A Keynote Cancelled, A Database Dropped?


CRM Analyst,

Amidst the mostly staid chatter around Oracle Open World 2011 came the tweet that rocked the Valley: Marc Benioff’s keynote cancelled. With this announcement, #oow11 went from a low buzz to a maddening roar, with everyone guessing at Larry Ellison’s motive. Here’s mine: Ellison cut Benioff because Salesforce, one of Oracle’s biggest database customers, is planning on dropping Oracle in favor of a new cloud database.

Salesforce Innovation vs. Oracle Stagnation

Salesforce is a company on the edge of innovation. With this year’s purchase of Radian6 and last year’s Heroku buy, Salesforce is expanding their portfolio to include the most advanced technology. Additionally, with the increasing interest in cloud computing, Salesforce’s cloud is becoming synonymous with CRM itself.

Oracle, in contrast, has been somewhat slow to the gate. At this year’s Open World, Ellison made some pretty big announcements in his final keynote: the Oracle Cloud and a social network. However, this big announcement was made at the end of the conference, leaving analysts to wonder about actual product availability. Will these new products go the way of Oracle’s Fusion Apps last year, which were announced, but yet to be released?

An interesting aspect of the Oracle-Salesforce relationship (there are many, but let’s just tackle one for now) is that under the covers, Salesforce’s software is built on an Oracle database. Remember that “cloud in a box” that Benioff was debasing last year? Yeah, Salesforce uses that. You have to wonder why a company like Salesforce would continue to build their products on Oracle databases that, while extremely capable, are both clunky and have an exorbitant price tag.

The Hypothesis: Salesforce is Jumping Ship

The reason Benioff typically speaks at Oracle Open World is not because Ellison thinks he's a charismatic guy. Salesforce is one of Oracle's biggest customers, which means that a keynote from the Salesforce CEO is more of a have-to-have rather than a nice-to-have. But what if Salesforce was no longer an Oracle customer? This is purely conjecture for the sake of discussion (and a little controversy), but is it possible that Benioff is planning to abandon the Oracle database?

The question now becomes what other databases would Salesforce consider? I spoke with several industry analysts to get their guesses for what the cloud computing darling will opt for. These were the two most common responses: PostgreSQL and NoSQL.

Heroku, Salesforce’s recent acquisition, relies heavily on the open source database PostgreSQL. Salesforce could continue in this vein and go for a customizable open source database built in the cloud. PostgreSQL is an enterprise-grade database with more than 15 years of development under its belt. It is highly customizable and has received much industry recognition, winning The Linux Journal Editors' Choice Award for best database management system (DBMS) five times. A strong reputation, combined with the Heroku compatibility would make PostgreSQL an optimal choice for Salesforce.

NoSQL is a type of open source database that could be another possible avenue for Salesforce. Popular NoSQL databases include Cassandra and CouchDB, which have proven their success with companies such as Facebook and Reddit. NoSQL databases are becoming increasingly popular among cloud companies. In fact, Oracle just announced their own NoSQL database. However, this comes only five months after Oracle released a whitepaper titled, “Debunking the NoSQL Hype.” The announcement seems to signal an about-face, but one that may have come a little too late for Salesforce’s innovative spirit. A list of possible NoSQL options can be found here: http://nosql-database.org/.

What are your thoughts? Is Salesforce going to develop their own database and get out from under Oracle’s oppressive wing? If so, what database will they go for? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Special thanks to Dion Hinchcliffe for lending his expertise.

  • GetAClue

    PostgreSQL is cute.  It would never support the transactional volumes and performance required, hence salesforce will remain on oracle db.

  • cassandra

    My money is on Cassandra …

  • Leon Tribe

    Doesn’t SFDC already use database.com for its backend? (http://blog.database.com/blog/2011/08/30/database-com-is-open-for-business/)

  • http://twitter.com/DarthGarry Garry Polmateer

    I disagree with the hypothesis (or agree with Conor).  I think that as Salesforce expands their business, they will continue to use other platforms to base their technology on.  I doubt that Salesforce is in a position to tear Oracle out of their infrastructure.

    As far as the cloud in a box goes, I disagree with that as well.  Benioff has said several times in keynotes that he runs his cloud on “1500 Cheap Dell Servers”.  The “Cloud in a Box” is a proprietary mainframe like device to deliver an Oracle application.  While Salesforce could use cloud in a boxes, they are most likely cost prohibitive at near $1,000,000  apiece.

  • http://twitter.com/guyharrison Guy Harrison

    That sure is an interesting hypothesis.  From a technical point of view, the abstraction of the underlying oracle database is almost complete in Salesforce.com, database.com and force.com.  So it would be possible for them to change the underlying data base without jeopardising the high level functionality exposed to the application or the various APIs. 
    Nevertheless it would be a massive undertaking.  But I guess the motivation to cut ties with Oracle must be massive as well.

    Almost any database could provide the functionality required by Salesforce.  The key challenge would presumably be scale.  I don’t believe that MySQL or Postgress could scale to the extent required without heroic efforts.  In the No SQL world, Cassandra
    would probably have the best shot.

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