There could be more to the Salesforce+ video streaming service than meets the eye

When Salesforce announced its new business video streaming service called Salesforce+ this week, everyone had a reaction. While not all of it was positive, some company watchers also wondered if there was more to this announcement than meets the eye.

If you look closely, the new initiative suggests that Salesforce wants to take a bite out of LinkedIn and other SaaS content platforms and publishers. The video streaming service could be a launch point for a broader content platform, where its partners are producing their own content and using Salesforce+ infrastructure to help them advertise to and cultivate their own customers.

The video streaming service could be a launch point for a broader content platform, where its partners are producing their own content and using Salesforce+ infrastructure to help them advertise to and cultivate their own customers.

The company has, after all, done exactly this sort of thing with its online marketplaces and industry events to great success. Salesforce generated almost $6 billion in its most recent quarterly earnings report. That mostly comes from selling its sales, marketing and service software, not any kind of content production, but it has lots of experience putting on Dreamforce, its massive annual customer event, as well as smaller events throughout the year around the world.

On its face, Salesforce+ is a giant, ambitious and quite expensive content marketing play. The company reportedly has hired a large professional staff to produce and manage the content, and built a broadcasting and production studio designed to produce quality shows in-house. It believes that by launching with content from Dreamforce, its highly successful customer conference, attended by tens of thousands people every year pre-pandemic, it can prime the viewing pump and build audience momentum that way, perhaps even using celebrities as it often does at its events to drive audience. It is less clear about the long-term business goals.


By Ron Miller

How engineers fought the CAP theorem in the global war on latency

CockroachDB was intended to be a global database from the beginning. The founders of Cockroach Labs wanted to ensure that data written in one location would be viewable immediately in another location 10,000 miles away. The use case was simple, but the work needed to make it happen was herculean.

The company is betting the farm that it can solve one of the largest challenges for web-scale applications. The approach it’s taking is clever, but it’s a bit complicated, particularly for the non-technical reader. Given its history and engineering talent, the company is in the process of pulling it off and making a big impact on the database market, making it a technology well worth understanding. In short, there’s value in digging into the details.

Using CockroachDB’s multiregion feature to segment data according to geographic proximity fulfills Cockroach Labs’ primary directive: To get data as close to the user as possible.

In part 1 of this EC-1, I provided a general overview and a look at the origins of Cockroach Labs. In this installment, I’m going to cover the technical details of the technology with an eye to the non-technical reader. I’m going to describe the CockroachDB technology through three questions:

  1. What makes reading and writing data over a global geography so hard?
  2. How does CockroachDB address the problem?
  3. What does it all mean for those using CockroachDB?

What makes reading and writing data over a global geography so hard?

Spencer Kimball, CEO and co-founder of Cockroach Labs, describes the situation this way:

There’s lots of other stuff you need to consider when building global applications, particularly around data management. Take, for example, the question and answer website Quora. Let’s say you live in Australia. You have an account and you store the particulars of your Quora user identity on a database partition in Australia.

But when you post a question, you actually don’t want that data to just be posted in Australia. You want that data to be posted everywhere so that all the answers to all the questions are the same for everybody, anywhere. You don’t want to have a situation where you answer a question in Sydney and then you can see it in Hong Kong, but you can’t see it in the EU. When that’s the case, you end up getting different answers depending where you are. That’s a huge problem.

Reading and writing data over a global geography is challenging for pretty much the same reason that it’s faster to get a pizza delivered from across the street than from across the city. The essential constraints of time and space apply. Whether it’s digital data or a pepperoni pizza, the further away you are from the source, the longer stuff takes to get to you.


By Danny Crichton

“Developers, as you know, do not like to pay for things”

In the previous part of this EC-1, we looked at the technical details of CockroachDB and how it provides accurate data instantaneously anywhere on the planet. In this installment, we’re going to take a look at the product side of Cockroach, with a particular focus on developer relations.

