Without going into too much technical jargon, a web application (web app for short) is simply an application that you interact with using a browser, e.g., Facebook. As far as the difference between a Web Site and a web app, probably the simplest way to answer that is to say a web app has code that runs behind it that allows it to do advanced functions - like perform a search on a database or let a user make a purchase. A website, on the other hand, is usually mostly static content. Again bear with us - this is a super simplified answer but for the purpose of understanding Portal Builder, this is probably good enough.
In summary, it is simply a base web app we've created that integrates with Salesforce and has a bunch of pre-built features. We use this base web app to build custom web apps for our customers. Also, under the umbrella of Portal Builder, we include the infrastructure we have set up with in the Amazon cloud. Meaning we have a pre-built reliable, secure, and scalable server architecture on which we can host the web apps.
Simply put - many of our clients really needed it. See our Portal Builder Options page for more info as to why.
Web Site Builder is meant to be a self-service tool you install from the AppExchange that lets you build out a website on top of your Salesforce instance. There are a lot of cool features included in Web Site Builder and you can really get a lot out of it. However, there is no code operating behind the pages - so you can't do sophisticated things like performing a search, allow a user to log in, submit a purchase, etc. This is where Portal Builder comes in - because it has code behind it, we can build apps that can do just about anything. This is also another key point - Web Site Builder is a tool you use to build Web Sites, Portal Builder is a tool we (Cloud4J) use to build a custom web app for you.
Generally speaking the web apps we build fall into 3 categories:
There are two key components to the cost of a solution built with Portal Builder:
No, you can have us build the web app and then you host it. Note though if you commit to hosting with us for 12 months, we offer a 20% discount on the development costs.
No, we can set it up so that Portal Builder will connect to your Salesforce instance using one of your existing Salesforce users. The only requirement is that this user must have permission to interact with the Salesforce objects, features, etc. that are required for the web app to work.
Portal Builder makes heavy use of the Salesforce APIs and therefore you must be on a version that has the API enabled - Enterprise, Unlimited, or Platform. Note also that you can purchase the API if you have Professional (usually it's around $300 / year).
Yes, this is a risk. The good news is most Salesforce customers have a lot of available API calls per day (we have yet to have a client hit their daily limit). Also, you can purchase additional API calls. The cost is usually 10,000 more API calls per day for a yearly fee of $300. So you pay a yearly fee of $300 and you get 10,000 more calls every day. And trust us, if your web app is making more API calls than your base (plus maybe another 10,000) then the web app must be doing something meaningful for your organization - either making you a lot of money or saving you a lot of money :). In which case, $300 more a year is usually a trivial cost.
We use a base CSS framework that is fully responsive. Having said that, some clients don't want to use our base CSS framework and provide us their own styling (CSS). In this case, the styling that is provided to us must be written to be responsive.
You can provide the design, go with our base design, or have us design the Portal Builder (and then that time is included in the development cost).
Ultimately you own the code. We build the web app using our base framework but in the end, the web app is custom for you and therefore you own it. If you ever need the code, we will provide it to you as a Web Application Archive (WAR file) with all the source code.
If we provide you the code (to say host on your own server), we simply ask that you sign an agreement that states you will not take the base web application and try to create a product / offering similar to Portal Builder.
We host your web in Amazon's cloud. Each web app runs on its own EC2 instance so it is separated from all of our other client's web apps.