Volterra announces $50M investment to manage apps in hybrid environment

Volterra is an early stage startup that has been quietly working on a comprehensive solution to help companies manage applications in hybrid environments. The company emerged from stealth today with a $50 million investment and a set of products.

Investors include Khosla Ventures and Mayfield along with strategic investors M12 (Microsoft’s venture arm), Itochu Technology Ventures and Samsung NEXT. The company, which was founded in 2017, already has 100 employees and more than 30 customers.

What has attracted these investors and customers is a full stack solution that includes both hardware and software to manage applications in the cloud or on prem. Volterra founder and CEO Ankur Singla says when he was at his previous company, Contrail Systems, which was acquired by Juniper Networks in 2012 for $176 million, he saw first-hand how large companies were struggling with the transition to hybrid.

“The big problem we saw was in building and operating application that scale is a really hard problem. They were adopting multiple hybrid cloud strategies, and none of them solved the problem of unifying the application and the infrastructure layer, so that the application developers and DevOps teams don’t have to worry about that,” Singla explained.

He says the Volterra solution includes three main products, VoltStack​, VoltMesh and VoltConsole to help solve this scaling and management problem. As Volterra describes the total solution, “Volterra has innovated a consistent, cloud-native environment that can be deployed across multiple public clouds and edge sites — a distributed cloud platform. Within this SaaS-based offering, Volterra integrates a broad range of services that have normally been siloed across many point products and network or cloud providers.” This includes not only the single management plane, but security, management and operations components.

Diagram: Volterra

The money has come over a couple of rounds, helping to build the solution to this point, and it required a complex combination of hardware and software to do it. They are hoping to help organizations that have been looking for a cloud native approach to large-scale applications such as industrial automation will adopt this approach.


By Ron Miller

Robocorp announces $5.6M seed to bring open source option to RPA

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has been a hot commodity in recent years as it helps automate tedious manual workflows inside large organizations. Robocorp, a San Francisco startup, wants to bring open source and RPA together. Today it announced a $5.6 million seed investment.

Benchmark led the round with participation from Slow Ventures, firstminute Capital, Bret Taylor, president and chief product officer at Salesforce and Docker CEO Rob Bearden. In addition, Benchmark’s Peter Fenton will be joining the company’s board.

Robocorp co-founder and CEO Antti Karjalainen has been around open source projects for years, and he saw an enterprise software category that was lacking in open source options. “We actually have a unique angle on RPA, where we are introducing open source and cloud native technology into the market and focusing on developer-led technologies,” Karjalainen said.

He sees a market that’s top-down and focused on heavy sales cycles. He wants to bring the focus back to the developers who will be using the tools. “We are all about removing friction from developers. So, we are focused on giving developers tools that they like to use, and want to use for RPA, and doing it in an open source model where the tools themselves are free to use,” he said.

The company is built on the open source Robot Framework project, which was originally developed as an open source software testing environment, but he sees RPA having a lot in common with testing, and his team has been able to take the project and apply it to RPA.

If you’re wondering how the company will make money they are offering a cloud service to reduce the complexity even further of using the open source tools, and that includes the kinds of features enterprises tend to demand from these projects like security, identity and access management, and so forth.

Benchmark’s Peter Fenton, who has worked for several successful open source startups including JBoss, SpringSource and Elastic, sees RPA as an area that’s ripe for developer-focused open source option. “We’re living in the era of the developer, where cloud-native and open source provide the freedom to innovate without constraint. Robocorp’s RPA approach provides developers the cloud native, open source tools to bring RPA into their organizations without the burdensome constraints of existing offerings,” Fenton said.

The company intends to use the money to add new employees and continue scaling the cloud product, while working to build the underlying open source community.

While UIPath, a fast growing startup with a hefty $7.1 billion valuation recently announced it was laying off 400 people, Gartner published a study in June showing that RPA is the fastest growing enterprise software category.


By Ron Miller

New Relic snags early stage serverless monitoring startup IOpipe

As we move from a world dominated by virtual machines to one of serverless, it changes the nature of monitoring, and vendors like New Relic certainly recognize that. This morning the company announced it was acquiring IOpipe, an early-stage Seattle serverless monitoring startup to help beef up its serverless monitoring chops. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

New Relic gets what it calls “key members of the team,” which at least includes co-founders Erica Windisch and Adam Johnson, along with the IOpipe technology. The new employees will be moving from Seattle to New Relic’s Portland offices.

“This deal allows us to make immediate investments in onboarding that will make it faster and simpler for customers to integrate their [serverless] functions with New Relic and get the most out of our instrumentation and UIs that allow fast troubleshooting of complex issues across the entire application stack,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

It adds that initially the IOpipe team will concentrate on moving AWS Lambda features like Lambda Layers into the New Relic platform. Over time, the team will work on increasing support for Serverless function monitoring. New Relic is hoping by combining the IOpipe team and solution with its own, it can speed up its serverless monitoring chops .

As TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois pointed out in his article about the company’s $2.5 million seed round in 2017, Windisch and Johnson bring impressive credentials.

“IOpipe co-founders Adam Johnson (CEO) and Erica Windisch (CTO), too, are highly experienced in this space, having previously worked at companies like Docker and Midokura (Adam was the first hire at Midokura and Erica founded Docker’s security team). They recently graduated from the Techstars NY program,” Lardinois wrote at the time.

The startup has been helping monitor serverless operations for companies running AWS Lambda. It’s important to understand that serverless doesn’t mean that there are no servers, but the cloud vendor — in this case AWS — provides the exact resources to complete an operation and nothing more.

IOpipe co-founders Erica Windisch and Adam Johnson

Photo: New Relic

Once the operation ends, the resources can simply get redeployed elsewhere. That makes building monitoring tools for such ephemeral resources a huge challenge. New Relic has also been working on the problem and released New Relic Serverless for AWS Lambda offering earlier this year.

IOpipe was founded in 2015, which was just around the time that Amazon was announcing Lambda. At the time of the seed round the company had eight employees. According to Pitchbook data, it currently has between 1 and 10 employees, and has raised $7.07 million since its inception.

New Relic was founded in 2008 and raised over $214 million, according to Crunchbase, before going public in 2014. Its stock price was $65.42 at the time of publication up $1.40.


By Ron Miller

Samsung ramps up its B2B partner and developer efforts

Chances are you mostly think of Samsung as a consumer-focused electronics company, but it actually has a very sizable B2B business as well, which serves over 50,000 large enterprises and hundreds of thousands of SMB entrepreneurs via its partners. At its developer conference this week, it’s putting the spotlight squarely on this side of its business — with a related hardware launch as well. The focus of today’s news, however, is on Knox, Samsung’s mobile security platform and Project AppStack, which will likely get a different name soon, and which provides B2B customers with a new mechanism to deliver SaaS tools and native apps to their employees’ devices, as well as new tools for developers that make these services more discoverable.

At least in the U.S., Samsung hasn’t really marketed its B2B business all that much. With this event, the company is clearly thinking to change that.

At its core, Samsung is, of course, a hardware company, and as Taher Behbehani, the head of its U.S. mobile B2B division, told me, Samsung’s tablet sales actually doubled in the last year and most of these were for industrial deployments and business-specific solutions. To better serve this market, the company today announced that it is bringing the rugged Tab Active Pro to the U.S. market. Previously, it was only available in Europe.

The Active Pro, with its 10.1″ display, supports Samsung’s S Pen, as well as Dex for using it on the desktop. It’s got all of the dust and water resistance you would expect from a rugged device, is rated to easily support drops from about four feet high, and promises up to 15 hours of battery life. It also features LTE connectivity and has an NFC reader on the back to allow you to badge into a secure application or take contactless payments (which are quite popular in most of the world but are only very slowly becoming a thing in the U.S.), as well a programmable button to allow business users and frontline workers to open up any application they select (like a barcode scanner).

“The traditional rugged devices out there are relatively expensive, relatively heavy to carry around for a full shift,” Samsung’s Chris Briglin told me. “Samsung is growing that market by serving users that traditionally haven’t been able to afford rugged devices or have had to share them between up to four co-workers.”

Today’s event is less about hardware than software and partnerships, though. At the core of the announcements is the new Knox Partner Program, a new way for partners to create and sell applications on Samsung devices. “We work with about 100,000 developers,” said Behbehani. “Some of these are developers are inside companies. Some are outside independent developers and ISVs. And what we hear from these developer communities is when they have a solution or an app, how do I get that to a customer? How do I distribute it more effectively?”

This new partner program is Samsung’s solution for that. It’s a three-tier partner program that’s an evolution of the existing Samsung Enterprise Alliance program. At the most basic level, partners get access to support and marketing assets. At all tiers, partners can also get Knox validation for their applications to highlight that they properly implement all of the Knox APIs.

The free Bronze tier includes access to Knox SDKs and APIs, as well as licensing keys. At the Silver level, partners will get support in their region, while Gold-level members get access to the Samsung Solutions Catalog, as well as the ability to be included in the internal catalog used by Samsung sales teams globally. “This is to enable Samsung teams to find the right solutions to meet customer needs, and promote these solutions to its customers,” the company writes in today’s announcement. Gold-level partners also get access to test devices.

The other new service that will enable developers to reach more enterprises and SMBs is Project Appstack.