As a business, Cockroach Labs has many things going for it. The company’s approach to distributed database technology is novel. And, as more companies operate on a global level, CockroachDB has the potential to gain some significant market share internationally. The company is seven years into a typical 10-year maturity model for databases, has raised $355 million, and holds a $2 billion market value. It’s considered a double unicorn. Few database companies can say this.

The company is now aggressively expanding into the database-as-a-service space, offering its own technology in a fully managed package, expanding the spectrum of clients who can take immediate advantage of its products.

But its growth depends upon securing the love of developers while also making its product easier to use for new customers. To that end, I’m going to analyze the company’s pivot to the cloud as well as its extensive outreach to developers as it works to set itself up for long-term, sustainable success.

Cockroach Labs looks to the cloud

These days, just about any company of consequence provides services via the internet, and a growing number of these services are powered by products and services from native cloud providers. Gartner forecasted in 2019 that cloud services are growing at an annual rate of 17.5%, and there’s no sign that the growth has abated at all.

Its founders’ history with Google back in the mid-2000s has meant that Cockroach Labs has always been aware of the impact of cloud services on the commercial web. Unsurprisingly, CockroachDB could run cloud native right from its first release, given that its architecture presupposes the cloud in its operation — as we saw in part 2 of this EC-1.


By Danny Crichton

The CockroachDB EC-1

Every application is a palimpsest of technologies, each layer forming a base that enables the next layer to function. Web front ends rely on JavaScript and browser DOM, which rely on back-end APIs, which themselves rely on databases.

As one goes deeper down the stack, engineering decisions become ever more conservative — changing the location of a button in a web app is an inconvenience; changing a database engine can radically upend an entire project.

It’s little surprise then that database technologies are among the longest-lasting engineering projects in the modern software developer toolkit. MySQL, which remains one of the most popular database engines in the world, was first released in the mid-1990s, and Oracle Database, launched more than four decades ago, is still widely used in high-performance corporate environments.

Database technology can change the world, but the world in these parts changes very, very slowly. That’s made building a startup in the sector a tough equation: Sales cycles can be painfully slow, even when new features can dramatically expand a developer’s capabilities. Competition is stiff and comes from some of the largest and most entrenched tech companies in the world. Exits have also been few and far between.

That challenge — and opportunity — is what makes studying Cockroach Labs so interesting. The company behind CockroachDB attempts to solve a long-standing problem in large-scale, distributed database architecture: How to make it so that data created in one place on the planet is always available for consumption by applications that are thousands of miles away, immediately and accurately. Making global data always available immediately and accurately might sound like a simple use case, but in reality it’s quite the herculean task. Cockroach Labs’ story is one of an uphill struggle, but one that saw it turn into a next-generation, $2-billion-valued database contender.

The lead writer of this EC-1 is Bob Reselman. Reselman has been writing about the enterprise software market for more than two decades, with a particular emphasis on teaching and educating engineers on technology. The lead editor for this package was Danny Crichton, the assistant editor was Ram Iyer, the copy editor was Richard Dal Porto, figures were designed by Bob Reselman and stylized by Bryce Durbin, and illustrations were drawn by Nigel Sussman.

CockroachDB had no say in the content of this analysis and did not get advance access to it. Reselman has no financial ties to CockroachDB or other conflicts of interest to disclose.

The CockroachDB EC-1 comprises four main articles numbering 9,100 words and a reading time of 37 minutes. Here’s what we’ll be crawling over:

We’re always iterating on the EC-1 format. If you have questions, comments or ideas, please send an email to TechCrunch Managing Editor Danny Crichton at [email protected].


By Danny Crichton

CockroachDB, the database that just won’t die

There is an art to engineering, and sometimes engineering can transform art. For Spencer Kimball and Peter Mattis, those two worlds collided when they created the widely successful open-source graphics program, GIMP, as college students at Berkeley.

That project was so successful that when the two joined Google in 2002, Sergey Brin and Larry Page personally stopped by to tell the new hires how much they liked it and explained how they used the program to create the first Google logo.

