Heroku1 aims to bridge the Salesforce.com PaaS divide

Salesforce.com(s crm) has generated quite a bit of platform-as-a-service confusion by fielding both its Salesforce-focused Force.com and the multi-language, semi-independent Heroku. This week it aims to bridge those two worlds with Heroku1.

Back in June, Tod Nielsen acknowledged the need to do something about this multiplicity of PaaSes when he joined Heroku as CEO, and in an interview this week he elaborated on that.

“There’s been sort of a gap between Heroku and Force both internally as to how we’ve talked about it and externally around building bridges. Back in June, I said the opportunity was to bring together the power and robustness of Heroku and make it available to the Salesforce.com user,” Nielsen said.

Heroku CEO Tod Nielsen

Heroku CEO Tod Nielsen

The first milestone is to make it natural for Heroku users to take advantage of cool stuff in Salesforce.com, he said.

Divide and conquer

“There really are two constituencies — both are important. First there are developers building customer-facing apps writing in modern language frameworks and aiming for pixel-perfect interfaces. And there are employee apps that require a simple, declarative way to build,” he said. Force.com and its Apex language support the latter case.

Salesforce.com is putting its money where it’s mouth is: “Internally we’ll be using Force.com for employee-facing apps and Heroku1 for customer-facing apps,” said CMO Matt Trifiro.

So somewhat paradoxically, Salesforce.com’s plan to solve the two-Paas quandary is to introduce a third Paas, a version of Heroku “purpose built” for Salesforce.com. Or as Trifiro put it, the “PaaS duality will continue to exist but it’s unified.”

Heroku, Heroku1 and Force.com

Okaaaaaay. Still the idea that business people need a way to build their own apps without getting their hands dirty or resorting to a command line holds water as does the notion that professional developers want the option to keep going to that command line. In that bifurcated world, two PaaSes kind of makes sense, although I’m not sure why one PaaS could not suit both and I’m betting a convergence is the end game here. Nielsen and Trifiro said standalone Heroku will continue to be supported and improved for developers outside the Salesforce.com fold. Just a week ago the company enhanced its popular Postgres service, for example.

Overall, this an interesting time for PaaSes. Many developers love to be able to use rentable infrastructure to develop and test applications. But when it comes to deployment, most companies bring those finished applications back in house. That’s one problem that Pivotal’s Cloud Foundry wants to address. Nielsen probably knows that better than anyone. He was a VMware executive very much involved in that company’s push to make Cloud Foundry a cloud-agnostic PaaS for business applications. He did not follow Cloud Foundry when EMC-VMware did the Pivotal spinoff however.

I guess the bigger picture for Heroku is whether it, as a semi-standalone company, can compete for all those applications beyond the Salesforce.com walled garden when there is so much noise being generated around a rival.