NetSuite today took its battle with Salesforce.com to the cloud, creating a new developer network and application marketplace to rival Salesforce.com's Force.com platform.
The SuiteCloud Developer Network (SDN), established today, provides a community for independent software vendors (ISVs) to extend NetSuite's functionality into industry-specific applications. It will be divided into three tiers: a select tier, similar to a regular developer program with webinars and tech support available to developers over the Internet; a premier tier, where NetSuite will recruit ISVs and work together to architect applications; and a tier for end customers who use NetSuite's NS-BOS development environment to create their own customizations.
"We're really aligning this program with the corporate strategy of going into verticals or up market, and partners are playing a crucial role in that," said Guido Haarmans, vice president of the SDN. "We don't want to do quantity; we want to do quality. That starts with strategic recruiting of partners."
The SDN replaces NetSuite's NS-BOS developer community, and existing partners will initially be moved over into the select tier, with NetSuite bringing selected partners into the premier tier.
"Once we sign them up, we're going to do joint roadmap planning," Haarmans said. "We've already started that with some partners. That's a big differentiation with our previous developer program and others. Salesforce tries to get as many developers as they can."
Despite Haarmans' talk of differentiation with Salesforce.com, it's a very similar approach, according to Robert Mahowald, director of SaaS and on-demand research with Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.
"Philosophically, it's the same vision for platform as a service," he said. "There's a vendor at the center that provides tools for ISVs to build apps that can be shared by the community. Data integration becomes much easier. Setting up data marts for query and analysis is much easier."
In fact, it's not the ERP functionality running behind it that sets NetSuite apart, but its openness, Mahowald added. SuiteFlex is not built on proprietary code like Apex with the Force.com platform.
"Salesforce has been more ambitious about positioning Apex, the language and the Force.com platform as an alternative to .NET and Java for ISV developers and customers of Salesforce," he said. "With SuiteBundler, [NetSuite has] a good vertical play I've not seen with Salesforce, which I think is extremely critical with SaaS applications."
Specifically, companies can take the runtime off SuiteFlex and move it to their IT shop or somewhere else if their business requirements change, he said -- something you're not allowed to do with Salesforce.com.
"I do hear from customers that code portability is a fairly big factor," Mahowald added. "People want flexibility. If their situation changes, they want that freedom if they need it."
NetSuite also continues to provide Web Services-based integrations with established applications. As part of what NetSuite calls the SuiteCloud, it is creating Five9,an on-demand call center vendor, bringing virtual call center features to NetSuite.