Salesforce stores customer information for thousands of businesses, delivering data "on-demand" via the Web. The lack of that data interfered with some customers' sales and customer service activities on a critical pre-holiday business day.
"This is not just an inconvenience. We're losing sales," said Charlie Crystle, CEO of Mission Research, a software company in Lancaster, Pa. "It's a busy time of the year."
Bruce Francis, a Salesforce spokesman, said he doesn't know how many of Salesforce's 18,700 customers were affected by the outage, which began at about 6:30 a.m PST. The cause was a faulty database, which was repaired by about 2 p.m., he said.
"We apologize to any customer who was inconvenienced by this," Francis said. "We take that very, very seriously."
It's clear the problem was not isolated. Complaints from affected customers have surfaced across the Web, including on several blogs.
Salesforce touts an "uptime" rate of greater than 99 percent. Outages are "a rare occasion," according to Francis. He said Salesforce's systems are as reliable or more reliable than other comparable systems, including the type that companies run on their own servers.
Yet several Salesforce customers that contacted CNET News.com about Tuesday's glitch said outages happen more frequently than they had expected. About once a month, Mission Research experiences Salesforce outages that typically last an hour or so, Crystle said. Another customer, an East Coast consulting firm, has been struck by outages about a half a dozen times over the past year, according to the firm's vice president, who requested anonymity. Frustration levels are rising.
"I'm really, really angry about this because (Salesforce is) out there marketing themselves as something they're just not living up to," Crystle said.
Salesforce has been a forerunner in a movement to make software cheaper and easier to use by delivering it as a "service" over the Web. But questions about reliability have long been a sticking point for skeptics. Tuesday's outage could give them more reason to stay on the sidelines.
"It's like losing your Internet connection for a whole day," the executive who requested anonymity said. "That's pretty severe. We had technical support people that couldn't talk to customers. When (Salesforce) becomes unavailable, it really shuts you down pretty badly."
Salesforce, which has been growing rapidly, has undertaken efforts to bolster its computing infrastructure. For instance, it has configured its database to run on four different computers so if a machine fails, others will pick up the slack, Francis said. But the "failover" feature didn't prevent Tuesday's problems.
Salesforce's database supplier helped to restore service, Francis said. While he declined to identify who that supplier was, he did identify Oracle as Salesforce's biggest database supplier.