The OpenStack Foundation becomes the Open Infrastructure Foundation

This has been a long time coming, but the OpenStack foundation today announced that it is changing its name to ‘Open Infrastructure Foundation,” starting in 2021.

The announcement, which the foundation made at its virtual developer conference, doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. Over the course of the last few years, the organization started adding new projects that went well beyond the core OpenStack project and renamed its conference to the ‘Open Infrastructure Summit.’ The organization actually filed for the ‘Open Infrastructure Foundation’ trademark back in April.

Image Credits: OpenStack Foundation

After years of hype, the open-source OpenStack project hit a bit of a wall in 2016, as the market started to consolidate. The project itself, which helps enterprises run their private cloud, found its niche in the telecom space, though, and continues to thrive as one of the world’s most active open-source projects. Indeed, I regularly hear from OpenStack vendors that they are now seeing record sales numbers — despite the lack of hype. With the project being stable, though, the Foundation started casting a wider net and added additional projects like the popular Kata Containers runtime and CI/CD platform Zuul.

“We are officially transitioning and becoming the Open Infrastructure Foundation,” long-term OpenStack Foundation executive president Jonathan Bryce told me. “That is something that I think is an awesome step that’s built on the success that our community has spawned both within projects like OpenStack, but also as a movement […], which is [about] how do you give people choice and control as they build out digital infrastructure? And that is, I think, an awesome mission to have. And that’s what we are recognizing and acknowledging and setting up for another decade of doing that together with our great community.”

In many ways, it’s been more of a surprise that the organization waited as long as it did. As the foundation’s COO Mark Collier told me, the team waited because it wanted to sure that it did this right.

“We really just wanted to make sure that all the stuff we learned when we were building the OpenStack community and with the community — that started with a simple idea of ‘open source should be part of cloud, for infrastructure.’ That idea has just spawned so much more open source than we could have imagined. Of course, OpenStack itself has gotten bigger and more diverse than we could have imagined,” Collier said.

As part of today’s announcement, the group is also adding four new members at Platinum tier, its highest membership level: Ant Group, the Alibaba affiliate behind Alipay, embedded systems specialist Wind River, China’s Fiberhome (which was previously a Gold member) and Facebook Connectivity. To become a Platinum member, companies have to contribute $350,000 per year to the foundation and must have at least 2 full-time employees contributing to its projects.

“If you look at those companies that we have as Platinum members, it’s a pretty broad set of organizations,” Bryce noted. “AT&T, the largest carrier in the world. And then you also have a company Ant, who’s the largest payment processor in the world and a massive financial services company overall — over to Ericsson, that does telco, Wind River, that does defense and manufacturing. And I think that speaks to that everybody needs infrastructure. If we build a community — and we successfully structure these communities to write software with a goal of getting all of that software out into production, I think that creates so much value for so many people: for an ecosystem of vendors and for a great group of users and a lot of developers love working in open source because we work with smart people from all over the world.”

The OpenStack Foundation’s existing members are also on board and Bryce and Collier hinted at several new members who will join soon but didn’t quite get everything in place for today’s announcement.

We can probably expect the new foundation to start adding new projects next year, but it’s worth noting that the OpenStack project continues apace. The latest of the project’s bi-annual releases, dubbed ‘Victoria,’ launched last week, with additional Kubernetes integrations, improved support for various accelerators and more. Nothing will really change for the project now that the foundation is changing its name — though it may end up benefitting from a reenergized and more diverse community that will build out projects at its periphery.


By Frederic Lardinois

Xometry raises $75M Series E to expand custom manufacturing marketplace

When companies need to find manufacturers to build custom parts, it’s not always an easy process, especially during a pandemic. Xometry, a 7-year old startup based in Maryland has built an online marketplace where companies can find manufacturers across the world with excess capacity to build whatever they need. Today, the company announced a $75 million Series E investment to keep expanding the platform.

T. Rowe Price Associates led the investment with participation from new firms Durable Capital Partners LP and ArrowMark Partners. Previous investors also joined the round including BMW i Ventures, Greenspring Associates, Dell Technologies Capital, Robert Bosch Venture Capital, Foundry Group, Highland Capital Partners and Almaz Capital. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $193 million, according to the company.

