DREAMTECH NEWS

Salesforce is building new tower in Dublin and adding hundreds of new jobs

Salesforce put the finishing touches on a tower in San Francisco last year. In October, it announced Salesforce Tower in Atlanta and today it was Dublin’s turn. Everyone gets a tower.

Salesforce first opened an office in Dublin back in 2001, and has expanded to 1400 employees today. Today’s announcement represents a significant commitment to expand even further, adding 1500 new jobs over the next five years.

The new tower in Dublin is actually going to be a campus made up of 4 interconnecting buildings on the River Liffey. It will eventually encompass 430,000 square feet with the first employees expected to move into the new facility sometime in the middle of 2021.

Martin Shanahan, who is CEO at IDA Ireland, the state agency responsible for attracting foreign investment in Ireland, called this one of the largest single jobs announcements in the 70 year history of his organization.

As with all things Salesforce, they will do this up big with “immersive video lobby” and a hospitality space for Salesforce employees, customers and partners. This space, which will be known as the “Ohana Floor,” will also be available for use by non-profits.They plan to build paths along the river too that will connect the campus to the city center.

The company intends to make the project “one of the most sustainable building projects to-date” in Dublin, according to a statement announcing the project. What does that mean? It will among other things be a nearly Net Zero Energy building and it will use 100 percent renewable energy including onsite solar panels.

Finally, as part of the company’s commitment to the local communities in which it operates, it announced a $1 million grant to Educate Together, an education non-profit. The grant should help the organization expand its mission running equality-based schools. Salesforce has been supporting the group since 2009 with software grants, as well as a program where Salesforce employees volunteer at some of the organization’s schools.


By Ron Miller

IBM and Vodafone form cloud, 5G and AI business venture and ink $550M service deal

IBM is one of the world’s biggest system integrators, but to get closer to where enterprises are actually doing their work, it’s been inking partnerships with companies that build devices and run the networks enterprises are using for their IT, and today comes the latest development on that front.

IBM is announcing a new venture with mobile carrier Vodafone, in a deal that will comes in two parts. First, IBM will supply Vodafone’s B2B unit Vodafone Business with managed services in the areas of cloud and hosting. And second, the two will together work on building and delivering solutions in areas like AI, cloud, 5G, IoT and software defined networking to enterprise customers.

The latter part of the deal appears to be a classic JV that will see both sides bringing something to the table — employees from both companies will be moving into a separate office together very soon that will essentially be “neutral” territory. The former part, meanwhile, will see Vodafone paying IBM some $550 million in an eight-year agreement.

That price tag alone is a strong indicator that this deal is a big one for both companies.

The agreement follows along the lines of what IBM inked with Apple several years ago, where the two would work together to develop enterprise solutions that would have been more challenging to do on their own.

Indeed, while IBM does provide systems integration services, it hasn’t moved as deeply into mobile-specific solutions for businesses, even as its other operational units — doing research and other work in AI, cloud, quantum computing and other areas — are making strong headway on specific projects, some of which involve mobile technology. Now that it’s nearly in full possession of RedHat — which it is in the process of buying for $34 billion, a deal that’s now received the approval of RedHat’s shareholders — it will also have open source cloud computing to add to that.

What the Vodafone deal will tap is taking more of those cutting-edge developments that IBM has built and worked on in specific projects, and productise them for a wider audience of businesses and other organisations, which might already be Vodafone customers.

“To deliver multi-cloud strategies in the real world, enterprises need to invest at many levels, ranging from cloud connectivity to cloud governance and management. This new venture between Vodafone and IBM addresses the ‘full stack’ of real-world multi-cloud concerns with a powerful combination of capabilities that should enable customers to deliver multi-cloud strategies in all layers of their organizations,” noted Carla Arend, senior program director for European software at IDC.

The Apple / IBM deal is more than instructive in this case; it will help fuel this new venture. From what I understand, several fruits of that labor will be making their way into the IBM / Vodafone deal, too, which makes sense, considering Vodafone’s position as a mobile carrier and the iPhone making some strong headway into the business market.

“IBM has built industry-leading hybrid cloud, AI and security capabilities underpinned by deep industry expertise,” said IBM Chairman, President and CEO Ginni Rometty in a statement. “Together, IBM and Vodafone will use the power of the hybrid cloud to securely integrate critical business applications, driving business innovation – from agriculture to next- generation retail.”

