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The year of the Cloud has come to a climax at Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce conference in San Francisco where over 30,000 registrants converged to celebrate the rapidly expanding world of ‘on-demand’ solutions and collaboration tools.

Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) used the event to beat back the recent efforts of Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) to gain a share of the Cloud Computing market with a new round of initiatives aimed at building on its phenomenal momentum and success.

The two most significant announcements on Day One were Salesforce.com’s offer of free Chatter accounts across its customer base along with a public version of the social networking service in February, and a new Database.com offering as a spin out of its Force.com Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS).

Day Two began with the news that Salesforce.com plans to acquire the Open Source oriented, Ruby-based application development platform, Heroku, for $212 million in cash. Salesforce.com and BMC Software (NASDAQ:BMC) also announced that they are joining together to offer RemedyForce, a new Cloud-based IT service management and support offering built on Force.com. Salesforce.com also unveiled SiteForce, a new and improved version of its website design tool which was introduced previously.

Talking About Chatter

A year ago, Dreamforce attendees responded to the unveiling of Chatter with a lot of apprehension about why they should permit a Facebook-like social networking tool into their organizations. In response to this lukewarm reception, Salesforce.com put its marketing engine to work to overcome this hesitancy and has generated growing customer acceptance.

Much of the opening session of Dreamforce was focused on the practical benefits of Chatter in corporate environments through a series of demos of use-cases and customer success story testimonials. Salesforce.com also emphasized how Chatter bridges the old and new worlds of the business user by linking to Microsoft Outlook and mobile devices.

Salesforce.com announced Chatter Free to extend its reach further into organizations beyond the sales and marketing departments. This initiative will permit Salesforce.com users to invite others within their organizations to utilize Chatter, in the same way Facebook users can invite friends to join their social networks.

With less fanfare, but possibly of greater significance, Salesforce.com plans to also roll out a public Chatter.com service in February aimed at popularizing Salesforce.com’s social networking capability in the open market. Both these moves will broaden Chatter’s footprint within organizations and brand equity in the marketplace. These moves will also make the folks at Facebook rethink whether they should have pursued the corporate market rather than relinquishing it to Salesforce.com. It will also get the attention of SuccessFactors (NYSE:SFSF) which has been proclaiming that its Business Execution Software solution has a greater installed base of end-users than Salesforce.com.

Fortifying Force.com

Salesforce.com isn’t just seeking to permeate the enterprises via Chatter. It also wants to convince the developer world, both independent software vendors (ISVs) and internal enterprise developers, that Force.com is a credible PaaS for a new generation of enterprise-class, Cloud-based, mobile apps.

In its typical style, Salesforce.com unveiled Database.com as a new capability even though it is actually a part of Force.com which has been unbundled to create a new standalone offering and point of entry to Salesforce.com’s PaaS environment.

The standalone Database.com capabilities are being offered to respond to the changing way in which applications and databases are being architected in a more pluralistic fashion in the Cloud. The goal of Database.com is to democraticize database development, and give Salesforce.com’s customers and partners another reason to expand their use of its applications and PaaS.

Salesforce.com has also been working hard to fend off competitive claims and developer concerns that its Force.com PaaS is too proprietary. It made a strong move in this direction with its alliance with VMware (NYSE:VMW) earlier this year, which produced VMforce.

Salesforce.com’s acquisition of Heroku reinforces this point, quickly giving Salesforce.com a strong foothold in the Open Source/Ruby application development environment, and immediate access to the rapidly growing Heroku developer community.

Heroku is considered by many to be the top Ruby platform in the Cloud market. The company has experienced 50% growth in application development activity in the past few weeks alone according to its Founder/CEO during his keynote presentation. Heroku will maintain its brand and become Salesforce.com’s seventh Cloud offering.

The Heroku acquisition and Database.com are geared to the new world of social, mobile apps. They are also intended to offset Microsoft’s aggressive efforts to gain customer and partner acceptance of its Azure PaaS, and undercut Oracle’s ‘false cloud’ offerings which it calls “Cloud-in-a-Box”. The Heroku acquisition is also a dramatic contrast to SAP’s (NYSE:SAP) purchase of Sybase (SY), with Heroku representing the rapidly growing world of Cloud-based applications and Sybase viewed as an old-world development vendor attempting to recreate itself around mobile apps.

As Salesforce.com’s executives strongly stated during an industry analyst/press briefing, the message which the company is trying to convey to the market with this acquisition is that Force.com will be open and that Salesforce.com is going to be a platform company. A number of enterprise customers confirmed the importance of Salesforce.com’s PaaS efforts in their decisions to select the company as a strategic vendor.

SaaSifying IT Management

Salesforce.com’s announcement of RemedyForce in conjunction with BMC is significant for a number of reasons.

It is the company’s first attempt to provide a solution aimed specifically at the IT organization which is increasingly embracing SaaS-based alternatives to traditional IT management software. I’ve been telling clients and others about that the SaaSification of IT management and why this trend in the Cloud Computing market eliminates another barrier to greater customer adoption.

It is also the first time Salesforce.com has teamed with another company to launch one of its product-lines, or “Clouds”. This represents an important endorsement for BMC, as well as a risk for Salesforce.com. Teaming with an established ISV is an interesting choice for Salesforce.com. Like every established ISV which has attempted to add a SaaS component to its portfolio, it hasn’t been an easy road for BMC. But, the company has a highly committed CEO and has built a SaaS solution on Force.com which is gaining customer acceptance in the market.

This alliance puts Salesforce.com in the peculiar position of depending on a partner for the success of one of its product-lines. It also renews questions and concerns among its other partners about who gets preferential treatment within Salesforce.com’s ecosystem and why.

Closing Thoughts

One of the lingering complaints about Salesforce.com’s solutions is their premium price. Marc Benioff even joked about this point in his opening remarks at Dreamforce and got a hearty laugh from the audience. In an attempt to capitalize on this issue, Microsoft has launced a marketing campaign offering $200/user rebates to Salesforce.com customers who jump ship in favor of Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM Online. Benioff made light of Microsoft’s PR ploy by bringing the actor/model who is pictured in the Microsoft ads on stage during the Day Two morning keynote session and successfully convincing him to come back to Salesforce.com.

All joking aside, Salesforce.com’s premium prices hasn’t slowed its tremendous growth and hurt customer satisfaction/retention rates, or diminished the enthusiasm of the customers and partners attending Dreamforce this year.

The buzz and activity at Dreamforce 2010 is not only a clear indication of the Salesforce.com’s growing success, but also an impressive illustration of the widening movement to the Cloud.

Disclosure: Salesforce.com paid for my hotel accommodations during my attendance at Dreamforce.

Source: Soaring Clouds at Salesforce.com's Dreamforce Conference