Cockroach Labs was started by developers and stays true to its roots to this day.

In terms of good fortune in the corporate hierarchy, when you get this type of recognition in a company such as Google, there’s only one way you can go — up. They went from rising stars to stars at Google, becoming the go-to guys on the Infrastructure Team. They could easily have looked forward to a lifetime of lucrative employment.

But Kimball, Mattis and another Google employee, Ben Darnell, wanted more — a company of their own. To realize their ambitions, they created Cockroach Labs, the business entity behind their ambitious open-source database CockroachDB. Can some of the smartest former engineers in Google’s arsenal upend the world of databases in a market spotted with the gravesites of storage dreams past? That’s what we are here to find out.

Berkeley software distribution

Mattis and Kimball were roommates at Berkeley majoring in computer science in the early-to-mid-1990s. In addition to their usual studies, they also became involved with the eXperimental Computing Facility (XCF), an organization of undergraduates who have a keen, almost obsessive interest in CS.


By Danny Crichton

What does Red Hat’s sale to IBM tell us about Couchbase’s valuation?

The IPO rush of 2021 continued this week with a fresh filing from NoSQL provider Couchbase. The company raised hundreds of millions while private, making its impending debut an important moment for a number of private investors, including venture capitalists.

According to PitchBook data, Couchbase was last valued at a post-money valuation of $580 million when it raised $105 million in May 2020. The company — despite its expansive fundraising history — is not a unicorn heading into its debut to the best of our knowledge.

We’d like to uncover whether it will be one when it prices and starts to trade, so we dug into Couchbase’s business model and its financial performance, hoping to better understand the company and its market comps.

The Couchbase S-1

The Couchbase S-1 filing details a company that sells database tech. More specifically, Couchbase offers customers database technology that includes what NoSQL can offer (“schema flexibility,” in the company’s phrasing), as well as the ability to ask questions of their data with SQL queries.

Couchbase’s software can be deployed on clouds, including public clouds, in hybrid environments, and even on-prem setups. The company sells to large companies, attracting 541 customers by the end of its fiscal 2021 that generated $107.8 million in annual recurring revenue, or ARR, by the close of last year.

Couchbase breaks its revenue into two main buckets. The first, subscription, includes software license income and what the company calls “support and other” revenues, which it defines as “post-contract support,” or PCS, which is a package of offerings, including “support, bug fixes and the right to receive unspecified software updates and upgrades” for the length of the contract.

The company’s second revenue bucket is services, which is self-explanatory and lower-margin than its subscription products.


By Alex Wilhelm

Network security startup ExtraHop skips and jumps to $900M exit

Last year, Seattle-based network security startup ExtraHop was riding high, quickly approaching $100 million in ARR and even making noises about a possible IPO in 2021. But there will be no IPO, at least for now, as the company announced this morning it has been acquired by a pair of private equity firms for $900 million.

The firms, Bain Capital Private Equity and Crosspoint Capital Partners, are buying a security solution that provides controls across a hybrid environment, something that could be useful as more companies find themselves in a position where they have some assets on-site and some in the cloud.

The company is part of the narrower Network Detection and Response (NDR) market. According to Jesse Rothstein, ExtraHop’s chief technology officer and co-founder, it’s a technology that is suited to today’s threat landscape, “I will say that ExtraHop’s north star has always really remained the same, and that has been around extracting intelligence from all of the network traffic in the wire data. This is where I think the network detection and response space is particularly well-suited to protecting against advanced threats,” he told TechCrunch.

The company uses analytics and machine learning to figure out if there are threats and where they are coming from, regardless of how customers are deploying infrastructure. Rothstein said he envisions a world where environments have become more distributed with less defined perimeters and more porous networks.

“So the ability to have this high quality detection and response capability utilizing next generation machine learning technology and behavioral analytics is so very important,” he said.

