Last week I spent several days at Dreamforce 15 in San Francisco. The sheer scale of the annual Salesforce conference is breathtaking. A company that started its conference back in 2003 with somewhere around 1,300 attendees now closes Howard off between 3rd and 4th street and has 150,000 people in attendance. Included in these attendees were people such as @monkchips interviewer
— Tin Dafalia (@monkchips) September 17, 2015
as well as speakers such as Stephanie Lampkin talking about Hacking Unconscious Bias, a subject that everyone in technology needs to spend more time on.
However, my main reason for being at Dreamforce was to understand where Salesforce are going as a company, and how that impacts developers.
Developers, Developers, Developers
Developers were front and center at Dreamforce this year. The Developer Zone was huge, and very well integrated into the main conference, with a heavy presence from the Heroku folks among others.
One of the most significant moments, to my mind, was seeing both Cisco and Salesforce talking about developers during the main conference keynote. Cisco’s CEO Chuck Robbins explicitly singled out the various communities of developers that Cisco is working with from both a general, and IoT, context. Cisco claims a community of more than 700,000 developers across its DevNet, Sourcefire and Tropo offerings. While I would be curious to dig into this number, what I found far more important was the sight of the CEOs from two massive companies talking about developers and their desire to engage with developers on a massive scale.
As the conversation moved on, a point that stuck out was from Cisco’s David Ward who commented on a “no stack development community”. This is a very clear statement and indication of where Salesforce and Cisco see their partnership. Salesforce is very much focused around the data and the business value at that layer, and Cisco the plumbing to get the data to some form of store.
While the phrase “no-stack” is a bit clunky, it does highlight an often-ignored fact – not every company wants to decide upon, implement and scale their infrastructure. Indeed, as Stephen has already pointed out, this very fact may become a selling point in its own right.
Benioff suggested attendees visit the developer zone during his keynote, and try out Trailhead. I was in the developer zone straight after the keynote had finished. To say it got busy, and with a lot more shirts than t-shirts, would be somewhat of an understatement.
Now I will freely admit to not being the biggest fan of ‘gamification’. However, my objections are on an intellectual level. When we get down to it, the approach being used on Trailhead taps into some very basic aspects of competitiveness, and like most people who start to use a platform like this, I quickly found myself caught up trying to score more points and earn badges.
That is the fun side, on a more serious note, seeing a set of structured courses from Salesforce, which feature sections on Application Lifecycle Management (including pointers to tutorials on using Git, Jenkins for CI and so forth) is a very, very positive development.
It is a different way of accessing training materials, but the approach is interesting, and far more enjoyable than reading a very boring and detailed pdf document.
Lets be blunt, prior to Lightning the Salesforce UI was pretty sucky. The work announced last year is continuing, and while its not complete yet, the general direction is very positive and some massive steps forwards have been achieved. The results were clearly visible in some of the analytics cloud demos on show.
The IoT Cloud
The IoT Cloud is the start of an interesting journey for Salesforce. Both the partnerships announced with companies like ARM, ThingWorx and Xively, and their approach of avoiding the last mile makes a lot sense. The last mile of IoT is hard, and installing sensors at scale is not a trivial task. There was never any likelihood that SalesForce was going into this business.
Data, and generating a business action on the basis of that data is, however, the very core of Salesforces business. Some of the main components are now in place, and the underlying technology for the Thunder event-processing engine is very interesting. However, there is still quite a lot of work do be done in order to fully integrate the IoT Cloud into the various other offerings which Salesforce provides. The plus side is that they are actively working on this.
For me, however, the most interesting IoT cloud announcement was with Microsoft. The ability to integrate the Azure Event Hub easily with Thunder and the IoT cloud really illustrates the cultural transformation Satya Nadella is undertaking atMicrosoft. The desire to grow Azure as a solution for customers who want to integrate components from multiple companies together is pretty obvious – and easing data integration between companies is a no-brainer for solving this. Large companies have big egos, but in this case we are seeing two companies working extremely closely together because customers want them too. This can only be a good thing.
We will be watching how the IoT Cloud develops very closely over the coming months, as it moves towards GA. You never know, I might even find myself getting back into the competitive spirit again on Trailhead when I start to delve into more detail.
Disclosures: Salesforce invited me to Dreamforce, and paid my travel and expenses. Salesforce, Microsoft and Cisco are all current RedMonk clients.