Dreamforce 2011: Can Salesforce.com become a serious PaaS player?

Adding to the complexity last year was Database.com, which was made generally available this week almost 10 months after it was initially announced.

Addressing pricing could really help Salesforce.com become a big PaaS player. For instance, Database.com isn't cheap. The freemium model is available for up to three users and up to 100,000 records and 50,000 transactions.

Yet for enterprise services, it will cost $10 for each additional set of 100,000 records and 150,000 transactions per month. According to an Ovum report from last year, that price range is something only companies with big bank balances will be able to afford.

Salesforce.com doesn't see it that way. "We often have to go through the math with people but when you do a proper side by side comparison with on premise, it's vastly superior," Stahl said. "We have no intention of only focusing on the high end."

Despite such concerns, analysts have still been impressed by the PaaS moves Salesforce.com is making.

"I definitely think Salesforce.com's PaaS message is becoming more coherent," Tim Hickernell, lead analyst at Info-Tech Research Group, told IT Pro.

"It has taken them a few years of work, since Force.com first debuted, but the support of more languages, the availability of database services and the option for alternative data storage (the DRO) finally gives them a credible PaaS position."

A busy market

Regardless of what Salesforce.com's platform credentials, it will face some seriously stiff competition in the PaaS space. With Google App Engine, Microsoft Azure and Amazon EC2 already there, and some expecting other tech giants like IBM to make a play soon, Salesforce.com will have to make a big splash and soon.

IT departments want to deliver quality apps to end workers, but they don't want to feel limited or take big chunks out of their budget.

Fortunately for Salesforce.com, Benioff recognises how busy the market is going to get. "I don't think there will be one dominating force. A lot of different people have to play together and create an ecosystem," Benioff said today.

"The total answer is the ecosystem and the community. There are going to be a lot of players. It has to be an open, interoperable environment."

To make its mark, Salesforce.com is going to get even more aggressive with its PaaS strategy, making investments in platform development and expanding its language options.

"In the next 12 months we will make another huge investment in the platform," Benioff added.

The differentiation with the social aspect could be what propels Benioff's firm into becoming a big, unique PaaS player. However, that will only happen if it continues to expand its platform and add languages as it has promised, whilst not charging a significant amount.

In reality, IT departments want to deliver quality apps to end workers, but they don't want to feel limited or take big chunks out of their budget. Salesforce.com would benefit from recognising that too.

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.