At Salesforce.com's annual conference, talk of growth, glitz and Green Day

November 20, 2013: 5:10 PM ET

We report from the company's annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.

By Michal Lev-Ram, writer

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FORTUNE—Salesforce.com (CRM) CEO Marc Benioff knows how to put on a good show. On Tuesday morning, the outspoken executive kicked off his company's annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco with a nearly three-hour-long keynote that featured music performances from Huey Lewis and the News plus appearances by actor Sean Penn, supermodel Petra Nemcova and Haitian prime minister Laurent Lamothe, among others.

But underneath the start-studded parade of guests, loud music and Benioff's energetic, cult-leader-like ramblings about the future of customer management software and Wi-Fi-enabled toothbrushes, was some actual substance. Here, without all the frills and superlatives ("this is the best Dreamforce ever!"), are three takeaways from this year's Salesforce conference:

1. Growth is expensive, even for a cloud computing company. Working the crowd in his brightly-colored Christian Louboutin sneakers, Benioff proudly told the Dreamforce masses that his company just closed its "first billion-dollar quarter." But while Salesforce did beat sales estimates, reporting revenue of $1.08 billion in its most recent quarter, investors worry that the cost of growth is also growing and squeezing margins. "A market that wants growth very badly appears to be happily paying up for very bad growth," Cowen & Co. analyst Peter Goldmacher wrote in a recent note to clients. Ouch.

2. Salesforce1 is significant but not an entirely new product. The just-announced app development platform will enable Salesforce customers to more easily migrate applications to mobile devices. It's actually a consolidation of existing Salesforce products, like the core CRM platform, social networking tool Chatter and ExactTarget, the company's marketing cloud, served up with a range of third-party applications. Customers will soon have the ability to brand their own flavors of the Salesforce1 platform (Benioff showed off a Tesla-branded example). More importantly, Salesforce is hoping to tap into the growing Internet of Things trend with the updated platform, which includes development tools that will let companies glean customer data from devices with embedded sensors.

3. Not everyone wants a fully public cloud. Another announcement that came out of the Dreamforce keynote is a new partnership between Salesforce and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ). The two companies' jointly-developed so-called "Superpod" will provide dedicated infrastructure for large customers to run Salesforce in the cloud--for a premium price, of course. These dedicated servers will be housed and managed within Salesforce's data centers, but differ from the normally shared infrastructure common to the company's software delivery model. HP CEO Meg Whitman made a brief on-stage appearance at Dreamforce (though she got far less stage time than the celebrity trio at the beginning). The first Superpod customer, by the way, will be HP itself.

In more glitzy--though less relevant--news, Salesforce hosted a Green Day concert for conference-goers on Tuesday evening. Other celebrity appearances at this week's Dreamforce include Jerry Seinfeld, Alec Baldwin, Deepak Chopra and Tony Bennett. Oh yeah, and Marc Benioff. Like I said, the guy knows how to put on a good show.

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About This Author
Michal Lev-Ram
Michal Lev-Ram
Writer, Fortune

Based in Silicon Valley, Michal Lev-Ram covers enterprise and mobile technologies for FORTUNE. Prior to joining FORTUNE, she wrote for CNNMoney, Fast Company, Popular Science and other business and technology publications. She was also a staff writer at Business 2.0 and holds a B.A. in journalism from San Francisco State University.

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