AWS expands cloud infrastructure offerings with new AMD EPYC-powered T3a instances

Amazon is always looking for ways to increase the options it offers developers in AWS, and to that end, today it announced a bunch of new AMD EPYC-powered T3a instances. These were originally announced at the end of last year at re:Invent, AWS’s annual customer conference.

Today’s announcement is about making these chips generally available. They have been designed for a specific type of burstable workload, where you might not always need a sustained amount of compute power.

“These instances deliver burstable, cost-effective performance and are a great fit for workloads that do not need high sustained compute power but experience temporary spikes in usage. You get a generous and assured baseline amount of processing power and the ability to transparently scale up to full core performance when you need more processing power, for as long as necessary,” AWS’s Jeff Barr wrote in a blog post.

These instances are build on the AWS Nitro System, Amazon’s custom networking interface hardware that the company has been working on for the last several years. The primary components of this system include the Nitro Card I/O Acceleration, Nitro Security Chip and the Nitro Hypervisor.

Today’s release comes on top of the announcement last year that the company would be releasing EC2 instances powered by Arm-based AWS Graviton Processors, another option for developers, who are looking for a solution for scale-out workloads.

It also comes on the heels of last month’s announcement that it was releasing EC2 M5 and R5 instances, which use lower-cost AMD chips. These are also built on top of the Nitro System.

The EPCY processors are available starting today in seven sizes in your choice of spot instances, reserved instances or on-demand, as needed. They are available in US East in northern Virginia, US West in Oregon, Europe in ireland, US East in Ohio and Asia-Pacific in Singapore.


By Ron Miller

SalesLoft nabs $70M at $500M valuation for its sales engagement platform

Artificial intelligence and other tech for automating some of the more repetitive aspects of human jobs continues to be a growing category of software, and today a company that builds tools to address this need for salespeople has raised a tidy sum to grow its business.

SalesLoft, an Atlanta-based startup that has built a platform for salespeople to help them engage with their clients — providing communications tools, supporting data, and finally analytics to ‘coach’ salespeople to improve their processes — has raised $70 million in a Series D round of funding led by Insight Venture Partners with participation from HarbourVest.

Kyle Porter, SalesLoft’s co-founder and CEO, would not disclose the amount of funding in an interview but he did confirm that it is double its valuation from the previous round, a $50 million Series C that included LinkedIn among the investors (more on that below). That round was just over a year ago and would have valued the firm at $250 million. That would put SalesLoft’s current valuation at about $500 million.

While there are a number of CRM and sales tools out in the market today, Porter believes that many of the big ones might better be described as “dumb databases or repositories” of information rather than natively aimed at helping source and utilise data more effectively.

“They are not focused on improving how to connect buyers to sales teams in sincere ways,” he said. “And anytime a company like Salesforce has moved into tangential areas like these, they haven’t built from the ground up, but through acquisitions. It’s just hard to move giant aircraft carriers.”

SalesLoft is not the only one that has spotted this opportunity, of course. There are dozens of others that are either competing on single or all aspects of the same services that SalesLoft provides, including the likes of Clari, Chorus.ai, Gong, Conversica, Afiniti and not least Outreach — which is seen as a direct competitor on sales engagement and itself raised $114 million on a $1.1 billion valuation earlier this month.

One of the notable distinctions for SalesLoft is that one of its strategic investors is LinkedIn, which participated in its Series C. Before Microsoft acquired it, LinkedIn was seen as a potential competitor to SalesForce, and many thought that Microsoft’s acquisition was made squarely to help it compete against the CRM giant.

These days, Porter said that his company and LinkedIn have a tight integration by way of LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator product, which SalesLoft users can access and utilise directly within SalesLoft, and they have a hotline to be apprised of and help shape LinkedIn’s API developments. SalesLoft is also increasingly building links into Microsoft Dynamics, the company’s CRM business.

“We are seeing the highest usage in our LinkedIn integration among all the other integrations we provide,” Porter told me. “Our customers find that it’s the third most important behind email and phone calls.” Email, for all its cons, remains the first.

The fact that this is a crowded area of the market does speak to the opportunity and need for something effective, however, and the fact that SalesLoft has grown revenues 100 percent in each of the last two years, according to Porter, makes it a particularly attractive horse to bet on.

“So many software companies build a product to meet a market need and then focus purely on selling. SalesLoft is different. This team is continually innovating, pushing the boundaries, and changing the face of sales,” said Jeff Horing, co-founder and MD of Insight Venture Partners, in a statement. “This is one reason the company’s customers are so devoted to them. We are privileged to partner with this innovative company on their mission to improve selling experiences all over the world.”

Going forward, Porter said that in addition to expanding its footprint globally — recent openings include a new office in London — the company is going to go big on more AI and “intelligence” tools. The company already offers something it calls its “coaching network” which is not human but AI-based and analyses calls as they happen to provide pointers and feedback after the fact (similar to others like Gong and Chorus, I should note).

“We want to give people a better way to deliver an authentic but ultimately human way to sell,” he said.


By Ingrid Lunden

Slack to extend collaboration to folks who don’t want to give up email

As Slack gathered with its growing customer base this week at the Frontiers Conference in San Francisco, it announced several enhancements to the product including extending collaboration to folks who want to stick with email instead of hanging with their co-workers in Slack .

