Salesforce has hiccups yet again

The latest of several outages in Salesforce.com's hosted CRM service has prompted the company to communicate better with its customers.

In the wake of several service outages in recent weeks, Salesforce.com has created a website to update users of its hosted CRM software on system performance and problems.

An outage earlier this month was the latest service disruption to affect the company’s customers. Salesforce claims to have about 350,000 subscribers.

The new web page, called Trust.Salesforce.com, is the most recent effort by the company to calm users’ fears. The site went live last week.

In an email message, Salesforce.com chief executive Marc Benioff said the site will offer users data on the system’s performance, throughput and transaction rates. It will also provide information on the cause of any problems.

In addition, a US$50 million (NZ$75 million) overhaul of the hosted system’s infrastructure is scheduled to be completed by the end of March. The work includes the development of a load-balancing system, called Mirrorforce, that will replicate data among datacentres, so that if one goes off-line another can immediately take over its processing workload.

The most recent service disruption, which lasted 81 minutes, occurred on February 9, Benioff confirmed in his email.

Customers have mixed reactions to the latest outage.

“Clearly, something is not right in Salesforce land,” says Tom Kramer, president of Bella Pictures, which relies heavily on the service. Kramer says the most recent outage cut productivity at the wedding photography company.

In addition, he says, Salesforce did not notify Bella Pictures of the outage. Notification from the vendor would help his company work through outages, he says.

On the other hand, the outage “was not a significant problem” for Phoenix Technologies, says Clifford Bell, the company’s CIO. Phoenix, a maker of PC systems software and tools, uses Salesforce’s service for its sales and marketing operations.

Bell says he received a note from Benioff that detailed Salesforce’s plans to stop the outages.

“Funny, but I never have gott’n an email from Larry Ellison for any Oracle issues, or from Bill Gates when there are Microsoft issues,” Bell says, adding that he thinks Salesforce is working hard to correct the problems.

“You have to wonder why this is happening,” says David Dobrin, an analyst at B2B Analysts. “Is it an artifact of their changeover to a more robust, dual datacentre model? Is it a size problem? Are they having the same problems with their hardware and software vendors that other people frequently have?”

Dobrin noted that much of Salesforce’s customer base is averse to working with IT. Those customers, therefore, will be more aggravated by downtime and more willing to express their dissatisfaction than those who rely on internal IT resources, he says.

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