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Amazon's biggest competitor in the cloud: Salesforce.com?

Amazon and Salesforce are each pioneering companies in cloud computing, but are they competitors?

By , Network World
April 04, 2013 12:36 PM ET

Network World - Who is Amazon's biggest competitor in the cloud?

The go-to answer for many may be companies like Rackspace with its OpenStack platform, perhaps Google with its Compute Engine, Microsoft Azure, VMware or one of the up-and-coming cloud computing companies like Joyent.

But Mikhail Malamud, founder of cloud consultancy startup CloudAware, says another cloud company could pose the biggest challenge to Amazon's cloud plans: Salesforce.com.

These two companies, Amazon Web Services and Salesforce.com, are two of the leading cloud providers in their respective markets of infrastructure as a service (IaaS) for AWS and software as a service (SaaS) for Salesforce.com. But Malamud believes there is one reason why Salesforce.com could be a formidable foe for Amazon in the cloud moving forward: data.

[ CLOUD SHOWDOWN: Amazon vs. Rackspace (OpenStack) vs. Microsoft vs. Google ]

Salesforce.com's data stash

"Data is the kingmaker in the cloud," says Malamud, whose firm, CloudAware, provides a platform to access AWS resources.

Salesforce.com has an enormous cache of customer data, and not just any data, but some of enterprises' most valuable data -- customer information. Salesforce.com has data about who its users' customers are, what interactions they have with those customers, and increasingly it's been attempting to collect even more data, from human resource management to social data.

And Salesforce is building an ecosystem of products and services around that data. While the company may be best known as a SaaS-based customer relationship management (CRM) application, it also has a robust platform that allows customers to build new applications on its cloud.

Force.com and Heroku, the latter of which Salesforce acquired in 2010, are platform as a service (PaaS) tools allowing customers to leverage CRM data already in Salesforce's cloud and build related applications that are customized to individual users' needs. It's where Malamud built his company's app. A Salesforce CRM customer, for example, could build an application on Force.com that integrates with the CRM application to analyze the sales data. And Malamud says every new application that's built in Salesforce.com's environment is one less app that's running in Amazon's cloud.

Amazon: We've got data too

Amazon is responding in turn, though. In the past year AWS has made a concerted effort to manage more of its customers' data. Announcements like Red Shift -- the company's headline announcement at its first-annual users conference, named re: Invent -- is a new data warehousing service, meant to be a low-cost alternative to expensive on-premises database storage systems. Amazon Glacier is a "cold storage" service for storing a company's long-term data, while Data Pipeline is a relatively new service that makes it easier to transfer all that data between various applications within Amazon's cloud. "They're clearly trying to get as much of your data as possible," Malamud says.

Malamud says Salesforce will be the place where next-generation apps will be built, providing a legitimate threat to Amazon moving forward.

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