Salesforce Partners Surprised By Fast-Moving AWS Relationship, But See Synergies Between The Cloud Vendors

The deep relationship Salesforce has rather suddenly forged with Amazon Web Services leverages a natural synergy between the leading software-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service provider, Salesforce partners told CRN on Thursday.

Under the revised partnership, announced Wednesday, Salesforce will host its core SaaS portfolio -- Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, App Cloud, Community Cloud, Analytics Cloud -- on AWS' infrastructure. AWS is now one of Salesforce's largest clients and its go-to cloud infrastructure provider for international markets.

The writing was on the wall for a strengthening partnership after CEO Marc Benioff and COO Keith Block heaped praise upon Amazon's cloud business and technology during last week's Salesforce earnings call.

But AWS and Salesforce partners said they're surprised by the vendors' sweeping business deal, which includes Salesforce bestowing 'preferred' status to AWS as it expands its operations into international markets.

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[Related: Salesforce Names AWS Its 'Preferred Public Cloud' Provider As Rumors Of Acquisition Swirl]

"Just as Salesforce allows their customers to scale their SaaS applications with a wonderful product, they themselves need partners to scale their offerings," said Andi Giri, managing director of the Salesforce practice at Silver Spring, Md.-based Softsquare. "Isn't it great news that the number one SaaS provider is aligning with the number one IaaS provider?"

But after hearing of the proclamation of 'preferred public cloud' status, Giri said he's wondering about the status of Salesforce's cloud partnership with Microsoft.

It wasn't so long ago that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Benioff were chumming around at conferences, with the Salesforce CEO making an appearance at Microsoft's Build event, then Nadella delivering a keynote at Dreamforce '15 hyping Office 365 integration with the leading CRM.

"Salesforce appeared to have a grand alliance with Microsoft," Giri said.

In an earnings call last November, Benioff said his company was expanding its use of the Azure cloud.

But now, it looks like Salesforce has decided to "essentially go all-in on AWS," said Jeff Aden, executive vice president of marketing and strategic business development at 2nd Watch, an AWS partner based in Seattle.

So why would the CRM leader so abruptly shift its affection toward Microsoft's hyper-scale adversary?

Possibly because, no matter how much Benioff and Nadella attempted to gloss over that reality, Salesforce competes directly with Microsoft, which offers the rival Dynamics CRM.

With Amazon, the relationship isn't complicated by both vendors scrapping it out for the same base of customers in any distinct market, Giri noted.

Partners said broader market trends could also be at play in the AWS-Salesforce relationship.

The announced partnership parallels a trend that Appirio, a global solution provider headquartered in Indianapolis, Ind., is seeing with its own business and those of its customers.

Appirio's Cloud Management Center, a platform on which customers collaborate with its consultants, runs on elements of both the Salesforce App Cloud and AWS, Chris Heineken, the company's chief operating officer, told CRN.

"We're also seeing a convergence in our customers using Salesforce and investing in Amazon Web Services to help manage their public cloud infrastructure," Heineken said. "Some are asking us to deploy solutions that use core Salesforce elements augmented with Amazon Web Services."

The effusive praise Benioff and Block showered on Amazon foreshadowed a change in status of the relationship between the two companies, the partners said.

In that earnings call, Benioff said the relationship took off last quarter when Salesforce "signed a significant and strategic agreement with Amazon," making Salesforce the provider of Amazon's "company-wide customer platform."

That sale to Amazon was "a huge expansion of our relationship with them," Benioff said, adding, "and we plan to use more Amazon services in the future."

Block said Salesforce worked directly with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on the "large transaction" through which Amazon ramped up its Salesforce buy.

"When you look at Amazon today, there is no public cloud that is more sophisticated, more well-used by enterprises and one that has more robust capabilities than Amazon," Block said.

Softsquare's Giri old CRN it's important to remember the alliance—at least as far as it's been revealed to this point—applies primarily to offshore markets.

That makes sense, Giri said, when considering countries such as Germany have strict rules for cloud computing providers, mandating they operate within their geographical boundaries.

"Instead of building such infrastructure themselves for each one of those boundaries, Salesforce is planning to ride over AWS in such markets," Giri said.

Perhaps too much is being read into the deal, he said, and the driver is just that AWS is a stronger IaaS player than Microsoft in Europe.

Neeracha Taychakhoonavudh, ‎senior vice president of partner programs at Salesforce, told CRN the company's partnerships "with both Microsoft and Google are tremendously important to us."

With Microsoft, Salesforce focuses on solutions connecting its platform to Office 365 apps and Windows for mutual customers, she said.

Salesforce is "also focused on mutual customers" it has with Google, and recently announced deeper integration with Google's cloud-based spreadsheet, Sheets, Taychakhoonavudh told CRN.