“Vodafone has successfully established its cloud business to help our customers succeed in a digital world,” said Vodafone CEO Nick Read, in the statement. “This strategic venture with IBM allows us to focus on our strengths in fixed and mobile technologies, whilst leveraging IBM’s expertise in multicloud, AI and services. Through this new venture we’ll accelerate our growth and deepen engagement with our customers while driving radical simplification and efficiency in our business.”

I’ve been told that the first joint “customer engagements” are already happening with an unnamed energy company. Thinking about what kinds of services Vodafone may be providing to end users today — they will cover mobile data and voice connectivity, mobile broadband, IoT and 5G services — this first deal will involve tapping all four, with an emphasis on 5G and IoT.


By Ingrid Lunden

Alation announces $50M Series C investment as data catalog biz takes off

Alation, a startup that helps crawl a company’s databases in order to build a data search catalogue, announced a $50 million Series C investment today.

The round was led by Sapphire Ventures and Salesforce Ventures. Existing investors Costanoa Ventures, DCVC (Data Collective), Harmony Partners and Icon Ventures also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $82 million, according to Crunchbase data.

The participation of Sapphire Ventures, originally launched by SAP, and Salesforce Ventures, the venture arm of Salesforce, is particularly telling. One of the issues these enterprise software companies face when they go inside large enterprises is helping customer access and understand data wherever it lives. It’s one of the reasons that Salesforce bought Mulesoft for $6.5 billion last year.

This is a problem that employees face, as well. It’s simply inefficient to query multiple databases manually, or to even know what databases exist inside a large organization. Alation uses out-of-the-box connectors to connect to common data sources like Oracle, Redshift, Teradata, Spark and Tableau to create a centralized data catalog.

With that catalog in place, employees can search just as they would with any enterprise search engine with the notable difference that this tool is focussed strictly on structured data inside of supported data sources.

The company goes beyond pure matching to find the data an employee is searching for. Company CEO and co-founder Satyen Sangani says they also use a method to analyze usage to display the most likely result. “What differentiates us in particular is that we look at the logs of how people are using that information,” he explained. This is analogous to how Google uses the PageRank algorithm to measure the popularity of a page based on the number of times people link to a page.

Alation catalog page. Screenshot: Alation

It is certainly not alone in the space with competitors like Alteryx and Informatica, but Alation’s approach seems to be resonating. Sangani reports triple-digit growth 4 years running. The company has soared from 89 employees at the end of last year to around 200 today. It boasts 100 large enterprise customers in production including names like BMW, Hilton, American Express and Salesforce (whose investment arm, Salesforce Ventures, notably also helped lead today’s round).

As the company grows rapidly, Sangani says he wants the capital in place to help fuel the increasing interest. The size and scope of his customers means that he will need to hire not just engineers to keep developing the product and building new connectors, but customer support and sales and marketing. In all, he expects add between 100 and 200 employees in the next year.

He also wants to continue building out partnerships. As an example, Teradata is an authorized reseller, and has helped sell the product in global markets where a startup like Alation might lack the resources to enter.

The company, which is based in in Redwood City, California, launched in 2012 and released the first version of the product in 2014. Its most recent round prior to today was a $23 million Series B in 2017.


By Ron Miller

Former Facebook engineer picks up $15M for AI platform Spell

In 2016, Serkan Piantino packed up his desk at Facebook with hopes to move on to something new. The former Director of Engineering for Faceboook AI Research had every intention to keep working on AI, but quickly realized a huge issue.

Unless you’re under the umbrella of one of these big tech companies like Facebook, it can be very difficult and incredibly expensive to get your hands on the hardware necessary to run machine learning experiments.

So he built Spell, which today received $15 million in Series A funding led by Eclipse Ventures and Two Sigma Ventures.

Spell is a collaborative platform that lets anyone run machine learning experiments. The company connects clients with the best, newest hardware hosted by Google, AWS and Microsoft Azure and gives them the software interface they need to run, collaborate, and build with AI.

