With a name already branded 'cool' by Business Insider, the Superpod has got everything necessary to pander to the vanity of the world's largest enterprises. This exclusive instance, running within Salesforce.com's public cloud datacenter on dedicated HP Converged Infrastructure hardware, offers exactly the same capabilities as any other Salesforce.com instance. But its select customers will have the privilege of paying more, while having a built-in guarantee of reduced scalability and fault tolerance due to its single-tenant structure.
Why, you may wonder, has Salesforce.com made such a surprising move that potentially undermines a decade and a half of evangelizing the multi-tenant cloud model and all its advantages over traditional, single-tenant computing architectures?
My colleague Dennis Howlett argues that this is all about "satisfying the needs of global customers." I'll grant that there's a ready market among large enterprises that haven't yet fully grasped the cloud model and forlornly cling to the familiar single-tenant, vertically integrated, client-server computing model of old. HP has form as a proponent of this outdated view of the world.
Don't get sore, get even
Personally I think there's a simpler explanation: it's all about getting even with Larry Ellison. Regular readers will recall the astonishing scenes earlier this year when Oracle's CEO had Salesforce.com's Marc Benioff squirming as he very publicly signed up to another decade of running the Salesforce.com infrastructure on Oracle hardware.
Here are the factors that lead me to the conclusion this latest development is all about settling this personal score, however absurdly petty it may sound:
- Several years ago, Oracle's then president Charles Phillips took me aside during the company's OpenWorld show to explain the company's SaaS architecture. Oracle, he told me, had developed a "pod" architecture for its on-demand datacenters, which allowed them to dedicate instances to specific customers. Is it purely coincidence that Salesforce and HP have chosen to call their new dedicated instance offering a "superpod"? — by implication, superior to an Oracle pod.
- In the conference call back in June to announce the outbreak of peace between Salesforce.com and Oracle, Benioff invited Ellison to speak at Dreamforce and he accepted. But there is no sign of Ellison attending this week. Nor did Benioff attend OpenWorld in September. Instead of Ellison, the Dreamforce stage will be graced by the presence of Meg Whitman, CEO of one of Oracle's most bitter computing rivals.
- In June's alliance, Salesforce.com committed to running its entire infrastructure on Oracle Exadata hardware. Yet here it is, just a few months later, committing to intersperse HP boxes into that infrastructure — with the express purpose of tempting the world's largest enterprises to make the leap to Salesforce without landing on Exadata. It's a huge rebuff to the Oracle platform.
Put it all together and you have Marc Benioff enlisting Meg Whitman to usurp Larry Ellison's vacant slot on the Dreamforce stage at the same time as her company's 'superpods' infiltrate Oracle's monolithic grip on Salesforce.com's cloud infrastructure.
Worth the risks?
While getting even in this way may bring some grim satisfaction, I can't help wondering whether the risks are worth it. What if customers start demanding the option of running their dedicated instances on other choices alongside HP, such as IBM, Dell, Open Compute or even Exadata? Are customers going to demand custom policy settings, service levels or upgrade cadences for their dedicated instances? What about the extra overhead of maintaining two (or more) separate hardware platforms and optimizing for both of them?
Such questions will not arise if the Superpods don't end up going into service. I suspect that this will turn out to be little more than a cynical marketing ploy that ultimately results in a grand total of just one live deployment of the Salesforce Superpod — HP's own. Salesforce.com is secretly calculating that other customers will pilot the concept, evaluate the costs and the drawbacks and will ultimately end up on the multi-tenant instance.
The tactical masterstroke here is giving those customers the option of a dedicated instance endorsed by HP, which removes any lingering objection and sets them on the path towards adopting Salesforce.com. Plus the added frisson of giving the finger to Larry Ellison.
Disclosure: At the time of writing, Oracle and Salesforce.com are diginomica premium partners.
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