“When a new customer buys a Samsung device, no matter if it’s an SMB or an enterprise, depending on the information they provide to us, they get to search for and they get to select a number of different applications specifically designed to help them in their own vertical and for the size of the business,” explained Behbehani. “And once the phone is activated, these apps are downloaded through the ISV or the SaaS player through the back-end delivery mechanism which we are developing.”

For large enterprises, Samsung also runs an algorithm that looks at the size of the business and the vertical it is in to recommend specific applications, too.

Samsung will run a series of hackathons over the course of the next few months to figure out exactly how developers and its customers want to use this service. “It’s a module. It’s a technology backend. It has different components to it,” said Behbehani. “We have a number of tools already in place we have to finetune others and we also, to be honest, want to make sure that we come up with a POC in the marketplace that accurately reflects the requirements and the creativity of what the demand is in the marketplace.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Google launches TensorFlow Enterprise with long-term support and managed services

Google open-sourced its TensorFlow machine learning framework back in 2015 and it quickly became one of the most popular platforms of its kind. Enterprises that wanted to use it, however, had to either work with third parties or do it themselves. To help these companies — and capture some of this lucrative market itself — Google is launching TensorFlow Enterprise, which includes hands-on, enterprise-grade support and optimized managed services on Google Cloud.

One of the most important features of TensorFlow Enterprise is that it will offer long-term support. For some versions of the framework, Google will offer patches for up to three years. For what looks to be an additional fee, Google will also offer engineering assistance from its Google Cloud and TensorFlow teams to companies that are building AI models.

All of this, of course, is deeply integrated with Google’s own cloud services. “Because Google created and open-sourced TensorFlow, Google Cloud is uniquely positioned to offer support and insights directly from the TensorFlow team itself,” the company writes in today’s announcement. “Combined with our deep expertise in AI and machine learning, this makes TensorFlow Enterprise the best way to run TensorFlow.”

Google also includes Deep Learning VMs and Deep Learning Containers to make getting started with TensorFlow easier and the company has optimized the enterprise version for Nvidia GPUs and Google’s own Cloud TPUs.

Today’s launch is yet another example of Google Cloud’s focus on enterprises, a move the company accelerated when it hired Thomas Kurian to run the Cloud businesses. After years of mostly ignoring the enterprise, the company is now clearly looking at what enterprises are struggling with and how it can adapt its products for them.


By Frederic Lardinois

Datameer announces $40M investment as it pivots away from Hadoop roots

Datameer, the company that was born as a data prep startup on top of the open source Hadoop project, announced a $40 million investment and a big pivot away from Hadoop, while staying true to its big data roots.

The investment was led by existing investor ST Telemedia . Other existing investors including Redpoint Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Nextworld Capital, Citi Ventures and Top Tier Capital Partners also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to almost $140 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Company CEO Christian Rodatus says the company’s original mission was about making Hadoop easier to use for data scientists, business analysts and engineers. In the last year, the three biggest commercial Hadoop vendors — Cloudera, Hortonworks and MapR — fell on hard times. Cloudera and Hortonworks merged and MapR was sold to HPE in a fire sale.

Starting almost two years ago, Datameer recognized that against this backdrop, it was time for a change. It began developing a couple of new products. It didn’t want to abandon its existing customer base entirely of course, so it began rebuilding its Hadoop product and is now calling it Datameer X. It is a modern cloud-native product built to run on Kubernetes, the popular open source container orchestration tool. Instead of Hadoop, it will be based on Spark. He reports they are about two-thirds done with this pivot, but the product has been in the hands of customers.

The company also announced Neebo, an entirely new SaaS tool to give data scientists the ability to process data in whatever form it takes. Rodatus sees a world coming where data will take many forms from traditional data to Python code from data analysts or data scientists to SaaS vendor dashboards. He sees Neebo bringing all of this together in a managed service with the hope that it will free data scientists to concentrate on getting insight from the data. It will work with data visualization tools like Tableau and Looker, and should be generally available in the coming weeks.

The money should help them get through this pivot, hire more engineers to continue the process and build a go-to-market team for the new products. It’s never easy pivoting like this, but the investors are hoping that the company can build on its existing customer base, while taking advantage of the market need for data science processing tools. Time will tell if it works.


By Ron Miller

Even after Microsoft wins, JEDI saga could drag on

The DoD JEDI contract saga came to a thrilling conclusion on Friday afternoon, appropriately enough, with one final plot twist. The presumptive favorite, Amazon did not win, stunning many, including likely the company itself. In the end, Microsoft took home the $10 billion prize.

This contract was filled with drama from the beginning, given the amount of money involved, the length of the contract, the winner-take-all nature of the deal — and the politics. We can’t forget the politics. This was Washington after all and Jeff Bezos does own the Washington Post.