“We spent decades getting to a laptop powerful enough to develop a mobile app or a website, but we’re struggling with things we develop in AI that we haven’t struggled with since the 70s,” said Piantino. “Before PCs existed, the computers filled the whole room at a university or NASA and people used terminals to log into a single main frame. It’s why Unix was invented, and that’s kind of what AI needs right now.”

In a meeting with Piantino this week, TechCrunch got a peek at the product. First, Piantino pulled out his MacBook and opened up Terminal. He began to run his own code against MNIST, which is a database of handwritten digits commonly used to train image detection algorithms.

He started the program and then moved over to the Spell platform. While the original program was just getting started, Spell’s cloud computing platform had completed the test in under a minute.

The advantage here is obvious. Engineers who want to work on AI, either on their own or for a company, have a huge task in front of them. They essentially have to build their own computer, complete with the high-powered GPUs necessary to run their tests.

With Spell, the newest GPUs from NVIDIA and Google are virtually available for anyone to run their test.

Individual users can get on for free, specify the type of GPU they need to compute their experiment, and simply let it run. Corporate users, on the other hand, are able to view the runs taking place on Spell and compare experiments, allowing users to collaborate on their projects from within the platform.

Enterprise clients can set up their own cluster, and keep all of their programs private on the Spell platform, rather than running tests on the public cluster.

Spell also offers enterprise customers a ‘spell hyper’ command that offers built-in support for hyperparameter optimization. Folks can track their models and results and deploy them to Kubernetes/Kubeflow in a single click.

But, perhaps most importantly, Spell allows an organization to instantly transform their model into an API that can be used more broadly throughout the organization, or or used directly within an app or website.

The implications here are huge. Small companies and startups looking to get into AI now have a much lower barrier to entry, whereas large traditional companies can build out their own proprietary machine learning algorithms for use within the organization without an outrageous upfront investment.

Individual users can get on the platform for free, whereas enterprise clients can get started for $99/month per host you use over the course of a month. Piantino explains that Spell charges based on concurrent usage, so if the customer has 10 concurrent things running, the company considers that the ‘size’ of the Spell cluster and charges based on that.

Piantino sees Spell’s model as the key to defensibility. Whereas many cloud platforms try to lock customers in to their entire suite of products, Spell works with any language framework and lets users plug and play on the platforms of their choice by simply commodifying the hardware. In fact, Spell doesn’t even share with clients which cloud cluster (Microsoft Azure, Google, or AWS) they’re on.

So, on the one hand the speed of the tests themselves goes up based on access to new hardware, but, because Spell is an agnostic platform, there is also a huge advantage in how quickly one can get set up and start working.

The company plans to use the funding to further grow the team and the product, and Piantino says he has his eye out for top-tier engineering talent as well as a designer.


By Jordan Crook

On-demand workspace platform Breather taps new CEO

Breather’s new CEO Bryan Murphy / Breather Press Kit

Breather, the platform that provides on-demand private workspace, announced today that it has appointed Bryan Murphy as its new CEO.

Before joining Breather, Murphy was the founder and President of direct-to-consumer mattress startup, Tomorrow Sleep. Prior to Tomorrow Sleep, Murphy held posts as an advisor to investment firms and as an executive at eBay after the company acquired his previous company, WHI Solutions – an e-commerce platform for aftermarket auto parts – where Murphy was the co-founder and CEO.

Breather believes Murphy’s extensive background scaling e-commerce and SaaS platforms, as well as his experience working with incumbents across a number of traditional industries, can help it execute through its next stage of global growth.

Murphy is filling the vacancy left by co-founder and former CEO Julien Smith, who stepped down as chief executive this past September, just three months after the company completed its $45 million Series C round, which was led by Menlo Ventures and saw participation from RRE Ventures, Temasek Holdings, Ascendas-Singbridge, and Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec.

In a past statement on his transition, Smith said: “As I reflect on my strengths and consider what it will take for the company to reach its full potential, I realize bringing on an executive with experience scaling a company through the next level of growth is the best thing for the business.”

Smith, who remains with the company as Chairman of the Board, believes Murphy more than fits the bill. “Bryan’s record of scaling brands in competitive markets makes him an ideal leader to support this momentum, and I’m excited to see where he takes us next,” Smith said.

