Federal IT Executive's FAQ: Your Data in the Salesforce Cloud

In our long history as trusted advisors to federal executives at over 40 agencies, we have been asked many questions pertaining to new technology products and trends. It is no secret that we are advocating platform as a service (PaaS) as a future for modernizing legacy applications and achieving significant return on investments. We are helping our clients move to a new era of much lower O&M costs, rapid solution delivery time, and improved user experience. Salesforce is an industry leader in the PaaS world, and we are wholeheartedly advocating for and implementing Salesforce solutions.

However, the PaaS world can seem like a radical departure from the traditional, legacy way of building and running systems and has raised questions that we have seen time and again by our federal IT executive clients wanting to embrace the new world while avoiding any potential pitfalls.

Here are some of the questions that are frequently asked around the Salesforce.com platform pertaining to customer data stored in the Salesforce cloud.

What Data Model does Salesforce use?

When you interact with data in the Salesforce cloud, it is represented in a classic and familiar Entity-Relationship model. This includes columns that store IDs to form relationships within the Salesforce system and to external data sources in order to develop integrations with external systems. The Salesforce interface provides tools that represent the data model as an editable classic graphical Entity-Relationship diagram, as well as programmatic tools for changing the schema. Depending on the license you have, certain entities and their relationships already exist, such as Account, Case, User, etc. The power of the platform allows you to easily extend these entities and create new ones.

Does Salesforce own the data I am storing in their cloud?

No.

This is directly addressed in their standard contract language:

Salesforce claims no ownership rights to customer data and customer data is only utilized as the customer instructs or to fulfill contractual or legal obligations. Salesforce is responsible for maintaining access in terms of performance and availability to the data. Salesforce provides contractual assurance to its customers that the data hosted in Salesforce’s services will be kept confidential and not accessed by third parties except under narrow circumstances (such as support issue). In such circumstances, we will access your org only with prior approval and subject to Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). 

How can I get at my data that’s in the Salesforce cloud?

Agencies have full rights to extract any or all of their data via several export services:

  • Direct export which can be set up via the standard web interface to export on demand or on a recurring, scheduled basis to CSV (comma separated vales) files
  • The Salesforce Apex Data Loader application which is a free tool for importing/updating/exporting data in Salesforce
  • APIs that provide programmatical access to data and metadata
  • Third party EAI tools such as Informatica, Pervasive, CastIron, Boomi. A Salesforce interface for these types of tools is ubiquitous, and a must-have for any modern EAI tool.

What happens to my data in the Salesforce cloud if I decide to switch providers in the future?

Salesforce will permanently remove your data from their cloud at your request. Here is the sequence of events:

  1. In the event of termination, Salesforce makes your dataset available for download for 30 days. They will provide a link to the complete data export that consists of a .zip file of .csv files.
  2. Your data is marked as “soft delete” and is still backed up in the full database backup process.
  3. At 180 days, the data is marked for "hard delete" and will be deleted after 30 more days. Once this "hard delete" is executed the customer data is physically deleted and non-recoverable from the database.
  4. Once this "hard delete" is executed the customer data is physically deleted and non-recoverable from the database. Following the purge, the data will remain on backup for an additional 90 days prior to being overwritten and unrecoverable.

What happens to my configuration and metadata if I decide to switch providers?

Salesforce also provides tools that support the migration of configurations and customizations. This is important, as your business processes and other configurations lie here.

  • Metadata API: Salesforce provides a metadata API that allows for programmatic access to the metadata, which includes all the configuration information.
  • Force.com IDE: The Salesforce1 Force.com IDE is an integrated development environment that is built on top of the Eclipse open source IDE.
  • Force.com Migration Tool: a Java/Ant-based command-line utility for moving metadata between a local directory and a Salesforce organization. When migrating from staging to production environment, for example, anyone that prefers deploying in a scripting environment will find the Force.com Migration Tool a familiar process.