Some habits are tough to break and using email as your file sharing and collaboration tool is one of them. Email is great for certain types of communications, but it was never really designed to be a full-fledged communications tool. While a tool like Slack might not ever fully replace email, it is going after it hard.

But Andy Pflaum, director of project management at Slack says, rather than fight those folks, Slack decided to make it easier to include them with a new email and calendar bridge that enables team members who might not have made the leap to Slack to continue to be kept in the loop.

Instead of opening Slack and seeing the thread, the message will come to these stragglers in their trusty old email inbox, just the way they like it. Earlier this month the company announced tighter integration between Slack and Outlook calendar and email (building on a similar integration with GMail and Google Calendar) where emails and calendar entries can be shared inside Slack. Pflaum says that the company is trying to take that email and calendar bridge idea one step further.

The non-Slack users would get an email instead with the Slack thread. It bundles together multiple responses to a thread in which the person has been engaging in an email, so the recipient isn’t getting an email for every response, according to Pflaum.

The person can respond by clicking a Slack button in the email and having Slack open, or they can simply reply to the email and the response will go to Slack automatically. If they choose the former, it might be a sneaky way to get them used to using Slack instead of email, but Pflaum says that it is not necessarily the intent.

Slack is simply responding to a request by customers to have this ability because apparently there are a percentage of people who would prefer to continue working inside email. The ability to open Slack to reply will be available soon. The ability to reply to Slack with the Reply button will be available later this year.


By Ron Miller

Microsoft beats expectations with $30.6B in revenue as Azure’s growth continues

Microsoft reported its quarterly earnings for Q3 2019 today. Overall, Wall Street expected earnings of about $1 per share and revenue of $29.84 billion. The company handily beat this with revenue of $30.6 billion (up 14 percent from the year-ago quarter) and earnings per share of $1.14.

With Microsoft focusing heavily on its cloud business, with both Azure and its other cloud-based services, it’s no surprise that this is also what Wall Street really cares about. The expectation here, according to some analysts, was that the company’s overall commercial cloud business would hit a run rate of about $38.5 billion. Those analysts we’re off by only a tiny bit. Microsoft today reported that its commercial cloud run-rate hot $38.4 billion.

And indeed, Microsoft Azure had a pretty good quarter, with revenue growing 73 percent. That’s a bit lower than last quarter’s results, but only by a fraction, and shows that there is plenty of growth left for Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure business.

Azure’s growth slowed somewhat in recent quarters. In some ways, that’s to be expected, though. Microsoft’s cloud is now a massive business and posting 100 percent growth when you have a run rate of almost $40 billion becomes a bit harder.

“Demand for our cloud offerings drove commercial cloud revenue to $9.6 billion this quarter, up 41% year-over-year,” said Amy Hood, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Microsoft. “We continue to drive growth in revenue and operating income with consistent execution from our sales teams and partners and targeted strategic investments.”

The company’s ‘intelligent cloud’ segment, which includes Azure and other cloud- and server-based products, reported revenue of $9.7 billion, up 22 percent from the year-ago quarter.

Microsoft’s productivity applications also fared well, with total revenue up by 14 percent to $10.2 billion. Here, revenue from LinkedIn also increased by 27 percent and the company highlighted that LinkedIn sessions also increased 24 percent.

Other highlights of the report include an increase in Surface revenue of 21 percent, which was expected given the number of new devices the company released in recent quarters.

“Leading organizations of every size in every industry trust the Microsoft cloud. We are accelerating our innovation across the cloud and edge so our customers can build the digital capability increasingly required to compete and grow,” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.

For more financial details, you can find the full report here.


By Frederic Lardinois

Databricks open-sources Delta Lake to make data lakes more reliable

Databricks, the company founded by the original developers of the Apache Spark big data analytics engine, today announced that it has open-sourced Delta Lake, a storage layer that makes it easier to ensure data integrity as new data flows into an enterprise’s data lake by bringing ACID transactions to these vast data repositories.

Delta Lake, which has long been a proprietary part of Databrick’s offering, is already in production use by companies like Viacom, Edmunds, Riot Games and McGraw Hill.

The tool provides the ability to enforce specific schemas (which can be changed as necessary), to create snapshots and to ingest streaming data or backfill the lake as a batch job. Delta Lake also uses the Spark engine to handle the metadata of the data lake (which by itself is often a big data problem). Over time, Databricks also plans to add an audit trail, among other things.

“Today nearly every company has a data lake they are trying to gain insights from, but data lakes have proven to lack data reliability. Delta Lake has eliminated these challenges for hundreds of enterprises. By making Delta Lake open source, developers will be able to easily build reliable data lakes and turn them into ‘Delta Lakes’,” said Ali Ghodsi, co-founder and CEO at Databricks.

What’s important to note here is that Delta lake runs on top of existing data lakes and is compatible with the Apache spark APIs.

The company is still looking at how the project will be governed in the future. “We are still exploring different models of open source project governance, but the GitHub model is well understood and presents a good trade-off between the ability to accept contributions and governance overhead,” Ghodsi said. “One thing we know for sure is we want to foster a vibrant community, as we see this as a critical piece of technology for increasing data reliability on data lakes. This is why we chose to go with a permissive open source license model: Apache License v2, same license that Apache Spark uses.”

To invite this community, Databricks plans to take outside contributions, just like the Spark project.