Company CEO and co-founder Randy Altschuler says Xometry fills a need by providing a digital way of putting buyers and manufacturers together with a dash of artificial intelligence to put the right combination together. “We’ve created a marketplace using artificial intelligence to power it, and provide an e-commerce experience for buyers of custom manufacturing and for suppliers to deliver that manufacturing,” Altschuler told TechCrunch.

The kind of custom pieces that are facilitated by this platform include mechanical parts for aerospace, defense, automotive, robotics and medical devices — what Altschuler calls mission critical parts. Being able to put companies together in this fashion is particularly useful during COVID when certain regions might have been shut down.

“COVID has reinforced the need for distributed manufacturing and our platform enables that by empowering these local manufacturers, and because we’re using technology to do it, as COVID has unfolded […] and as continents have shut down, and even specific states in the United States have shut down, our platform has allowed customers to autocorrect and shift work to other locations,” he explained

What’s more, companies could take advantage of the platform to manufacture critical personal protective equipment. “One of the beauties of our platform was when COVID hit customers could come to our platform and suddenly access this tremendous amount of manufacturing capacity to produce this much-needed PPP,” he said.

Xometry makes money by facilitating the sale between the buyer and producer. They help set the price and then make money on the difference between the cost to produce and how much the buyer was willing to pay to have it done.

They have relationships with 5000 manufacturers located throughout the world and 30,000 customers using the platform to build the parts they need. The company currently has around 350 employees with plans to use the money to add more to keep enhancing the platform.

Altschuler says from a human perspective, he wants his company to have a diverse workforce because he never wants to see people being discriminated against for whatever reason, but he also says as a company with an international market having a diverse workforce is also critical to his business. “The more diversity that we have within Xometry, the more we’re able to effectively market to those folks, sell to those folks and understand how they utilize technology. We’re just going to better understand our customer set as we [build a more diverse workforce],” he said.

As a Series E-stage company, Altschuler does not shy away from the IPO question. In fact, he recently brought in new CFO Jim Rallo, who has experience taking a company public. “The market that we operate in is so large, and there’s so many opportunities for us to serve both our customers and our suppliers, and we have to be great for both of them. We need capital to do that, and the public markets can be an efficient way to access that capital and to grow our business, and in the end that’s what we want to do,” he said.


By Ron Miller

How startups can leverage elastic services for cost optimization

Due to COVID-19, business continuity has been put to the test for many companies in the manufacturing, agriculture, transport, hospitality, energy and retail sectors. Cost reduction is the primary focus of companies in these sectors due to massive losses in revenue caused by this pandemic. The other side of the crisis is, however, significantly different.

Companies in industries such as medical, government and financial services, as well as cloud-native tech startups that are providing essential services, have experienced a considerable increase in their operational demands — leading to rising operational costs. Irrespective of the industry your company belongs to, and whether your company is experiencing reduced or increased operations, cost optimization is a reality for all companies to ensure a sustained existence.

One of the most reliable measures for cost optimization at this stage is to leverage elastic services designed to grow or shrink according to demand, such as cloud and managed services. A modern product with a cloud-native architecture can auto-scale cloud consumption to mitigate lost operational demand. What may not have been obvious to startup leaders is a strategy often employed by incumbent, mature enterprises — achieving cost optimization by leveraging managed services providers (MSPs). MSPs enable organizations to repurpose full-time staff members from impacted operations to more strategic product lines or initiatives.

Why companies need cost optimization in the long run


By Walter Thompson

WorkClout shifts focus to manufacturing performance support and raises $2.3M seed

WorkClout, a graduate of the Y Combinator Winter 2019 cohort, announced today that it has shifted its focus from manufacturing automation to manufacturing performance support and has raised a $2.3 million seed round.

The funding was led by Spider Capital with participation from Y Combinator, Liquid 2, Soma Capital, Pioneer Fund, Mehta Ventures and several individual investors.

When the company launched last year, it was looking at helping customers drive operational efficiency in their processes, but WorkClout founder and CEO Arjun Patel says they were seeing that there was a ceiling in terms of how much efficiency they could squeeze out of work processes using software.

At that point, Patel decided to take a step back and do some research to figure out how WorkClout could best help manufacturing customers with its software-based solutions. After surveying 124 manufacturers, he says that he realized that these companies really needed help training front-line workers, an area he says is called performance support.

