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Salesforce gives enterprises Sandbox to play with

An upcoming release from Salesforce.com will allow users to test out new applications in a separate, on-demand environment.

With an eye toward extending its reach into the enterprise market, Salesforce.com today previewed its upcoming hosted testing and training application.

Salesforce Sandbox will be available with the San Francisco-based company's Winter '06 release coming later this quarter. The application provides customers with a replica of their existing Salesforce.com deployments to conduct training on hosted applications from AppExchange,  the company's online directory of prebuilt on-demand applications.

"As we view it, it's going to accelerate the momentum of AppExchange into the enterprise," said George Hu, vice president and general manager with Salesforce.com. "In the enterprise they're excited about AppExchange, but they look at it and would like an environment where they can see how it works with their own systems."

AppExchange was designed to extend Salesforce.com's presence in the enterprise beyond hosted sales and service applications. It provides new applications, such as human resources, data cleansing or vertical editions of Salesforce.com, on the sforce development platform. There are currently 80 applications on the site, Hu said.

Using Sandbox, companies planning to implement add-on tools on AppExchange, like Diamond Data, the data cleansing tool from Trillium Software, can set up a cloned database to test the cleansing operation before a deployment.

Enterprise companies have been reluctant to download and run an application without testing it first, according to Rob Bois, senior research analyst with Boston-based AMR Research Inc.

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Salesforce.com has grown rapidly, thanks to selling easy-to-implement sales force automation tools directly to small and midsized businesses or departments of larger businesses that can be paid for on a subscription basis. Yet as it moves upstream in the market, it can no longer depend on selling just to a small division within a company; it needs the approval of IT departments. IT, accustomed to testing and getting proof of concepts from on-premise enterprise application vendors, wants something similar from Salesforce.com before it adopts applications from third-party vendors deploying on AppExchange, Bois said.

Sandbox offers a copy of a user's production database, including all data and customizations, for configuration change testing, integration testing or new user training. Sandboxes can be deleted and refreshed as needed, allowing IT managers to refresh initiation and automation and keep Sandbox in synch with changes made to the production environment, according to Hu.

Salesforce.com also offers a configuration-only Sandbox, which does not include production data. Both are offered with Salesforce.com's Enterprise Edition only. The configuration-only Sandbox will be offered for $18 per month, per existing Enterprise Edition user, while the complete Sandbox with both data and configuration will be priced at $25 per month, per existing Enterprise Edition user.

While the Sandbox release should allay some concerns of enterprise users, AppExchange still presents some potential issues, Bois said. Companies have become much more comfortable with the idea of software as a service as concerns about security, data access and IT infrastructure problems have been allayed. However, the online directory of available applications presents a new problem.

"One of the things I still worry about is IT governance," Bois said. "It gets a lot more applications in the hands of potential users, but how do you mitigate people out there downloading and testing these apps?"

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