Headroom, which uses AI to supercharge videoconferencing, raises $5M

Videoconferencing has become a cornerstone of how many of us work these days — so much so that one leading service, Zoom, has graduated into verb status because of how much it’s getting used.

But does that mean videoconferencing works as well as it should? Today, a new startup called Headroom is coming out of stealth, tapping into a battery of AI tools — computer vision, natural language processing and more — on the belief that the answer to that question is a clear — no bad WiFi interruption here — “no.”

Headroom not only hosts videoconferences, but then provides transcripts, summaries with highlights, gesture recognition, optimised video quality, and more, and today it’s announcing that it has raised a seed round of $5 million as it gears up to launch its freemium service into the world.

You can sign up to the waitlist to pilot it, and get other updates here.

The funding is coming from Anna Patterson of Gradient Ventures (Google’s AI venture fund); Evan Nisselson of LDV Capital (a specialist VC backing companies buidling visual technologies); Yahoo founder Jerry Yang, now of AME Cloud Ventures; Ash Patel of Morado Ventures; Anthony Goldbloom, the cofounder and CEO of Kaggle.com; and Serge Belongie, Cornell Tech associate dean and Professor of Computer Vision and Machine Learning.

It’s an interesting group of backers, but that might be because the founders themselves have a pretty illustrious background with years of experience using some of the most cutting-edge visual technologies to build other consumer and enterprise services.

Julian Green — a British transplant — was most recently at Google, where he ran the company’s computer vision products, including the Cloud Vision API that was launched under his watch. He came to Google by way of its acquisition of his previous startup Jetpac, which used deep learning and other AI tools to analyze photos to make travel recommendations. In a previous life, he was one of the co-founders of Houzz, another kind of platform that hinges on visual interactivity.

Russian-born Andrew Rabinovich, meanwhile, spent the last five years at Magic Leap, where he was the head of AI, and before that, the director of deep learning and the head of engineering. Before that, he too was at Google, as a software engineer specializing in computer vision and machine learning.

You might think that leaving their jobs to build an improved videoconferencing service was an opportunistic move, given the huge surge of use that the medium has had this year. Green, however, tells me that they came up with the idea and started building it at the end of 2019, when the term “Covid-19” didn’t even exist.

“But it certainly has made this a more interesting area,” he quipped, adding that it did make raising money significantly easier, too. (The round closed in July, he said.)

Given that Magic Leap had long been in limbo — AR and VR have proven to be incredibly tough to build businesses around, especially in the short- to medium-term, even for a startup with hundreds of millions of dollars in VC backing — and could have probably used some more interesting ideas to pivot to; and that Google is Google, with everything tech having an endpoint in Mountain View, it’s also curious that the pair decided to strike out on their own to build Headroom rather than pitch building the tech at their respective previous employers.

Green said the reasons were two-fold. The first has to do with the efficiency of building something when you are small. “I enjoy moving at startup speed,” he said.

And the second has to do with the challenges of building things on legacy platforms versus fresh, from the ground up.

“Google can do anything it wants,” he replied when I asked why he didn’t think of bringing these ideas to the team working on Meet (or Hangouts if you’re a non-business user). “But to run real-time AI on video conferencing, you need to build for that from the start. We started with that assumption,” he said.

All the same, the reasons why Headroom are interesting are also likely going to be the ones that will pose big challenges for it. The new ubiquity (and our present lives working at home) might make us more open to using video calling, but for better or worse, we’re all also now pretty used to what we already use. And for many companies, they’ve now paid up as premium users to one service or another, so they may be reluctant to try out new and less-tested platforms.

But as we’ve seen in tech so many times, sometimes it pays to be a late mover, and the early movers are not always the winners.

The first iteration of Headroom will include features that will automatically take transcripts of the whole conversation, with the ability to use the video replay to edit the transcript if something has gone awry; offer a summary of the key points that are made during the call; and identify gestures to help shift the conversation.

And Green tells me that they are already also working on features that will be added into future iterations. When the videoconference uses supplementary presentation materials, those can also be processed by the engine for highlights and transcription too.

And another feature will optimize the pixels that you see for much better video quality, which should come in especially handy when you or the person/people you are talking to are on poor connections.

“You can understand where and what the pixels are in a video conference and send the right ones,” he explained. “Most of what you see of me and my background is not changing, so those don’t need to be sent all the time.”