“We found that most of the companies were saying that employees are the biggest challenge that they have to face in terms of how to engage them better or how to empower them better, because ultimately they realize people, even if there is automation, are still the driving force for a lot of sectors,” Patel told TechCrunch.

Towards the end of last year, the company built a new tool to help customers train employees for complex front-line tasks. The workers might have a phone or tablet, which shows them how to complete each task, and gives them feedback as they move through a set of tasks. It also enables these workers to communicate with one another and with management about issues they are seeing on the line. Managers can monitor communication and see how workers are doing on a back-end system in the office.

“We gave them the ability to allow employees to capture and share critical information in real time on the factory floor, where the goal is to actually create standardized multimedia and training content for machines, processes and stations, allowing new and existing employees to get better insight into their work, and at the same time, allowing employees to communicate better about problems on the floor and reduce downtime,” he explained.

Patel recognizes that this is a difficult time to pivot, but says he believes it puts the company in a better position to succeed in the long term. He has cut the team from nine to five employees in an effort to run lean for the short term.

He hopes to begin hiring again in the fourth quarter this year or, at the latest, by Q1 next year. He plans to use that time to build out the product and prepare for a big go-to market push whenever the economy begins to rebound.

He sees this money giving him a long runway of 2.5 years with the company’s current burn and revenue rates, and that should give him enough time to wait out the current economic downturn.


By Ron Miller

Salesforce doubles down on verticals, launches Manufacturing and Consumer Goods Clouds

As legacy industries make the migration to cloud-based, digital solutions to run and grow their businesses, Salesforce is hoping that it will get a cut of the action when it comes to their IT investments. The CRM giant has been doubling down on building specialised solutions for individual industry verticals, and today, it is unveiling new business units dedicated to not one but two of them, manufacturing and consumer goods.

The Manufacturing Cloud and Consumer Goods Cloud, as the two new products are called, are the latest in a list of other vertical-specific products that the company has created. Other verticals targeted to date include finance, healthcare, media, non-profits, and retail.

The idea behind Salesforce’s strategy to build industry-specific solutions is that while the CRM and sales processes that go into manufacturing and consumer goods do have some aspects in common with other industries, both also have relatively specific requirements, too, around how sales are agreed and clients are managed.

In the case of manufacturing and consumer goods, both are capital-intensive businesses where those working on the physical products might be very removed from those working on sales (not just in terms of job functions, but in terms of the software that’s used to manage each operation), or those who are in the field who are helping to distribute those goods to the people ultimately selling them.

“In the manufacturing industry, changing customer and market demands can have a devastating effect on the bottom line, so being able to understand what is happening on the ground is imperative for success,” said Cindy Bolt, SVP and GM, Salesforce Manufacturing, in a statement. “Manufacturing Cloud bridges the gap between sales and operations teams while ensuring more predictive and transparent business, so they can build deeper and more trusted relationships with their customers.”

In both the cases of manufacturing and consumer goods, Salesforce is not creating these services out of thin air: the company had already been touting solutions for both sectors as part of its bigger push into specific industries. Past acquisitions of companies like Steelbrick — a specialist in quote-to-cash solutions, a cornerstone of how manufacturing sales are made — are likely to have also played a contributing role in how the new clouds were built.

With the Manufacturing Cloud, Salesforce says that it has included a feature for sales agreements that link up with a company’s ERP and forecasting software to be able to better predict demand from individual customers as well as the wider market. The services are also coming with more analytical insights by way of Einstein Analytics, and more functionality to work with channel partners. Third parties working with Salesforce on joint solutions using Marketing Cloud include Acumen Solutions, Deloitte and Rootstock.

The Consumer Goods Cloud has some parallel with the Manufacturing Cloud, in that both are targeting businesses that are by their nature and by legacy very rooted in physical goods and are therefore not easily “disrupted” by digital innovation. Indeed, despite all that we hear about the might of Amazon and e-commerce, a full 95% of products are still sold in physical stores. That system has a lot of drawbacks, not least of them being challenges with consumer goods brands having accurate control over how products are distributed and ultimately sold.