Then there was Oracle’s fury throughout the procurement process. The president got involved in August. The current defense secretary recused himself on Wednesday, two days before the decision came down. It was all just so much drama, even the final decision itself, handed down late Friday afternoon, but it’s unclear if this is the end or just another twist in this ongoing tale.

Some perspective on $10 billion

Before we get too crazy about Microsoft getting a $10 billion, 10 year contract, consider that Amazon earned $9 billion last quarter alone in cloud revenue. Microsoft reported $33 billion last quarter in total revenue. It reported around $11 billion in cloud revenue. Synergy Research pegs the current cloud infrastructure market at well over $100 billion annually (and growing).

What we have here is a contract that’s worth a billion a year. What’s more, it’s possible it might not even be worth that much if the government uses one of its out clauses. The deal is actually initially guaranteed for just two years. Then there are a couple of three-year options, with a final two-year option at the end if gets that far.

The DOD recognized that with the unique nature of this contract, going with a single vendor, it wanted to keep its options open should the tech world shift suddenly under its feet. It didn’t want to be inextricably tied to one company for a decade if that company was suddenly disrupted by someone else. Given the shifting sands of technology, that part of the strategy was a wise one.

Where the value lies

If value of this deal was not the contract itself, it begs the question, why did everyone want it so badly? The $10 billion JEDI deal was simply a point of entree. If you could modernize the DoD’s infrastructure, the argument goes, chances are you could do the same for other areas of the government. It could open the door for Microsoft for a much more lucrative government cloud business.

But it’s not as though Microsoft didn’t already have a lucrative cloud business. In 2016, for example, the company signed a deal worth almost a billion dollars to help move the entire department to Windows 10. Amazon too, has had its share of government contracts, famously landing the $600 million to build the CIA’s private cloud.

But given all the attention to this deal, it always felt a little different from your standard government contract. Just the fact the DoD used a Star Wars reference for the project acronym drew more attention to the project from the start. Therefore, there was some prestige for the winner of this deal, and Microsoft gets bragging rights this morning, while Amazon is left to ponder what the heck happened. As for other companies like Oracle, who knows how they’re feeling about this outcome.

Hell hath no fury like Oracle scorned

Ah yes Oracle; this tale would not be complete without discussing the rage of Oracle throughout the JEDI RFP process. Even before the RFP process started, they were complaining about the procurement process. Co-CEO Safra Catz had dinner with the president to complain that contract process wasn’t fair (not fair!). Then it tried complaining to the Government Accountability Office. They found no issue with the process.

They went to court. The judge dismissed their claims that involved both the procurement process and that a former Amazon employee, who was hired by DoD, was involved in the process of creating the RFP. They claimed that the former employee was proof that the deal was tilted toward Amazon. The judge disagreed and dismissed their complaints.

What Oracle could never admit, was that it simply didn’t have the same cloud chops that Microsoft and Amazon, the two finalists, had. It couldn’t be that they were late to the cloud or had a fraction of the market share that Amazon and Microsoft had. It had to be the process or that someone was boxing them out.

What Microsoft brings to the table

Outside of the politics of this decision (which we will get to shortly), Microsoft brought some experience and tooling the table that certainly gave it some advantage in the selection process. Until we see the reasons for the selections, it’s hard to know exactly why DoD chose Microsoft, but we know a few things.

First of all there are the existing contracts with DoD, including the aforementioned Windows 10 contract and a five year $1.76 billion contract with DoD Intelligence to provide “innovative enterprise services” to the DoD.

Then there is Azure Stack, a portable private cloud stack that the military could stand up anywhere. It could have great utility for missions in the field when communicating with a cloud server could be problematic.

Fool if you think it’s over

So that’s that right? The decision has been made and it’s time to move on. Amazon will go home and lick its wounds. Microsoft gets bragging rights and we’re good. Actually, this might not be where it ends at all.

Amazon for instance could point to Jim Mattis’ book where he wrote that the president told the then Defense Secretary to “screw Bezos out of that $10 billion contract.” Mattis says he refused saying he would go by the book, but it certainly leaves the door open to a conflict question.

It’s also worth pointing out that Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post and the president isn’t exactly in love with that particular publication. In fact, this week, the White House canceled its subscription and encouraged other government agencies to do so as well.

Then there is the matter of current Defense Secretary Mark Espers suddenly recusing himself last Wednesday afternoon based on a minor point that one of his adult children works at IBM (in a non-cloud consulting job). He claimed he wanted to remove any hint of conflict of interest, but at this point in the process, it was down to Microsoft and Amazon. IBM wasn’t even involved.