Max de Groen, managing partner at Bain, says his company was attracted to the NDR space, and saw ExtraHop as a key player. “As we looked at the NDR market, ExtraHop, which […] has spent 14 years building the product, really stood out as the best individual technology in the space,” de Groen told us.

Security remains a frothy market with lots of growth potential. We continue to see a mix of startups and established platform players jockeying for position, and private equity firms often try to establish a package of services. Last week, Symphony Technology Group bought FireEye’s product group for $1.2 billion, just a couple of months after snagging McAfee’s enterprise business for $4 billion as it tries to cobble together a comprehensive enterprise security solution.


By Ron Miller

5 investors discuss the future of RPA after UIPath’s IPO

Robotic process automation (RPA) has certainly been getting a lot of attention in the last year, with startups, acquisitions and IPOs all coming together in a flurry of market activity. It all seemed to culminate with UiPath’s IPO last month. The company that appeared to come out of nowhere in 2017 eventually had a final private valuation of $35 billion. It then had the audacity to match that at its IPO. A few weeks later, it still has a market cap of over $38 billion in spite of the stock price fluctuating at points.

Was this some kind of peak for the technology or a flash in the pan? Probably not. While it all seemed to come together in the last year with a big increase in attention to automation in general during the pandemic, it’s a market category that has been around for some time.

RPA allows companies to automate a group of highly mundane tasks and have a machine do the work instead of a human. Think of finding an invoice amount in an email, placing the figure in a spreadsheet and sending a Slack message to Accounts Payable. You could have humans do that, or you could do it more quickly and efficiently with a machine. We’re talking mind-numbing work that is well suited to automation.

In 2019, Gartner found RPA was the fastest-growing category in enterprise software. In spite of that, the market is still surprisingly small, with IDC estimates finding it will reach just $2 billion in 2021. That’s pretty tiny for the enterprise, but it shows that there’s plenty of room for this space to grow.

We spoke to five investors to find out more about RPA, and the general consensus was that we are just getting started. While we will continue to see the players at the top of the market — like UiPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism — jockeying for position with the big enterprise vendors and startups, the size and scope of the market has a lot of potential and is likely to keep growing for some time to come.

To learn about all of this, we queried the following investors:

  • Mallun Yen, founder and partner, Operator Collective
  • Jai Das, partner and president, Sapphire Ventures
  • Soma Somasegar, managing director, Madrona Venture Group
  • Laela Sturdy, general partner, CapitalG
  • Ed Sim, founder and managing partner, Boldstart Ventures

We have seen a range of RPA startups emerge in recent years, with companies like UiPath, Blue Prism and Automation Anywhere leading the way. As the space matures, where do the biggest opportunities remain?

Mallun Yen: One of the fastest-growing categories of software, RPA has been growing at over 60% in recent years, versus 13% for enterprise software generally. But we’ve barely scratched the surface. The COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to shift how they run their business, how they hire and allocate staff.

Given that the workforce will remain at least partially permanently remote, companies recognize that this shift is also permanent, and so they need to make fundamental changes to how they run their businesses. It’s simply suboptimal to hire, train and deploy remote employees to run routine processes, which are prone to, among other things, human error and boredom.

Jai Das: All the companies that you have listed are focused on automating simple repetitive tasks that are performed by humans. These are mostly data entry and data validation jobs. Most of these tasks will be automated in the next couple of years. The new opportunity lies in automating business processes that involve multiple humans and machines within complicated workflow using AI/ML.

Sometimes this is also called process mining. There have been BPM companies in the past that have tried to automate these business processes, but they required a lot of services to implement and maintain these automated processes. AI/ML is providing a way for software to replace all these services.

Soma Somasegar: For all the progress that we have seen in RPA, I think it is still early days. The global demand for RPA market size in terms of revenue was more than $2 billion this past year and is expected to cross $20 billion in the coming decade, growing at a CAGR of more than 30% over the next seven to eight years, according to analysts such as Gartner.