“We want Delta Lake technology to be used everywhere on-prem and in the cloud by small and large enterprises,” said Ghodsi. “This approach is the fastest way to build something that can become a standard by having the community provide direction and contribute to the development efforts.” That’s also why the company decided against a Commons Clause licenses that some open-source companies now use to prevent others (and especially large clouds) from using their open source tools in their own commercial SaaS offerings. “We believe the Commons Clause license is restrictive and will discourage adoption. Our primary goal with Delta Lake is to drive adoption on-prem as well as in the cloud.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Managed By Q launches a new task management feature for office managers

Managed By Q, the office management platform recently acquired by WeWork, has today announced the launch of Task Management.

The feature comes to Managed By Q by way of Hivy, a startup acquired by MBQ back in 2017, that focuses on connecting a company’s employees to the office manager that handles their requests.

Pre-Hivy, collecting requests and tracking projects across a large number of employees was a tedious, fragmented process. Hivy created a dashboard that organizes all those requests in a single place.

Since the acquisition, Managed By Q and Hivy have been working to integrate their respective platforms. Where Managed By Q connects office managers to the right vendor or MBQ operator to handle the job, the new Task Management system will connect office managers with the employees making the requests in the first place, essentially putting the entire pipeline in a single place.

Obviously, the path to full integration was a long one.

“What I think matters most,” said Hivy cofounder Pauline Tordeur, speaking about the process of intertwining two separate products, “is that we knew why we were doing this and what the future would look like when we integrate. Having this vision and outlook from the very beginning is important.”

The timing is interesting in that this is the first product announcement Managed By Q has made since it was acquired by WeWork.

“It’s hard to describe the feeling,” said Managed By Q cofounder and CEO Dan Teran of being acquired by The We Company. “There is a perception of WeWork from the outside, but since I’ve been spending a lot of time getting to learn the business firsthand, I think there is just so much potential.”

He noted that Managed By Q is indeed setting out to do with WeWork what it just completed with Hivy.

“We set out to build the operating system for space, and one of the biggest things we missed is the space itself,” said Teran. “That’s actually the hardest part for most people. So now that becomes another ingredient we can deliver to our customers.”


By Jordan Crook

Embrace raises $4.5M for its mobile application performance management platform

Embrace, an LA-based startup that offers a mobile-first application performance management platform, today announced that it has raised a $4.5 million funding round led by Pritzker Group Venture Capital. This brings the company’s total funding to $7 million. New investors Greycroft, Miramar Ventures and Vy Captial also participated in this round, as did previous investors Eniac Ventures, The Chernin Group, Techstars Ventures, Tikhon Bernstam of Parse and others.

Current Embrace customers include the likes of Home Depot, Headspace, OKCupid, Boxed, Thrive Market and TuneIn. These companies use the service to get a better view of how their apps perform on their users’ devices.

As Embrace CEO and co-founder Eric Futoran, who also co-founded entertainment company Scopely, argues, too many similar services mostly focus on crashes, yet those only constitute a small number of the actual user experience issues in most apps. “To a large extent, crashes are solved,” he told me. “The crash percentages are often 99.8 percent crash-free and yet users are still complaining.”

That’s because there are plenty of other issues beyond code exceptions, which many tools focus on almost exclusively, that can force an app to close (think memory issues or the OS shutting down the app because it uses too many CPU cycles). “To users, that looks like a crash. Your app closed. But in no way, that’s a crash from a technical perspective,” Futoran noted.

Raising this new round, Futoran told me, was pretty easy. Indeed, Pritzker approached the company. “It was not fundraising,” he said. “They sat us down and said, ‘we want to fund you guys,’ which I find pretty unusual. So I’ve been calling it a pre-emptive round.” He also noted that having Pritzker involved should help open up the mid-west market for Embrace, which is mostly focusing on enterprise customers (though Futoran’s definition of ‘enterprise’ includes the likes of digital-first companies like Headspace).

“We saw many organizations trust Embrace’s seamless and innovative optimization platform to quickly identify and resolve any user-impacting issues within their apps, and we’re optimistic about the future of the company in this growing market,” said Gabe Greenbaum, an LA-based Partner for Pritzker Group Venture Capital. “We look forward to this next stage in the company’s growth journey and are honored to partner with Eric and Fredric to help them achieve their vision.”

The company plans to use the new funding to increase its go-to-market capabilities, and grow its team to build out its technology.

 

 


By Frederic Lardinois

Docker developers can now build Arm containers on their desktops

Docker and Arm today announced a major new partnership that will see the two companies collaborate in bringing improved support for the Arm platform to Docker’s tools.

The main idea here is to make it easy for Docker developers to build their applications for the Arm platform right from their x86 desktops and then deploy them to the cloud (including the Arm-based AWS EC2 A1 instances), edge and IoT devices. Developers will be able to build their containers for Arm just like they do today, without the need for any cross-compliation.

This new capability, which will work for applications written in Javascript/Node.js, Python, Java, C++, Ruby, .NET core, Go, Rust and PHP, will become available as a tech preview next week, when Docker hosts its annual North American developer conference in San Francisco.

Typically, developers would have to build the containers they want to run on the Arm platform on an Arm-based server. With this system, which is the first result of this new partnership, Docker essentially emulates an Arm chip on the PC for building these images.

“Overnight, the 2 million Docker developers that are out there can use the Docker commands they already know and become Arm developers,” Docker EVP of Business Development David Messina told me. “Docker, just like we’ve done many times over, has simplified and streamlined processes and made them simpler and accessible to developers. And in this case, we’re making x86 developers on their laptops Arm developers overnight.”

