Picking through economic news this week (French and German growth numbers; financial market turmoil; scattered US indicators) and the vendor announcements from Dell, HP, Lenovo, NetApp, and Salesforce.com, four trends emerge:
European economies are headed for a recession, and European tech market is already in decline. Eurostat (The European Union statistical agency) announced on Tuesday, August 16, that real GDP in the 17 euro area countries and the 27 European countries both grew by just 0.2% in the second quarter of 2011 from the first quarter. Annualizing these growth rates to make them comparable with US GDP growth rates, the numbers were 0.8%. France's real GDP showed no growth, while Germany's real growth was o.4% on an annualized basis. These were sharp slowdowns from France's growth of 3.6% in Q1 and Germany's growth of 5.3%. With worries growing about a financial crisis hitting European banks as a result of potential losses on their holdings of Greek, Portuguese, Irish, Italian, and Spanish bonds, ongoing government austerity programs in these countries as well as the UK, and feeble EU efforts to deal with the problems, there is a high probability that Europe will slip into recession in Q3 and Q4 2011.
Marc Benioff, CEO of salesforce.com, gave a typically energetic performance at London’s Royal Festival Hall yesterday, both in the main-stage keynote and the private lunch for press and analysts. In addition to some humorous digs at Oracle, SAP, and pretty much any company that wants to run its own data center, Benioff described his vision for enterprise applications in the world of social computing, which he calls Cloud 2. Key to this vision is salesforce.com’s own Chatter application, which is . . . er, well actually it's not really clear what it is. Various spokespeople described it as an internal Facebook, a collaboration engine, Twitter but secure, but to me it still seems to be a user interface in search of an application.
The demonstration reminded me forcibly of the scene in Bruce Almighty in which Morgan Freeman lets Jim Carrey hear all the prayers being made at that instant by the citizens of Chicago. The user gets a stream of tweets, discussion threads, notifications, and alerts from feeder applications, messages from colleagues to each other, general questions, etc. My question, which no-one could answer adequately was “how is this different from email?” The features they cite — filtering, highlighting, threading, categorizing, etc. — are all in Outlook if you care to use them.
The main difference, apart from the fashionable user interface with the sender’s photo next to each message, is the switch from emailers deciding who they want to read their message, to readers deciding whose chats they want to see. Benioff’s description of his own Chatter feed puts him as the omniscient Bruce, watching every sales process, customer service problem resolution, product design collaboration, and invoice approval throughout his organization.
Today, Google announced Google App Engine for Business, and integration with VMware’s SpringSource offerings. On Monday, we got a preview of the news from David Glazer, Engineering Director at Google, and Jerry Chen, Senior Director Cloud Services at VMware.
For tech industry strategists, this is another step in the development of cloud platform-as-a-service (PaaS). Java Spring developers now have a full platform-as-a-service host offering in Google App Engine for Business, the previously announced VMforce offering from salesforce.com, plus the options of running their own platform and OS stacks on premise or in virtual machines at service providers supporting vCloud Express, such as Terremark.
What’s next? IBM and Oracle have yet to put up full Java PaaS offerings, so I expect that to show up sometime soon – feels late already for them to put up some kind of early developer version. And SAP is also likely to create their own PaaS offering. But it’s not clear if any of them will put the same emphasis on portability and flexible, rich Web-facing apps that Google and VMware are.
So Google aims to expand into enterprise support – but will need more than the planned SQL support, SSL, and SLAs they are adding this year. They'll also need to figure out how to fully integrate into corporate networks, the way that CloudSwitch aims to do.