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Salesforce.com's Heroku unit is making it easier for Salesforce app developers to become SaaS vendors on their own.

Heroku, the Salesforce unit that sits atop the Amazon Web Services cloud, is taking a big step toward becoming a platform for software-as-a-service suppliers.

But most of the budding SaaS suppliers that use Heroku will not be competing with Salesforce. On the contrary, they'll provide custom applications and add-on services to the Salesforce product line, with Salesforce opening the door to authorized developers and their work.

Heroku now offers now offers 85 such services from its hosting environment, a total that's been built up over three years. But it's got another 80 in the pipeline that will become available in 2013 as well, giving Salesforce.com customers a wide range of potential add-on applications and services, said Oren Teich, COO of Heroku, in an interview.

Heroku already offers software developers selected services, such as Amazon's Relational Database Service and Bonsai full-text search, produced by One More Cloud. As of Tuesday, companies that produce add-on services that work on Heroku will find offering their wares greatly simplified. Heroku is adding a billing system that tracks add-on usage, bills the user and sends the add-on producer a check at the end of the month.

[ For more on how Salesforce.com is tapping into the energies of independent developers, see Salesforce.com Wants Developers To Think Big. ]

Heroku will ask add-on service producers to submit information about their code so the company can present it to potential customers. From long experience with developers using its platform, Heroku knows how to seek specific information about a new service's distinguishing features. In addition to listing different fee plans, Heroku also plans avoid what Teich calls a "common stumbling block in offering SaaS" by describing each plan thoroughly enough for potential customers to understand the differences between them.

Add-on service suppliers "are good technical people who don't necessarily understand marketing," Teich noted. Heroku's goal is to help them get their wares to market. "We have a whole new self-service interface [the Heroku Add-On Provider Portal]," he said. "It gives add-on providers the ability to manage full lifecycle billing and other aspects of making their code available."

Heroku already serves as a development platform for thousands of developers using Ruby, Java and Java Virtual Machine-based languages such as Node.js, the server-side version of JavaScript. Some of Heroku's most frequently invoked services are written in Node.js. Heroku started out as a Ruby developer's platform but expanded its charter in September to include Java and languages running in the JVM.

Over 2.5 million applications have been produced on the Heroku platform so far. While Heroku is still in its early stage, Salesforce.com is seeking to capitalize on Heroku's activity by supplying its Canvas API to authorized developers. This allows their applications to share data with Salesforce.com CRM, HR and Chatter applications. The applications can exchange requests for information and execute joint transactions, with the results displaying in the Salesforce.com user interface as if the application were running inside the Salesforce data center. In fact, it's on Amazon EC2 but integrated with the existing Salesforce.com app.

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