The Dreamforce conference isn't your normal tech conference. It's more of a festival, a smorgasbord of music, celebs, technical training and straight-ahead rah-rah selling that's nearly three times the attendance of Burning Man with much better amenities. Salesforce has once again created its city within a city, with headliners like Tony Robbins, Hillary Clinton, and Bruno Mars.
But lets get away from the atmospherics, as powerful and well orchestrated as they may be. Instead, let's look at this as a tech conference with parties appended to it, rather than the other way around.
The agenda shows more than three days of 750 formal and informal training sessions each day. Of course there are a lot of repeats, but all the good ones were totally filled weeks ago and anything worthwhile has no space for walk-ins. Wild. Fortunately, many sessions are captured on video and are eventually posted on YouTube. Full-paying attendees also get access to all the presentation files. Quite a library.
And then there's the product announcements. True to form, the press releases and videos proclaim the wonders of a new world, but the encryption layers are many and varied. Really, Salesforce.com (SFDC) has some serious stuff that really matters to developers and users alike. But it's all wrapped up in Turbo Hydromatic Whiz Bang Golly Wow that makes it hard for an engineer to grok. In the immortal words of Tom Waits, "The Large Print Giveth and the Small Print Taketh Away."
The two big technology announcements are mobile development and analytics. Let's start with the evolution of Salesforce1, and the new Lightning development platform. They're emphasizing fast, easy development on mobile -- and that'll be just fine when it ships. But under the covers, developers will notice that the SF1 API has evolved very rapidly indeed over the year since it was announced. More importantly, the guidance for new development is HTML5 and the Aura framework, with the understanding that VisualForce is there for compatibility but not the latest in mobile finesse.
Analytics is probably more widely interesting, as every salesforce user either uses reports or has their performance viewed on a dashboard. The Wave analytics engine is some genuine innovation, moving beyond the intuitive relational reporting that is the baseline for SFDC users. When a user signs up for the Analytics Cloud, their underlying data store moves away from Oracle and onto the Wave engine that is based on key-value pairs (great for sparsely populated data sets) and columnar indexing (fabulous for high speed indexes and aggregates). Because everything in this data store is compressed, memory utilization is reduced and performance is expected to increase for nearly all use-cases. This is the magic of multitennancy, noSQL, and caching at work.
While the Analytics Cloud will leverage many partners' products, the core engine is totally SFDC technology -- they own the entire stack. Thanks to the huge number of AppExchange partners, their Analytics offering will be able to connect to just about any external source, with data latency determined by the customer rather than technology limitations.
Now let's look look at DreamForce from a Wall Street perspective: what you see is that SFDC has dramatically increased its footprint beyond the traditional boundaries of CRM. They were already in marketing automation, mobile development, and HR, and they've just added analytics. From the perspective of pure revenue mongering, they are signalling that revenue growth has got to come from horizontal expansion, not deepening vertical penetration. A natural evolution of a maturing company, one that is hell-bent on growth.