Salesforce.com to launch full production test bed

Hoping to capture more seats in the enterprise, Salesforce.com will introduce Salesforce Sandbox as part of its Winter 2006 release. Sandbox is a full parallel copy of a company's production environment to be used for testing, development, and end-user training.

Sandbox becomes a contained and safe environment where IT departments can test integration with back-office applications and customizations as well as train employees on a new piece of functionality without having an impact on live data, according to George Hu, vice president and general manager of applications at Salesforce.com.

Sheryl Kingstone, program manager, CRM, for the Yankee Group, pointed out that the more Salesforce.com targets the larger enterprises, the more IT wants to get involved.

"They want the environment they are familiar with, a test environment to play with integrations," said Kingstone.

In addition to the short-term operational goal of giving IT a familiar mirror image of its production environment, Sandbox also becomes a strategic component in Salesforce.com's long-term effort to extend its reach beyond CRM.

Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com's CEO, has often said that his objective is for Salesforce to become the SaaS platform for third-party service providers.

To that end, AppExchange was introduced earlier this year. It includes pre-built applications created by Salesforce.com and its partners. The stated goal of AppExchange, according to Salesforce.com officials, is to extend SaaS beyond CRM to finance, IT, human resources, legal, R&D, and other business software segments.

Sandbox will allow companies to download these applications and test them with their own data before going live.

The introduction of Sandbox also raises the bar for its competitors, according to Denis Pombriant, managing principal at Beagle Research Group. Pombriant said that in the future all SaaS providers "will be judged by whether or not they have this capability."

Features of Sandbox include a full production database copy, periodic refresh to keep the test bed in synch with changes to the production environment, and a "configuration-only" Sandbox that mirrors the production environment, but not the data.

Sandbox will be available as an option for the Enterprise Edition and will cost US$25 per month per existing Enterprise Edition user. The configuration-only version will be priced at US$18 per month for existing users. It is expected to become available by the end of January.

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