Salesforce's three-headed platform play: Heroku1, Heroku, and Force.com

Credit: Pets Adviser via Flickr

One. One platform, one approach, one mobile-friendly infrastructure. That's the message that CRM titan Salesforce.com has spent a lot of effort pushing at this week's Dreamforce '13 megaconference with the launch of Salesforce1, which aims to unify the disparate parts of its cloud ecosystem into a single offering. 

Which makes the decision to launch Heroku1, a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) distinct from existing offerings Force.com and Heroku, completely baffling. If "one" is such an important number to Salesforce.com, why are they peddling three completely separate offerings to the enterprise? The answer, as is ever the case with Salesforce.com, seems to lie not in technology, but in marketing. 

To hear the company tell it, a key difference (among many minor, developer-friendly ones) between the existing Heroku PaaS and the new Heroku1 is the Heroku Connect service, which enables native database syncing of Salesforce.com data and applications built on the platform. The tricky thing with that value proposition is that Force.com, which was Salesforce.com's first foray into the PaaS market and which still benefits from a healthy enterprise developer ecosystem, was already designed to scratch that particular itch. 

For a little perspective on this seeming redundancy, I had the chance to sit down with Lee Odess, general manager of Brivo Labs, an Internet of Things spinoff from established security access control company Brivo. Brivo Labs was selected via CloudSpokes' crowdsourcing challenge to provide access to Salesforce.com partner Appirio's private lounge at Dreamforce '13 via smartcard, such that entering the space would alert selected contacts in your social graph that you were present and accounted for via Salesforce Chatter. 

Odess and his team built this proof-of-concept -- which importantly, marked Brivo Labs' public debut -- on a combination of Heroku and Force.com. When it comes to keeping things in the Salesforce.com family, it's a matter of meeting their mostly-enterprise customers in the middle, Odess says. If this kind of social access control is to take off their customers are likely already dipping their toes in the Salesforce.com cloud -- and building on the public cloud grants the flexibility to sell outside that market, too. 

But why combine the two PaaSes? Because Heroku, which began its life as a startup before getting acquired by Salesforce.com in late 2010, is much more friendly to the cutting edge of software development, with support for the latest languages and architectures, and is easier to scale. But Force.com brought security, a better authentication story, rapid iteration, and all-around enterprise cred to the table. 

Basically, Odess said, it's easy to forget that Heroku, for all its bells and whistles, sits on top of the Amazon Web Services cloud, with all the pluses and minuses that entails. 

Which brings us back to Heroku1. Time and general availability will tell us if there's more to it than meets the eye. But the evidence is pointing to a platform that's little more than a fresh set of buzzwords and an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, change to the platform in order to make it more enterprise-friendly. 

This is purely speculation, but it seems that the maintenance of Heroku and Force.com, at this point, is a matter of continuity rather than serious business focus. The emphasis in the official literature on that Heroku Connect service places it in the realm of possibility that, while Salesforce.com seems to have no intent to make any sudden movements in this direction, Heroku1 could be the beneficiary of the company's future investments in PaaS, while the other two languish and, potentially, perish. It may not be a huge leap forward in technology, but it's obviously a reorientation in Salesforce.com's market positioning. 

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