In a past posting I talked about using an Infrastructure as a Service as the basis for your SaaS application using Amazon Web Services as an example. Another alternative is using a Platform as a Service. It is pretty clear that at least some of the more mature PaaS services are appropriate for this purpose. I recently attended Salesforce.com’s ISV Force Meetup in Boston and Force.com is a good platform to use an example to discuss PaaS and what some of the issues are.
Deciding to use a PaaS or selecting the appropriate PaaS for your business or application is not just a technical decision but a key business strategy issue. An IaaS or data center selection is a key decision but with some time and money the decision could be changed. With a PaaS it is unlikely that you will ever be able to make a change if the PaaS provider goes out of business or you have selected the wrong one since the cost and time to make a change is much more substantial. The wrong PaaS decision could destroy your business and the right decision could substantially accelerate your business plans.
Some of the important characteristics of a good PaaS are the following:
- Strong development platform and tools
- Development community
- Financial stability and ability to keep investing in the platform
- Subscription management tools
- Billing tools
- Business arrangements including pricing
- Channel and marketing value
Making tradeoffs among these areas is why the selection of a PaaS is such a strategic decision. The PaaS that matches best for channel and marketing value may not have the best development platform and vice versa.
On the topic of Force.com, they do a good job in all of these areas which is one of the reasons why they were rated as the top provider by Forrester Research in the area of strategy and developers. Force.com has decided to focus on ISVs as one area for growth and have a comprehensive program for ISVs. Although I think the value of Force.com is maximized when you have an application that naturally fits with Salesforce’s CRM offering, Force.com can be used for unrelated applications and it is being marketed that way. The business arrangements seem to be mutually beneficial and the upfront investment is minimal.
There is an excellent resource to understand whether the Force.com platform fits with your software business called Thinking of… Force.com as your key to the Cloud Kingdom? Ask the Smart Questions by Alok Misra & Ian Gotts. It is clearly Force.com marketing material but the Smart Questions apply to everyone who is considering converting to a SaaS business model and is worth reading. The book gives as many reasons not to convert or use Force.com as reasons to use the service. Clearly Salesforce subscribes to the advice Jim Naro and I gave in a recent article about a pitfall in the SaaS Customer Life-cycle, “Successfully Selling to the Wrong People” . Clearly Salesforce is working to get the right customers, ones that they believe will be successful, and trying not to make investments with the wrong ones who won’t end up being successful with their platform.
Any ISVs who are making a decision about developing a new service or converting to SaaS should consider a PaaS service and they should include Force.com in their evaluation. It may not be the right answer, it’s certainly not the only answer, but it deserves a look.