I just got back from Dreamforce '08, Salesforce.com's annual user and developer conference (see Keynotes here). I've been a Salesforce.com user and administrator for about 6 months, so this was my first Dreamforce. I came away impressed and excited about the Salesforce.com platform. Cloud computing has been a recent buzz word, and we have heard it in context of Google, Amazon, and recently from Microsoft. What I saw from Salesforce.com though was the first real example of what cloud computing can offer.
First, Salesforce.com offers their CRM (customer releationship management) application, that is used and administered through a web browser. A great application, but that in itself is not much different than many other web-based applications. What makes it extend beyond the traditional web app is the ability to add additiional applications availalbe through their AppExchange. AppExchange is like the iPhone App Store, but Salesforce.com was there first. Applications found on the AppExchange extended the functionality of Salesforce.com.
Still not cloud computing, in that these apps can be hosted by a 3rd party or even in your own data center. What finally hits the cloud computing mark are AppExchange apps that now run on the Salesforce.com backend. I like this because now it's one platform, not a distributed one. And with a worldwide organization, we can get the same performance all over the world, not the latency you can experience with apps only running from one location.
Most companies don't know how and/or do not have the resources to build applications that leverage an always up, distributed environment. With Salesforce.com, you can use their own Apex language to build your apps, therefore leveraging the cloud platform from the beginning.
Not to be confused with programs such as the Google office apps, Salesforce.com demostrates the first real solution using cloud computing. This is worth checking out for any business looking to lower IT costs, having troubles getting work from IT, or looking to focus on their core business, instead of IT. Watch for additional post on Salesforces.com in the next several days.