Salesforce's App Cloud finally gives developers a unified PaaS
Salesforce recently announced an integrated developer platform called App Cloud. The platform is the latest attempt by the world’s most successful Software as a Service (SaaS) company to consolidate its developer offerings.
App Cloud is an extension of Salesforce1, which is an initiative to bring social, mobile, and cloud platforms together for enterprise developers. This integrated architecture is an augmentation of the Heroku developer platform and the Salesforce Lightning mobile framework to deliver the unified development experience. According to Salesforce, App Cloud lets developers focus on building solutions rather than infrastructure.
Empowering developers to focus on code rather than infrastructure has been the original promise of Platform as a Service (PaaS). Through App Cloud, Salesforce is connecting the dots across its CRM, mobile tools, and core developer platform to deliver a unified PaaS.
Heroku: The original PaaS
In 2010, Salesforce spent a whopping $212 million to acquire Heroku, which it maintained as a separate entity. Led by an ex-Microsoft and ex-VMware executive, Todd Nielson, Heroku is one of the most successful PaaS offerings in the market. Nielson knows a thing or two about building developer platforms; he successfully set up the MSDN community at Microsoft, and built up the initial momentum for Cloud Foundry at VMware.
Though Heroku initially started as a Ruby platform in the cloud, it added support for Node.js, Python, Java, PHP, and Go languages. Developers prefer Heroku for its simplicity and performance. Interestingly, Heroku doesn’t share the data centers powering Salesforce’s CRM; instead, Heroku is running on Amazon Web Services (AWS) infrastructure.
With the growing interest in PaaS and microservices in the industry, the company has announced Heroku Enterprise, an enterprise-friendly PaaS running on the public cloud. Customers demanding a private and isolated environment within Heroku can rely on a new feature called Private Spaces that enables the customer’s IT teams to securely connect the data center with Heroku PaaS.
Customers can also choose to deploy the applications in geographies that are close to the consumers. These features tap into the AWS footprint by opening up the same regions to customers. Heroku apps can be deployed in Dublin, Frankfurt, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, Northern Virginia, and Oregon regions.
The platform got a federated identity feature that unifies the authentication and authorization of resources across Salesforce and Heroku. All of these features bridge the gap between the CRM platform and PaaS that lived in silos.
Lightning: An integrated mobile and desktop development environment
Salesforce created the Lightning Experience to bring the eye candy of consumer applications to line-of-business applications. Delivered on mobile, tablets, and desktops, it is powered by multiple components of the platform.
The Lightning Design System enables developers to build user experiences with a consistent look and feel. It comes with the styles and guidelines for colors, typography, and icons.
The Lightning App Builder is a tool to design apps for phones, tablets, wearables, desktops, and the web. Designers and developers can use the components from the Salesforce marketplace, AppExchange, to create engaging experiences.
With App Cloud, the user experience layer can seamlessly talk to the services exposed by Heroku Enterprise and Force.com.
Trailhead: A repository of tutorials and other resources
With Trailhead, Salesforce is investing in a set of resources to encourage developers to embrace App Cloud. It comes with learning paths, tutorials, credits, and badges that developers can show off to their peers.
My take on App Cloud
One of the biggest challenges for Salesforce is persuading non-CRM customers to build applications on its platform. While it’s a no-brainer to use Force.com for developing extensions to Salesforce, developers and designers don’t prefer it for stand-alone applications.
In the last few years, Salesforce started building bridges across its assets — CRM (Salesforce), mobile (Lightning), social (Chatter), and generic PaaS (Heroku). App Cloud is the latest attempt to convince developers to embrace its platform.
Heroku Enterprise is a big leap in going beyond the traditional Salesforce customer base; the new features, such as private spaces, regions, and federated identity, may be appealing to enterprise developers and IT. Heroku Enterprise can be the gateway to the broader Salesforce platform.
The bottom line
App Cloud is exciting for existing Salesforce customers, but I doubt it will make a huge difference in acquiring new customers.
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