Dreamforce Musings: Why the Real Cloud Has Gained Momentum

I had the rare and great opportunity to attend the opening two days of Dreamforce last week. Rare, because I can’t remember the last user conference I went to as an attendee rather than a speaker (turns out it’s a lot less stressful to be in the audience ). And great, because it truly was a great event, with the de facto ambassador of the enterprise cloud, Marc Benioff, playing the roles of preacher, humanitarian (Salesforce.com Foundation does some really great things), and innovator throughout the event. I’ve had a week to digest the happenings @ Dreamforce, and thought I’d share a few takeaways:

  • Dreamforce is beginning to rival the biggest user conferences on the planet, with more than 30,000 customers, prospects, press, and analysts having registered for the event. If anyone needs further proof that the cloud is real and here to stay, they should’ve witnessed the crowds, excitement, and energy at Dreamforce. It was truly awesome.
  • The event felt more like a revival or a movement than a user conference. Partly because the cloud is a movement, and partly because Marc is a great evangelist.
  • The energy and optimism levels reminded me of the early days of ERP: New vendors hawking their services and wares; established vendors like Accenture and Deloitte beginning to make a big presence; and individuals and organizations alike sensing the opportunity to reinvent themselves around the cloud. Salesforce does an amazing job of serving both customers and non-customers alike at its user conference—I took notes, Marc!
  • There was evidence everywhere that businesses of all sizes have embraced cloud computing. When Marc asked during his keynote how many in the audience were from companies of greater than 1,000 employees, hands shot up across the packed conference hall.
  • The product announcements and demos validated something I’ve been feeling for some time: The technology revolution taking place isn’t just about the cloud—it’s about the convergence of the cloud, “consumerization” of enterprise technologies, and mobility. And with multi-tenancy and native Web architectures, vendors like Salesforce.com and Workday are able to innovate for this revolution at a dizzying pace. Dreamforce provided just some of the examples of this increased pace of innovation, specifically as cloud platforms have become more mature and full featured, allowing developers to build more usable functionality and native applications for the iOS, Android, and WM7 mobile devices at an ever-accelerating pace.
  • While there was a ton of energy, packed conference halls, and real innovation happening at Dreamforce, I understand SAP was holding a summit about 20 miles away. The amount of news stories, blogs, and tweets from Dreamforce (the hashtag #df10 actually trended on Twitter) blasted away the buzz on the old stuff. And while it seems to me SAP takes a somewhat tentative approach to innovation—unsure of where and how to take the leap into modern and better technologies—the vast majority of customers that I talk to want innovative solutions, and they want them now.

As Workday’s co-founder and co-CEO, I’m a true believer in the cloud movement and admittedly have a biased perspective. But once upon a time, I was a product executive at a legacy enterprise application vendor. When I look back at the dramatic changes since those days at PeopleSoft, I really do wonder how software vendors that depend so heavily on traditional models will ever make the leap into the cloud. (And I mean true cloud computing—hybrid or hosted R/3 is not a cloud, it’s just warmed-over hosting.)

If SAP can get its cloud strategy and Business ByDesign offering on track, it’ll be good for the industry and good for competition. But based on where I’ve been and where I am now, what I’ve seen from SAP, what we’re doing here at Workday, and what I’m witnessing from the cloud vendors around me, I just don’t see it happening anytime soon.

Now back to work .