Speed-building apps on Force.com

It took just over 15 minutes for Shaul Gorsht to create a custom expenseapplication from scratch complete with custom fields, a modified sharing model,adjusted layout and an approval process.

On stage at the Cloudforce tour in Toronto, the Salesforce.com salesengineer demonstrated just how quickly developers can build their own appsusing Force.com – Salesforce.com’s application development platform.

Force.com is faster to deploy and develop because the components arepre-built, pre-integrated and pre-tested, said Rob Cheng, director of PlatformProduct Marketing at Salesforce.com. “It really comes down to the platformservices,” he said.

Developers configure the components with clicks instead of building themfrom the ground up with Java or .NET code, Cheng explained. “The differencebetween Force.com and traditional platforms like Java or .NET is like night andday,” he said.

According to Cheng, 80 per cent of the time is spent on declarativepoint-and-click configuration and 20 per cent is spent on code with Force.com,whereas 20 per cent of the time is spent on clicks and 80 per cent is spent oncode when using Java or .NET.

“The phase that traditionally takes by far the most time in thetraditional development lifecycle, we’re talking about the coding phase, is thephase that Force.com improves the most. There is a 73 per cent reduction indevelopment time for that aspect of the development cycle,” said Cheng.

In its recent analysis of 17 Force.com projects, Nucleus Research Inc.found “significant savings” in time to development and ongoing support costs. “Onaverage, developers found that they could deliver applications 4.9 (times)faster on Force.com than on JAVA or .NET,” states the Boston, MA-based researchfirm.  

Recent research from IDC found five key benefits for enterprises usingthe Force.com platform compared to traditional in-house development of customapplications: faster time-to-market, lower cost, higher quality, betterperformance and accelerated pace of innovation.

The IDC report notes a 76 per cent reduction in time to develop anddeploy custom apps, a 54 per cent reduction in three-year TCO (total cost of ownership), a 97 per cent reduction in annual downtime and 60 per centreduction in time spent dealing with the service desk.

“Force.com changedthe process of custom application development so much that companies tripledtheir output of custom applications and doubled annual upgrades from one to two,”states the IDC report, released in September and based on interviews with tensmall to large enterprises.

The majority of the savings result from the productivity of theplatform, according to Cheng. The cost of engineering resources and staffingdevoted to the development, maintenance and upgrade of applications “totallyoutweighs the infrastructure costs,” he said.

“Even though developers are supposed to be doing coding to develop yourcustom business processes and applications, they spend a lot of time having todeal with managing the infrastructure. With the cloud platform … you don’t haveto build nearly as much custom code,” he said.

Cheng compared the pros and cons of virtualized platform stacks tovirtualized servers. With a virtualized platform stack, developers focus onbuilding the app and “the platform does the rest,” he said. There is nosoftware to install or manage, deployment and scalability are automatic anddevelopers configure the platform services, he said. 

With virtualized servers, Cheng argued, developers are forced to act asinfrastructure managers. They give developers the flexibility to quickly addCPU and storage capacity, install any software they want and managescalability, upgrades and patches, but they don’t save on the costs andcomplexity of building and managing the entire software stack, he said.

Developers can customize apps on Force.com with programmatic logic usingApex Code and build it in Eclipse, Cheng noted. “The important thing about ApexCode is, for developers who are familiar with developing Java or .NET, thesyntax is very similar,” he said.

With Force.com’s Visualforce technology, developers can also createcustomized user interfaces with standard Web technologies like HTML, CSS, JavaScript,AJAX and Adobe Flash or AIR, Cheng pointed out.

Apps built on Force.com include real-time features such as databaseservices, security, workflow, analytics, an approvals engine and mobile deploymentfor iPhone and Blackberry platforms. The apps can be instantly deployed to theWeb, connected to existing public Web sites, integrated with existingapplications and used to collect CRM data from end users.

“What is important to realize is regardless of whether you’re doingdeclarative configuration or custom coding or a combination of both, all theinformation about the application you are building is stored as meta data on theForce.com platform,” said Cheng.

More than 900 applications and services are also available on Salesforce.com’sapplication marketplace, AppExchange. Three hundred of them are free, Chengpointed out.


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