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Salesforce.com invests in social cloud

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Salesforce.com is driving social collaboration in the cloud and claims cloud computing will mark the end of traditional in-house software and e-mail tools.

The company's senior vice-president of global alliances and channels, Martin Moran, says Salesforce.com is raising the bar as it competes with Microsoft, Oracle and SAP, claiming businesses are thinking differently about how they invest in technology.

Moran notes that consumers have been the main drivers of social collaboration in the cloud. He explains that the trend of consumers downloading their paid-for music from Internet applications, such as Apple's iTunes, will be extended to the business arena.

According to Moran, applications will become like a utility, so organisations looking for an HR or CRM application will simply be able to access it, rate it, and pay for it on a subscription-basis in the cloud. Moran says the subscription model has been key to the success of Salesforce.com, especially with small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), as its customers don't have to pay up-front for capital expenditures in infrastructure.

“Big enterprises and SMEs understand that this is viable alternative to on-premise enterprise software,” notes Moran. “According to Gartner, cloud computing has become the number one priority for CIOs. Cloud computing proves there's a new way of using technology that is lower cost and user-centric.

“Around 80% of a company's IT budget is spent on keeping servers running, and none of that is providing intrinsic value. Most CIOs are fighting a losing battle to become a business innovator on a virtually zero budget. And cloud computing breaks out of those restrictions and moves the CIO to the chief innovation officer.”

Business gets chatting

Chatter is Salesforce.com's move into the sales and service collaboration market; a market valued at around $150 billion, according to the company. Chatter is currently available in beta form to a select few customers' in-house operations. It was first announced in November last year, and will be officially rolled out next quarter.

Chatter connects people, documents, groups and applications, as well as social networking sites Facebook and Twitter. According to Moran, Chatter will transform the way business users collaborate within a company.

Moran says Facebook has been Salesforce.com's inspiration for social collaboration, adding: “Over half a billion Facebook users can't be wrong about how they want to collaborate.”

The company aims to make cloud applications such as Chatter available on Apple's new iPad device, states Moran. He notes that some applications, such as Sales Cloud2, can already be integrated into smartphones, so a company's information can be accessed on any device from anywhere in the world.

“Today, there have been 200 000 downloads of Salesforce mobile via iPhones. The next step for us will be moving it to the iPad. We already fully support Android, Windows CE and Blackberry.”

Broadband culture

According to Gartner, by 2012, 20% of businesses will own no IT assets. Moran agrees, noting that 70% of e-mails are sent out internally, and believes cloud-based collaboration tools which allow business users to interact in real-time will spell the end of the need for e-mail.

“In essence, e-mail will die out and become a vehicle for external communication, but it will also evolve. If you look at Gmail, Google Wave or Yahoo mail, there's a lot more collaboration; you've got LinkedIn, Flickr and YouTube all integrated. It will become a much more efficient way of communicating, plus somebody else worries about uptime and storage and the technical challenges.”

Steven Ambrose, MD of World Wide Worx Strategy, believes ubiquitous cloud computing in SA is still far off, and says comparing SA with developed regions such as the US is like comparing apples with pears.

“In SA there will be a significant move towards cloud computing solutions, but it goes hand-in-hand with ubiquitous connectivity. SA is currently sitting at 10% Internet penetration, with 5.3 million people connecting to the Internet. This is a very low percentage compared to the US and Europe; which have around 90% Internet penetration.”

Ambrose says traditional software and e-mail will not become obsolete, and that the dynamic is very different in SA. “You cannot look at Africa through the lens of America. Most companies in the US have fixed-line broadband, compared with only 765 000 people in SA, and the majority of South Africans have wireless connectivity, which does not have the same quality.”

He adds: “Where I think cloud computing will be beneficial is in search, location and services that require massive computing power in a Google-type model. Most South African companies will have a mixture of on-premise and cloud applications, and this is how I think it will be for the next 10 to 15 years.”

According to Ambrose, traditional tools such as e-mail, fax, and mobile voice will not go away. “The killer app for the past 10 years has been e-mail; the next killer app is going to be social collaboration tools and will invade every space of our communication. We are only starting to taste some of the true broadband culture.”

Data lock-down

Shantanu Ghosh, Symantec VP of technology and development, says businesses are also cautious about how regulatory and compliance requirements are going to be met when sensitive data flows to and from the cloud; and is managed by an external service provider.

“The many benefits of a cloud-based solution are attractive to enterprises; however security concerns are top of the mind for many CIOs and chief information security officers when considering a move to the cloud,” states Ghosh. “The multi-tenanted, highly virtualised infrastructure of public cloud leads to concerns of possible data leakage.”

Ghosh agrees with Ambrose, pointing out that traditional software and e-mail will co-exist for a long time with cloud-based solutions. “Enterprises should evaluate security solutions that can consistently secure critical information, irrespective of where it resides: on servers, on endpoint devices, or in the cloud.”

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