All of this taps into some of the more interesting aspects of sophisticated computer vision and natural language algorithms. Creating a summary, for example, relies on technology that is able to suss out not just what you are saying, but what are the most important parts of what you or someone else is saying.

And if you’ve ever been on a videocall and found it hard to make it clear you’ve wanted to say something, without straight-out interrupting the speaker, you’ll understand why gestures might be very useful.

But they can also come in handy if a speaker wants to know if he or she is losing the attention of the audience: the same tech that Headroom is using to detect gestures for people keen to speak up can also be used to detect when they are getting bored or annoyed and pass that information on to the person doing the talking.

“It’s about helping with EQ,” he said, with what I’m sure was a little bit of his tongue in his cheek, but then again we were on a Google Meet, and I may have misread that.

And that brings us to why Headroom is tapping into an interesting opportunity. At their best, when they work, tools like these not only supercharge videoconferences, but they have the potential to solve some of the problems you may have come up against in face-to-face meetings, too. Building software that actually might be better than the “real thing” is one way of making sure that it can have staying power beyond the demands of our current circumstances (which hopefully won’t be permanent circumstances).


By Ingrid Lunden

Daily Crunch: G Suite becomes Google Workspace

Google rebrands G Suite, Apple announces its next event date and John McAfee is arrested. This is your Daily Crunch for October 6, 2020.

The big story: G Suite becomes Google Workspace

To a large extent, Google Workspace is just a rebranding of G Suite, complete with a new set of (less distinctive) logos for Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs and Meet. But the company is also launching a number of new features.

For one thing, Google is (as previously announced) integrating Meet, Chat and Rooms across applications, with Gmail as the service where they really come together. Other features coming soon are the ability to collaborate on documents in Chats and a “smart chip” with contact details and suggested actions that appear when you @mention someone in a document.

Pricing remains largely the same, although there’s now an $18 per user per month Business Plus plan with additional security features and compliance tools.

The tech giants

Apple will announce the next iPhone on October 13 — Apple just sent out invites for its upcoming hardware event, all but confirming the arrival of the next iPhone.

Facebook’s Portal adds support for Netflix, Zoom and other features — The company will also introduce easier ways to launch Netflix and other video streaming apps via one-touch buttons on its new remote.

Instagram’s 10th birthday release introduces a Stories Map, custom icons and more — There’s even a selection of custom app icons for those who have recently been inspired to redesign their home screen.

Startups, funding and venture capital

SpaceX awarded contract to help develop US missile-tracking satellite network — The contract covers creation and delivery of “space vehicles” (actual satellites) that will form a constellation offering global coverage of advance missile warning and tracking.

Salesforce Ventures launches $100M Impact Fund to invest in cloud startups with social mission — Focus areas include education and reskilling, climate action, diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as providing tech for nonprofits and foundations.

Ÿnsect, the makers of the world’s most expensive bug farm, raises another $224 million — The team hopes to provide insect protein for things like fish food and fertilizer.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Inside Root’s IPO filing — As insurtech booms, Root looks to take advantage of a warm market and enthusiastic investors.

To fill funding gaps, VCs boost efforts to find India’s standout early-stage startups — Blume Ventures’ Karthik Reddy says, “There’s an artificial skew toward unicorns.”

A quick peek into Opendoor’s financial results — Opendoor’s 2020 results are not stellar.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

John McAfee arrested after DOJ indicts crypto millionaire for tax evasion — The cybersecurity entrepreneur and crypto personality’s wild ride could be coming to an end after he was arrested in Spain and now faces extradition to the U.S.

Trump is already breaking platform rules again with false claim that COVID-19 is ‘far less lethal’ than the flu — Facebook took down Trump’s post, while Twitter hid it behind a warning.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.


By Anthony Ha

Microsoft challenges Twilio with the launch of Azure Communication Services

Microsoft today announced the launch of Azure Communication Services, a new set of features in its cloud that enable developers to add voice and video calling, chat and text messages to their apps, as well as old-school telephony.

The company describes the new set of services as the “first fully managed communication platform offering from a major cloud provider,” and that seems right, given that Google and AWS offer some of these features, including the AWS notification service, for example, but not as part of a cohesive communication service. Indeed, it seems Azure Communication Service is more of a competitor to the core features of Twilio or up-and-coming MessageBird.