If Amazon wanted to protest this decision, it seems it would have much more solid ground to do so than Oracle ever had.

The bottom line is a decision has been made, at least for now, but this process has been rife with controversy from the start, just by the design of the project, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Amazon take some protest action of its own. It seems oddly appropriate.


By Ron Miller

Bill McDermott aims to grow ServiceNow like he did SAP

Bill McDermott has landed. Two weeks ago, he stepped down as CEO at SAP after a decade leading the company. Today, ServiceNow announced that he will be its new CEO.

It’s unclear how quickly the move came together but the plan for him is clear: to scale revenue like he did in his last job.

Commenting during the company’s earning’s call today, outgoing CEO John Donahoe said that McDermott met all of the board’s criteria for its next leader. This includes the ability to expand globally, expand the markets it serves and finally scale the go-to-market organization internally, all in the service of building toward a $10 billion revenue goal. He believes McDermott checks all those boxes.

McDermott has his work cut out for him. The company’s 2018 revenue was $2.6 billion. Still, he fully embraced the $10 billion challenge. “Well let me answer that very simply, I completely stand by [the $10 billion goal], and I’m looking forward to achieving it,” he said with bravado during today’s call.

It’s worth noting that as the company strives to reach that lofty revenue goal in the coming years, it will be doing with a new CEO in McDermott, as well as a new CFO. The company is in the midst of a search to fill that key position, as well.

McDermott has been here before though. He points out that in the decade he was at SAP, under his leadership the company moved the market cap from $39 billion to $163 billion. Today, ServiceNow’s market cap is similar to when McDermott started at SAP at a little over $41 billion.

He also recognizes that this is going to be a new challenge. “I’ve seen a lot of different business models, and [SAP has] a very different business model than ServiceNow. This is a pure play cloud,” he said. That means as a leader, he says that has to think about product changes differently, how they fit in the overall platform, while maintaining simplicity and keeping the developer community in mind.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research said that ServiceNow is at a point where it needs an enterprise-class CEO who understands tech, partnerships, systems integrators and real enterprise sales and marketing — and McDermott brings all of that to his new employer.


By Ron Miller

Demodesk scores $2.3M seed for sales-focused online meetings

Demodesk, an early stage startup that wants to change how sales meetings are conducted online, announced a $2.3 million seed investment today.

Investors included GFC, FundersClub, Y Combinator, Kleiner Perkins and an unnamed group of angel investors. The company was a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2019 cohort.

CEO and co-founder Veronika Riederle says that the fact it’s so closely focused on sales separates it from other more general meeting tools like Zoom, WebEx or GoToMeeting. “We are building the first intelligent online meeting tool for customer facing conversations. So that is for inside sales and customer service professionals,” Riederle explained.

One of the key pieces of technology is what Riederle calls, “a unique approach to screen sharing.” Whereas most meeting software involves downloading software to use the tool, Demodesk doesn’t do this. You simply click a link and you’re in. The two parties online are seeing a live screen and each can interact with it. It’s not just a show and tell.

What’s more, in a sales scenario with a slide presentation, the customer sees the same live screen as the salesperson, but while the salesperson can see their presentation notes, the customer cannot.

She said while this could work for any number of scenarios from customer service to IT Help desks, at this stage in the company’s development she wants to concentrate on the sales scenario, then expand the vision over time. The service works on a subscription model with tiered-per user pricing starting at $19 per user per month.

When they got to Y Combinator, the company already had a working product and paying customers, but Riederle says that the experience has helped them grow the business to over 100 customers. “YC was extremely important for us because we immediately got access to an extremely valuable network of founders and potential customers, and also just a base for us to really [develop] the business.

Riderle founded the company with CTO Alex Popp in 2017 in Munich. Prior to this seed round, the founders mostly bootstrapped the company,. With the $2.3 million it should be able to hire more people and begin building out the product further, while investing in sales and marketing to expand its customer base.


By Ron Miller

In latest $10B JEDI contract twist, Defense Secretary recuses himself

The JEDI drama never stops. The $10 billion, decade long cloud contract has produced a series of twists and turns since the project was announced in 2018. These include everything from court challenges to the president getting involved to accusations of bias and conflict of interest. It has had all this and more. Today, in the latest plot twist, the Secretary of Defense Mark Esper recused himself from the selection process because one of his kids works at a company that was involved earlier in the process.

Several reports name his son, Luke Esper, who has worked at IBM since February. The RFP closed in April and Esper is a Digital Strategy Consultant, according to his LinkedIn page, but given the persistent controversy around this deal, his dad apparently wanted to remove even a hint of impropriety in the selection and review process.

Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Jonathan Rath Hoffman issued an official DoD Cloud update earlier today:

“As you all know, soon after becoming Secretary of Defense in July, Secretary Esper initiated a review of the Department’s cloud computing plans and to the JEDI procurement program. As part of this review process he attended informational briefings to ensure he had a full understanding of the JEDI program and the universe of options available to DoD to meet its cloud computing needs. Although not legally required to, he has removed himself from participating in any decision making following the information meetings, due to his adult son’s employment with one of the original contract applicants. Out of an abundance of caution to avoid any concerns regarding his impartiality, Secretary Esper has delegated decision making concerning the JEDI Cloud program to Deputy Secretary Norquist. The JEDI procurement will continue to move to selection through the normal acquisition process run by career acquisition professionals.”

Perhaps the biggest beef around this contract, which was supposed to be decided in August, has been the winner-take-all nature of the deal. Only one company will eventually walk away a winner, and there was a persistent belief in some quarters that the deal was designed specifically with Amazon in mind. Oracle’s Co-CEO Safra Catz took that concern directly to the president in 2018.

The DoD has repeatedly denied there was any vendor in mind when it created the RFP, and internal Pentagon reviews, courts and a government watchdog agency repeatedly found the procurement process was fair, but the complaints continue. The president got involved in August when he named his then newly appointed defense secretary to look into the JEDI contract procurement process. Now Espers is withdrawing from leading that investigation, and it will be up to others including his Deputy Secretary to finally bring this project over the finish line.

Last April, the DoD named Microsoft and Amazon as the two finalists. It’s worth pointing out that both are leaders in Infrastructure as a Service marketshare with around 16% and 33% respectively.

It’s also worth noting that while $10 billion feels like a lot of money, it’s spread out over a 10-year period with lots of possible out clauses built into the deal. To put this deal size into perspective, a September report from Synergy Research found that worldwide combined infrastructure and software service spending in the cloud had already reached $150 billion, a number that is only expected to continue to rise over the next several years as more companies and government agencies like the DoD move more of their workloads to the cloud.

For complete TechCrunch JEDI coverage, see the Pentagon JEDI Contract.


By Ron Miller

Former SAP CEO Bill McDermott taking over as ServiceNow CEO

When Bill McDermott announced he was stepping down as CEO at SAP a couple of weeks ago, it certainly felt like a curious move — but he landed on his feet pretty quickly. ServiceNow announced he would be taking over as CEO there. The transition will take place at year-end.

If you’re wondering what happened to the current ServiceNow CEO, John Donahoe, well he landed a job as CEO at Nike. The CEO carousel goes round and round (and painted ponies go up and down).

Jeff Miller, lead independent director on the ServiceNow board of directors, was “thrilled” to have McDermott fill the void left by Donahoe’s departure. “His global experience and proven track record will provide for a smooth transition and continued strong leadership. Bill will further enhance ServiceNow’s momentum and reputation as a digital workflows leader committed to customer success, and as a preferred strategic partner enabling enterprise digital transformation,” Miller said in a statement.

Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein replaced McDermott as co-CEOs at SAP, and during the announcement, McDermott indicated he would stay until the end of the year to help with the transition. After that, no vacation for McDermott, who will apparently start at ServiceNow after his obligations at SAP end.

As Frederic Lardinois wrote regarding McDermott’s resignation:

I last spoke to McDermott about a month ago, during a fireside chat at our TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise event. At the time, I didn’t come away with the impression that this was a CEO on his way out (though McDermott reminded me that if he had already made his decision a month ago, he probably wouldn’t have given it away).

ServiceNow is a much different company than SAP. SAP was founded in 1972 and was a traditional on-premises software company. ServiceNow was founded in 2004 and was born as a SaaS company. While McDermott was part of a transition from a traditional, on-premises enterprise software company to the cloud, working at ServiceNow he will be leading a much smaller organization. Published estimates have SAP at around 100,000 employees, while ServiceNow now has around 10,000.

It’s worth noting that the company made the announcement after the market closed and it announced its latest quarterly earnings. Wall Street did not appear to the like news, as the stock was down $13.34, or 5.84%, in early after-hours trading.


By Ron Miller

Databricks announces $400M round on $6.2B valuation as analytics platform continues to grow

Databricks is a SaaS business built on top of a bunch of open source tools, and apparently it’s been going pretty well on the business side of things. In fact, the company claims to be one of the fastest growing enterprise cloud companies ever. Today the company announced a massive $400 million Series F funding round on a hefty $6.2 billion valuation. Today’s funding brings the total raised to almost a $900 million.

Andreessen Horowitz’s Late Stage Venture Fund led the round with new investors BlackRock, Inc., T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. and Tiger Global Management also participating. The institutional investors are particularly interesting here because as a late stage startup, Databricks likely has its eye on a future IPO, and having those investors on board already could give them a head start.

