Can Salesforce.com push enterprise on-premise databases into the cloud?

News Analysis

Can Salesforce.com push enterprise on-premise databases into the cloud?

Jenny Williams

Salesforce.com, the enterprise cloud computing firm, introduced a database-as-a-service product, Database.com, at its annual conference, Dreamforce, in San Francisco last week. In a keynote speech, Salesforce.com's CEO, Marc Benioff, told 14,000 attendees "databases are moving to the cloud" and that this will change the market.

Database.com is already available to Salesforce.com customers building business applications using Force.com and is a multi-tenant software architecture that can be used with any language, such as Java, C# and .Net, any platform and any device. According to Salesforce.com, it allows developers to build enterprise applications more easily and address problems IT departments face when deploying and managing on-premise relational databases.

Other features of Database.com include full text search, user management, row-level security, triggers and stored procedures, authentication and APIs as well as single sign-on, SSL and identity confirmation.

JP Rangaswami, chief scientist at Salesforce.com, claims Database.com solves the complexity of on-premise databases. "Discipline will exist for the first time because it's a new way of developing when the database is in the cloud and that frees you up to say that the participant creates that genuine, agnostic to platform or device, single code-based exercise as a service," he said during a panel session at Dreamforce.

Flexibility is one of the drivers for cosmetics retailer Avon. "Because we're driving lots of data into the cloud for our existing application already, what I see with Database.com is perhaps the flexibility to support other types of applications that might be quite different from what we're doing now but ending up with the same integrated database environment in the cloud," says Peter Winters, CIO at Avon.

"And that's a big transformation because our legacy environment have databases all over the place that are not always well integrated," he adds.

CIOs move databases to cloud

Computer peripherals maker Belkin is considering piloting Database.com. CIO, Deanna Johnson, is looking to try it with a few of the company's .Net applications. "We're going to get our feet wet and then start moving in that direction," she says.

Facebook is also looking to switch to Database.com as part of an overhaul of its enterprise systems. Speaking at a panel session during Dreamforce, Tim Campos, CIO at Facebook, said Facebook will remove its on-premise Oracle enterprise systems from its environment, favouring the increased control over information management with Salesforce.com's Database.com.

"I don't really see [Database.com] as a replacement for Oracle because the only reason Oracle exists in-house is to support the on-premise enterprise systems. Those need to go so we can get Oracle out of the environment," says Campos.

Security and architecture details missing

But analysts say enterprises need greater security reassurances. Donald Feinberg, vice president and analyst at Gartner, says, "We're seeing a rise in popularity of cloud-enabled database management systems (DBMS) that remove the complexity of software and hardware, and deliver automatic scalability, tuning and back-up. To truly see adoption in the enterprise, however, cloud-enabled DBMS need to support both the speed, ease and elasticity of the cloud as well as the relational, security and transactional features required by enterprises."

Bola Rotibi, research director at Creative Intellect Consulting, is cautious about the underlying database, which will be powered by Oracle's database software and Force.com's infrastructure. "What I would expect to see is a bit more detail about the actual services and architecture. What the customer wants to understand is the resilience, the transaction, the performance. They want the same assurance they get on the on-premise database solutions and platforms.

"Just because they're pushing everything out to the cloud, doesn't mean they don't want the same reassurance and confidence."

While Salesforce.com and Oracle are currently operating in different markets, Rotibi expects more to emerge regarding Database.com's competitiveness with Microsoft's SQL Azure. "To really understand the competitive positioning and differentiation, it's early days, we won't really understand until a year has past and people are implementing it," she says. "They can't be discounted alongside the likes of IBM and Microsoft and HP. They offer a slightly different approach but it's still a valid one," she adds.

More details about Database.com's architecture and security features will be crucial in encouraging organisations to put its databases in the cloud. But with large businesses, such as Belkin, Avon and Facebook, showing interest and analysts recognising its competition with Microsoft, the database systems market looks set to move away from on-premise and upwards, towards the cloud.

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