Over the course of the last few years, Microsoft has built up a lot of experience in this area, in large parts thanks to the success of its Teams service. Unsurprisingly, that’s something Microsoft is also playing up in its announcement.

“Azure Communication Services is built natively on top a global, reliable cloud — Azure. Businesses can confidently build and deploy on the same low latency global communication network used by Microsoft Teams to support 5B+ meeting minutes daily,” writes Scott Van Vliet, corporate vice president for Intelligent Communication at the company.

Microsoft also stresses that it offers a set of additional smart services that developers can tap into to build out their communication services, including its translation tools, for example. The company also notes that its services are encrypted to meet HIPPA and GDPR standards.

Like similar services, developers access the various capabilities through a set of new APIs and SDKs.

As for the core services, the capabilities here are pretty much what you’d expect. There’s voice and video calling (and the ability to shift between them). There’s support for chat and, starting in October, users will also be able to send text messages. Microsoft says developers will be able to send these to users anywhere, with Microsoft positioning it as a global service.

Provisioning phone numbers, too, is part of the services and developers will be able to provision those for in-bound and out-bound calls, port existing numbers, request new ones and — most importantly for contact-center users — integrate them with existing on-premises equipment and carrier networks.

“Our goal is to meet businesses where they are and provide solutions to help them be resilient and move their business forward in today’s market,” writes Van Vliet. “We see rich communication experiences – enabled by voice, video, chat, and SMS – continuing to be an integral part in how businesses connect with their customers across devices and platforms.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft launches new Cortana features for business users

Cortana may have failed as a virtual assistant for consumers, but Microsoft is still betting on it (or at least its brand) for business use cases, now that it has rebranded it as a ‘personal productivity assistant’ as part of Microsoft 365. Today, at its Ignite conference, Microsoft launched and announced a number of new Cortana services for business users.

These include the general availability of Cortana for the new Microsoft Teams displays the company is launching in partnership with a number of hardware vendors. You can think of these as dedicated smart displays for Teams that are somewhat akin to Google Assistant-enabled smart displays, for example — but with the sole focus on meetings. These days, it’s hard to enable a device like this without support for a voice assistant, so there you go. It’ll be available in September in English in the U.S. and will then roll out to Australia, Canada, the UK and India in the coming months.

In addition to these Teams devices, which Microsoft is not necessarily positioning for meeting rooms but as sidekicks to a regular laptop or desktop, Cortana will also soon come to Teams Rooms devices. Once we go back to offices and meeting rooms, after all, few people will want to touch a shared piece of hardware, so a touchless experience is a must.

For a while now, Microsoft has also been teasing more email-centric Cortana services. Play My Emails, a service that reads you your email out aloud and that’s already available in the U.S. on iOS and Android is coming to n Australia, Canada, the UK and India in the coming months. But more importantly, later this month, Outlook for iOS users will be able to interact with their inbox by voice, initiate calls to email senders and play emails from specific senders.

Cortana can now also send you daily briefing emails if you are a Microsoft 365 Enterprise users. This feature is now generally available and will get better meeting preparation, an integration with Microsoft To Do and other new features in the coming months.

And if you’re using Cortana on Windows 10, this chat-based app now let you compose emails, for example (at least if you speak English and are in the U.S.). And if you so desire, you can now use a wake word to launch it.


By Frederic Lardinois

Google Cloud launches its Business Application Platform based on Apigee and AppSheet

Unlike some of its competitors, Google Cloud has recently started emphasizing how its large lineup of different services can be combined to solve common business problems. Instead of trying to sell individual services, Google is focusing on solutions and the latest effort here is what it calls its Business Application Platform, which combines the API management capabilities of Apigee with the no-code application development platform of AppSheet, which Google acquired earlier this year.

As part of this process, Google is also launching a number of new features for both services today. The company is launching the beta of a new API Gateway, built on top of the open-source Envoy project, for example. This is a fully-managed service that is meant o makes it easier for developers to secure and manage their API across Google’s cloud computing services and serverless offerings like Cloud Functions and Cloud Run. The new gateway, which has been in alpha for a while now, offers all the standard features you’d expect, including authentication, key validation and rate limiting.

As for its low-code service AppSheet, the Google Cloud team is now making it easier to bring in data from third-party applications thanks to the general availability to Apigee as a data source for the service. AppSheet already supported standard sources like MySQL, Salesforce and G Suite, but this new feature adds a lot of flexibility to the service.