That’s an astounding growth rate in the coming years and is a reflection of how early we are in the RPA journey and how much more is ahead of us. A recent study by Deloitte indicates that up to 50% of the tasks in businesses performed by employees are considered mundane, administrative and labor-intensive. That is just a recipe for a ton of process automation.

There are a lot of opportunities that I see here, including process discovery and mining; process analytics; application of AI to drive effective, more complex workflow automation; and using low code/no code as a way to enable a broader set of people to be able to automate tasks, processes and workflows, to name a few.

Laela Sturdy: We’re a long way from needing to think about the space maturing. In fact, RPA adoption is still in its early infancy when you consider its immense potential. Most companies are only now just beginning to explore the numerous use cases that exist across industries. The more enterprises dip their toes into RPA, the more use cases they envision.

I expect to see market leaders like UiPath continue to innovate rapidly while expanding the breadth and depth of their end-to-end automation platforms. As the technology continues to evolve, we should expect RPA to penetrate even more deeply into the enterprise and to automate increasingly more — and more critical — business processes.

Ed Sim: Most large-scale automation projects require a significant amount of professional services to deliver on the promises, and two areas where I still see opportunity include startups that can bring more intelligence and faster time to value. Examples include process discovery, which can help companies quickly and accurately understand how their business processes work and prioritize what to automate versus just rearchitecting an existing workflow.


By Ron Miller

SAP CEO Christian Klein looks back on his first year

SAP CEO Christian Klein was appointed co-CEO with Jennifer Morgan last April just as the pandemic was hitting full force across the world. Within six months, Morgan was gone and he was sole CEO, put in charge of a storied company at 38 years old. By October, its stock price was down and revenue projections for the coming years were flat.

That is definitely not the way any CEO wants to start their tenure, but the pandemic forced Klein to make some decisions to move his customers to the cloud faster. That, in turn, had an impact on revenue until the transition was completed. While it makes sense to make this move now, investors weren’t happy with the news.

There was also the decision to spin out Qualtrics, the company his predecessor acquired for $8 billion in 2018. As he looked back on the one-year mark, Klein sat down with me to discuss all that has happened and the unique set of challenges he faced.

Just a pandemic, no biggie

Starting in the same month that a worldwide pandemic blows up presents unique challenges for a new leader. For starters, Klein couldn’t visit anyone in person and get to know the team. Instead, he went straight to Zoom and needed to make sure everything was still running.

The CEO says that the company kept chugging along in spite of the disruption. “When I took over this new role, I of course had some concerns about how to support 400,000 customers. After one year, I’ve been astonished. Our support centers are running without disruption and we are proud of that and continue to deliver value,” he said.

Taking over when he couldn’t meet in person with employees or customers has worked out better than he thought. “It was much better than I expected, and of course personally for me, it’s different. I’m the CEO, but I wasn’t able to travel and so I didn’t have the opportunity to go to the U.S., and this is something that I’m looking forward to now, meeting people and talking to them live,” he said.

That’s something he simply wasn’t able to do for his first year because of travel restrictions, so he says communication has been key, something a lot of executives have discussed during COVID. “I’m in regular contact with the employees, and we do it virtually. Still, it’s not the same as when you do it live, but it helps a lot these days. I would say you cannot over-communicate in such times,” he said.


By Ron Miller

As UiPath closes above its final private valuation, CFO Ashim Gupta discusses his company’s path to market

After an upward revision, UiPath priced its IPO last night at $56 per share, a few dollars above its raised target range. The above-range price meant that the unicorn put more capital into its books through its public offering.

For a company in a market as competitive as robotic process automation (RPA), the funds are welcome. In fact, RPA has been top of mind for startups and established companies alike over the last year or so. In that time frame, enterprise stalwarts like SAP, Microsoft, IBM and ServiceNow have been buying smaller RPA startups and building their own, all in an effort to muscle into an increasingly lucrative market.

In June 2019, Gartner reported that RPA was the fastest-growing area in enterprise software, and while the growth has slowed down since, the sector is still attracting attention. UIPath, which Gartner found was the market leader, has been riding that wave, and today’s capital influx should help the company maintain its market position.

