Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Salesforce's Dreamland: Data Portability, Interoperability and Cloud Monopolies

It's been an interesting week for Chief executive Marc Benioff. During a presentation at Salesforce Dreamforce delusion, sorry conference. The Salesforce chief called for the creation of cloud interoperability standards for moving data between applications in rival clouds. Which on the surface appears to be a great step forward. Problem is he was very quick to contradict himself.

During a followup, Benioff called platform lock in an inevitable part of the industry and said vendors should be more honest. Customers know that when they pick Salesforce .com, they are making a "strategic relationship," he said. In that regard, it's no different to what's been happening for decades with Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM.

(So if IBM, Oracle and Microsoft were to jump from a bridge... I think we know where salesforce would be)

So Marc which is it? Are you for data portability and cloud interoperability or are you for vendor lock in? It would seem that for all intensive purposes he seems to favor the latter.

In a recent post by Zoho founder Sridhar Vembu. Sridhar paints a very worrysome picture. In his post he goes on to say: "Salesforce has repeatedly tried to block customers from migrating to Zoho CRM, by telling them (falsely) that they cannot take their data out of Salesforce until their contract duration is over. We have emails from customers recounting this."

This seem pretty odd for a guy promoting interoperability. Marc's stance on cloud interoperability is almost as confusing as trying to follow the recent back and forth between Hugh MacLeod, Nick Carr and Tim O'Reilly's wildly crazy epic on cloud monopolies. To sum things up, they went into some kind of deluded tangent on the definition of the network effect while attempting to draw parallels to the effect that one user of a cloud or service has on the value of that cloud to other users or something like that. (While I'm on my own tangent, the hype around Cloud Computing itself is the network effect in action.)

Back to the topic at hand, I think this quote from Marc Benioff is the most telling for Salesforces interoperability plans."Larry Ellison is my mentor. He is a tremendous leader in the industry. He still owns 5% of our company. Now that I've said that, he also studies the Art of War."

James Governor, response to Hugh MacLeod said it best. "Customers always vote with their feet, and they tend vote for something somewhat proprietary - see Salesforce APEX and iPhone apps for example. Experience always comes before open. Even supposed open standards dorks these days are rushing headlong into the walled garden of gorgeousness we like to call Apple Computers."

(Yup, myself included writing this on my Mac Book Pro, Os X)

My suggestion for people considering salesforce or any other cloud platform is to not only look at how easily you can get up and running, but to also consider how easily you can move or get your data back again. For cloud computing (aka internet based computing) to ultimately become a viable main stream computing option, I feel we have no choice but to embrace both data portability and cloud interoperability standards so that the entire industry may flourish.

And by the way, Marc Benioff, monopolies are so 1995.

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