With more data comes more complexity, so AppSheet is also launching new tools for automating processes inside the service today, thanks to the early access launch of AppSheet Automation. Like the rest of AppSheet, the promise here is that developers won’t have to write any code. Instead, AppSheet Automation provides a visual interface, that according to Google, “provides contextual suggestions based on natural language inputs.” 

“We are confident the new category of business application platforms will help empower both technical and line of business developers with the core ability to create and extend applications, build and automate workflows, and connect and modernize applications,” Google notes in today’s announcement. And indeed, this looks like a smart way to combine the no-code environment of AppSheet with the power of Apigee .


By Frederic Lardinois

Google Cloud lets businesses create their own text-to-speech voices

Google launched a few updates to its Contact Center AI product today, but the most interesting one is probably the beta of its new Custom Voice service, which will let brands create their own text-to-speech voices to best represent their own brands.

Maybe your company has a well-known spokesperson for example, but it would be pretty arduous to have them record every sentence in an automated response system or bring them back to the studio whenever you launch a new product or procedure. With Custom Voice, businesses can bring in their voice talent to the studio and have them record a script provided by Google. The company will then take those recordings and train its speech models based on them.

As of now, this seems to be a somewhat manual task on Google’s side. Training and evaluating the model will take “several weeks,” the company says and Google itself will conduct its own tests of the trained model before sending it back to the business that commissioned the model. After that, the business must follow Google’s own testing process to evaluate the results and sign off on it.

For now, these custom voices are still in beta and only American English is supported so far.

It’s also worth noting that Google’s review process is meant to ensure that the result is aligned with its internal AI Principles, which it released back in 2018.

Like with similar projects, I would expect that this lengthy process of creating custom voices for these contact center solutions will become mainstream quickly. While it will just be a gimmick for some brands (remember those custom voices for stand-alone GPS systems back in the day?), it will allow the more forward-thinking brands to distinguish their own contact center experiences from those of the competition. Nobody likes calling customer support, but a more thoughtful experience that doesn’t make you think you’re talking to a random phone tree may just help alleviate some of the stress at least.


By Frederic Lardinois

Google Cloud Anthos update brings support for on-prem, bare metal

When Google announced Anthos last year at Google Cloud Next, it was a pretty big deal. Here was a cloud company releasing a product that purported to help you move your applications between cloud companies like AWS and Azure  — that would be GCP’s competitors — because it’s what customers demanded.

Google tapped into genuine anxiety tech leaders at customer companies are having over vendor lock-in in the cloud. Back in the client-server days, most of these folks got locked into a tech stack where they were at the mercy of the vendor. It’s something companies desperately want to avoid this go-round.

With Anthos, Google claimed you could take an application, package it in a container, and then move it freely between clouds without having to rewrite it for the underlying infrastructure. It was and remains a compelling idea.

This year, the company is updating the product to include a couple of speciality workloads that didn’t get into version 1.0 last year. For starters, many customers aren’t just multi-cloud, meaning they have workloads on various infrastructure cloud vendors, they are also hybrid. That means they still have workloads on-prem in their own data centers, as well as in the cloud, and Google wanted to provide a way to include these workloads in Anthos.

Pali Bhat, VP of product and design at Google Cloud says they have heard customers still have plenty of applications on premises and they want a way to package them as containerized, cloud native workloads.

“They do want to be able to bring all of the benefits of cloud to both their own data centers, but also to any cloud they choose to use. And what Anthos enables them to do is go on this journey of modernization and digital transformation and be able to take advantage of it by writing once and running it anywhere, and that’s a really cool vision,” Bhat said.

And while some companies have made the move from on prem to the cloud, they still want the comfort of working on bare metal where they are the only tenant. The cloud typically offers a multi-tenant environment where users share space on servers, but bare metal gives a customer the benefits of being in the cloud with the ability to control your own destiny as you do on prem.

Customers were asking for Anthos to support bare metal, and so Google gave the people what they wanted and are releasing a beta of Anthos for bare metal this week, which Bhat says provides the answer for companies looking to have the benefits of Anthos at the edge.

“[The bare metal support] lets customers run Anthos […] at edge locations without using any hypervisor. So this is a huge benefit for customers who are looking to minimize unnecessary overhead and unlock new use cases, especially both in the cloud and on the edge,” Bhat said.