Given that cloud-based Arm servers like Amazon’s A1 instances are often signficantly cheaper than x86 machines, users can achieve some immediate cost benefits by using this new system and running their containers on Arm.

For Docker, this partnership opens up new opportunities, especially in areas where Arm chips are already strong, including edge and IoT scenarios. Arm, similarly, is interested in strengthening its developer ecosystem by making it easier to develop for its platform. The easier it is to build apps for the platform, the more likely developers are to then run them on servers that feature chips from Arm’s partners.

“Arm’s perspective on the infrastructure really spans all the way from the endpoint, all the way through the edge to the cloud data center, because we are one of the few companies that have a presence all the way through that entire path,” Mohamed Awad, Arm’s VP of Marketing, Infrastructure Line of Business, said. “It’s that perspective that drove us to make sure that we engage Docker in a meaningful way and have a meaningful relationship with them. We are seeing compute and the infrastructure sort of transforming itself right now from the old model of centralized compute, general purpose architecture, to a more distributed and more heterogeneous compute system.”

Developers, however, Awad rightly noted, don’t want to have to deal with this complexity, yet they also increasingly need to ensure that their applications run on a wide variety of platform and that they can move them around as needed. “For us, this is about enabling developers and freeing them from lock-in on any particular area and allowing them to choose the right compute for the right job that is the most efficient for them,” Awad said.

Mesina noted that the promise of Docker has long been to remove the dependence of applications from the infrastructure they run on. Adding Arm support simply extends this promise to an additional platform. He also stressed that the work on this was driven by the company’s enterprise customers. These are the users who have already set up their systems for cloud-native development with Docker’s tools — at least for their x86 development. Those customers are now looking at developing for their edge devices, too, and that often means developing for Arm-based devices.

Awad and Messina both stressed that developers really don’t have to learn anything new to make this work. All of the usual Docker commands will just work.

 


By Frederic Lardinois

VDOO secures $32M for a platform that uses AI to detect and fix vulnerabilities on IoT devices

Our universe of connected things is expanding by the day: the number of objects with embedded processors now exceeds the number of smartphones globally and is projected to reach some 18 billion devices by 2022. But just as that number is growing, so are the opportunities for malicious hackers to use these embedded devices to crack into networks, disrupting how these objects work and stealing information, a problem that analysts estimate will cost $18.3 billion to address by 2023. Now, an Israeli startup called VDOO has raised $32 million to address this, with a platform that identifies and fixes security vulnerabilities in IoT devices, and then tests to make sure that the fixes work.

The funding is being led by WRVI Capital and GGV Capital and also includes strategic investments from NTT DOCOMO (which works with VDOO), MS&AD Ventures (the venture arm of the global cyber insurance firm), and Avigdor Willenz (who founded both Galileo Technologies and Annapurna Labs, respectively acquired by Marvell and Amazon). 83North, Dell Technology Capital and David Strohm, who backed VDOO in its previous round of $13 million in January 2018, also participated, bringing the total raised by VDOO now to $45 million.

VDOO — a reference to the Hebrew word that sounds like “vee-doo” and means “making sure” — was cofounded by Netanel Davidi (co-CEO), Uri Alter (also co-CEO) and Asaf Karas (CTO). Davidi and Alter previously co-founded Cyvera, a pioneer in endpoint security that was acquired by Palo Alto Networks and became the basis for its own endpoint security product; Karas meanwhile has extensive experience coming to VDOO of working, among other places, for the Israeli Defense Forces.

In an interview, Davidi noted that the company was created out of one of the biggest shortfalls of IoT.

“Many embedded systems have a low threshold for security because they were not created with security in mind,” he said, noting that this is partly due to concerns of how typical security fixes might impact performance, and the fact that this has typically not been a core competency for hardware makers, but something that is considered after devices are in the market. At the same time, a lot of security solutions today in the IoT space have focused on monitoring, but not fixing, he added. “Most companies have good solutions for the visibility of their systems, and are able to identify vulnerabilities on the network, but are not sufficient at protecting devices themselves.”

The sheer number of devices on the market and their spread across a range of deployments from manufacturing and other industrial scenarios, through to in-home systems that can be vulnerable even when not connected to the internet, also makes for a complicated and uneven landscape.

VDOO’s approach was to conceive of a very lightweight implementation that sits on a small group of devices — “small” is relative here: the set was 16,000 objects — applying machine learning to “learn” how different security vulnerabilities might behave to discover adjacent hacks that hadn’t yet been identified.

“For any kind of vulnerability, using deep binary analysis capabilities, we try to understand the broader idea, to figure out how a similar vulnerability can emerge,” he said.

Part of the approach is to pare down security requirements and solutions to those pertinent to the device in question, and providing clear guidance to vendors for how to best avoid problems in the first place at the development stage. VDOO then also generates specific “tailor-made on-device micro-agents” to continue the detection and repair process. (Davidi likened it to a modern approach to some cancer care: preventive measures such as periodic monitoring checks; followed by a “tailored immunotherapy” based on prior analysis of DNA.)

It currently supports Linux- and Android-based operating systems, as well as FreeRTOS and support for more systems coming soon, Davidi said. It sells its services primarily to device makers, who can make over the air updates to their devices after they have been purchased and implemented to keep them up to date with the latest fixes. Typical devices currently secured with VDOO tech include safety and security devices such as surveillance cameras, NVRs & DVRs, fire alarm systems, access controls, routers, switches and access points, Davidi said.

