Salesforce to offer testing service

New service gives subscribers a hosted, online replica of their applications to test before launching.

Salesforce.com said on Monday it is launching a new service to allow its subscribers to test their applications before launching them.

The new service, called Salesforce Sandbox, gives customers an online replica of their applications for development and testing purposes, said Phil Robinson, senior vice president of marketing at the company.

The Sandbox service works only with applications built on top of Salesforce.com's service, said Robinson. But it will work with custom applications that companies build or buy, though Salesforce.com's AppExchange service.

In essence, the Sandbox service mimics development and test systems that have long been used in big companies to make sure new software works as planned. The difference is that Sandbox replicates those systems to Salesforce.com's servers. "It's a complete replica of a company's production environment that we host as a service," said Robinson.

Sheryl Kingstone, an analyst at Yankee Group, said that an online equivalent of the kind of test environments that big companies are used to is essential if Salesforce is to expand its software-as-a-service reach into larger companies.

The service, which will be available sometime before the end of January, will be available in two versions. One, priced at $25 per user per month, allows companies to replicate all applications, customizations, integration software and data. The other, priced at $18 per user, per month, only replicates applications, not the data associated with them, Robinson said.

Salesforce.com is a leading proponent of the on-demand model, in which software makers deliver their wares over the Internet for a monthly fee. CEO Marc Benioff claims that model is bringing about the "end of software" as most companies know it and supplanting client-server software.

Other software makers are becoming more involved in Web-based services for big companies.

Microsoft has already mapped out two online services to augment its Windows and Office desktop software franchises, and plans to announce more business-oriented services in the coming year.

SAP, the largest enterprise business software maker, is expected to discuss its plans for Web-based services in the coming months.

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