Anthos is part of a broader cloud modernization platform that Google Cloud is offering customers that includes GKE (the Kubernetes engine), Cloud Functions (the serverless offering) and Cloud Run (container run time platform). Bhat says this set of products taps into a couple of trends they are seeing with customers. First of all, as we move deeper into the pandemic companies are looking for ways to cut costs while making a faster push to the cloud. The second is taking advantage of that push by becoming more agile and innovative.

It seems to be working. Bhat reports that in Q2, the company the company has seen a lot of interest. “One of the things in Q2 of 2020 that we’ve seen is that just Q2, over 100,000 companies used our application modernization platform and services,” he said.


By Ron Miller

Meet the anti-antitrust startup club

When Congress called in tech CEOs to testify a few weeks ago, it felt like a defining moment. Hundreds of startups have become unicorns, with the largest worth more than $1 trillion (or perhaps $2 trillion). Indeed, modern tech companies have become so entrenched, Facebook is the only one of the Big Five American tech shops worth less than 13 figures.

The titanic valuations of many companies are predicated on current performance, cash on hand and lofty expectations for future growth. The pandemic has done little to stem Big Tech’s forward march and many startups have seen growth rates accelerate as other sectors rushed to support a suddenly remote workforce.

But inside tech’s current moment in the sun is a concern that Congress worked to highlight: are these firms behaving anti-competitively?

By now you’ve heard the arguments concerning why Big Tech may be too big, but there’s a neat second story that we, the Equity crew, have been chatting about: some startups are racing into the big kill zone.

They have to be a bit foolhardy to take on Google Gmail and Search, Amazon’s e-commerce platform or Apple’s App Store. Yet, there are startups targeting all of these categories and more, some flush with VC funding from investors who are eager to take a swing at tech’s biggest players

If the little companies manage to carve material market share for themselves, arguments that Big Tech was just too big to kill — let alone fail — will dissolve. But today, their incumbency is a reality and these startups are merely bold.

Still, when we look at the work being done, there are enough companies staring down the most valuable companies in American history (on an unadjusted basis) that we had to shout them out. Say hello to the “anti-antitrust club.”

Hey and Superhuman are coming after Gmail

Gmail has been the undisputed leader in consumer email for years (if not enterprise email, where Microsoft has massive inroads due to Exchange and Outlook). Startups have contested that market, including Mailbox, which sold to Dropbox for about $100 million back in 2013, but whenever a new feature came along that might entice users, Gmail managed to suck it up into its app.


By Natasha Mascarenhas

Amazon inks cloud deal with Airtel in India

Amazon has found a new partner to expand the reach of its cloud services business AWS in India, the world’s second largest internet market.

On Wednesday, the e-commerce giant announced it has partnered with Bharti Airtel, the third-largest telecom operator in India with more than 300 million subscribers, to sell a wide-range of AWS offerings under Airtel Cloud brand to small, medium, and large-sized businesses in the country.

The deal could help AWS, which leads the cloud market in India, further expand its dominance in the country. The move follows a similar deal Reliance Jio, India’s largest telecom operator, struck with Microsoft last year to sell cloud services to small businesses. The two announced a 10-year partnership to “serve millions of customers.”

Airtel, which serves over 2,500 large enterprises and more than a million emerging businesses, itself signed a similar cloud deal with Google in January this year. That partnership is still in place.

“AWS brings over 175 services. We pretty much support any workload on the cloud. We have the largest and the most vibrant community of customers,” said Puneet Chandok, President of AWS in India and South Asia, said on a call with reporters.

The two companies, which had a similar partnership in 2015, will also collaborate on building new services and help existing customers migrate to Airtel Cloud, they said.

Today’s deal illustrates Airtel’s push to build businesses beyond its telecom venture, said Harmeen Mehta, Global CIO and Head of Cloud and Security Business at Airtel, said on the call. Last month, Airtel partnered with Verizon — which is TechCrunch’s parent company — to sell BlueJeans video conferencing service to business customers in India.

Deals with carriers were very common a decade ago in India as tech giants looked to acquire new users in the country. Replicating a similar strategy now illustrates the phase of the cloud adoption in the nation.

Nearly half a billion people in India came online last decade. And slowly, small businesses and merchants are also beginning to use digital tools, storage services, and accept online payments.

