Salesforce.com's CRM service hiccups again

In the wake of several service outages in recent weeks, Salesforce.com has created a Web site to update users of its hosted CRM software on system performance and any problems it encounters.

An outage earlier this month was the latest service disruption to affect customers of the San Francisco-based company, which claims to have about 350,000 subscribers.

The new Web page, called Trust.Salesforce.com, is the most recent effort by the company to calm users' fears. The site went live last week.

In an e-mail message, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff said the site will offer users data on the system's performance, throughput and transaction rates. It will also provide information on the cause of any problems.

In addition, a US$50 million overhaul of the hosted system's infrastructure is slated to be completed this quarter. The work includes the development of a load-balancing system called Mirrorforce that will replicate data among data centers so that if one goes off-line, another can immediately take over its processing workload.

The most recent service disruption, which lasted 81 minutes, occurred on Feb. 9, Benioff confirmed in his e-mail.

Customers interviewed last week had mixed reactions to the latest outage.

"Clearly, something is not right in Salesforce land," said Tom Kramer, president of San Francisco-based Bella Pictures, which relies heavily on the service. Kramer said the most recent outage cut productivity at the wedding photography company.

In addition, he said, Salesforce.com did not notify Bella Pictures of the outage. Notification from the vendor would help his company work through outages, Kramer said.

On the other hand, the outage "was not a significant problem" for Phoenix Technologies, said CIO Clifford Bell. Phoenix, a maker of PC systems software and tools, uses Salesforce.com's service for its sales and marketing operations.

Bell said he received a note from Benioff that detailed Salesforce.com's plans to put a stop to the outages.

"Funny, but I never have gotten an e-mail from Larry Ellison for any Oracle issues or from Bill Gates when there are Microsoft issues," Bell said, adding that he thinks Salesforce.com is working hard to correct the problems.

"You have to wonder why this is happening," said David Dobrin, an analyst at B2B Analysts in Mass. "Is it an artifact of their changeover to a more robust, dual data center model? Is it a size problem? Are they having the same problems with their hardware and software vendors that other people frequently have?"

Dobrin noted that much of Salesforce.com's customer base is averse to working with IT. Those customers, therefore, will be more aggravated by downtime and more willing to express their dissatisfaction than those who rely on internal IT resources, he said.

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