With the announcement of Salesforce SOA, Salesforce.com promises "SOA as a service". That's an awfully grandiose claim as service oriented architecture (SOA) is a business-driven approach to organising an entire enterprise's software functionality, not any one vendor's technology.

What the vendor really seems to be delivering instead is the first enterprise-class mash-up platform, enabling developers to use its Apex platform to provision the functionality of internal applications as services and orchestrate them together with partner or Salesforce services. That may fall several miles short of SOA as a service, but it could be a boon to businesses that want to develop complex Web applications quickly.

Current SOA efforts are hindered by introducing more complexity, which leads to high failure rates, argues Rene Bonvani, Salesforce.com's senior vice president and general manager of AppExchange and development releases. "The irony is, we're trying to make Web services work by installing more software and hardware on premise," he said. "And we believe that we should not do it through software, not do it through infrastructure, but do it in the cloud." That is, on one particular cloud: the Apex platform.

AppExchange, a marketplace for apps developed on Salesforce.com's ecosystem, was launched 18 months ago – and the Apex programming language and development platform were released in beta form in January. So what exactly is new? "The new technology is the ability for Apex to call out and coordinate Web services on the platform," Bonvani said. In addition, two weeks ago, Salesforce.com began offering subscriptions to AppExchange alone; previously, AppExchange was available only to Salesforce.com customers.

Connections to Apex applications from a customer's internal applications can be established using Web services APIs or using a range of connectors specific to Oracle Financials, SAP R/3, and other heavy-duty enterprise apps.

For more on this story see Stuart Lauchlan's blog