SAN FRANCISCO -- Salesforce.com yesterday continued to extend beyond CRM, releasing website-building tools that will allow its more than 45,000 customers to run their public-facing website or employee intranet on the Force.com platform.
Force.com Sites, which enables customers to publish Force.com data and applications to any website, was the headline of the opening keynote at Dreamforce, Salesforce.com's user conference being held here this week. The event has focused initially on how on-demand computing can open doors and save money for companies in today's economic climate.
"These are crazy times, but there has never been a better time for cloud computing and Salesforce.com," CEO Mark Benioff told a standing-room-only crowd of more than 9,000 attendees in San Francisco on Monday.
A keynote demonstration showed how early adopter NJ Transit is using Force.com Sites. Using the system, NJ Transit can update its back-end system with information about train delays or accidents and then push this information out to riders through its website and mobile applications. Like many other Salesforce.com customers, NJ Transit had already created these apps internally, but now they can be made public on a website.
Salesforce.com also pointed to the potential this tool has for recruiting. Companies that are already using Force.com for recruiting can now tie these apps into their websites so that employees with the right credentials can make changes to job titles and open positions -- and those changes will be visible in the jobs section of the public site.
According to Bruce Richardson, chief research officer at Boston-based AMR Research, this announcement means it will be easier -- and maybe cheaper -- for Salesforce.com customers to build and maintain more innovative websites.
"This doesn't sound like a big deal unless you're a Salesforce.com user," Richardson said. "Basically what they are doing is allowing businesspeople, not IT people, to create apps [on a website]. The ultimate goal is the do-it-yourself market."
How does Force.com Sites work?
Salesforce.com customers and partners have already built more than 85,000 custom applications on the Salesforce.com AppExchange. Using Force.com Sites, they can make these applications public and extend their reach to new users on intranets, external websites, and online communities.
Customers must first build a Force.com app, then design a Web interface in Salesforce.com's VisualForce, before creating a Salesforce.com website with their URL. Once they direct the URL with an alias, the website is up and running. Force.com Sites will also enable self registration, RSS and content syndication.
The prototype for Force.com Sites was the Dreamforce website, where conference attendees could find information about the show, build personalized agendas, read about conference sessions, and add them to -- or remove them from -- an agenda. Parker Harris, Salesforce.com's vice president, demonstrated how Salesforce.com was able to update a session title, then push out that update to the Dreamforce.com website and to mobile users who were building agendas on their iPhone or BlackBerry devices.
Benioff asked the audience why they were turning to SharePoint and other software to run websites and intranets.
"With Force.com Sites, you can run your whole Web in our cloud," he said. "Run all of your Web apps in Force.com."
In trademark fashion, Benioff also criticized Microsoft and Azure, its recent cloud computing operating system announcement.
"I can't even pronounce it, but I don't care," he said. "These things are happening and it scares them. It's the end of software, and they are not ready. But we are."
Salesforce.com is unique in that most of the other vendors are "trying to hardcode this stuff," Richardson said.
"Very few vendors are as open as Salesforce.com wants to be," he said. "The only [one] that's close is Google in terms of being ubiquitous and low-cost. Oracle and SAP and everyone else want to build this capability into the app themselves, versus allowing you to exercise your [own apps]."
Pricing for Force.com Sites is based on page views to the website. Existing Salesforce.com customers will be given a specified number of page views included in their plan through 2010 and will be allowed to buy more page views as needed.
Customers of the Group Edition are allowed 50,000 monthly page views at no charge, Professional Edition customers are allowed 250,000 monthly page views at no charge, Enterprise customers are allowed 500,000 monthly page views at no charge, and customers of the Unlimited Edition are allowed 1 million page views per month at no charge.
Additional monthly page views are available for order at $1,000 per month, for up to 1 million additional monthly page views (regardless of edition), and $3,000 per month, for up to 5 million additional monthly page views (regardless of edition).