With Salesforce SuperPods public cloud can be private - but should it?

Dr Steve Hodgkinson, Research Director, Public Sector Technology

Salesforce announced a private SuperPod hosting of the Salesforce offering for HP at Dreamforce. This announcement appears to open the door to a more nuanced hybrid delivery model where the distinction between public and private cloud services is becoming a matter of customer choice.

The SuperPod may provide a bridge that enables some customers to access the benefits of SaaS while keeping data in dedicated infrastructure. Enterprises, however, need to be careful about wishing for a “private” cloud.

Unless there are definite and unavoidable regulatory or legal drivers, the better path is probably to learn how to live safely in the public cloud. That, after all, is where the real economies of scale and scope are to be found. It is also increasingly the destination of choice of both customers and employees.

Introducing the SuperPod

Dreamforce 13 was, as usual, an impressive showcase of cloud services leadership by Salesforce. The main story was the launch of Salesforce1 – a re-architecting of the old web services Salesforce for a mobile device world (discussed in “Salesforce1 ramps up a new PaaS era of enterprise apps”).

For us, however, one of the more interesting announcements appeared almost as an afterthought by CEO Marc Benioff in the opening keynote. HP’s Meg Whitman joined Benioff to announce the HP SuperPod designed for dedicated single customer use. The SuperPod “combines Salesforce’s leading multi-tenant software with dedicated HP hardware designed for single customer use.”

Given Benioff’s propensity to wax lyrical with enthusiasm for his company’s innovations, the SuperPod announcement was intriguingly low key, but nonetheless marked quite a significant turning point in the evolution of cloud services.

HP SuperPod in the Salesforce data center

In a separate Q&A with industry analysts and press, Benioff provided a little more detail behind the SuperPod, which emerged in response to a request from HP (which became a major Salesforce customer this year) to have a dedicated instance of Salesforce running on its own hardware in the Salesforce data center.

Benioff acknowledged that this was not intended as a departure from Salesforce’s “no hardware, no software” value proposition, but rather a response to a request from a large enterprise customer for greater control over the tenancy of their Salesforce instance. Benioff specified, in fact, that for the “vast majority” of Salesforce customers, the SuperPod would not be the best option.

The SuperPod will appeal to those enterprises, and most governments, that have strong views on where their data is located. As much as cloud services create a frictionless global digital frontier, the reality is that laws and regulations are country-specific. This announcement appears to open the door to a more nuanced hybrid delivery model akin to that provided by Amazon Web Services, where the distinction between public and private cloud services is blurring and becoming a matter of customer choice.

Public cloud services can become private

This announcement raises interesting questions about the evolution of cloud services. Is it better to inch towards cloud services using private cloud arrangements or to leap into public cloud services? Ovum’s view is that the public cloud services model is a transformative destination for visionary enterprises and vendors alike. Getting too bogged down in private cloud stopovers is a trap because it means carrying legacy baggage and perpetuating legacy thinking for longer than is either necessary or justifiable.

From this perspective, it is easier for a public cloud services provider to become more private than it is for a private cloud service provider to become more public. Public cloud services providers have already arrived at a destination that enables economies of scale and scope. They have built the cloud services operating models. They have the software and the operating capabilities needed to manage trustworthy multi-tenancy at all levels of the service offering. Salesforce can deploy a SuperPod to make its public cloud services more private if customers demand it, while still preserving most of the benefits of the public cloud model.

It is also easier for enterprises that have already made the mental leap to public cloud services to think more flexibly about the public-versus-private cloud service trade-offs. They have worked out how to trust the public cloud services model and are looking outward to the global Internet-enabled digital economy. Enterprises fixated on private cloud services, however, too often have their “eyes down” because they believe services must be constrained by their infrastructure and its physical perimeter.

Be careful what you ask for

The SuperPod will likely be a very niche offering in the Salesforce catalog, reserved for a handful of large customers that can justify a dedicated pod within a Salesforce data center. Pricing is not announced, but dedicated “private” hardware will inevitably be more expensive because it steps outside of the economies of scale of the multi-tenant environment (at least in terms of hardware costs).

The SuperPod may, however, provide a useful bridge that enables more customers to access the benefits of Salesforce’s multi-tenant SaaS offerings while keeping data in dedicated infrastructure. Salesforce, after all, already has a private cloud precedent in its dedicated US Government Cloud service. Perhaps the SuperPod can provide a vehicle for the deployment of government cloud instances in other countries?

The more salient point for most enterprises, however, is that they need to be careful what they wish for when they desire a “private” cloud. Without definite and unavoidable regulatory or legal drivers, the better path will likely be to learn how to live safely in the public cloud. That, after all, is where the real economies of scale and scope are to be found. It is also increasingly the destination of choice for both customers and employees.

APPENDIX

Further reading

“Salesforce1 ramps up a new PaaS era of enterprise apps,” IT007-000738 (November 2013)

“Salesforce.com outlines its ‘customer company’ vision,” IT015-001867 (May 2013)

“Salesforce.com about to shake up the identity management market,” IT017-004205 (October 2013)

2013 Trends to Watch: Private and Public Clouds, IT017-004055 (November 2012)

steve.hodgkinson@ovum.com

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