India has emerged as one of the emerging leading grounds for cloud services. The public cloud services market of the country is estimated to reach $7.1 billion by 2024, according to research firm IDC.


By Manish Singh

Even as cloud infrastructure growth slows, revenue rises over $30B for quarter

The cloud market is coming into its own during the pandemic as the novel coronavirus forced many companies to accelerate plans to move to the cloud, even while the market was beginning to mature on its own.

This week, the big three cloud infrastructure vendors — Amazon, Microsoft and Google — all reported their earnings, and while the numbers showed that growth was beginning to slow down, revenue continued to increase at an impressive rate, surpassing $30 billion for a quarter for the first time, according to Synergy Research Group numbers.


By Ron Miller

Gmail for G Suite gets deep integrations with Chat, Meet, Rooms and more

Google is launching a major update to its G Suite productivity tools today that will see a deep integration of Gmail, Chat, Meet and Rooms on the web and on mobile, as well as other tools like Calendar, Docs, Sheets and Slides. This integration will become available in the G Suite early adopter program, with a wider roll-out coming at a later time.

The G Suite team has been working on this project for about a year, though it fast-tracked the Gmail/Meet integration, which was originally scheduled to be part of today’s release, as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the core of today’s update is the idea that we’re all constantly switching between different modes of communication, be that email, chat, voice or video. So with this update, the company is bringing all of this together, with Gmail being the focal point for the time being, given that this is where most users already find themselves for hours on end anyway.

Google is branding this initiative as a ‘better home for work’ and in practice, it means that you’ll not just see deeper integrations between products, like a fill calendaring and file management experience in Gmail, but also the ability to have a video chat open on one side of the window while collaboratively editing a document in real-time on the other.

Image Credits: Google

According to G Suite VP and GM Javier Soltero, the overall idea here is not just to bring all of these tools closer together to reduce the task-switching that users have to do.

Image Credits: Google

“We’re announcing something we’ve been working on since a little bit before I even joined Google last year: a new integrated workspace designed to bring together all the core components of communication and collaboration into a single surface that is not just about bringing these ingredients into the same pane of glass, but also realizes something that’s greater than the sum of its parts,” he told me ahead of today’s announcement. “The degree of integration across the different modes of communication, specifically email, chat, and video calling and voice video calling along with our existing physical existing strength in collaboration.”

Just like on the web, Google also revealed some of its plans when it first announced its latest major update to Gmail for mobile in May, with its Meet integration in the form of a new bar at the bottom of the screen for moving between Mail and Meet. With this, it’s expanding this to include native Chat and Rooms support as well. Soltero noted that Google things of these four products as the “four pillars of the integrated workspace.” Having them all integrated into a single app means you can manage the notification behavior of all of them in a single place, for example, and without the often cumbersome task-switching experience on mobile.

For now, these updates are specific to G Suite, though similar to Google’s work around bringing Meet to consumers, the company plans to bring this workspace experience to consumers as well, but what exactly that will look like still remains to be seen. “Right now we’re really focused. The people who urgently need this are those involved in productivity scenarios. This idea of ‘the new home for work’ is much more about collaboration that is specific to professional settings, productivity and workplace settings,” Soltero said.

But there is more…

Google is also announcing a few other feature updates to its G Suite line today. Chat rooms, for example, are now getting shared files and tasks, with the ability to assign tasks and to invite users from outside your company into rooms. These rooms now also let you have chats open on one side and edit a document on the other, all without switching to a completely different web app.

Also new is the ability in Gmail to search not just for emails but also chats, as well as new tools to pin important rooms and new ‘do not disturb’ and ‘out of office’ settings.

One nifty new feature of these new integrated workspaces is that Google is also working with some of its partners to bring their apps into the experience. The company specifically mentions DocuSign, Salesforce and Trello. These companies already offer some deep Gmail integrations, including integrations with the Gmail sidebar, so we’ll likely see this list expand over time.

Meet itself, too, is getting some updates in the coming weeks with ‘knocking controls’ to make sure that once you throw somebody out of a meeting, that person can’t come back, and safety locks that help meeting hosts decide who can chat or present in a meeting.

Image Credits:


By Frederic Lardinois

Google Cloud launches Confidential VMs

At its virtual Cloud Next ’20 event, Google Cloud today announced Confidential VMs, a new type of virtual machine that makes use of the company’s work around confidential computing to ensure that data isn’t just encrypted at rest but also while it is in memory.