“Retail execution remains one of the most important pieces of a consumer goods brands strategy, but so much opportunity is wasted if the field rep doesn’t have the data and technology needed to make smart decisions,” said John Strain, GM and SVP, Retail and Consumer Goods at Salesforce, in a statement. “Consumer Goods Cloud provides these field reps with the tools they need to be successful on the ground while helping build both business opportunities and stronger relationships with their retail partners.”

The company, citing research from PwC, claims that of the $200 billion that’s spent in the US by consumer goods companies each year on merchandising, marketing and sales efforts for in-store sales, some $100 billion of that spend is never used in the way it was originally intended. (That’s one reason so many consumer goods companies have jumped into social media: it’s a way of connecting better and more directly at least with the customers.)

That represents a huge area to tackle for a company likes Salesforce, and the Consumer Goods Cloud is the start of that effort. The product covers software that addresses areas optimising visits to stores, improving relationships with retailers, using Einstein insights for analytics, and ordering software. Partners in the effort include Accenture and PwC.

Another important thing to note here is that Salesforce’s move into the area comes as a competitive strike: Not only are there companies out there that have built products specifically for these markets — Sysco for consumer goods, and Atlatl Software for manufacturing, for example — but Salesforce has to contend with general rivals such as Microsoft and SAP also targeting the same potential customers.

As of last quarter, Sales Cloud now accounts for more than one-quarter of Salesforce’s revenues, but today’s news underscores how “sales” is becoming a more complex and nuanced topic for the company as its business continues to grow, and as cloud-based digital processes become ever more ubiquitous across all sectors beyond simply knowledge workers. As salesforce builds out more solutions to meet every kind of enterprise’s needs, it’s likely there will be more vertical-specific tools making their way to the platform.


By Ingrid Lunden

How Facebook does IT

If you have ever worked at any sizable company, the word “IT” probably doesn’t conjure up many warm feelings. If you’re working for an old, traditional enterprise company, you probably don’t expect anything else, though. If you’re working for a modern tech company, though, chances are your expectations are a bit higher. And once you’re at the scale of a company like Facebook, a lot of the third-party services that work for smaller companies simply don’t work anymore.

To discuss how Facebook thinks about its IT strategy and why it now builds most of its IT tools in-house, I sat down with the company’s CIO, Atish Banerjea, at its Menlo Park headquarter.

Before joining Facebook in 2016 to head up what it now calls its “Enterprise Engineering” organization, Banerjea was the CIO or CTO at companies like NBCUniversal, Dex One and Pearson.

“If you think about Facebook 10 years ago, we were very much a traditional IT shop at that point,” he told me. “We were responsible for just core IT services, responsible for compliance and responsible for change management. But basically, if you think about the trajectory of the company, were probably about 2,000 employees around the end of 2010. But at the end of last year, we were close to 37,000 employees.”

Traditionally, IT organizations rely on third-party tools and software, but as Facebook grew to this current size, many third-party solutions simply weren’t able to scale with it. At that point, the team decided to take matters into its own hands and go from being a traditional IT organization to one that could build tools in-house. Today, the company is pretty much self-sufficient when it comes to running its IT operations, but getting to this point took a while.

“We had to pretty much reinvent ourselves into a true engineering product organization and went to a full ‘build’ mindset,” said Banerjea. That’s not something every organization is obviously able to do, but, as Banerjea joked, one of the reasons why this works at Facebook “is because we can — we have that benefit of the talent pool that is here at Facebook.”

IMG 20190702 125344

The company then took this talent and basically replicated the kind of team it would help on the customer side to build out its IT tools, with engineers, designers, product managers, content strategies, people and research. “We also made the decision at that point that we will hold the same bar and we will hold the same standards so that the products we create internally will be as world-class as the products we’re rolling out externally.”

One of the tools that wasn’t up to Facebook’s scaling challenges was video conferencing. The company was using a third-party tool for that, but that just wasn’t working anymore. In 2018, Facebook was consuming about 20 million conference minutes per month. In 2019, the company is now at 40 million per month.

Besides the obvious scaling challenge, Facebook is also doing this to be able to offer its employees custom software that fits their workflows. It’s one thing to adapt existing third-party tools, after all, and another to build custom tools to support a company’s business processes.

