Salesforce.com links with Amazon and Facebook

Salesforce.com has moved deeper into the world of cloud computing with partnerships that link its Force.com hosted applications platform with services from Facebook and Amazon Web Services.

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Salesforce.com has moved deeper into the world of cloud computing with partnerships that link its Force.com hosted applications platform with services from Facebook and Amazon Web Services.

The deal with Facebook allows Salesforce customers to build applications on its Force.com platform that appear natively inside Facebook, CEO Marc Benioff announced at the start of Salesforce.com's Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.

He showed an example of a recruiting application that an employee could embed in their Facebook page, where they can then use their social connections to recruit new employees for their company.

The Amazon partnership makes the company's on-demand storage and computing services available from Force.com. A developer in need of extra storage, for example, could offload some of their data onto Amazon's S3 storage service, Benioff said. They can also use Amazon's EC2 computing service.

Addressing a packed hall of Salesforce.com customers, Benioff painted a picture of a computing Wild West in which cloud platforms from different vendors are combining to create new opportunities and challenges.

"These are crazy times; these are whacky times," he said. "No one can predict these times, but there's never been a better time for cloud computing."

China Martens, a senior analyst with The 451 Group, said it makes sense for cloud providers to combine their services. "They don't really compete and they each have their own specialty, so it makes sense to have the integration," she said.

Combining the services may also ease fears about getting locked into a cloud platform, she said, something some customers have worried about. But she wondered about the implications of mixing personal data with business applications on Facebook.

"What kind of issues does that throw up? Maybe we need to start drawing rings around personal and professional data," she said.

Executives from Facebook and Amazon joined Benioff on stage for the announcements. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, said she hoped the partnership would pave the way for a new wave of enterprise applications on the social-networking site.

In the recruiting application demonstrated at the conference, the interface looked like a standard Facebook programme but was hosted on Salesforce.com's servers and built using its Visual Force user-interface tool. Developers can download a new toolkit, Force.com for Facebook, free from the Force.com Web site today, Benioff said.

Salesforce.com added 4,100 new CRM (customer relationship management) customers during its July quarter, Benioff said, for a total of 47,700. It expects to pass $1 billion in annual revenue for the first time this financial year.

Competition is increasing, however, as more packaged-software vendors start to offer their products as hosted services. Oracle, SAP and Microsoft already offer hosted CRM, and Microsoft last week announced a new project, Azure, that will compete with Force.com by providing a platform for building hosted applications.

Benioff mocked Azure , calling it "vaporware," and suggested that Microsoft will lock developers into its platform. The future will be about combining open cloud platforms that create "the best of all worlds," he said.

"This isn't about one vendor standing on stage and saying it's only our OS, our devices and our ecosystem, like we saw last week," he said, referring to the Azure launch. "Those days are over."

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