DreamFactory: Cloud-opportunistic SaaS That Won’t Lock You In

What if there were a way to write and run enterprise applications that you could move from cloud to cloud? And what if that application automatically inherited the best things about that cloud without locking you in?

DreamFactory may do just that. And as such, it may represent a new approach to application design: Cloud-opportunistic software.

DreamFactory makes project, document and data collaboration software that runs in the cloud. Its DreamTeam Suite competes with Basecamp, Liquidplanner, Huddle and others. The company has about 1,000 enterprise customers, and a strong partnership with Salesforce.com. Its application can be customized in either VBScript or Javascript, so it’s extensible.

But rather than being tied to a particular cloud, DreamFactory works with many of them. Relying on a rich client that runs as a browser plug-in, DreamFactory’s application only needs the cloud for storage. It can use Salesforce, Webex Connect and Amazon EC2. Quickbase support is just around the corner, with Google BigTable hot on its heels. It will even run on your hard drive.

DreamFactory doesn’t expect much from these clouds. As long as a cloud can store and retrieve data, DreamFactory will take care of things that enterprises demand, like schema, field-level security and multiuser permissions. “The Amazon SimpleDB and S3 in parallel are really commodity services, but if you have a superclient that can do XML, you can emulate enterprise services atop commodity services,” said DreamFactory CTO Bill Appleton.

Big deal, you say: They’re just using the cloud as a hard disk.

To be fair, avoiding cloud lock-in might be a big deal all on its own. The threat of being stuck on a bad cloud was a hot topic at Structure 08 and the subsequent subject of discussion on both the Wall Street Journal and InformationWeek.

But there’s a much more interesting wrinkle to this story than just portability.

DreamFactory isn’t just cloud agnostic, it’s cloud opportunistic. In other words, the software inherits the unique features of the cloud on which it’s running. “When we port our DreamTeam product to a collaborative platform like WebEx, it becomes highly collaborative,” said Appleton.

Running on Webex Connect, Dreamfactory's software inherits special powers (like conferencing) from the cloud

If you use Salesforce, a username can be tied to an account. If you’re running on WebEx Connect, you can start a video conference. Build it on Amazon, and you lose those advanced services but you can pay using Devpay. And so on. With tomorrow’s specialized clouds, you might be able to book travel or pull in a friend feed, for example.

This is a fascinating twist: A way get a cloud’s special powers without its Kryptonite.

GigaOM got an early look at the company’s forthcoming Monarch application, available soon, which allows data migration across clouds while preserving not only raw data but also applications, relationships and schema as it moves from platform to platform.

“In our world, we have customers that have already bought into a platform,” said Appleton. “Our plan was to be agnostic from day one. In some ways Salesforce has the best platform, but it’s kind of locked inside a CRM.”

Maybe cloud-opportunistic applications can unlock those platforms.