We already employ a variety of isolation and sandboxing techniques as part of our cloud infrastructure to help make our multi-tenant architecture secure,” the company notes in today’s announcement. “Confidential VMs take this to the next level by offering memory encryption so that you can further isolate your workloads in the cloud. Confidential VMs can help all our customers protect sensitive data, but we think it will be especially interesting to those in regulated industries.”

In the backend, Confidential VMs make use of AMD’s Secure Encrypted Virtualization feature, available in its second-generation EPYC CPUs. With that, the data will stay encrypted when used and the encryption keys to make this happen are automatically generated in hardware and can’t be exported — and with that, even Google doesn’t have access to the keys either.

Image Credits: Google

Developers who want to shift their existing VMs to a Confidential VM can do so with just a few clicks. Google notes that it built Confidential VMs on top of its Shielded VMs, which already provide protection against rootkits and other exploits.

“With built-in secure encrypted virtualization, 2nd Gen AMD EPYC processors provide an innovative hardware-based security feature that helps secure data in a virtualized environment,” said Raghu Nambiar, corporate vice president, Data Center Ecosystem, AMD. “For the new Google Compute Engine Confidential VMs in the N2D series, we worked with Google to help customers both secure their data and achieve performance of their workloads.”

That last part is obviously important, given that the extra encryption and decryption steps do incur at least a minor performance penalty. Google says it worked with AMD and developed new open-source drivers to ensure that “the performance metrics of Confidential VMs are close to those of non-confidential VMs.” At least according to the benchmarks Google itself has disclosed so far, both startup times and memory read and throughput performance are virtually the same for regular VMs and Confidential VMs.


By Frederic Lardinois

Google Cloud’s new BigQuery Omni will let developers query data in GCP, AWS and Azure

At its virtual Cloud Next ’20 event, Google today announced a number of updates to its cloud portfolio, but the public alpha launch of BigQuery Omni is probably the highlight of this year’s event. Powered by Google Cloud’s Anthos hybrid-cloud platform, BigQuery Omni allows developers to use the BigQuery engine to analyze data that sits in multiple clouds, including those of Google Cloud competitors like AWS and Microsoft Azure — though for now, the service only supports AWS, with Azure support coming later.

Using a unified interface, developers can analyze this data locally without having to move data sets between platforms.

“Our customers store petabytes of information in BigQuery, with the knowledge that it is safe and that it’s protected,” said Debanjan Saha, the GM and VP of Engineering for Data Analytics at Google Cloud, in a press conference ahead of today’s announcement. “A lot of our customers do many different types of analytics in BigQuery. For example, they use the built-in machine learning capabilities to run real-time analytics and predictive analytics. […] A lot of our customers who are very excited about using BigQuery in GCP are also asking, ‘how can they extend the use of BigQuery to other clouds?’ ”

Image Credits: Google

Google has long said that it believes that multi-cloud is the future — something that most of its competitors would probably agree with, though they all would obviously like you to use their tools, even if the data sits in other clouds or is generated off-platform. It’s the tools and services that help businesses to make use of all of this data, after all, where the different vendors can differentiate themselves from each other. Maybe it’s no surprise then, given Google Cloud’s expertise in data analytics, that BigQuery is now joining the multi-cloud fray.

“With BigQuery Omni customers get what they wanted,” Saha said. “They wanted to analyze their data no matter where the data sits and they get it today with BigQuery Omni.”

Image Credits: Google

He noted that Google Cloud believes that this will help enterprises break down their data silos and gain new insights into their data, all while allowing developers and analysts to use a standard SQL interface.

Today’s announcement is also a good example of how Google’s bet on Anthos is paying off by making it easier for the company to not just allow its customers to manage their multi-cloud deployments but also to extend the reach of its own products across clouds. This also explains why BigQuery Omni isn’t available for Azure yet, given that Anthos for Azure is still in preview, while AWS support became generally available in April.


By Frederic Lardinois

Google launches the Open Usage Commons, a new organization for managing open-source trademarks

Google, in collaboration with a number of academic leaders and its consulting partner SADA Systems, today announced the launch of the Open Usage Commons, a new organization that aims to help open-source projects manage their trademarks.

