I’m a fan of platform plays, similarly I’m a fan of SaaS. Put the two together and you have PaaS or platform as a service, a place where SaaS applications can be crated and hosted.

One of the shining lights (in terms of visibility anyway) in PaaS is Force.com from Salesforce. It seems logical for one of the originators of the SaaS concept to utilise their experience and clout to create a platform play, right? well some commentary would suggest not.

Over on SaaS blogs Sinclair Schuller talks about this and Bob at Smoothspan mentions it as well. between the two of them their rationale for dismissing Force.com is as follows;

  • Limited capabilities – People love to think that software engineering has become complicated “just because.” The fact is, the problems we tackle when writing software are significantly complex and grow more complex each day. The concept of something like Force.com started off as an extension platform for Salesforce.com, and not a general purpose platform. It does a good job at letting you be a spoke on Salesforce’s wheel but if you need to build a complex offering outside that wheel, it won’t fit your need.
  • IP & Business Risk – Salesforce expects you to capture your company’s bread and butter – the software’s logic – using their Apex language. Furthermore, Apex runs only within Salesforce.com. If you’re a serious ISV, the idea that your IP is tied to some random language and that if you don’t like how your app is being delivered you can’t leave is a scary proposition. The fact that you can’t take your toys out of Salesforce’s playground and go home is a ludicrous concept and difficult to swallow.
  • Force.com is About Marketing Not Product – To be fair, Force.com does provide a good distribution model since you have the ability to tap into Salesforce’s customer base, but that’s exactly why Force.com was built. Force.com is used as a mechanism to bolster Salesforce.com core offering’s value proposition. It’s primary purpose is not to give you the power to build powerful SaaS offerings. From the distribution model standpoint, it makes sense to write to Force.com if you’re writing plugins and extensions for their CRM product. For full blown SaaS offerings, look elsewhere.
  • Cost – Force.com is too expensive. The economics of SaaS are stark, and never more so given the capital raising climate of today. SaaS vendors should be able to deliver their service for about 25% of what they charge for it. Some do it for less (Salesforce in particular is a little more than half that), and some do it for more (Google’s “SaaS” is much more expensive, but still around 40%). Here’s the punchline: Force is priced at about $50 a seat month. If you’re going to get that 25% Cost of Services, that means you’d have to charge $200 a seat month for your SaaS offering. That’s 2x the premium offerings from Salesforce itself. It’s a total non-starter for those who’ve done the math.

It has to be said that Sinclair could be seen to be less than neutral writing as he does from inside Apprenda another SaaS platform player, however the points he and Bob raise make sense.

What do you think – is Force.com the PaaS play par excellence?

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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