It’s the focus on providing security services for hardware makers, in fact, that helps VDOO stand out from the others in the field.

“Among all startups for embedded systems, VDOO is the first to introduce a unique, holistic approach focusing on the device vendors which are the focal enabler in truly securing devices,” said Lip-Bu Tan, founding partner of WRVI Capital. “We are delighted to back VDOO’s technology, and the exceptional team that has created advanced tools to allow vendors to secure devices as much as possible without in-house security know-how, for the first time in many decades, I see a clear demand for security, as being raised constantly in many meetings with leading OEMs worldwide, as well as software giants.”

Over the last 18 months, as VDOO has continued to expand its own reach, it has picked up customers along the way after identifying vulnerabilities in their devices. Its dataset covers some 70 million embedded systems’ binaries and more than 16,000 versions of embedded systems, and it has worked with customers to identify and address 150 zero-day vulnerabilities and 100,000 security issues that would have potentially impacted 1.5 billion devices.

Interestingly, while VDOO is building its own IP, it is also working with a number of vendors to provide many of the fixes. Davidi says that VDOO and those vendors go through fairly rigorous screening processes before integrating, and the hope is that down the line there will more automation brought in for the “fixing” element using third-party solutions.

“VDOO brings a unique end-to-end security platform, answering the global connectivity trend and the emerging threats targeting embedded devices, to provide security as an essential enabler of extensive connected devices adoption. With its differentiated capabilities, VDOO has succeeded in acquiring global customers, including many top-tier brands. Moreover, VDOO’s ability to uncover and mitigate weaknesses created by external suppliers fits perfectly into our Supply Chain Security investment strategy,” said Glenn Solomon, managing partner at GGV Capital, in a statement. “This funding, together with the company’s great technology, skilled entrepreneurs and one of the best teams we have seen, will allow VDOO to maintain its leadership position in IoT security and expand geographies while continuing to develop its state-of-the-art technology.”

Valuation is currently not being disclosed.


By Ingrid Lunden

Oracle turns to innovation hubs to drive cultural and business shift to cloud

Oracle was founded in 1977. While it’s not exactly IBM or GE, both of which date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries respectively, it is old enough to be experiencing a fair bit of disruption in its own right. For a good part of its existence, it sold databases to some of the biggest companies in the world, but today as the market changes and shifts from on-prem data centers to the cloud, how does a company like Oracle make that transition?

Of course, Oracle has been making the shift to the cloud for the last several years, but it would be fair to say that it came late. Plus, it takes more than building some data centers and pushing out some products to change a company the size of Oracle. The company leadership recognizes this, and has been thinking at the highest levels of the organization about how to successfully transform into a cloud company from a cultural and business perspective.

To that end, Oracle has opened 5 innovation hubs over the last several years with locations in Austin, Texas; Reston, Virginia; Burlington, Massachusetts; Bangalore, India and Santa Monica, California. What are these centers hoping to achieve, and how will it extend the lessons learned to the rest of the company? Those are big questions Oracle must answer to make some headway in the cloud market.

Understanding the problem

Oracle seems to understand it has to do something different to change market perception and its flagging market position. Synergy Research, a firm that tracks cloud marketshare reports that the company is struggling

“For cloud infrastructure services (IaaS, PaaS, hosted private cloud services) — Oracle has a 2 percent share,” John Dinsdale, chief analyst and managing director at Synergy told TechCrunch. He added, “It is a top ten player but it is nowhere near the scale of the leading cloud providers; and its market share has been steadily eroding.”

The news is a bit better when it comes SaaS. “Along with SAP, Oracle is one of the leaders in the ERP segment. But enterprise SaaS is much broader than ERP and across all of enterprise SaaS it is the number 4 ranked provider behind Microsoft, Salesforce and Adobe. Oracle worldwide market share in Q4 was 6 percent,” Dinsdale said.

The company knows that it will take a vast shift to change from an organization that mostly sold software licenses and maintenance agreements. It pushed those hard, sometimes so hard that it left IT pros with a sour taste in their mouths. Today, with the cloud, the selling landscape has changed dramatically to a partnership model. The company knows that it must change too. The question is, how?

That will take an entirely new approach to product development, sales and marketing; and the innovation hubs have become a kind of laboratory where engineers can experiment with more focussed projects, and learn to present their ideas with goal of showing instead of telling customers what they can do.

And the young shall lead

One way to change the culture is to infuse it with fresh-thinking, smart young people and that’s what Oracle is attempting to do with these centers, where they are hiring youthful engineers, many right out of college, to lead the change with the help of more seasoned Oracle executives.

They are looking for ways to rethink Oracle’s cloud products, to pull the services together into packages of useful tools that helped solve a specific business problems from prescription opioid abuse to predicting avocado yields. The idea isn’t just to have a some section of the company where people work on dream projects. They want them to relate to real business problems that results eventually in actual sales and measurable results.

Hamza Jahangir, group vice president for the cloud solution hubs at Oracle says they look for people who want to dig into new solutions, but they want a practical streak in their innovation hub hires. “We don’t want just tinkerers. If the only problem you’re solving is that of your own boredom, that’s not the type of person we are looking for,” he said.

Executive buy-in

The idea of the innovation center actually began with co-CEO Mark Hurd, according to Jahangir. He had been working for several years to change the nature of the sales force, the one that had a reputation of strong-arming IT pros, with a new generation by hiring people right out of college with a fresh approach.