It’s worth noting that when the company had its last private funding round in February, it brought home $750 million at an impressive valuation of $35 billion. But as TechCrunch noted over the course of its pivot to the public markets, that round valued the company above its final IPO price. As a result, this week’s $56-per-share public offer wound up being something of a modest down-round IPO to UiPath’s final private valuation.

Then, a broader set of public traders got hold of its stock and bid its shares higher. The former unicorn’s shares closed their first day’s trading at precisely $69, above the per-share price at which the company closed its final private round.

So despite a somewhat circuitous route, UiPath closed its first day as a public company worth more than it was in its Series F round — when it sold 12,043,202 shares sold at $62.27576 apiece, per SEC filings. More simply, UiPath closed today worth more per-share than it was in February.

How you might value the company, whether you prefer a simple or fully-diluted share count, is somewhat immaterial at this juncture. UiPath had a good day.

While it’s hard to know what the company might do with the proceeds, chances are it will continue to try to expand its platform beyond pure RPA, which could become market-limited over time as companies look at other, more modern approaches to automation. By adding additional automation capabilities — organically or via acquisitions — the company can begin covering broader parts of its market.

TechCrunch spoke with UiPath CFO Ashim Gupta today, curious about the company’s choice of a traditional IPO, its general avoidance of adjusted metrics in its SEC filings, and the IPO market’s current temperature. The final question was on our minds, as some companies have pulled their public listings in the wake of a market described as “challenging”.

Why did UiPath not direct list after its huge February raise?


By Alex Wilhelm

Should Dell have pursued a more aggressive debt-reduction move with VMware?

When Dell announced it was spinning out VMware yesterday, the move itself wasn’t surprising: there had been public speculation for some time. But Dell could have gone a number of ways in this deal, despite its choice to spin VMware out as a separate company with a constituent dividend instead of an outright sale.

The dividend route, which involves a payment to shareholders between $11.5 and $12 billion, has the advantage of being tax-free (or at least that’s what Dell hopes as it petitions the IRS). For Dell, which owns 81% of VMware, the dividend translates to somewhere between $9.3 and $9.7 billion in cash, which the company plans to use to pay down a portion of the huge debt it still holds from its $58 billion EMC purchase in 2016.

VMware was the crown jewel in that transaction, giving Dell an inroad to the cloud it had lacked prior to the deal. For context, VMware popularized the notion of the virtual machine, a concept that led to the development of cloud computing as we know it today. It has since expanded much more broadly beyond that, giving Dell a solid foothold in cloud native computing.

Dell hopes to have its cake and eat it too with this deal: it generates a large slug of cash to use for personal debt relief while securing a five-year commercial deal that should keep the two companies closely aligned. Dell CEO Michael Dell will remain chairman of the VMware board, which should help smooth the post-spinout relationship.

But could Dell have extracted more cash out of the deal?

Doing what’s best for everyone

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategies, says that beyond the cash transaction, the deal provides a way for the companies to continue working closely together with the least amount of disruption.

“In the end, this move is more about maximizing the Dell and VMware stock price [in a way that] doesn’t impact customers, ISVs or the channel. Wall Street wasn’t valuing the two companies together nearly as [strongly] as I believe it will as separate entities,” Moorhead said.


By Ron Miller

As activist investors loom, what’s next for Box?

Box could be facing troubled times if a Reuters story from last week is accurate. Activist investor Starboard Value took a 7.9% stake in the storage company in September 2019, and a year ago took three board seats as its involvement in the cloud company deepened. It seemed only a matter of time before another shoe dropped.

Activist investor Starboard Value is reportedly after three additional board seats.

That thunk you just heard could be said shoe as Starboard is reportedly after three additional board seats. Those include current CEO Aaron Levie’s and two independent board members, all of whom have their seats coming up for election in June. If the firm were to obtain three additional seats, it would control six of nine votes and could have its way with Box.