In a conversation with TechCrunch, Murphy explained that Breather’s next growth phase will ultimately come down to its ability to continue the global expansion of its network of locations and partner landlords while striking the optimal balance between rental economics and employee utility, productivity and performance. With new spaces and ramped marketing efforts, Murphy and the company expect 2019 to be a big year for Breather – “I think this year, you’re going to start hearing a lot about Breather and it really being in a leadership role for the industry.”

Breather’s workspace at 900 Broadway in New York City is one of 500+ network locations accessible to users.

On Breather’s platform, users are currently able to access a network of over 500 private workspaces across ten major cities around the world, which can be booked as meeting space or short-term private office space.

Meeting spaces can be reserved for as little as 30 minutes, while office space can be booked on a month-to-month basis, providing businesses with financial flexibility, private and more spacious alternatives to coworking options, and the ability to easily change offices as they grow. For landlords, Breather allows property owners to generate value from underutilized space by providing a turnkey digital booking system, as well as expertise in the short-term rental space.

Murphy explained to TechCrunch that part of what excited him most about his new role was his belief in Breather’s significant product-market fit and the immense addressable market that he sees for flexible workspaces longer-term. With limited penetration to date, Murphy feels the commercial office space industry is in just the third inning of significant transformation. 

Murphy believes that long-term growth for Breather and other flexible space providers will be driven by a heightened focus on employee flexibility and wellness, a growing number of currently underserved companies whose needs fall between coworking and traditional direct leasing, and the need for landlords to support a wider variety of office space options as workforce demographics and behaviors shift. 

Murphy believes that the ease, flexibility and unlocked value Breather provides puts the platform in a great position to win share.

“Breather has built a remarkable commercial real estate e-commerce and services platform that offers one-click access to over 500 workspaces around the world,” said Murphy in a press release. “To our customers, having access to workspace that is turnkey, affordable, beautiful, productive and that can flex up and down based on needs is a total game changer.”

To date, Breather has served over 500,000 customers and has raised over $120 million in investment.


By Arman Tabatabai

AWS launches Backup, a fully-managed backup service for AWS

Amazon’s AWS cloud computing service today launched Backup, a new tool that makes it easier for developers on the platform to back up their data from various AWS services and their on-premises apps. Out of the box, the service, which is now available to all developers, lets you set up backup policies for services like Amazon EBS volumes, RDS databases, DynamoDB tables, EFS file systems and AWS Storage Gateway volumes. Support for more services is planned, too. To back up on-premises data, businesses can use the AWS Storage Gateway.

The service allows users to define their various backup policies and retention periods, including the ability to move backups to cold storage (for EFS data) or delete them completely after a certain time. By default, the data is stored in Amazon S3 buckets.

Most of the supported services, except for EFS file systems, already feature the ability to create snapshots. Backup essentially automates that process and creates rules around it, so it’s no surprise that the pricing for Backup is the same as for using those snapshot features (with the exception of the file system backup, which will have a per-GB charge). It’s worth noting that you’ll also pay a per-GB fee for restoring data from EFS file systems and DynamoDB backups.

Currently, Backup’s scope is limited to a given AWS region, but the company says that it plans to offer cross-region functionality later this year.

“As the cloud has become the default choice for customers of all sizes, it has attracted two distinct types of builders,” writes Bill Vass, AWS’s VP of Storage, Automation, and Management Services. “Some are tinkerers who want to tweak and fine-tune the full range of AWS services into a desired architecture, and other builders are drawn to the same breadth and depth of functionality in AWS, but are willing to trade some of the service granularity to start at a higher abstraction layer, so they can build even faster. We designed AWS Backup for this second type of builder who has told us that they want one place to go for backups versus having to do it across multiple, individual services.”

Early adopters of AWS Backup are State Street Corporation, Smile Brands and Rackspace, though this is surely a service that will attract its fair share of users as it makes the life of admins quite a bit easier. AWS does have quite a few backup and storage partners, though, who may not be all that excited to see AWS jump into this market, too, though they often offer a wider range of functionality — including cross-region and offsite backups — than AWS’s service.