Hurd didn’t want to stop with sales though. He began looking at taking that same idea of hiring younger employees to drive that cultural shift in engineering too. “About two years ago, Mark challenged us to think about how can we change the customer-facing tech workforce as the business model was moving to the cloud,” Jahangir said.

Hurd gave him some budget to open the first two centers in Austin and Reston and he began experimenting, trying to find the right kinds of employees and projects to work on. The funding came without of a lot of strings or conditions associated with it. Hurd wanted to see what could happen if they unleashed a new generation of workers and gave them a certain amount of freedom to work differently than the traditional way of working at Oracle.

Changing expectations

Jahangir was very frank when it came to assessing customer’s expectations around Oracle moving to the cloud. There has been a lot of skepticism and part of the reason for the innovation centers was to find practical solutions that could show customers that they actually had modern approaches to computing, given a chance.

The general customer stance has been, “We don’t believe you have anything real, and we need to see true value realized by us before we pay you any money,” he said. That took a fundamental shift to focussing on actual solutions. It started with the premise that the customers shouldn’t believe any of the marketing stuff. Instead it would show them.

“Don’t bother watching a Powerpoint presentation. Ask us to show you real solutions and use cases where we have solved real material problems — and then we can have a discussion.”

Even Chairman and company founder Larry Ellison recognizes the relationship and selling model needed to change as the company moves to the cloud. Jahangir relayed something he said in a recent internal meeting, “In the cloud we are now no longer selling giant monolithic software. Instead we are selling small bites of the apple. The relationship between the vendor and the buyer is becoming more like a consumer model.” That in turn requires a new way of selling and delivering solutions, precisely what they are trying to figure out at the innovation hubs.

Putting the idea to work

Once you have a new way of thinking, you have to put it to work, and as the company has created these various hubs, that has been the approach. As an example, one that isn’t necessarily original, but that puts Oracle features together in a practical way, is the connected patient. The patient wears a Fitbit-like monitor, uses a smart blood pressure cuff and a smart pill box.

The patient can then monitor his or her own health with these tools in a consolidated mobile application that pulls this data together for them using the Internet of Things cloud service, Oracle Mobile Cloud and Oracle Integration Cloud. What’s more, that information gets shared with the patient’s pharmacy and doctor, who can monitor the patient’s health and get warnings when there is a serious issue, such as dangerously high blood pressure.

Another project involved a partnership with Waypoint Robotics, where they demonstrated a robot that worked alongside human workers. The humans interacted with the robots, but the robot moved the goods from workstation to workstation acting as a quality control agent along the way. If it found defects or problems, it communicated that to the worker via a screen on the side of the unit, and to the cloud. Every interaction between the humans, goods and robot was updated in the Oracle cloud.

Waypoint Robotics Robot inspecting iPhones. Information on the display shows it communicating with the Oracle cloud. Photo: Ron Miller

One other project worked with farmers and distributors to help stores stay stocked with avocados, surely as good a Gen Z project as you are likely to find. The tool looks at weather data, historical sales and information coming from sensors at the farm, and it combines all of that data to make predictions about avocado yields, making use of Oracle Autonomous Data Warehouse, Oracle Analytics Cloud and other services from Oracle cloud stack.

Moving beyond the hubs

This type of innovation hub has become popular in recent years as a way to help stave off disruption, and Oracle’s approach is actually in line with this trend. While companies sometimes isolate them to protect them from negativity and naysayers in an organization, leaving them isolated often prevents the lessons learned from being applied to the broader organization at large, essentially defeating the very purpose of creating them in the first place.

Jahangir says that they are attempting to avoid that problem by meeting with others in the company and sharing their learnings and the kinds of metrics that they use in the innovation center to measure success, which might be different from the rest of the company.

He says to put Oracle on the customer agenda, they have to move the conversation from from religious battles, as he calls how people support or condemn tech from certain companies. “We have to overcome religious battles and perceptions. I don’t like to fight religion with more religion. We need to step out of that conversation. The best way we have seen for engaging developer community is to show them how to build really cool things, then we can hire developers to do that, and showcase that to the community to show that it’s not just lip service.”

The trick will be doing that, and perhaps the innovation centers will help. As of today, the company is not sharing its cloud revenue, so it’s hard to measure just how well this is helping contribute to the overall success of the company, but Oracle clearly has a lot of work to do to change the perception of the enterprise buyer about its cloud products and services, and to increase its share of the growing cloud pie. It hopes these innovations hubs will lead the way to doing that.

Jahangir recognizes that he has to constantly keep adjusting the approach. “The Hub model is still maturing. We are finding and solving new problems where we need new tooling and engagement models in the organization. We are still learning and evolving,” he said.


By Ron Miller

Blueshift announces $15M Series B to expand AI-fueled cross-channel marketing tool

Blueshift is startup founded by tech industry veterans, who saw first-hand how difficult cross-channel marketing was. They decided to launch a company and build a cross-channel marketing platform from the ground up that uses AI and machine learning to make sense of the growing amount of customer data. Today, the startup announced a $15 million Series B round to keep it going.

The round was led by Softbank Ventures Asia, a fund focused on AI startups like Blueshift . Previous investors Storm Ventures and Nexus Venture Partners also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $30 million, according the company.

