Amid all the talk on Salesforce's first quarter earnings call Thursday about huge sales deals with "iconic" customers like fashion design firms Diane Von Furstenburg and Ralph Lauren, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff—once again—touted his devotion to Amazon Web Services.
In response to a question about a year-old partnership between the two companies, Benioff replied: "At Salesforce, we really strongly believe that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and I think that makes Amazon Web Services our best friend."
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As to who those enemies are, Benioff did not specify at that moment. But at other points on the call, there were cracks about Microsoft (msft), SAP (sap), and Oracle (orcl)—a huge competitor and partner to Salesforce, which runs much of its business on Oracle databases. All those companies compete with Salesforce in selling sales and marketing software to businesses.
It is now clear that Salesforce sees AWS (amzn) as a strategic ally as it battles those rivals. Salesforce had formerly been quite chummy with Microsoft, but that relationship soured fast when Microsoft outbid Salesforce in its $26.2 billion bid to buy LinkedIn. While Microsoft had always competed somewhat with Salesforce in sales software known as customer relationship management or CRM, the competition has heated up since that development. Speaking with Jim Cramer on CNBC Thursday, Benioff made sure to say that 21st Century Fox is moving 20,000 employees from Microsoft Office to Quip, business software that Salesforce acquired two years ago.
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Benioff started espousing his AWS love more than a year ago by saying that he and Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos had "a great meeting of the minds on the future of cloud, and we want to grow that and expand that strategically."
Benioff made good on that promise a few months later, when Salesforce said it would use AWS data centers to run some of its new software products and to expand into new geographic regions. As part of that, Salesforce had committed to spending $400 million on AWS services over the following four years. And Amazon employees had the rights to use all Salesforce software products in-house.
Many software vendors that deliver their software over the Internet—including Box (box), Tableau (data), Workday (wday), and SAP, along with Salesforce itself—have announced plans to use a public cloud from Amazon, Microsoft, IBM (ibm), or Google (goog) as a deployment option for their own software.
The benefit is they don't have to build as many of their own data centers going forward. The risk, which is mostly unexpressed, is that the big cloud providers also offer more of their own software applications. Microsoft, in particular, competes with every other business software provider on the planet. A company like Salesforce would be hard pressed to use Microsoft Azure as a cloud.
So it's not beyond the realm of possibility that Salesforce will end up competing with its new best friend forever.
Note: (May 19, 2017 11:49 a.m.) This post was updated to add reference to Benioff's appearance on CNBC.