Voices of CRM

Apr 28 2010   7:22PM GMT

Is this the end of Apex and other questions about VMforce?

Barney Beal Barney Beal Profile: Barney Beal

Salesforce. com and VMware got together yesterday and released some details on VMforce, their much anticipated collaboration.

It left me with more questions than answers though.

In fact, Denis Pombriant over at Beagle Research may have asked the best question about VMforce.

One thing that remains cloudy (sorry) is whether a transformed Java application running on VMForce inherits the multi-tenancy that every other Salesforce cloud application has.  If not VMForce reduces Force.com to the status of a simple server.  This would be a big departure for Salesforce and something that was not alluded to in the presentation.  But it is a question that ought to be asked.

And I have a few questions of my own to ask.

First of all, now that developers can work in Java while leveraging the Force.com platform, why do they need Apex (Salesforce.com’s proprietary programming language)? Salesforce.com has always said that Apex is very “Java-like” but nothing is more Java-like than Java, no?

Salesforce.com told SearchCloudComupting’s Carl Brooks that Force.com users will continue to use Apex if they wish and that 80% of Force.com development was basically point and click anyway, so they didn’t expect much change. Salesforce.com also said that AppExchange will continue on and Apex Force.com apps will not suddenly be available in Java on VMforce.com.

But what’s holding AppExchange partners back from moving to VMforce? As it’s been laid out, it appears developers could use VMforce for test and development and then pull it back off the cloud and in house, giving them more choice. Additionally. Salesforce.com made a big deal about the integration between VMforce and Force.com, including a “publish to Force.com” button that was well received.  Seems like one less reason to use Apex.

Of course, the big questions are around licensing and there was no word on that. None is expected for a while either but it seems to be a pretty relevant topic.

For example, will people using the VMforce applications be charged a license or is there some sort of usage-based fee? Do you get a Force.com license with a VMforce license? According to Salesforce.com, developers will get access to the Force.com platform, including the database, workflow management, Chatter social collaboration platform, search and application performance analytics.  Does that mean companies will be able to swap out Force.com licenses for VMforce licenses?

And why no word on pricing? SearchCloudComputing’s Brooks makes a good point that VMware will want to make it fairly cheap to encourage as many users as possible. Salesforce.com on the other hand is going to want to turn this into a bigger revenue stream, particularly if it cuts into Force.com usage.

Finally, I wonder, how much of this is an effort by Salesforce.com to extend its footprint beyond the core CRM users in sales, service and marketing. The AppExchange applications were supposed to do that, but most of them still seem to focus on some sort of CRM extension.

Chatter, which I had some questions about when it was released, seems to be Salesforce.com’s latest effort in that area and the fact that they are opening up Chatter to Java developers seems a clear step in that direction.

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