Banerjea told me that creating this new structure was a relatively easy sell inside the company. Every transformation comes with its own challenges, though. For Facebook’s Enterprise  Engineering team, that included having to recruit new skill sets into the organization. The first few months of this process were painful, Banerjea admitted, as the company had to up-level the skills of many existing employees and shed a significant number of contractors. “There are certain areas where we really felt that we had to have Facebook DNA in order to make sure that we were actually building things the right way,” he explained.

Facebook’s structure creates an additional challenge for the team. When you’re joining Facebook as a new employee, you have plenty of teams to choose from, after all, and if you have the choice of working on Instagram or WhatsApp or the core Facebook app — all of which touch millions of people — working on internal tools with fewer than 40,000 users doesn’t sound all that exciting.

“When young kids who come straight from college and they come into Facebook, they don’t know any better. So they think this is how the world is,” Banerjea said. “But when we have experienced people come in who have worked at other companies, the first thing I hear is ‘oh my goodness, we’ve never seen internal tools of this caliber before.’ The way we recruit, the way we do performance management, the way we do learning and development — every facet of how that employee works has been touched in terms of their life cycle here.”

Event Center 02

Facebook first started building these internal tools around 2012, though it wasn’t until Banerjea joined in 2016 that it rebranded the organization and set up today’s structure. He also noted that some of those original tools were good, but not up to the caliber employees would expect from the company.

“The really big change that we went through was up-leveling our building skills to really become at the same caliber as if we were to build those products for an external customer. We want to have the same experience for people internally.”

The company went as far as replacing and rebuilding the commercial Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system it had been using for years. If there’s one thing that big companies rely on, it’s their ERP systems, given they often handle everything from finance and HR to supply chain management and manufacturing. That’s basically what all of their backend tools rely on (and what companies like SAP, Oracle and others charge a lot of money for). “In that 2016/2017 time frame, we realized that that was not a very good strategy,” Banerjea said. In Facebook’s case, the old ERP handled the inventory management for its data centers, among many other things. When that old system went down, the company couldn’t ship parts to its data centers.

“So what we started doing was we started peeling off all the business logic from our backend ERP and we started rewriting it ourselves on our own platform,” he explained. “Today, for our ERP, the backend is just the database, but all the business logic, all of the functionality is actually all custom written by us on our own platform. So we’ve completely rewritten our ERP, so to speak.”

In practice, all of this means that ideally, Facebook’s employees face far less friction when they join the company, for example, or when they need to replace a broken laptop, get a new phone to test features or simply order a new screen for their desk.

One classic use case is onboarding, where new employees get their company laptop, mobile phones and access to all of their systems, for example. At Facebook, that’s also the start of a six-week bootcamp that gets new engineers up to speed with how things work at Facebook. Back in 2016, when new classes tended to still have less than 200 new employees, that was still mostly a manual task. Today, with far more incoming employees, the Enterprise Engineering team has automated most of that — and that includes managing the supply chain that ensures the laptops and phones for these new employees are actually available.

But the team also built the backend that powers the company’s more traditional IT help desks, where employees can walk up and get their issues fixed (and passwords reset).

Event Center 10

To talk more about how Facebook handles the logistics of that, I sat down with Koshambi Shah, who heads up the company’s Enterprise Supply Chain organization, which pretty much handles every piece of hardware and software the company delivers and deploys to its employees around the world (and that global nature of the company brings its own challenges and additional complexity). The team, which has fewer than 30 people, is made up of employees with experience in manufacturing, retail and consumer supply chains.

Typically, enterprises offer their employees a minimal set of choices when it comes to the laptops and phones they issue to their employees, and the operating systems that can run on them tend to be limited. Facebook’s engineers have to be able to test new features on a wide range of devices and operating systems. There are, after all, still users on the iPhone 4s or BlackBerry that the company wants to support. To do this, Shah’s organization actually makes thousands of SKUs available to employees and is able to deliver 98% of them within three days or less. It’s not just sending a laptop via FedEx, though. “We do the budgeting, the financial planning, the forecasting, the supply/demand balancing,” Shah said. “We do the asset management. We make sure the asset — what is needed, when it’s needed, where it’s needed — is there consistently.”

