A few months into his new gig, Sebastian says the two cloud platforms serve different needs and there is no reason to merge them.

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"Heroku is going to focus on developers and that developer experience, and Force.com is going to focus on productivity of business processes, data-driven applications and ISVs," Sebastian said in an interview with Network World. "We're going to keep them both on those paths because those are both choices customers want to have available to them. We will not merge them and mash them up, but we will make sure they integrate together very easily and seamlessly."

Force.com and Heroku are different in several ways. Force.com runs on Salesforce's own equipment, while Heroku runs on top of the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud -- and suffered downtime when Amazon's cloud failed last month.

Heroku uses the open source Ruby programming language, with its name a combination of "hero" and "haiku" to honor Ruby's Japanese roots. Force.com uses Salesforce's proprietary Apex language, but abstractions allow people to build many applications without writing code.

Force.com is good for building applications that automate data-intensive business operations, particularly employee-facing ones, Sebastian says. Force.com is also targeted at software vendors who want to build products on top of a cloud platform, he says.

Heroku, on the other hand, is designed for developers, people who write code to build customer-facing Web applications, and want flexibility to use various open technologies like NoSQL databases, he says.

Heroku users have a choice of databases, but can use Salesforce's Database.com service to connect their applications to services running on top of Force.com.

Force.com and Heroku are also priced differently. Force.com charges by the user, but that would be impractical for Heroku because applications running on the service are more likely to reach millions of customers. Heroku is therefore priced based on capacity measures, such as the number of HTTP requests.

Salesforce says the two-pronged cloud strategy makes sense, but some analysts have raised concerns. In a Forrester Wave report released this month, the analyst firm says, "The PaaS market is a sprawling, fast-changing, and immature market. Most PaaS vendors are small, and even big vendors like Google and Microsoft have incomplete, new products. Salesforce.com has the most mature PaaS, but it just acquired an entirely new PaaS product (Heroku), and its fit into the portfolio and strategy isn't yet clear."

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