CEO Ali Ghodsi was coy when it came to the IPO, but it sure sounded like that’s a direction he wants to go. “We are one of the fastest growing cloud enterprise software companies on record, which means we have a lot of access to capital as this fundraise shows. The revenue is growing gangbusters, and the brand is also really well known. So an IPO is not something that we’re optimizing for, but it’s something that’s definitely going to happen down the line in the not-too-distant future,” Ghodsi told TechCrunch.

The company announced as of Q3 it’s on a $200 million run rate, and it has a platform that consists of four products, all built on foundational open source: Delta Lake, an open source data lake product; MLflow, an open source project that helps data teams operationalize machine learning; Koalas, which creates a single machine frame work for Spark and Pandos, greatly simplifying working with the two tools; and finally, Spark, the open source analytics engine.

You can download the open source version of all of these tools for free, but they are not easy to use or manage. The way that Databricks make money is by offering each of these tools in the form of Software as a Service. They handle all of the management headaches associated with using these tools and they charge you a subscription price.

It’s a model that seems to be working as the company is growing like crazy. It raised $250 million just last February on a $2.75 billion valuation. Apparently the investors saw room for a lot more growth in the intervening six months, as today’s $6.2 billion valuation shows.


By Ron Miller

Early stage privacy startup DataGrail gets boost from Okta partnership

When Okta launched its $50 million Okta Ventures investment fund in April, one of its investments was in an early stage privacy startup called DataGrail. Today, the companies announced a partnership that they hope will help boost DataGrail, while providing Okta customers with a privacy tool option.

DataGrail CEO and co-founder Daniel Barber says that with the increase in privacy legislation from GDPR to the upcoming California Consumer Protection Act (and many other proposed bills in various states of progress), companies need tools to help them comply and protect user privacy. “We are a privacy platform focused on delivering continuous compliance for businesses,” Barber says.

They do this in a way that fits nicely with Okta’s approach to identity. Whereas Okta provides a place to access all of your cloud applications from a single place with one logon, DataGrail connects to your applications with connectors to provide a way to monitor privacy across the organization from a single view.

It currently has 180 connectors to common enterprise applications like Salesforce, HubSpot, Marketo and Oracle. It then collects this data and presents it to the company in a central interface to help ensure privacy. “Our key differentiator is that we’re able to deliver a live data map of the customer data that exists within an organization,” Barber explained.

The company just launched last year, but Barber sees similarities in their approaches. “We we see clear alignment on our go-to-market approach. The product that we built aligns very similarly to the way Okta is deployed, and we’re a true  partner with the industry leader in identity management,” he said.

Monty Gray, SVP and head of corporate development at Okta, says that the company is always looking for innovative companies that fit well with Okta. The company liked DataGrail enough to contribute to the startup’s $5.2 million Series A investment in July.

Gray says that while DataGrail isn’t the only privacy company it’s partnering with, he likes how DataGrail is helping with privacy compliance in large organizations. “We saw how DataGrail was thinking about [privacy] in a modern fashion. They enable these technology companies to become not only compliant, but do it in a way where they were not directly in the flow, that they would get out of the way,” Gray explained.

Barber says having the help of Okta could help drive sales, and for a company that’s just getting off the ground, having a public company in your corner as an investor, as well as a partner, could help push the company forward. That’s all that any early startup can hope for.


By Ron Miller

Aurora Insight emerges from stealth with $18M and a new take on measuring wireless spectrum

Aurora Insight, a startup that provides a “dynamic” global map of wireless connectivity that it built and monitors in real time using AI combined with data from sensors on satellites, vehicles, buildings, aircraft and other objects, is emerging from stealth today with the launch of its first publicly-available product, a platform providing insights on wireless signal and quality covering a range of wireless spectrum bands, offered as a cloud-based, data-as-a-service product.

“Our objective is to map the entire planet, charting the radio waves used for communications,” said Brian Mengwasser, the co-founder and CEO. “It’s a daunting task.” He said that to do this the company first “built a bunker” to test the system before rolling it out at scale.

With it, Aurora Insight is also announcing that it has raised $18 million in funding — an aggregate amount that reaches back to its founding in 2016 and covering both a seed round and Series A — from an impressive list of investors. Led by Alsop Louie Partners and True Ventures, backers also include Tippet Venture Partners, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, Promus Ventures, Alumni Ventures Group, ValueStream Ventures, and Intellectus Partners.

The area of measuring wireless spectrum and figuring out where it might not be working well (in order to fix it) may sound like an arcane area, but it’s a fairly essential one.