In many large companies, every asset request is double guessed. Facebook, on the other hand, places a lot of trust in its employees, it seems. There’s a self-service portal, the Enterprise Store, that allows employees to easily request phones, laptops, chargers (which get lost a lot) and other accessories as needed, without having to wait for approval (though if you request a laptop every week, somebody will surely want to have a word with you). Everything is obviously tracked in detail, but the overall experience is closer to shopping at an online retailer than using an enterprise asset management system. The Enterprise Store will tell you where a device is available, for example, so you can pick it up yourself (but you can always have it delivered to your desk, too, because this is, after all, a Silicon Valley company).

A73A6581

For accessories, Facebook also offers self-service vending machines, and employees can walk up to the help desk.

The company also recently introduced an Amazon Locker-style setup that allows employees to check out devices as needed. At these smart lockers, employees simply have to scan their badge, choose a device and, once the appropriate door has opened, pick up the phone, tablet, laptop or VR devices they were looking for and move on. Once they are done with it, they can come back and check the device back in. No questions asked. “We trust that people make the right decision for the good of the company,” Shah said. For laptops and other accessories, the company does show the employee the price of those items, though, so it’s clear how much a certain request costs the company. “We empower you with the data for you to make the best decision for your company.”

Talking about cost, Shah told me the Supply Chain organization tracks a number of metrics. One of those is obviously cost. “We do give back about 4% year-over-year, that’s our commitment back to the businesses in terms of the efficiencies we build for every user we support. So we measure ourselves in terms of cost per supported user. And we give back 4% on an annualized basis in the efficiencies.”

Unsurprisingly, the company has by now gathered enough data about employee requests (Shah said the team fulfills about half a million transactions per year) that it can use machine learning to understand trends and be proactive about replacing devices, for example.

IMG 8238

Facebooks’ Enterprise Engineering group doesn’t just support internal customers, though. Another interesting aspect to Facebook’s Enterprise Engineering group is that it also runs the company’s internal and external events, including the likes of F8, the company’s annual developer conference. To do this, the company built out conference rooms that can seat thousands of people, with all of the logistics that go with that.

The company also showed me one of its newest meeting rooms where there are dozens of microphones and speakers hanging from the ceiling that make it easier for everybody in the room to participate in a meeting and be heard by everybody else. That’s part of what the organization’s “New Builds” team is responsible for, and something that’s possible because the company also takes a very hands-on approach to building and managing its offices.

Facebook also runs a number of small studios in its Menlo Park and New York offices, where both employees and the occasional external VIP can host Facebook Live videos.

Event Center 56

Indeed, live video, it seems, is one of the cornerstones of how Facebook employees collaborate and help employees who work from home. Typically, you’d just use the camera on your laptop or maybe a webcam connected to your desktop to do so. But because Facebook actually produces its own camera system with the consumer-oriented Portal, Banerjea’s team decided to use that.

“What we have done is we have actually re-engineered the Portal,” he told me. “We have connected with all of our video conferencing systems in the rooms. So if I have a Portal at home, I can dial into my video conferencing platform and have a conference call just like I’m sitting in any other conference room here in Facebook. And all that software, all the engineering on the portal, that has been done by our teams — some in partnership with our production teams, but a lot of it has been done with Enterprise Engineering.”

Unsurprisingly, there are also groups that manage some of the core infrastructure and security for the company’s internal tools and networks. All of those tools run in the same data centers as Facebook’s consumer-facing applications, though they are obviously sandboxed and isolated from them.

It’s one thing to build all of these tools for internal use, but now, the company is also starting to think about how it can bring some of these tools it built for internal use to some of its external customers. You may not think of Facebook as an enterprise company, but with its Workplace collaboration tool, it has an enterprise service that it sells externally, too. Last year, for the first time, Workplace added a new feature that was incubated inside of Enterprise Engineering. That feature was a version of Facebook’s public Safety Check that the Enterprise Engineering team had originally adapted to the company’s own internal use.

“Many of these things that we are building for Facebook, because we are now very close partners with our Workplace team — they are in the enterprise software business and we are the enterprise software group for Facebook — and many [features] we are building for Facebook are of interest to Workplace customers.”

As Workplace hit the market, Banerjea ended up talking to the CIOs of potential users, including the likes of Delta Air Lines, about how Facebook itself used Workplace internally. But as companies started to adopt Workplace, they realized that they needed integrations with existing third-party services like ERP platforms and Salesforce. Those companies then asked Facebook if it could build those integrations or work with partners to make them available. But at the same time, those customers got exposed to some of the tools that Facebook itself was building internally.