What could the future hold for the company given this development (assuming it’s true)? It seems changes are coming for Box.

Below, we’ll explore how Box got to this point. And if an acquisition is in Box’s future, just who might be in the market for a cloud-native content management company built to scale in the enterprise? There would very likely be multiple suitors.

Box’s fickle financial fate

Starboard may have reason to be frustrated by Box’s performance. The cloud company’s stock price and market cap remain stubbornly low. Its share price is mired around $18 a share, not much higher than the price it went public at in 2015 when it was valued at $14 per share. Its market cap today is $3 billion, which is lacking in comparison to fellow cloud stalwarts like Dropbox at $9 billion, Slack at $23 billion or Okta at $34 billion.

Remember back in March 2014 when Box announced it was going public? It then did something highly unusual, delaying the deed 10 months until January 2015. One thing or another kept the company from pulling the trigger and just doing it. Perhaps it was a sign.

Instead, Box raised $150 million more after its S-1 filing received a lackluster response from the market. Looking back, you could argue that the SaaS model was simply less well known in 2014 than it is today. Certainly public investors are more sympathetic to software companies that run deficits in the name of growth than they were back then.

But when Box did file again, finally pricing at $14 per share in 2015, it received a strong welcome. The company had priced above its $11 to $13 per-share IPO range as TechCrunch reported at the time and instantly shot higher. We wrote on its IPO day that the cloud company quickly “surged to over $20 a share and [was then] trading at $23.67.”

A year later, our continuing coverage had flipped with the share price stuck at $10 in January 2016.

When growth won’t come


By Ron Miller

Why F5 spent $2.2B on 3 companies to focus on cloud native applications

It’s essential for older companies to recognize changes in the marketplace or face the brutal reality of being left in the dust. F5 is an old-school company that launched back in the 90s, yet has been able to transform a number of times in its history to avoid major disruption. Over the last two years, the company has continued that process of redefining itself, this time using a trio of acquisitions — NGINX, Shape Security and Volterra — totaling $2.2 billion to push in a new direction.

While F5 has been associated with applications management for some time, it recognized that the way companies developed and managed applications was changing in a big way with the shift to Kubernetes, microservices and containerization. At the same time, applications have been increasingly moving to the edge, closer to the user. The company understood that it needed to up its game in these areas if it was going to keep up with customers.

Taken separately, it would be easy to miss that there was a game plan behind the three acquisitions, but together they show a company with a clear opinion of where they want to go next. We spoke to F5 president and CEO François Locoh-Donou to learn why he bought these companies and to figure out the method in his company’s acquisition spree madness.

Looking back, looking forward

F5, which was founded in 1996, has found itself at a number of crossroads in its long history, times where it needed to reassess its position in the market. A few years ago it found itself at one such juncture. The company had successfully navigated the shift from physical appliance to virtual, and from data center to cloud. But it also saw the shift to cloud native on the horizon and it knew it had to be there to survive and thrive long term.

“We moved from just keeping applications performing to actually keeping them performing and secure. Over the years, we have become an application delivery and security company. And that’s really how F5 grew over the last 15 years,” said Locoh-Donou.

Today the company has over 18,000 customers centered in enterprise verticals like financial services, healthcare, government, technology and telecom. He says that the focus of the company has always been on applications and how to deliver and secure them, but as they looked ahead, they wanted to be able to do that in a modern context, and that’s where the acquisitions came into play.

As F5 saw it, applications were becoming central to their customers’ success and their IT departments were expending too many resources connecting applications to the cloud and keeping them secure. So part of the goal for these three acquisitions was to bring a level of automation to this whole process of managing modern applications.

“Our view is you fast forward five or 10 years, we are going to move to a world where applications will become adaptive, which essentially means that we are going to bring automation to the security and delivery and performance of applications, so that a lot of that stuff gets done in a more native and automated way,” Locoh-Donou said.