 


By Frederic Lardinois

We Company CEO in hot water over being both a tenant and a landlord

The company formerly known as WeWork has come under scrutiny for potential conflict of interest issues regarding CEO Adam Neumann’s partial ownership of three properties where WeWork is (or will be) a tenant. TechCrunch has seen excerpts of the company’s prospectus for investors that details upwards of $100 million in total future rents WeWork will pay to properties owned, in part, by Adam Neumann.

In March 2018, The Real Deal reported that Neumann had purchased a 50 percent stake in 88 University Place alongside fashion designer Elie Tahari. That property was then leased by WeWork, which then leased space within the building to IBM.

Today, the WSJ is reporting that 88 University Place isn’t alone. Neumann also personally invested in properties in San Jose that are either currently leased to WeWork as a tenant or are earmarked for such a purpose. Unlike 88 University where Neumann is a 50/50 owner with Tahari, the CEO of the We Company — as WeWork is now known — invested in the two San Jose properties as part of a real estate consortium and owns a smaller stake of an unspecified percentage.

These transactions were all disclosed in the company prospectus documents it filed as part of its $700 million bond sale in April 2018. According to the prospectus, WeWork’s total future rents on these properties (partially owned by Neumann) are $110.8 million, as of December 2017.

That doesn’t include the reported $65 million purchase of a Chelsea property by Neumann and partners, which is said to be earmarked for a new WeLive space built from the ground up. That, too, will be subject to rent payments from the WeCompany to run WeLive out of it.

This raises questions of whether there is a conflict of interest in Neumann being both the landlord and the tenant of properties through WeWork. The WSJ says that investors of the company are concerned that the CEO could personally benefit on rents or other terms with the company in these deals.

According to WeWork, however, the company has not been made aware of any issues by any of its investors about related party transactions or their disclosures. The company also said that the majority of the Board are independent of Adam and all of these transactions were approved.

A WeWork spokesperson also had this to say: “WeWork has a review process in place for related party transactions. Those transactions are reviewed and approved by the board, and they are disclosed to investors.”

As it stands now, The We Company is privately held and in the midst of a transition as it contemplates how to turn a substantial profit on its more than 400 property assets across the world. The company is taking a broad-stroke approach, serving tiny startups and massive corporate clients alike, while also offering co-living WeLive spaces to renters and building out the Powered By We platform to spread its bets.

The company is valued at a hefty $47 billion, even after a scaled back investment from SoftBank (which went from $16 billion to $2 billion). But as the We Company inches toward an IPO, we may start to see a call for tighter corporate governance and more scrutiny of potential conflicts of interest.


By Jordan Crook

Nvidia’s T4 GPUs are now available in beta on Google Cloud

Google Cloud today announced that Nvidia’s Turing-based Tesla T4 data center GPUs are now available in beta in its data centers in Brazil, India, Netherlands, Singapore, Tokyo and the United States. Google first announced a private test of these cards in November, but that was a very limited alpha test. All developers can now take these new T4 GPUs for a spin through Google’s Compute Engine service.

The T4, which essentially uses the same processor architecture as Nvidia’s RTX cards for consumers, slots in between the existing Nvidia V100 and P4 GPUs on the Google Cloud Platform . While the V100 is optimized for machine learning, though, the T4 (as its P4 predecessor) is more of a general purpose GPU that also turns out to be great for training models and inferencing.

In terms of machine and deep learning performance, the 16GB T4 is significantly slower than the V100, though if you are mostly running inference on the cards, you may actually see a speed boost. Unsurprisingly, using the T4 is also cheaper than the V100, starting at $0.95 per hour compared to $2.48 per hour for the V100, with another discount for using preemptible VMs and Google’s usual sustained use discounts.

Google says that the card’s 16GB memory should easily handle large machine learning models and the ability to run multiple smaller models at the same time. The standard PCI Express 3.0 card also comes with support for Nvidia’s Tensor Cores to accelerate deep learning and Nvidia’s new RTX ray-tracing cores. Performance tops out at 260 TOPS and developers can connect up to four T4 GPUs to a virtual machine.

It’s worth stressing that this is also the first GPU in the Google Cloud lineup that supports Nvidia’s ray-tracing technology. There isn’t a lot of software on the market yet that actually makes use of this technique, which allows you to render more lifelike images in real time, but if you need a virtual workstation with a powerful next-generation graphics card, that’s now an option.

