Salesforce App Cloud Review
Time to Value – Force.com Hands-On Winner


The Who, What and Why

May 19, 2011 Forrester Research published ‘The Forrester Wave: Platform-As-A-Service For App Dev And Delivery Professionals, Q2 2011”. In this paper Forrester concluded among other things that Salesforce.com’s Force.com was the leading PaaS platform for business experts but, went on to suggest that two alternative solutions – Caspio and WorkXpress presented good alternatives. The following summary represents my hands-on evaluation of all three solutions, as well as, a few comments regarding Microsoft Azure. As part of my evaluation, I chose to build a project portfolio application on each platform in order to catalog my experiences from on-boarding, application configuration to functionality testing.

First, I would like to provide response to a few items highlighted in the Forrester report. Below I reference the page number and report reference alongside my response.

Page Report Reference Counterpoint
3, 5, 8 Number 3. Forrester references business experts but fails to define the baseline skills of these experts. On page 5, Forrester defines business experts as ‘not coders’. My evaluation assumes a business expert as one that has familiarity with one or more software applications and how they are administered. Understands the importance of defining data relationships to drive reporting requirements and has worked with IT in the past to either source or build domain specific software services. This person is familiar with MS Access, Excel, Website dev tools, importing and exporting data, setting up preferences and administering public and private application services at a minimum.
5 Figure 2. Forrester omits adding Salesforce to PaaS for business experts This seems inconsistent with the balance of the analysis. Unclear why one would differentiate resident IDE vs IDE in the cloud. As point of clarification, Salesforce.com uses Eclipse IDE Platform, which is installed locally and synchronizes metadata changes to the Salesforce.com Platform. An introduction can be found here: http://wiki.developerforce.com/page/An_Introduction_to_Force_IDE
8 Current Offering: The evaluation’s current offering scores do not measure either product performance or stability… This was a big surprise to me, as I believe any service based offering must be evaluated based upon its performance and stability. SaaS or PaaS (in this case) is completely reliant on the stability and performance of the delivery of the service. I.e. access and stable use.  As you will read below I incurred these issues throughout my evaluation.
15 Figure 6 The following references are inconsistent with the balance of the report and my findings, and are offered here for your consideration.
* Performance and Reliability – I experienced non-responsive system events, longer than expected processing times on multiple occasions and find it hard to believe that WorkXpress is on par with SFDC, and that SFDC is on par with Caspio as the table would suggest. This is especially true given the broader range of application services inherent in the Salesforce.com platform.
* Application Development – I found both WorkXpress and Salesforce to have equal to and greater development capabilities than Caspio. Although WorkXpress provides an innovative approach to configuring applications, I believe it may have a larger learning curve as one has to learn the new icon driven metaphor and wizard driven methodology.
* ISV Services – it’s hard to believe that WorkXpress and Salesforce score equally when Forrester highlights in the Vendor Profile that WorkXpress is just starting their ISV Channel. Combine this with fact that WorkXpress outsources infrastructure to AMZN and you have to question the comparison, as most ISV prefer to have one SLA.
* Cloud connectivity and Standards and Interoperability – I’ve combined these as I believe they are interdependent and generally seek to define integration capabilities. Integration and interoperability is about more than what protocol standard a particular vendor supports. It is best proven out in the patterns executed by its customers. It’s hard to imagine that WorkXpress or Caspio have the broad baseline of integration patterns or the proven scalability of the salesforce.com platform. That is not to say that one cannot push or pull data to and from Caspio or WorkXpress but to compare them as near equals seems a little misleading.

Best laid plans, fast forward 11 months, and I’ve decided to provide summary rather than click by click detail of my evaluation. If you read the following and want to discuss further contact me and if appropriate I will provide my evaluation log for your reference.

In summary, I found both Caspio and WorkXpress to be interesting alternatives but not comparable to Force.com. If you have not evaluated these solutions you owe to yourself to spend a few hours with each. In both cases, I spoke with representatives from each company and described the project as well as my target evaluation application. In both cases the vendors suggested the application could be built.  As for Windows Azure I found it to be overly complex to onboard and clearly targeting coders and not business user so will only discuss Caspio and WorkXpress below.

Caspio

After speaking with a Caspio sales engineer I better understand Caspio’s value proposition relative to SFDC Platform. Caspio is a great tool (MS Access in the cloud) for setting up a forms based external facing application – website. ie, you need to collect data from people accessing your website with very little intervention from IT.  The Caspio SE suggested that they were enabling business users to develop these online databases without IT but, it clearly will require IT or Creative to compile a branded user interface and deal with authentication, etc.

That written, standing up a simple database and form for embedding, and using Caspio to host is fast, simple and requires no html scripting or coding.  A similar database using salesforce.com would require an introduction to Visualforce, the salesforce.com  HTML-like markup language.

WorkXpress

I spent a similar amount of time evaluating WorkXpress. Again, the goal of my evaluation was to develop/configure an application portfolio project management system. This system would be based upon four simple database tables, include workflow driven status updates, visibility rules and data validation, as well as, an analytics dashboard. As an experienced Force.com user, I was able to configure this application in approximately four hours. Back to WorkXpress; based on my brief evaluation, I imagine with the appropriate amount of training one could build my target application.  The big ‘if’ has to do with WorkXpress innovative approach to user interface elements, and development step process wizards. They have clearly spent time and money to develop their vision but it’s unclear to me that the target users will have the patience to make the leap and learn a new methodology. As to whether or not it’s on par with Force.com – at the time of my evaluation and based upon my experience the answer is, no.  If  you have the time and want to consider another platform you should evaluate. Is it more robust than Caspio, I believe so.

Application Portfolio Management

In closing, if you are interested in viewing additional screenshots of the target application you can view them on my Linkedin profile.
If you would like to discuss this project further, drop me a line.

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.

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