Company co-founder and CEO Vijay Chittoor says the marketing landscape is changing, and he believes that requires a new approach to allow marketers to take advantage of the multiple channels where they could be engaging with customers from a single tool.

“If you thought about the world of customer engagement at Walmart or Groupon [or any other retailer] 10 years ago, it was primarily an email problem. Today, we as customers, we’re interacting with these brands on not just email, but also on mobile notifications, Facebook custom audiences and WeChat [and across multiple other channels],” he explained.

He says that this has created a lot more data, which it turns out is a double-edged sword for marketing pros. “I think on one end, it’s exciting for a marketer or a CMO to have more data and more channels. It gives them more ways to connect. But at the same time, it’s also more challenging because now you have to make sense of thousand times more data. And you have to use it intelligently on not just one channel like email, but you’re now trying to make sense of data across 15 different channels,” Chittoor said.

This a crowded field with big players like Adobe, Salesforce and Oracle, among others, offering similar cross-channel, AI-fueled solution. In addition startups are attracting huge chunks of money to attack this problem, including Klayvio pulling in $150 million a couple of weeks ago and Iterable, which landed $50 million last month.

He says his company’s differentiator is the AI piece, and it is this piece that the company’s lead investor in this round has been focusing on in its investments. The company plans to use this round to continue building out its marketing platform and show marketers how to communicate intelligently across channels wherever the consumer happens to be. Customers include LendingTree, Udacity and BBC.


By Ron Miller

Harness hauls in $60M Series B investment on $500M valuation

Series B rounds used to be about establishing a product-market fit, but for some startups the whole process seems to be accelerating. Harness, the startup founded by AppDynamics co-founder and CEO Jyoti Bansal is one of those companies that is putting the pedal the metal with his second startup, taking his learnings and a $60 million round to build the company much more quickly.

Harness already has an eye-popping half billion dollar valuation. It’s not terribly often I hear valuations in a Series B discussion. More typically CEOs want to talk growth rates, but Bansal volunteered the information, excited by the startup’s rapid development.

The round was led by IVP, GV (formerly Google Ventures) and ServiceNow Ventures. Existing investors Big Labs, Menlo Ventures and Unusual Ventures also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $80 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Bansal obviously made a fair bit of money when he sold AppDynamics to Cisco in 2017 for $3.7 billion and he could have rested after his great success. Instead he turned his attention almost immediately to a new challenge, helping companies move to a new continuous delivery model more rapidly by offering Continuous Delivery as a Service.

As companies move to containers and the cloud, they face challenges implementing new software delivery models. As is often the case, large web scale companies like Facebook, Google and Netflix have the resources to deliver these kinds of solutions quickly, but it’s much more difficult for most other companies.

Bansal saw an opportunity here to package continuous delivery approaches as a service. “Our approach in the market is Continuous Delivery as a Service, and instead of you trying to engineer this, you get this platform that can solve this problem and bring you the best tooling that a Google or Facebook or Netflix would have,” Basal explained.

The approach has gained traction quickly. The company has grown from 25 employees at launch in 2017 to 100 today. It boasts 50 enterprise customers including Home Depot, Santander Bank and McAfee.

He says that the continuous delivery piece could just be a starting point, and the money from the round will be plowed back into engineering efforts to expand the platform and solve other problems DevOps teams face with a modern software delivery approach.

Bansal admits that it’s unusual to have this kind of traction this early, and he says that his growth is much faster than it was at AppDynamics at the same stage, but he believes the opportunity here is huge as companies look for more efficient ways to deliver software. “I’m a little bit surprised. I thought this was a big problem when I started, but it’s an even bigger problem than I thought and how much pain was out there and how ready the market was to look at a very different way of solving this problem,” he said.


By Ron Miller

Microsoft delves deeper into IoT with Express Logic acquisition

Microsoft has never been shy about being acquisitive, and today it announced it’s buying Express Logic, a San Diego company that has developed a real-time operating system (RTOS) aimed at controlling the growing number of IoT devices in the world.

The companies did not share the purchase price.

Express Logic is not some wide-eyed, pie-in-the-sky startup. It has been around for 23 years building (in its own words), “industrial-grade RTOS and middleware software solutions for embedded and IoT developers.” The company boasts some 6.2 billion (yes, billion) devices running its systems. That number did not escape Sam George, director of Azure IoT at Microsoft, but as he wrote in a blog post announcing the deal, there is a reason for this popularity.

“This widespread popularity is driven by demand for technology to support resource constrained environments, especially those that require safety and security,” George wrote.

The beauty of Express Logic’s approach is that it can work in low-power and low resource environments and offers a proven solution for a range or products. “Manufacturers building products across a range of categories — from low capacity sensors like lightbulbs and temperature gauges to air conditioners, medical devices and network appliances  –leverage the size, safety and security benefits of Express Logic solutions to achieve faster time to market,” George wrote.

Writing in a blog post to his customers announcing the deal, Express Logic CEO William E. Lamie, expressed optimism that the company can grow even further as part of the Microsoft family. “Effective immediately, our ThreadX RTOS and supporting software technology, as well as our talented engineering staff join Microsoft. This complements Microsoft’s existing premier security offering in the microcontroller space,” he wrote.

Microsoft is getting an established company with a proven product that can help it scale its Azure IoT business. The acquisition is part of a $5 billion investment in IoT the company announced last April that includes a number of Azure pieces such as Azure Sphere, Azure Digital Twins, Azure IoT Edge, Azure Maps and Azure IoT Central.

