STRUCTURE 08: Salesforce Founder Parker Harris

Parker Harris, Salesforce.comSalesforce Founder and and EVP Parker Harris gives us a peek into how his company built the architecture for its software-as-a-service model and what will make up the future of platforms. (Om and Fortune Senior Writer Michael Copeland are doing the interview):

Copeland: When you guys started Salesforce how did you talk about architecture then vs. now?

Harris: When we started we thought about the scale of the Internet — if everyone was using the service at the same time, what would that look like? From the very beginning at the software layer we thought what would it take to build this thing? When we started, Mark had a vision of the customer experience of Salesforce being as easy as buying a book on

We’re at the early days of platforms — will you trust a platform, and use someone else’s platform? Or go out and build your own?

Om: Can all these platforms coexist?

Harris: If you want a database you don’t go out and say you’re going to write it. I see platforms as going in that direction.

Om: Can we turn the conversation to the infrastructure of Salesforce? What are the challenges of shifting to becoming a platform?

Harris: A few years ago we did go through some serious issues. And actually it was because of eBay. We need more power and space from our data center, but they said they could give us more power but not more space — because eBay was in that data center. So we picked up and moved data centers. The scale-up was so complex, and we had the top people in the industry and it was too complex at that point. Changing everything and pushing the scale created a layer of complexity. We eventually worked it out and scaled it up.

Om: What are the challenges from the equipment stand point? What are the vendors not doing? And what are some of the disruptive technologies?

Harris: Early on we thought of the tech as software and infrastructure. We thought you can innovate on one or the other and we had two groups. To truly innovate you have to think of them as one unit.