Mobile technology — specifically, new devices and the use of wireless networks to connect people, objects and services — continues to be the defining activity of our time, with more than 5 billion mobile users on the planet (out of 7.5 billion people) today and the proportion continuing to grow. With that, we’re seeing a big spike in mobile internet usage, too, with more than 5 billion people, and 25.2 billion objects, expected to be using mobile data by 2025, according to the GSMA.

The catch to all this is that wireless spectrum — which enables the operation of mobile services — is inherently finite and somewhat flaky in how its reliability is subject to interference. That in turn is creating a need for a better way of measuring how it is working, and how to fix it when it is not.

“Wireless spectrum is one of the most critical and valuable parts of the communications ecosystem worldwide,” said Rohit Sharma, partner at True Ventures and Aurora Insight board member, in a statement. “To date, it’s been a massive challenge to accurately measure and dynamically monitor the wireless spectrum in a way that enables the best use of this scarce commodity. Aurora’s proprietary approach gives businesses a unique way to analyze, predict, and rapidly enable the next-generation of wireless-enabled applications.”

If you follow the world of wireless technology and telcos, you’ll know that wireless network testing and measurement is an established field, about as old as the existence of wireless networks themselves (which says something about the general reliability of wireless networks). Aurora aims to disrupt this on a number of levels.

Mengwasser — who co-founded the company with Jennifer Alvarez, the CTO who you can see presenting on the company here — tells me that a lot of the traditional testing and measurement has been geared at telecoms operators, who own the radio towers, and tend to focus on more narrow bands of spectrum and technologies.

The rise of 5G and other wireless technologies, however, has come with a completely new playing field and set of challenges from the industry.

Essentially, we are now in a market where there are a number of different technologies coexisting — alongside 5G we have earlier network technologies (4G, LTE, Wifi); a potential set of new technologies. And we have a new breed of companies are building services that need to have close knowledge of how networks are working to make sure they remain up and reliable.

Mengwasser said Aurora is currently one of the few trying to tackle this opportunity by developing a network that is measuring multiples kinds of spectrum simultaneously, and aims to provide that information not just to telcos (some of whom have been working with Aurora while still in stealth) but the others kinds of application and service developers that are building businesses based on those new networks.

“There is a pretty big difference between us and performance measurement, which typically operates from the back of a phone and tells you when have a phone in a particular location,” he said. “We care about more than this, more than just homes, but all smart devices. Eventually, eerything will be connected to network so we are aiming to provide intelligence on that.”

One example are drone operators who are building delivery networks: Aurora has been working with at least one while in stealth to help develop a service, Mengwasser said, although he declined to say which one. (He also, incidentally, specifically declined to say whether the company had talked with Amazon.)

5G is a particularly tricky area of mobile network spectrum and services to monitor and tackle, one reason why Aurora Insight has caught the attention of investors.

“The reality of massive MIMO beamforming, high frequencies, and dynamic access techniques employed by 5G networks means it’s both more difficult and more important to quantify the radio spectrum,” said Gilman Louie of Alsop Louie Partners, in a statement. “Having the accurate and near-real-time feedback on the radio spectrum that Aurora’s technology offers could be the difference between building a 5G network right the first time, or having to build it twice.” Louie is also sitting on the board of the startup.


By Ingrid Lunden

Google picks up Microsoft veteran, Javier Soltero, to head G Suite

Google has hired Microsoft’s former Cortana and Outlook VP, Javier Soltero, to head up its productivity and collaboration bundle, G Suite — which includes consumer and business tools such as Gmail, Hangouts, Drive, Google Docs and Sheets.

He tweeted the news yesterday, writing: “The opportunity to work with this team on products that have such a profound impact on the lives of people around the world is a real and rare privilege.”

 

Soltero joined Microsoft five years ago, after the company shelling out $200M to acquire his mobile email application, Acompli — staying until late last year.

His LinkedIn profile now lists him as vice president of G Suite, starting October 2019.

Soltero will report to Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian — who replaced Dianne Green when she stepped down from the role last year — per a company email reported by CNBC.

Previously, Google’s Prabhakar Raghavan — now SVP for its Advertising and Commerce products — was in charge of the productivity bundle, as VP of Google Apps and Google Cloud. But Mountain View has created a dedicated VP role for G Suite. Presumably to woo Soltero into his next major industry move — and into competing directly with his former employer.

The move looks intended to dial up focus on the Office giant, in response to Microsoft’s ongoing push to shift users from single purchase versions of flagship productivity products to subscription-based cloud versions, like Office 365.

This summer Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, announced that its cloud business unit had an $8 billion annual revenue run rate, up from $4BN reported in early 2018, though still lagging Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

He added that Google planned to triple the size of its cloud sales force over the next few years.


By Natasha Lomas