“Safety Check was the first one,” Banerjea said. “We are actually working on three more products this year.” He wouldn’t say what these are, of course, but there is clearly a pipeline of tools that Facebook has built for internal use that it is now looking to commercialize. That’s pretty unusual for any IT organization, which, after all, tends to only focus on internal customers. I don’t expect Facebook to pivot to an enterprise software company anytime soon, but initiatives like this are clearly important to the company and, in some ways, to the morale of the team.

This creates a bit of friction, too, though, given that the Enterprise Engineering group’s mission is to build internal tools for Facebook. “We are now figuring out the deployment model,” Banerjea said. Who, for example, is going to support the external tools the team built? Is it the Enterprise Engineering group or the Workplace team?

Chances are then, that Facebook will bring some of the tools it built for internal use to more enterprises in the long run. That definitely puts a different spin on the idea of the consumerization of enterprise tech. Clearly, not every company operates at the scale of Facebook and needs to build its own tools — and even some companies that could benefit from it don’t have the resources to do so. For Facebook, though, that move seems to have paid off and the tools I saw while talking to the team definitely looked more user-friendly than any off-the-shelf enterprise tools I’ve seen at other large companies.


By Frederic Lardinois

Calling all hardware startups! Apply to Hardware Battlefield @ TC Shenzhen

Got hardware? Well then, listen up, because our search continues for boundary-pushing, early-stage hardware startups to join us in Shenzhen, China for an epic opportunity; launch your startup on a global stage and compete in Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen on November 11-12.

Apply here to compete in TC Hardware Battlefield 2019. Why? It’s your chance to demo your product to the top investors and technologists in the world. Hardware Battlefield, cousin to Startup Battlefield, focuses exclusively on innovative hardware because, let’s face it, it’s the backbone of technology. From enterprise solutions to agtech advancements, medical devices to consumer product goods — hardware startups are in the international spotlight.

If you make the cut, you’ll compete against 15 of the world’s most innovative hardware makers for bragging rights, plenty of investor love, media exposure and $25,000 in equity-free cash. Just participating in a Battlefield can change the whole trajectory of your business in the best way possible.

We chose to bring our fifth Hardware Battlefield to Shenzhen because of its outstanding track record of supporting hardware startups. The city achieves this through a combination of accelerators, rapid prototyping and world-class manufacturing. What’s more, TC Hardware Battlefield 2019 takes place as part of the larger TechCrunch Shenzhen that runs November 9-12.

Creativity and innovation no know boundaries, and that’s why we’re opening this competition to any early-stage hardware startup from any country. While we’ve seen amazing hardware in previous Battlefields — like robotic armsfood testing devicesmalaria diagnostic tools, smart socks for diabetics and e-motorcycles, we can’t wait to see the next generation of hardware, so bring it on!

Meet the minimum requirements listed below, and we’ll consider your startup:

Here’s how Hardware Battlefield works. TechCrunch editors vet every qualified application and pick 15 startups to compete. Those startups receive six rigorous weeks of free coaching. Forget stage fright. You’ll be prepped and ready to step into the spotlight.

Teams have six minutes to pitch and demo their products, which is immediately followed by an in-depth Q&A with the judges. If you make it to the final round, you’ll repeat the process in front of a new set of judges.

The judges will name one outstanding startup the Hardware Battlefield champion. Hoist the Battlefield Cup, claim those bragging rights and the $25,000. This nerve-wracking thrill-ride takes place in front of a live audience, and we capture the entire event on video and post it to our global audience on TechCrunch.

Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen takes place on November 11-12. Don’t hide your hardware or miss your chance to show us — and the entire tech world — your startup magic. Apply to compete in TC Hardware Battlefield 2019, and join us in Shenzhen!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.


By Neesha A. Tambe

Microsoft and Oracle link up their clouds

Microsoft and Oracle announced a new alliance today that will see the two companies directly connect their clouds over a direct network connection so that their users can then move workloads and data seamlessly between the two. This alliance goes a bit beyond just basic direct connectivity and also includes identity interoperability.

