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Microsoft Extends Partnership with Salesforce to Cloud-Based IoT

At Wednesday's Dreamforce conference keynote, the spotlight was on Microsoft's partnership with CRM rival Salesforce.com.

The two companies announced several upcoming joint solutions, the results of a strategic alliance that started in mid-2014. The solutions extend their pact to provide further connectivity between Salesforce.com's platform with several additional Microsoft productivity applications, including Skype for Business, OneNote, Delve and Windows 10.

"The Salesforce and Microsoft partnership has been beyond our expectations," said Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff during the keynote. "We're unified in ways we've never experienced before." During a post-keynote press conference, Benioff described the partnership as "an aggressive move," adding, "We're not afraid of Microsoft. We want to embrace it."

In addition to the integrated solutions with Microsoft, Salesforce.com has overhauled its own platform to produce two versions: "Lightning" and "Thunder." First unveiled in August, Lightning is built on the Salesforce1 platform with a new user interface, and combines several tools, including the new Lightning Design System, Lightning App Builder and Lightning Components. Thunder is the scalable processing engine behind Salesforce.com's new Internet of Things (IoT) Cloud service, which will launch sometime next year.

Microsoft is the first Thunder user; Benioff called the company a "launch partner."

Salesforce.com Co-Founder Parker Harris, who showed up at the keynote dressed as "Lightning Man," said the overhaul was "the biggest thing we've done since we started this company." He then showed conference attendees how Microsoft is using the IoT Cloud service in conjunction with Azure Event Hubs to track Office 365 event data.

Azure data is automatically sent to Salesforce.com to trigger events. Harris demonstrated how the Salesforce.com service determines how Office 365 data should be used, and then connects it to the Salesforce Marketing Cloud. The IoT Cloud can capture data from billions of daily Office 365 usage events, he said.

Jason Bloomberg, an industry analyst and president of Intellyx, sees the IoT Cloud as more of an integration cloud. "What's interesting is the sheer scale of it," said Bloomberg, who was in attendance at Dreamforce. "How many Office 365 customers are there? How many events per customer per day? That is a massive cloud scalability challenge."

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also appeared onstage Dreamforce on Wednesday, headlining a "fireside chat" with Wired reporter Jessi Hempel. Nadella spoke in general terms about "partnering broadly" and "harmonizing the multiplicity of interests." He added that "diversity is an existential need for us at Microsoft" and that his company's partnerships with Salesforce.com, Apple and others are about meeting customer needs.

Forrester analyst John Rymer, who also attended Dreamforce, said the Salesforce.com partnership is another example of new thinking at Microsoft and its ongoing effort to capture demand wherever the company finds it. Rymer credits Microsoft's Azure group for recognizing early on the folly of maintaining a closed ecosystem.

"Microsoft has been investing in further enhancements of .NET and Windows, of course, but the Azure guys realize that they can't live on the demand that comes from those sources alone," Rymer said. "That's why [Microsoft] is reaching out to the Linux community, to the various language communities, and to Docker. The logic behind the Salesforce partnership is simple -- the company has a big community behind it and partnering positions Microsoft to capture more demand."

Microsoft's decision to partner with Salesforce.com is also an important endorsement of the latter company's technology, said IDC analyst Al Hilwa.

"Everyone knows that Microsoft has the horsepower to build something that can analyze this data in time," he said, "but the Salesforce team has put this product together with just the right functionality at the right time. The IoT Cloud puts Salesforce on the map as an IoT analytics player. With IoT Cloud, you have to give it to Salesforce for taking the rocket science out of data science and bringing IoT analytics to the masses. That top technology companies like Microsoft and Cisco are using it is a strong endorsement of the power under the covers."

About the Author

John has been covering the high-tech beat from Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area for nearly two decades. He serves as Editor-at-Large for Application Development Trends (www.ADTMag.com) and contributes regularly to Redmond Magazine, The Technology Horizons in Education Journal, and Campus Technology. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including The Everything Guide to Social Media; The Everything Computer Book; Blobitecture: Waveform Architecture and Digital Design; John Chambers and the Cisco Way; and Diablo: The Official Strategy Guide.