As part of this shift, the company saw customers increasingly using microservices architecture in their applications. This means instead of delivering a large monolithic application, developers were delivering them in smaller pieces inside containers, making it easier to manage, deploy and update.

At the same time, it saw companies needing a new way to secure these applications as they shifted from data center to cloud to the edge. And finally, that shift to the edge would require a new way to manage applications.


By Ron Miller

Is overseeing cloud operations the new career path to CEO?

When Amazon announced last week that founder and CEO Jeff Bezos planned to step back from overseeing operations and shift into an executive chairman role, it also revealed that AWS CEO Andy Jassy, head of the company’s profitable cloud division, would replace him.

As Bessemer partner Byron Deeter pointed out on Twitter, Jassy’s promotion was similar to Satya Nadella’s ascent at Microsoft: in 2014, he moved from executive VP in charge of Azure to the chief exec’s office. Similarly, Arvind Krishna, who was promoted to replace Ginni Rometti as IBM CEO last year, also was formerly head of the company’s cloud business.

Could Nadella’s successful rise serve as a blueprint for Amazon as it makes a similar transition? While there are major differences in the missions of these companies, it’s inevitable that we will compare these two executives based on their former jobs. It’s true that they have an awful lot in common, but there are some stark differences, too.

Replacing a legend

For starters, Jassy is taking over for someone who founded one of the world’s biggest corporations. Nadella replaced Steve Ballmer, who had taken over for the company’s face, Bill Gates. Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, says this notable difference could have a huge impact for Jassy with his founder boss still looking over his shoulder.

“There’s a lot of similarity in the two situations, but Satya was a little removed from the founder Gates. Bezos will always hover and be there, whereas Gates (and Ballmer) had retired for good. [ … ] It was clear [they] would not be coming back. [ … ] For Jassy, the owner could [conceivably] come back anytime,” Mueller said.

But Andrew Bartels, an analyst at Forrester Research, says it’s not a coincidence that both leaders were plucked from the cloud divisions of their respective companies, even if it was seven years apart.

“In both cases, these hyperscale business units of Microsoft and Amazon were the fastest-growing and best-performing units of the companies. [ … ] In both cases, cloud infrastructure was seen as a platform on top of which and around which other cloud offerings could be developed,” Bartels said. The companies both believe that the leaders of these two growth engines were best suited to lead the company into the future.


By Ron Miller

Container security acquisitions increase as companies accelerate shift to cloud

Last week, another container security startup came off the board when Rapid7 bought Alcide for $50 million. The purchase is part of a broader trend in which larger companies are buying up cloud-native security startups at a rapid clip. But why is there so much M&A action in this space now?

Palo Alto Networks was first to the punch, grabbing Twistlock for $410 million in May 2019. VMware struck a year later, snaring Octarine. Cisco followed with PortShift in October and Red Hat snagged StackRox last month before the Rapid7 response last week.

This is partly because many companies chose to become cloud-native more quickly during the pandemic. This has created a sharper focus on security, but it would be a mistake to attribute the acquisition wave strictly to COVID-19, as companies were shifting in this direction pre-pandemic.

It’s also important to note that security startups that cover a niche like container security often reach market saturation faster than companies with broader coverage because customers often want to consolidate on a single platform, rather than dealing with a fragmented set of vendors and figuring out how to make them all work together.

Containers provide a way to deliver software by breaking down a large application into discrete pieces known as microservices. These are packaged and delivered in containers. Kubernetes provides the orchestration layer, determining when to deliver the container and when to shut it down.

This level of automation presents a security challenge, making sure the containers are configured correctly and not vulnerable to hackers. With myriad switches this isn’t easy, and it’s made even more challenging by the ephemeral nature of the containers themselves.

Yoav Leitersdorf, managing partner at YL Ventures, an Israeli investment firm specializing in security startups, says these challenges are driving interest in container startups from large companies. “The acquisitions we are seeing now are filling gaps in the portfolio of security capabilities offered by the larger companies,” he said.


By Ron Miller