Heroku gears up for an assault on the enterprise

Credit: via wiredforlego on Flickr

Heroku has a reputation in Silicon Valley for being the startup-friendly platform-as-a-service (PaaS) -- an easy, low-barrier way to deploy web and mobile applications at scale, using modern development languages like Ruby, Python, and Java. For instance, San Francisco's mustachioed ridesharing darling Lyft isn't shy about their usage of the service.

Now Heroku, which has been part of Salesforce since its acquisition in 2010, is looking to bring that same shine and scalability into the enterprise. I sat down with Heroku VP of Product Adam Gross in their San Francisco office last week for some insight into how the company is planning to hit that target with the impending launch of Heroku1 later this year

Heroku1 is part of the Salesforce1 initiative announced at the Dreamforce conference last November. Unfortunately for customers, Salesforce has done a poor job of defining Salesforce1 clearly, but the short version is that it's meant to overhaul how the previously separate parts in the Salesforce ecosystem mesh with each other to provide a more unified experience across platforms and tools. ("One," get it?) 

Heroku1 is built on top of the same scalable cloud delivery platform Heroku has always been, says Gross, but it has much deeper hooks into the Salesforce ecosystem. Gross says that Force.com -- Salesforce's original home-grown foray into PaaS -- will continue to be the platform of choice for Salesforce customers looking to build employee-facing apps. But those apps will no longer have to be siloed from public-facing applications built on Heroku1. 

"It's the customer-facing stuff driving innovation," Gross says.

Heroku1 itself is not really a new platform -- it's more an extension of the Heroku platform -- although rebuilding Heroku apps to become Heroku1 apps would take considerable development work. Heroku1 consists of three major components, rolled into one package: Heroku Connect, which syncs data between Heroku Postgres databases and the core Salesforce product; a command-line interface to manage Force.com applications; and a bunch of libraries to use modern languages (Node.js, Ruby, Python, Java) with the core Salesforce APIs.

"It's kind of like a hybrid car," Gross says of Heroku1's ability to bridge old and new technologies. 

Heroku1 will be available as a paid (pricing has yet to be announced) add-on for new and existing Heroku apps, though Gross notes that most customers may not want to entirely rearchitect an application from the ground up to take advantage. It's really meant for new customers who know they're going to want to integrate apps with Salesforce apps at some point.

For the C-suite, this is meant to enable a unified view into every customer, across external apps, internal apps, and the underlying CRM system, which Gross describes as the Holy Grail, and a feature that no vendor before Salesforce has executed well. It's about the all-important end-user experience, making sure everything stays seamless, consistent, and up-to-date no matter where you are.

"Historically, it's been very hard to connect these technologies," Gross says. 

There's been a strong response from customers, too, Gross says. In customer conversations, Gross and his team have been floored by how "sophisticated" the IT organizations at even non-technology companies have been. Sports and apparel retailers, have a very solid idea of how and where they can deploy these technologies and transform their IT infrastructure -- they just need the tools and the platform to do it. 

So while pundits can say PaaS is dying, Gross says Heroku is seeing a gap in the market -- many CEOs and CIOs want more than virtualized servers. They want the services and scalability to build apps that have the potential to really drive business change.

"The need for PaaS has never been more urgent, and demand has never been so strong," says Gross. 

Gross says that the next challenge is in getting the word out. The brand confusion around the Salesforce1 initiative and the general lack of understanding around PaaS means the company has its messaging work laid out for it.

But Gross still sees Heroku as having plenty of room to grow as it works to enable the same kinds of application innovation and polish seen in the Silicon Valley startup scene for enterprises of all kinds. There's a tendency to think of the entire world as either moving to the cloud or at least considering it, but "99.99 percent" of apps are still hosted on legacy infrastructure, providing tremendous upside potential.

"It's our job to deliver the cloud to the rest of the world," Gross says. 

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