At least once a week, I am asked, “What exactly is the difference between Salesforce.com and Force.com?”
To properly explain the difference between these two products, let’s flip back a few chapters and understand what Salesforce.com is in terms of the cloud industry. Salesforce is a SaaS product, which as you can see from the diagram below, stands for Software-as-a-Service. This concept is a fundamental of cloud computing and is the means of taking software off your computer and into the cloud. Dropbox, Google Apps and GoToMeeting are all examples of SaaS products.
However, we have a couple of other cloud products. Force.com is a PaaS product, which stands for Platform-as-a-Service. This concept is not an out-of-the-box product like GoToMeeting; instead it contains an application or framework for you to build apps onto.
Lastly, we have IaaS, which stands for Infrastructure-as-a-Service. This means you are renting a physical server somewhere in a warehouse, like from Rackspace, for example.
What makes Salesforce.com SaaS and what makes Force.com PaaS?
Just like GoToMeeting or Google Apps, Salesforce.com is an out-of-the-box solution with their three core products, Sales Cloud, Service Cloud and Marketing Cloud. You could go out and buy the Sales Cloud today and starting logging leads, opportunities, running reports and more.
In contrast, you can go out today and buy some Force.com licenses and you would not have an out-of-the-box solution – no access to leads, accounts or opportunities. You would have to build apps, tabs, custom objects and workflow rules to design the kind of system that you want to use. This is where it gets interesting…
As you know, these Force.com features are all available in Salesforce.com, which is because Salesforce.com is built on the Force.com platform seamlessly. When you purchase Salesforce.com licenses for Sales Cloud, you get all of your normal tabs (leads, accounts, etc.) plus the ability to customize the whole platform using Force.com.
This is why Salesforce creates a distinction between standard and custom objects in their certifications, as they are two separate beasts, of which both have limitations and interact with each other differently.
So when you are building custom objects and adding in workflows and approval processes, this is all using Force.com. This is the exact same way that AppExchange partners design apps. They create them on the Force.com platform, possibly using external web services and then package them up, ready for you to download.
Ben McCarthy is a certified Salesforce admin and developer. He writes the popular Salesforce Blog, Salesforce Ben. Ben has a wealth of experience in the Salesforce ecosystem as a Business Analyst, Head of CRM and Certified Sales Cloud consultant.