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Dreamforce: Is that an iPad in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?

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8th Dec 2010
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As presentational techniques go, it was certainly unconventional. In the middle of his keynote address on the opening day of the Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff reached behind him and plucked an iPad out of his pants.  
But as his jacket pockets were already occupied by 5 other mobile devices that were produced like a magician conjuring up bunches of flowers from his sleeves, down the back of his trousers was really the only place left to store an iPad. (Fortunately Benioff is a larger gentleman!) “I carry an iPad at all times – that's how I roll,” he joshed. 
Such an embarrassment of mobile devices was intended to demonstrate the “new world'” that Benioff told the 14,500 delegates at the keynote that Salesforce.com is here to create as a “driver, catalyst, evangelist”. He told his audience: "We're going to take it to a whole new level. We're going to take it to a whole new place. We know the old status quo players want to hold on as long as they can."
To that end, he shamelessly worked the crowd, stepping down from the stage to wander through the audience as he talked, pausing en route to shake hands and name check people.  As for his speech, he ran through the basic tenets of Cloud Computing, climaxing with the claim that the Cloud is cheap – a remark that occasioned a ripple of laughter from the Salesforce.com faithful. “Well, most of the time it's inexpensive,” Benioff granted his audience. 
With Oracle in Salesforce.com's sights with its new Cloud database offering, it was also time to revive the rhetoric war that broke out in September at the Oracle OpenWorld conference when Benioff's old boss Larry Ellison declared that a Cloud was a big metal box with an X on the front in the form of the Exalogic Elastic Cloud servers. 
“Cloud is not a box. It just isn't,” reiterated Benioff. “It was an  amazing conference. I walked through the exhibition and there were lots of red cubes, hundreds and hundreds. Each was a different software company that Oracle had bought along the way. It was the software industry lined up as red cubes. I said 'Is this what our industry has come to - a series of red cubes that we have to run on a proprietary mainframe that they call a Cloud?'. After I walked through all those red cubes I said 'Beware of the False Cloud'. The False Cloud is not efficient, is not democratic, is not economical and is not environmental.”

Chattering about databases
From a product perspective, there was the now accustomed focus on the Chatter collaboration offering. Benioff confirmed that Salesforce.com would launch a free version of Chatter as well as offering a free Chatter service over the web for use by the general public from February 2011. "It's free, it's mobile, it's viral," Benioff said of the upcoming website. "Our goal is very simple. How can we get everyone on Chatter?"
But the big news of the day was the announcement of Database.com. "Databases need to move into the Cloud, it's way overdue!” declared Benioff.  “I've been doing enterprise software for 25 years and databases for that long. Customers had been coming to us and saying that they wanted to use our platform as a database. The seminal thing that happened was when VMware came to us and said that they wanted to do VMforce. They had created a set of slides with our product marketers and when I saw them that dictated Database.com.”
In fact the roots of Database.com go back a lot further. “It's a vision that goes back more than a decade,” admitted Benioff. “I created a company called Database.com that folded in the financial implosion back in 2000. Now is the time to rebirth the idea. We had seen other Cloud databases start to appear, but none of those guys are doing a good job from an enterprise perspective.
“We're not in the traditional database business. We're really like a start-up in this industry. But Database.com is strategic, not tactical. It's important for our customers to have a Cloud database and today they don't have one. We also have more focus than ever on our ISVs and they want to build on a Cloud database.”
The database gambit would appear to be tantamount to parking another tank on Larry Ellison's lawn, although Benioff remains adamant that he doesn't see Oracle as the enemy. “I honestly don't see us as a competitor with them,” he says. “Larry wears his Iron Man outfit and says that he is defined by his enemies, but I don't see Oracle as the enemy. Our enemy is the past. I remind our people about that all the time. If we get sucked back into the status quo that's the real enemy. The future is our friend.”
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