Salesforce to be on-demand computing platform

Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff on Oracle, customers and the Salesforce vision

It's not often you see Larry Ellison, Oracle's chief executive officer, rattled during a keynote address, but a question about how his company's offerings stacked up against those from on-demand player Salesforce.com saw him scrambling for words during Oracle's OpenWorld conference in San Francisco.

Watching the live online feed of the keynote on his computer in his office just a few blocks away from where Ellison was giving forth, Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com clearly relished those awkward moments. He was amused to see his former boss -- Benioff was at Oracle for 13 years prior to founding Salesforce.com in 1999 -- struggling to summarize where Oracle fits in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) market which Salesforce.com has helped to define.

For the record, Ellison replied that Oracle's SaaS business was the same size as Salesforce.com's and served 2,000 customers. Although on-demand software is "very important," the Oracle CEO said it was "nonsensical" to think that all software will end up being hosted. Benioff takes a different approach, believing that on-demand applications are the future.

In a wide-ranging interview, Benioff talked affably about his company's vision, competitors and customers. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.

Salesforce.com recently announced it would make its Apex programming language and development platform available to its customers. What are you trying to do there?

We have 25,000 customers. We began by offering salesforce automation, then we moved to customer relationship management [CRM]. The two things our customers have been asking for are deeper customization and deeper integration. I didn't really understand what that was. It took a while until I finally understood what they were saying: they wanted to manage all their information on demand.

Our vision is of becoming a platform for on-demand computing, the eBay for business software. We don't want to build or own it all. Look at Google, they have great maps. Yahoo has great maps too. We don't want to build our own maps, but do mash-ups with their maps.

We want to provide tools that give customers the ability to extend their investment in Salesforce. We want to give them the raw horsepower to do other things. Siebel became so fixed and so inflexible that it didn't have the ability to adjust its [CRM] technology.

Talking about Salesforce.com being a platform begs the question: Will you ever stop selling CRM software?

We're in two businesses today. We're the leading independent CRM vendor and also the leading on-demand platform. We'll always be in CRM. Our largest user Cisco has 7,500 users on Salesforce. Before they had Siebel. Merrill Lynch has more than 5,000 Salesforce users.

What's the average size of your customers?

It's a flip answer, but there's no average size. We manage all our customers on the same database and the same servers. Small is 1 to 100 employees, midsize is 100 to 1,000 and large is above 1,000 staff. Our split is one third, one third, one third. It's excellent because as the different markets ebb and flow, the business continues to grow.

Are you happy with your worldwide presence?

We are global, but we do need to invest. We'll grow all our businesses up over time.

Are your both data centers live now?

Yes. The West Coast is a mirror of the East Coast data center. If we lose San Jose, we have the East Coast.

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