Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff swung through Boston Tuesday to tout his company's "platform-as-a-service" model, which lets developers create and deliver business applications over the Web without installing any software.
Just as software-as-a-service is giving customers Internet-based applications that are often more dynamic than packaged software, platform-as-a-service will make it easier for developers to build business applications that mimic the usability of consumer-oriented programs, Benioff said to a crowd of several hundred who attended Salesforce's latest Tour de Force event.
The tour gives developers a full-day crash course in Force.com, the online development platform released by Salesforce in January.
"You're going to see a wave of platform-as-a-service happen over the next decade the same way you've seen a wave of software-as-a-service," Benioff said.
Similar to Amazon's EC2 cloud computing service, Force.com lets developers run their code on Salesforce servers. Developers can create applications using prebuilt user interfaces from Salesforce, or scrap the Salesforce interfaces and design their own.
Benioff said that software developer tools aren't suited for today's computing environment because they were built mostly before the rise of the Internet. Poking fun at Microsoft Vista, Benioff said "It's kind of like [Vista] doesn't even know the Internet is there. But that's [Microsoft's] newest, most modern thing."
The Tour de Force event featured author Nicholas Carr, who detailed his by-now-well-known argument that IT departments will not survive in their current form, instead being replaced by utility computing models delivered through the Internet.
Carr said IT is just like electricity, in that it doesn't give any one company strategic advantages over another and thus would be more efficiently provided through shared systems.
"That's not to say IT and electricity are similar at a technological level," Carr said. "Where they are similar is at an economic level. Both electricity and IT are what economists call general purpose technologies. Because a general purpose technology can be so broadly used there are huge opportunities to gain economies of scale if you centralize their production. Electricity and IT are unique even among the small group of general purpose technologies because both of them, in theory anyway, can be supplied over a network."
Benioff echoed Carr's argument and said cloud computing services such as Force.com are helping to make Carr's predicted future a reality.
"The cloud is really all about empowering developers to give them access to computing power," Benioff said. "You can be here and deploy in India, or you can be in India and deploy here. That's another huge shift."