Salesforce.com users lament ongoing outages

Monday's glitch knocked the online sales application offline, provoking a fresh round of customer complaints.

Alorie Gilbert Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Alorie Gilbert
writes about software, spy chips and the high-tech workplace.
Alorie Gilbert
3 min read
Salesforce.com touts that its customers are some of the most empowered, Web-savvy businesses around, but the company may be learning this week that that's not always a good thing.

Several disgruntled users took their complaints to the blogosphere this week after enduring a series of recent outages, including one on Monday that reportedly knocked portions of the site offline for several hours. One anonymous critic has even set up a blog "for frustrated users of Salesforce.com," called GripeForce.

"This is starting to happen all too often," the GripeForce blogger wrote on Monday. "From 10:30 a.m. through lunch, Salesforce was down. This is too much. Two days left in the month and the sales team can't access their data."

Concern about the reliability of the company's "on-demand" business application is understandable. Salesforce stores critical customer and sales information for thousands of businesses and delivers the data "on-demand" via the Web. That means Salesforce users are at the company's mercy, a point brought painfully home last month when an outage disabled the Salesforce service for the better part of a day.

Monday's "episode" was less severe, according to Salesforce Chief Marc Benioff. It lasted about 30 minutes and caused intermittent disruptions for some customers in the U.S. and Canada, Benioff wrote in an e-mail on Monday. He classified it as a "minor issue."

Yet customers are growing frustrated. "As a Salesforce.com customer, I am very disappointed by (Benioff's) statement," Mike Sax, an entrepreneur in Eugene, Ore., wrote in his blog.

"I am willing to put up with growing pains and an occasional outage," Sax continued. "I am even willing to forgive that in terms of reliability, Salesforce has clearly over-promised and under-delivered. Having the company's CEO minimize an outage that brings customer businesses to a halt as a 'minor issue' is not acceptable."

Bill Bither, a Salesforce customer in Northampton, Mass., didn't think Monday's outage was so minor either. He said it disabled a critical application programming interface (API), a mechanism that shuttles Salesforce data to other business systems, for seven hours.

"We use Salesforce.com and have invested a lot of time and money into this system," Bither, a founder of software maker Atalasoft, wrote in a blog post on Monday. "Although the features and functionality is great, we're not very pleased with the reliability. Today, Salesforce.com was down from 11:30 a.m. until 6:40 p.m."

After customers began venting online, a Salesforce representative took a more contrite tone about the incident.

"We know that any time that the service is not available, it's frustrating to our customers, and we sincerely apologize for that," Salesforce spokesman Bruce Francis said in an e-mail. "We know that what our customers want is constant improvements in our service, and that's what we are working on today and every day."

Salesforce's availability rate is about 99 percent, executives there say. They've blamed recent glitches on a database software bug, and recently detailed steps the company is taking to bolster reliability. Still, outages and downtime are an unavoidable reality of computing, Benioff said earlier this month.

In the meantime, Salesforce customers appear to be growing more vocal. One anonymous blogger purporting to be a Salesforce user posted four entries on Monday. "What Beautiful Irony!" the blogger wrote. "The day I decide to start this blog, SalesForce.com has another outage! Sheesh!"

Salesforce seems to be taking its lumps in stride. "Our customers are entitled to their opinions and we respect that," Francis at Salesforce said. "When you have a passionate community of users, feelings are bound to run high."