“With this acquisition, we will unlock access to billions of new connected endpoints, grow the number of devices that can seamlessly connect to Azure and enable new intelligent capabilities. Express Logic’s ThreadX RTOS joins Microsoft’s growing support for IoT devices and is complementary with Azure Sphere, our premier security offering in the microcontroller space,” George wrote.


By Ron Miller

CloudBees acquires Electric Cloud to build out its software delivery management platform

CloudBees, the enterprise continuous integration and delivery service (and the biggest contributor to the Jenkins open-source automation server), today announced that it has acquired Electric Cloud, a continuous delivery and automation platform that first launched all the way back in 2002.

The two companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition, but CloudBees has raised a total of $113.2 million while Electric Cloud raised $64.6 million from the likes of  Rembrandt Venture Partners, U.S. Venture Partners, RRE Ventures and Next47.

CloudBees plans to integrate Electric Cloud’s application release automation platform into its offerings. Electric Flow’s 110 employees will join CloudBees.

“As of today, we provide customers with best-of-breed CI/CD software from a single vendor, establishing CloudBees as a continuous delivery powerhouse,” said Sacha Labourey, the CEO and co-founder of CloudBees, in today’s announcement. “By combining the strength of CloudBees, Electric Cloud, Jenkins and Jenkins X, CloudBees offers the best CI/CD solution for any application, from classic to Kubernetes, on-premise to cloud, self-managed to self-service.”

Electric Cloud offers its users a number of tools for automating their release pipelines and managing the application lifecycle afterward.

“We are looking forward to joining CloudBees and executing on our shared goal of helping customers build software that matters,” said Carmine Napolitano, CEO, Electric Cloud. “The combination of CloudBees’ industry-leading continuous integration and continuous delivery platform, along with Electric Cloud’s industry-leading application release orchestration solution, gives our customers the best foundation for releasing apps at any speed the business demands.”

As CloudBees CPO Christina Noren noted during her keynote at CloudBees’ developer conference today, the company’s customers are getting more sophisticated in their DevOps platforms, but they are starting to run into new problems now that they’ve reached this point.

“What we’re seeing is that these customers have disconnected and fragmented islands of information,” she said. “There’s the view that each development team has […] and there’s not a common language, there’s not a common data model, and there’s not an end-to-end process that unites from left to right, top to bottom.” This kind of integrated system is what CloudBees is building toward (and that competitors like GitLab would argue they already offer). Today’s announcement marks a first step into this direction toward building a full software delivery management platform, though others are likely to follow.

During his company’s developer conference, Labourey also today noted that CloudBees will profit from Electric Cloud’s long-standing expertise in continuous delivery and that the acquisition will turn CloudBees into a “DevOps powerhouse.”

Today’s announcement follows CloudBees’ acquisition of CI/CD tool CodeShip last year. As of now, CodeShip remains a stand-alone product in the company’s lineup. It’ll be interesting to see how CloudBees will integrate Electric Cloud’s products to build a more integrated system.

 


By Frederic Lardinois

Spotinst, the startup enabling companies to purchase and manage excess cloud capacity, acquires StratCloud

Spotinst, the cloud automation and optimization startup founded in Tel Aviv but now with offices in San Francisco, New York, and London too, has acquired AWS partner StratCloud. Terms of the deal remain undisclosed, although I’m hearing it combines both cash and stock and was somewhere in the region of $5 million.

As part of the acquisition, StratCloud’s team of 15 people will be joining Spotinst, including founder Patrick Gartlan, who will become VP, Cloud Services at Spotinst. StratCloud hadn’t raised any venture capital but instead was bootstrapped by Gartlan, who was the former CTO of Cloud Optimization company CloudCheckr.

Founded in 2015, Spotinst enables enterprises to optimize their cloud infrastructure usage by automating the process of using excess — and therefore cheaper — capacity from leading cloud providers.

As TechCrunch’s Ron Miller previously explained, cloud platforms like AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform, all of which Spotinst supports, have to maintain more resources than they need at any given time. All three companies offer steep discounts to customers who want to access these resources, but they come with a strict condition that the platforms can take those resources back whenever they need them. Which is where Spotinst (and today’s acquisition of StratCloud) comes in.

Spotinst’s platform manages the process of acquiring spare capacity, powered by predictive AI, and seamlessly switches providers before it’s withdrawn. This ensures that cloud computing “workloads” keep functioning, while the customer still receives the best possible price.

Meanwhile, StratCloud tech is described as an “optimization platform” that buys, sells and converts reserved capacity, therefore maximizing savings for on-demand infrastructure. “This leads to lower compute payments, without engineers having to change anything in the applications and infrastructure they manage,” explains Spotinst.

Related to this, Spotinst will migrate StratCloud’s several dozen customers to the Spotinst Platform where they’ll continue to receive all of the current functionality.

Overall, the acquisition means Spotinst can now offer a complete solution for cloud users, including offering reserved instances and unused computer power so that enterprises can run any workload and support large-scale migrations on any cloud provider. In addition, Spotinst says the combined technologies give Managed Service Providers (MSPs) a comprehensive tool to optimize cloud workloads for all of their managed customers.

Spotinst claims over 1,500 enterprise customers in 52 countries, including Samsung, N26, Duolingo, Ticketmaster and Wix. The company currently employs approximately 150 staff across its four offices and has raised $52 million in VC funding to date.


By Steve O’Hear