Salesforce.com, HP unveil ‘Superpods’

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The vast majority of Salesforce.com customers are happy to keep their customer relationship management (CRM) data on common infrastructure, shared with other customers, using the company’s multi-tenanted architecture, according to Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff.

But at last week’s Dreamforce annual customer conference, he took the stage with Hewlett-Packard (HP) CEO Meg Whitman to unveil an entirely new product for the exceptions to this rule: the Superpod. The so-called Superpod, according to Benioff, is for “customers who want to go to another level.”

It’s basically a private instance of the company’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications - but also a highly selective offering, intended only for the biggest customers, “the world’s largest enterprises”, said Benioff. As examples of the type of customer needing dedicated hardware from his company, he cited the US government - or HP itself.

HP intends to be the first customer of the Salesforce Superpod, Meg Whitman confirmed. “By jointly developing and using each other’s technology, the Salesforce Superpod will deliver the highest standard in performance, reliability and management,” she said.

The US government, meanwhile, also has its own dedicated hardware with Salesforce.com - although Benioff didn’t make clear whose hardware it was using. This enables it to serve up CRM applications to separate agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Health and Human Services.

To some extent, the emergence of the Superpod would seem to contradict many of the assurances that SaaS companies like Salesforce.com already offer to customers regarding security and data residency. “A global CIO can say, ‘I know that this hardware is in this country on this network, in this data centre - and I’m going to be able to audit it and look at it and encrypt it specifically the way I want,” said Benioff.

In the past, however, he’s been pretty vocal on his opinion that private-cloud environments, which like Superpod, don’t use a multi-tenant architecture and do use dedicated hardware, aren’t ‘real’ cloud environments.

The Superpods will be maintained by Salesforce and customers that opt for them will be updated on the same cycle as others - but they’re not a suitable option for most customers, he insisted: “For the vast majority of customers, this is not appropriate.”

Nor was he happy to go along with the suggestion that the move was taking Salesforce.com into the area of infrastructure-as-a-service. “That really is not our model,” he insisted to press and analysts at a Dreamforce Q&A.

Superpods use HP’s Converged Infrastructure, a pre-engineered ‘stack’ of server, storage and networking resource, raising questions over Benioff’s earlier announcements that hardware from Oracle - and specifically, its Exadata server - will lie at the heart of the Salesforce cloud.

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