Does Salesforce still aspire to become one of the world’s leading cloud platforms as I wrote a few months ago? Or has it given up on that ambition, as I surmised as a result of its recently announced alliance with AWS ? Its acquisition of Coolan , revealed last week, sends a mixed message.
Coolan is an Israeli startup that specializes in remotely analyzing the hardware makeup of servers in a datacenter. As a source explained to Fortune’s Barb Darrow :
If you’re a company buying, say 100 Dell servers this year, and another 100 in six months and another 100 next year, you really don’t know what the components in all those servers are.
Some may have Western Digital hard drives, others may have Seagate, some server lots will have memory from this supplier, others from someone else. Coolan goes in and tells you what all those components are, how they all perform over time and what their failure rates are.
It can do this irrespective of whether it’s your own datacenter or someone else’s, such as Amazon Web Services, says the source. So while the acquisition, which was revealed in a blog post by Coolan’s co-founder Amir Michael last week, suggests Salesforce remains serious about managing its own datacenter inventory, it will also help it keep tabs on the servers Amazon is deploying on its behalf.
This may simply be prudent governance — making sure that it’s getting good value for money from the $400 million it has committed to spend with AWS over the coming years. Or it may be that Salesforce wishes to learn as much as it can about the hardware Amazon is using in its datacenters — normally a closely guarded secret, since Amazon gets its servers custom-built.
Michael and his co-founder brother are useful acqui-hires for any company that aspires to be a top-tier cloud platform. He has deep knowledge of hyperscale compute environments. Prior to co-founding Coolan, he worked at Google and Facebook, where he was a founder of the Open Compute Project. The OCP’s mission is to collaboratively advance cloud datacenter server designs . Michael says he’ll continue his work with the OCP following the acquisition, and that:
Once the transaction has closed, the Coolan team will help Salesforce optimize its infrastructure as it scales to support customer growth around the world.
That choice of words implies that the main purpose of acquiring Coolan is to help Salesforce monitor its AWS servers, since, as the cloud giant’s co-founder and CTO Parker Harris spelt out when making it public, the point of the AWS deal is to support global expansion :
Salesforce will continue to invest in its own data centers. Salesforce will also utilize AWS in select international markets to help bring new infrastructure online as part of its broader data center strategy.
This is a similar approach taken by Box, which has teamed up with both AWS and IBM to help it scale out rapidly in international markets. With many enterprises now placing a high premium on having their cloud services operate under specific data protection jurisdictions, it’s more cost-effective to work with an IaaS provider to cater to those geographic preferences, says Box CEO Aaron Levie:
We didn’t want to have 50 or 100 data centers. The architecture we’re going to employ we think is going to be the best of both worlds.
But there’s another twist to the Coolan connection, which is the presence of Aditya Agarwal among the startup’s panel of expert advisors. A former colleague of Michael’s at Facebook, Agarwal is VP of engineering at Dropbox, where he has led a two-and-a-half-year long project to migrate more than 500 petabytes of customer files off Amazon Web Services to a datacenter of its own proprietary design.
As Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff told the New York Times when announcing the Amazon partnership, it still makes sense to operate your own datacenters if you have sufficient scale:
We have our own infrastructure in the US, Japan, the UK, France and Germany. If you have critical mass, your own infrastructure is still cheaper.
So while Amazon has won a small part of Salesforce’s business, perhaps the enterprise cloud software giant will merely use it as a stepping stone in its expansion, exactly as Dropbox has.
There’s still all to play for in the cloud wars.
Image credit - image - Silhouette hand covers the sun © Prazis - Fotolia.com; Logo montage by Coolan
Disclosure - Salesforce is a diginomica premier partner at time of writing