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By | Matt Asay 3rd June 2016 10:05

Salesforce's data centre team 'fought' AWS cloud outsourcing

The growing cloud platform war takes shape

Analysis Salesforce’s cloud server staff, those behind its flagship SaaS cloud, fought tooth and nail against their employer’s embrace of Amazon’s cloud.

Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s chief executive puffed last week he had a “great meeting of minds” with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos on embracing AWS.

Salesforce has chosen AWS to power its core services - Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, App Cloud, Community Cloud, Analytics Cloud - to support international expansion.

This complements previous announcements on AWS undergirding Salesforce’s IoT Cloud, and jibes with previous commitments to run AWS underneath Heroku, Marketing Cloud Social Studio, and SalesforceIQ.

People thought Apple reportedly moving part of its infrastructure from AWS to Google Cloud Platform was big but this is much, much bigger. It’s a $400m deal to start with, but Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff told investors (log-in needed): “We are definitely exploring ways so we can use AWS more aggressively with Salesforce” in the future.

When THE cloud computing company concludes AWS can operate infrastructure better than it can, that's big news. It’s a signal.

“There is no public cloud that is more sophisticated, more well used by enterprises ad one that has more robust capabilities than Amazon,” Benioff said of the new AWS deal.

Maybe, but the Salesforce team, according to a well-known observer who asked to remain anonymous, fought the AWS decision tooth and nail. He informed me:

This decision didn't happen easily. Do you think that the internal data centre group at Salesforce just said: "Yeah, they're probably better than us?" No way. There was a pitched battle and AWS so clearly demonstrated its superiority that there was no way to justify an internal placement.

Approached by The Register, Salesforce refused to comment but instead re-iterated an earlier statement when it announced the AWS deal that it would continue to invest in its own data centres.

Salesforce has more than 150,000 customers on the platform that team built. The company understands cloud scale in ways that few companies do, and has spent years building up an impressive infrastructure to support its swelling customer base.

But Salesforce’s decision to go with AWS after all that doesn’t tell us much about Salesforce, per se. Rather, it tells us everything about the cloud Amazon has built.

On the one hand, this suggests that Salesforce concedes the IaaS/PaaS crown to AWS, and acknowledges that it can’t out-innovate Amazon in that market. It also hints that has become legacy code, at least compared to AWS.

But it also says one additional thing, and it’s perhaps the biggest statement of all: the benefits of building on AWS far outweigh the risk of lock-in. The deal initially is intended to enable Salesforce to “bring new infrastructure online more quickly and efficiently in select international markets,” but if this proves successful, does anyone really believe Salesforce will hold back on its AWS commitment?

Salesforce’s entire business runs in the cloud and, increasingly, that could mean its entire business will depend on AWS. That’s huge. Hybrid, multi-cloud, and other bedtime stories.

What does this mean for everybody outside that web-scale super league back in data centre land?

Neutral code sounds better than it is

Back there, CIOs and other IT types keep trying to pretend that the AWS juggernaut isn’t happening. Those who recognise public cloud is inevitable try to hedge against lock-in with a multi-cloud strategy.

What they find, however, is that making their code cloud-agnostic sounds far better in Powerpoint than it does in the muck of real cloud deployments. Few enterprises can afford to forego adding features simply so they can build a Swiss paradise of neutral code. Cost savings they’d achieve by pitting cloud vendors against each other are likely going to be eaten up by wasted development and operations resources spent speaking multiple clouds.

Hence, they, like Salesforce, will likely conclude that they’re going to need to bet big on one of the dominant cloud providers. There’s no shame in that.

Hybrid cloud is similar. Despite all evidence to the contrary, private cloud pundits keep telling us that data governance and application performance will keep workloads firmly entrenched in private data centres, or will capitulate to public cloud with a hybrid model. Of course, Salesforce’s decision to build on AWS calls into question these cosy platitudes, as Simon Wardley hints.

In an apparent conciliatory move, AWS execs have started touting the value of hybrid workloads from the stage of AWS re:Invent and in the press. Indeed, Matt Wood, Amazon’s general manager of Platform Strategy, told me that: “100 per cent of our roadmap is driven by customer requirements, which has meant that we’ve built the largest collection of hybrid services available anywhere.”

So hybrid is awesome? Not really. There’s a method to this hybrid madness within AWS.

Wood indicated that over the past few years: “Many large enterprises have identified AWS and public cloud as their long-term future.” However: “Large enterprises have existing investments in infrastructure and they generally want to take advantage of those investments.” Hybrid, then, has: “Become a stepping stone toward a full-fledged cloud native approach and 100 per cent on AWS adoption.”

In other words, “Hybrid is a step in the journey,” and not the end state. A new Redmond rises All of which suggests that we are witnessing the rise of the enterprise IT hegemony for the next 20 years.

Amazon is introducing new features and changes at a pace that even innovative other cloud companies like Salesforce seem to have acknowledged they can’t match.

Only Microsoft seems able to keep up, which should provide our next epic battle, like Linux vs Windows or iOS vs Android before it.

Amazon is redefining the enterprise while Microsoft cleans up with those that want one foot in the new world and one in the old. This is part technology but, again, it’s also part culture.

Microsoft wins deals against AWS despite having a less-impressive tech line-up, according to Gartner analyst Lydia Leong: “Azure almost always loses tech evals to AWS hands-down, but guess what? They still win deals. Business isn't tech-only.” It’s also culture, and in both culture and tech, Google may be too far ahead of its time, and its prospective customers.

The clearest sign of this emerging new platform war so far may well be Salesforce’s decision to build a big part of its future on AWS.

It’s huge news, a much bigger deal than the $400m price tag and much, much bigger than the professional pride of Salesforce’s internal cloud-wranglers. ®

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