What’s PaaS’d is Prologue

The reason that I came to work at this company has made the crucial move from preview to product. Last night’s unveiling of the Summer ’07 release, including both Apex Code for programmers and Intelligent Workflow for everyone else, defines the new genre of Platform as a Service — soon to be widely known (and badly punned on) as PaaS.

I wish I could claim that I fully grasped what PaaS would mean when I talked three years ago with Marc Benioff about his notion that general-purpose application development capability could be packaged in a cloud-based, service-structured form. At that time, though, I hadn’t done enough of a deep dive into the multi-tenant, metadata-based architecture of the Salesforce Platform to understand all of the benefits that this implied. Now, it seems more than clear: it seems truly compelling.

It’s crucial to understand that this means more than extending core applications with a macro- or script-like facility. It means much more than giving developers a hosted platform on which to write the brittle extensions of application code that pass for customization on many other platforms.

This is a true platform: one that enables independent developers to conceive and design and deploy both internal and customer-facing tools, on both desktop and mobile devices. The results can be every bit as capable and robust as the platform provider’s own products, and in a broader range of task domains. Anyone who claims to offer a "platform" should be called on to pass that test.

I expect to see health care, manufacturing, and many other types of application being brought to market in on-demand forms. I challenge anyone with an innovative vision to run the numbers and tell me that there’s any faster path to market, or any more attractive model for building a new intellectual-property-based business.

As I observed three years ago, "You didn’t insist on devising your own file system when you had DOS;
you didn’t insist on writing your own graphics routines and user
input/output routines once you had Windows; perhaps it’s time to think
about application development tools as getting ready to cross the same
threshold." Why build your own infrastructure, or demand that your customers do it as prequel to trying out your idea?

As Marc Benioff challenged me then, I now invite you: "Don’t compare us to other CRM offerings and ask if we’re equally
extensible; compare us to products like Filemaker and
Access, and ask if we’re equally capable of creating whatever
application you need." When you look at today’s high standards for rich user interface, anywhere accessibility, consumption and exposure of standards-based services, and enterprise-class security and scalability, that seems like a challenge that the Summer ’07 release is more than ready to help developers meet.

Published
July 17, 2007
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