With today’s beta launch of the T4, Google Cloud now offers quite a variety of Nvidia GPUs, including the K80, P4, P100 and V100, all at different price points and with different performance characteristics.


By Frederic Lardinois

HyperScience, the machine learning startup tackling data entry, raises $30 million Series B

HyperScience, the machine learning company that turns human readable data into machine readable data, has today announced the close of a $30 million Series B funding round led by Stripes Group, with participation from existing investors FirstMark Capital and Felicis Ventures as well as new investors Battery Ventures, Global Founders Fund, TD Ameritrade, and QBE.

HyperScience launched out of stealth in 2016 with a suite of enterprise products focused on the healthcare, insurance, finance and government industries. The original products were HSForms (which handled data-entry by converting hand-written forms to digital), HSFreeForm (which did a similar function for hand-written emails or other non-form content) and HSEvaluate (which could parse through complex data on a form to help insurance companies approve or deny claims by pulling out all the relevant info).

Now, the company has combined all three of those products into a single product called HyperScience. The product is meant to help companies and organizations reduce their data-entry backlog and better serve their customers, saving money and resources.

The idea is that many of the forms we use in life or in the workplace are in an arbitrary format. My bank statements don’t look the same as your bank statements, and invoices from your company might look different than invoices from my company.

HyperScience is able to take those forms and pipe them into the system quickly and easily, without help from humans.

Instead of charging by seat, HyperScience charges by documents, as the mere use of HyperScience should mean that fewer humans are actually ‘using’ the product.

The latest round brings HyperScience’s total funding to $50 million, and the company plans to use a good deal of that funding to grow the team.

“We have a product that works and a phenomenally good product market fit,” said CEO Peter Brodsky. “What will determine our success is our ability to build and scale the team.”


By Jordan Crook

Infor lands $1.5 billion investment ahead of possible IPO

Infor, a NYC-based enterprise software company, announced a massive $1.5 billion investment today that could be the precursor to an IPO down the road. One analyst is estimating that the valuation could be at least $60 billion.

The investment is being led by Koch Industries’ investment arm, Koch Equity Development, and Golden Gate Capital. Today’s investment comes on top of a $2 billion+ cash infusion from Koch in 2017, bringing the total raised to at least more than $3.5 billion. That’s a lot of cash.

Infor may be the largest company you never heard of with over 17,000 employees and over 9500 customers in more than 100 countries worldwide. All of those customers generated $3 billion in revenue in 2018. That’s a significant presence.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, told TechCrunch that based on that revenue, he believes the valuation could be in the neighborhood of $60 billion. He based that on $3 billion in revenue, while using Oracle and SAP as similar industry comparison. These companies have 20X price/earnings ratio. He adds, that would make it the largest tech IPO ever for NYC tech company if that comes to pass. Infor would not confirm this number with a spokesperson telling TechCrunch, “We cannot comment on value at this time.”

What does this company do to achieve this size and scope? It’s not unlike many other large enterprise companies, says Wang. It produces cloud software solutions around typical enterprise needs such CRM, ERP and Supply Chain Asset Management.

Daniel Newman, principal analyst at Futurum Research says that Infor, has grown rapidly through a series of acquisitions and an unusual approach to enterprise software. “What makes its approach to enterprise software unique is that rather than building software and then attempting to customize it for the unique [customer] needs, Infor takes an industry-based approach that incorporates both subtle and material capabilities to address specific industry needs that more generic ERP tools aren’t capable of out of the box,” Newman told TechCrunch.

He adds that this difference is attractive to many companies seeking ERP and Enterprise Asset Management tools that are built with their business in mind rather than completely customizing a software designed for any business in any industry.

As it turns out, Koch isn’t just an investor, it’s an Infor customer. “Koch was a customer of Infor before we became an investor in the company, and Koch Industries’ companies continue to move their most mission critical applications to Infor CloudSuites,” Jim Hannan, Executive Vice President and CEO for Enterprises at Koch Industries said in a statement.

The company, which was founded way back in 2002, has been shifting to the cloud over the last five years. It reports that over 70 percent of its revenue is now derived from cloud products, fueled in part by an aggressive acquisition strategy.

Note: There is an investor call shortly. We will update the story with any pertinent information after the call.


By Ron Miller