Dreaming About the Clouds

 |  Includes: CRM, CSCO, IBM
by: Jeffrey M. Kaplan

The Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Cloud Computing movements have converged on the Moscone Center in San Francisco this week for the latest (NYSE:CRM) lovefest—Dreamforce.

Despite the downturn in the economy, or maybe because of it, this year’s Dreamforce has attracted over 19,000 registrants, up from around 10k a year ago. The opening keynote session was bursting at the seams with people and energy.

The event comes a day after the company announced its latest quarterly results, during which the company added 4700 net new customers, bringing its total user count up to approximately 67,900, up 31% from a year ago.

This growth is especially impressive given that one of the company’s primary growth engines in years past was the financial services sector which imploded over the past year. Despite these potential setbacks, is on a run-rate to exceed $1.2 billion for the fiscal year, and is reporting greater earnings/share and net income. is using the Dreamforce event to showcase its new Sales Cloud 2 and Sevice Cloud 2 capabilities, and introduce its new Chatter real-time social computing model and collaboration tool that will be available in 2010. Chatter is being positioned to complement Facebook and Twitter in the enterprise, and potentially compete with IBM LotusLive and Cisco’s (NASDAQ:CSCO) expanding collaboration tools. was conceived a decade ago to bring the ease of use of the consumer web into the corporate world, and it is now setting out to apply the power of social networking to the enterprise. Given that the first idea has produced a billion dollar plus powerhouse, it will be interesting to see if this new concept will fuel its continued growth and dispel the skepticism among some industry and financial analysts who have questioned whether can sustain its past success.

The company also revealed its new report-builder and user interface with a lot of fanfare. However, the changes were too subtle for the audience to fully appreciate. On the other hand, the attendees were pleased to hear that is offering its new knowledge-base feature for free.

Marc Benioff also used the occasion to poll the 10,000 attendees in the main hall of the Moscone Center about the size of their organizations to demonstrate how’s SaaS/cloud computing solutions are being used by small- and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large-scale enterprises alike.

Approximately 1000 representatives of the non-profit sector were also in attendance. Benioff used the opportunity to have one of the non-profits demonstrate how they are not only using’s application to track clients, but how it has used the to build a financial tracking system as well. It was a subtle but clear message that wants to be perceived as more than a CRM, customer service and collaboration app vendor. This comes a few weeks after’s investment in

Because I started my career after college in the non-profit sector, I’ve always admired’s policy of giving its applications away for free to non-profits. The brilliance of this policy is that it gives the company another way of exposing corporate executives to its capabilities, because many of these executives serve on the boards of directors of these organizations.

While has proven to be a brilliant marketing company, it tested the patience of the Dreamforce audience when its opening keynote session ran more than an hour longer than scheduled, setting back the breakout session and attendee schedules.

The next 48 hours will be packed with one-on-one briefings, group meetings and various parties. It’s like the good old days but celebrating the future.

Disclosure: CRM paid for my travel expenses to Dreamforce.