Back to the Future – the Dreamforce sequel


As Salesforce co-founder Parker Harris invoked the spirit of Back to the Future at this year’s Dreamforce, what was HP’s Meg Whitman up to?

dreamforce-parker-car-croppedAs a big fan of the 1980s movie trilogy, Back to the Future, I greatly enjoyed co-founder Parker Harris’s Doc Brown cameo during this year’s Dreamforce keynote (pictured).

There was an ominous moment as a Tesla sports saloon emerged onto the keynote stage wreathed in a cloud of smoke. Thankfully it soon became clear it was a fake cloud when Harris stepped out of the car wearing a lab coat and an even more visibly false hairpiece.

It was all good fun designed to emphasize the company’s achievement in maintaining backwards compatibility with previous iterations of its developer platform in the newly launched Salesforce1 release. I’m not sure that attendees fully caught the intended message — that pretty much all their historic custom objects, Apex code and other customizations will still work on the new mobile-first platform. But even if the message was mangled, the performance was a great crowd-pleaser.

Still attempting to drive home the point (if you’ll excuse the pun), a rousing video at the end of the section showed the Tesla with a Harris stunt double at the wheel as it careered past the buildings, delivery vans and ad hoardings of’s best known global customers.

It was all a fine homage to the original Back to the Future (whose two stars happened to choose the same week to be reunited in filming). But as the keynote drew to a close later that morning, an unexpected development suddenly brought to mind the darker tone of the sequel, Back to the Future Part II.

Previously warned

[Alert: mild plot spoiler.] Just as CEO and ringmaster Marc Benioff was about to bring the late-running keynote to a close, an older figure appeared from the crowd.

dreamforce-keynote-051-meg-whitmanHP CEO Meg Whitman stepped forward to reveal a surprising turn of events. Elite customers will soon have the option of their own single-tenant instance of Saleforce running on dedicated HP hardware in the datacenter.

It sounded ominously like the ‘false cloud’ that Benioff had so often warned of at previous events. He had castigated it as much for its lack of democracy as for its inefficiency, cost and environmental harm.

And yet to our astonishment, Benioff welcomed the HP news!

What had happened? Was it possible that Whitman had secretly crept into the Tesla after Harris’s earlier appearance? Perhaps she had made off with it back to 1999 and substituted her own hybrid alternative in place of the original plans for a purely multi-tenant Salesforce architecture. No wonder there was fake cloud swirling around the car when Harris had driven it on stage earlier.

Perhaps we’ll all return to next year’s Dreamforce only to find ourselves wandering around the dystopian parallel universe known as Oracle OpenWorld. Then Parker Harris will emerge from his time-traveling Tesla to discover to his horror that the new boss of is none other than Benioff’s historic bogeyman Larry Ellison.

It may sound far-fetched, but until just a few months ago that’s what you’d have said about the very notion of Benioff striking any kind of deal with Ellison.

Disclosure: Oracle and are diginomica premium partners. paid most of the author’s travel and expenses to attend Dreamforce this week.

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    1. says:

      @phil – Steven Tamm was very clear with me on this – not single tenant. And if you think about it, a company like HP that has numerous subsidiary entities would not benefit from that architecture i the same way GE doesn’t benefit from 565 ERP instances – allegedly.

    2. says:

      dahowlett Even if there are many subtenants, the main tenant is a single contract and all those subtenants can only be on the one HP instance so this is not mulit-tenant in the elastic, freely scalable sense of the word.
      I have heard similar arguments to justify Oracle Fusion cloud as multi-tenant and many other hitherto ‘false clouds’. There is no question in my mind. By going down this route, has contradicted its previous rhetoric on multi-tenancy and false clouds.

    3. says:

      philww – Does it matter? SFdC runs numerous instances and if you ask – say – FinancialForce, they can tell you exactly which instance they’re running on. 
      Again, I specifically asked about the upgrade cycle because to me, that would be the breaking down of the multi-tenancy. According to Steven Tamm, all instances including the HP instance will be upgraded together. 
      So in this example (as I see it) – HP is providing infrastructure (HW/SW) while SFdC continues to provide the software as a service. No issue as far as I can tell but to your point, elastic enough for HP and its subsidiaries to feel comfortable. And to that point, I’m not going to argue against customer wishes.

    4. Anthony Alfidi says:

      Dreamforce 2013 played the Salesforce memes for business practitioners and tech cult fans. The future of CRM includes celebrity endorsement of app platforms and icon-enabled workflows.