To be fair, at first glance, open-source trademarks may not sound like it would be a major problem (or even a really interesting topic), but there’s more here than meets the eye. As Google’s director of open source Chris DiBona told me, trademarks have increasingly become an issue for open-source projects, not necessarily because there have been legal issues around them, but because commercial entities that want to use the logo or name of an open-source project on their websites, for example, don’t have the reassurance that they are free to use those trademarks.

“One of the things that’s been rearing its ugly head over the last couple years has been trademarks,” he told me. “There’s not a lot of trademarks in open-source software in general, but particularly at Google, and frankly the higher tier, the more popular open-source projects, you see them more and more over the last five years. If you look at open-source licensing, they don’t treat trademarks at all the way they do copyright and patents, even Apache, which is my favorite license, they basically say, nope, not touching it, not our problem, you go talk.”

Traditionally, open-source licenses didn’t cover trademarks because there simply weren’t a lot of trademarks in the ecosystem to worry about. One of the exceptions here was Linux, a trademark that is now managed by the Linux Mark Institute on behalf of Linus Torvalds.

With that, commercial companies aren’t sure how to handle this situation and developers also don’t know how to respond to these companies when they ask them questions about their trademarks.

“What we wanted to do is give guidance around how you can share trademarks in the same way that you would share patents and copyright in an open-source license […],” DiBona explained. “And the idea is to basically provide that guidance, you know, provide that trademarks file, if you will, that you include in your source code.”

Google itself is putting three of its own open-source trademarks into this new organization: the Angular web application framework for mobile, the Gerrit code review tool and the Istio service mesh. “All three of them are kind of perfect for this sort of experiment because they’re under active development at Google, they have a trademark associated with them, they have logos and, in some cases, a mascot.”

One of those mascots is Diffi, the Kung Fu Code Review Cuckoo, because, as DiBona noted, “we were trying to come up with literally the worst mascot we could possibly come up with.” It’s now up to the Open Usage Commons to manage that trademark.

DiBona also noted that all three projects have third parties shipping products based on these projects (think Gerrit as a service).

Another thing DiBona stressed is that this is an independent organization. Besides himself, Jen Phillips, a senior engineering manager for open source at Google is also on the board. But the team also brought in SADA’s CTO Miles Ward (who was previously at Google); Allison Randal, the architect of the Parrot virtual machine and member of the board of directors of the Perl Foundation and OpenStack Foundation, among others; Charles Isbel, the dean of the Georgia Institute of Technology College of Computing, and Cliff Lampe, a professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan and a “rising star,” as DiBona pointed out.

“These are people who really have the best interests of computer science at heart, which is why we’re doing this,” DiBona noted. “Because the thing about open source — people talk about it all the time in the context of business and all the rest. The reason I got into it is because through open source we could work with other people in this sort of fertile middle space and sort of know what the deal was.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Google Cloud launches Filestore High Scale, a new storage tier for high-performance computing workloads

Google Cloud today announced the launch of Filestore High Scale, a new storage option — and tier of Google’s existing Filestore service — for workloads that can benefit from access to a distributed high-performance storage option.

With Filestore High Scale, which is based on technology Google acquired when it bought Elastifile in 2019, users can deploy shared file systems with hundreds of thousands of IOPS, 10s of GB/s of throughput and at a scale of 100s of TBs.

“Virtual screening allows us to computationally screen billions of small molecules against a target protein in order to discover potential treatments and therapies much faster than traditional experimental testing methods,” says Christoph Gorgulla, a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School’s Wagner Lab., which already put the new service through its paces. “As researchers, we hardly have the time to invest in learning how to set up and manage a needlessly complicated file system cluster, or to constantly monitor the health of our storage system. We needed a file system that could handle the load generated concurrently by thousands of clients, which have hundreds of thousands of vCPUs.”

The standard Google Cloud Filestore service already supports some of these use cases, but the company notes that it specifically built Filestore High Scale for high-performance computing (HPC) workloads. In today’s announcement, the company specifically focuses on biotech use cases around COVID-19. Filestore High Scale is meant to support tens of thousands of concurrent clients, which isn’t necessarily a standard use case, but developers who need this kind of power can now get it in Google Cloud.

In addition to High Scale, Google also today announced that all Filestore tiers now offer beta support for NFS IP-based access controls, an important new feature for those companies that have advanced security requirements on top of their need for a high-performance, fully managed file storage service.


By Frederic Lardinois