This kind of alliance is relatively unusual between what are essentially competing clouds, but while Oracle wants to be seen as a major player in this space, it also realizes that it isn’t likely to get to the size of an AWS, Azure or Google Cloud anytime soon. For Oracle, this alliance means that its users can run services like the Oracle E-Business Suite and Oracle JD Edwards on Azure while still using an Oracle database in the Oracle cloud, for example. With that, Microsoft still gets to run the workloads and Oracle gets to do what it does best (though Azure users will also continue be able to run their Oracle databases in the Azure cloud, too).

“The Oracle Cloud offers a complete suite of integrated applications for sales, service, marketing, human resources, finance, supply chain and manufacturing, plus highly automated and secure Generation 2 infrastructure featuring the Oracle Autonomous Database,” said Don Johnson, executive vice president, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI), in today’s announcement. “Oracle and Microsoft have served enterprise customer needs for decades. With this alliance, our joint customers can migrate their entire set of existing applications to the cloud without having to re-architect anything, preserving the large investments they have already made.”

For now, the direct interconnect between the two clouds is limited to Azure US East and Oracle’s Ashburn data center. The two companies plan to expand this alliance to other regions in the future, though they remain mum on the details. It’ll support applications like JD Edwards EnterpriseOne, E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft, Oracle Retail and Hyperion on Azure, in combination with Oracle databases like RAC, Exadata and the Oracle Autonomous Database running in the Oracle Cloud.

“As the cloud of choice for the enterprise, with over 95% of the Fortune 500 using Azure, we have always been first and foremost focused on helping our customers thrive on their digital transformation journeys,” said Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Cloud and AI division. “With Oracle’s enterprise expertise, this alliance is a natural choice for us as we help our joint customers accelerate the migration of enterprise applications and databases to the public cloud.”

Today’s announcement also fits within a wider trend at Microsoft, which has recently started building a number of alliances with other large enterprise players, including its open data alliance with SAP and Adobe, as well as a somewhat unorthodox gaming partnership with Sony.

 


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft teams up with BMW for the IoT-focused Open Manufacturing Platform

Car companies are making big investments in technology to help ensure that they are not cut out of the next generation of transportation and automotive manufacturing, and today came the latest development in that trend.

The BMW Group and Microsoft announced they would team up in a new effort called the Open Manufacturing Platform, aimed at developing and encouraging more collaborative IoT development in the manufacturing sector, focusing on smart factory solutions and building standards to develop them in areas like machine connectivity and on-premises systems integration.

The two companies have not disclosed how much they intend to invest in the project — we have sent a message to ask. The plan will be to bring in more manufacturers and suppliers — the goal, they say, is to have between four and six others with them, working on 15 use cases by the end of this year — working with open source components, open industrial standards and open data to develop both hardware and software that runs on it.

The two say that future partners do not have to be from within the automotive industry.

The OMP will be built on Microsoft’s industrial IoT platform — part of its Azure cloud business. But this is a natural progression of how Microsoft and BMW were already working together. BMW already has 3,000 machines running on Azure cloud, IoT and AI services in its existing robots and in-factory autonomous transport systems, and it said it will be contributing some of the technology that it had already built — for example around its self-driving systems — into the group as part of the effort.

“Microsoft is joining forces with the BMW Group to transform digital production efficiency across the industry,” Scott Guthrie, executive vice president, Microsoft Cloud + AI Group, said in a presentation in Germany today. “Our commitment to building an open community will create new opportunities for collaboration across the entire manufacturing value chain.”

“Mastering the complex task of producing individualized premium products requires innovative IT and software solutions,” added Oliver Zipse, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Production, a statement. “The interconnection of production sites and systems as well as the secure integration of partners and suppliers are particularly important. We have been relying on the cloud since 2016 and are consistently developing new approaches. With the Open Manufacturing Platform as the next step, we want to make our solutions available to other companies and jointly leverage potential in order to secure our strong position in the market in the long term.”

The problem that Microsoft and BMW are going after here is a longstanding one. Much of the computing in the world of IT has been built around open standards, or in any event on very widely-used proprietary platforms that can interface with each other. The same does not go in the world of manufacturing, where proprietary systems are specific to each manufacturer, making them difficult to modify and often impossible to use in conjunction with other proprietary systems.

That ultimately slows down how things have been able to evolve, and will mean that implementing new generations of technology becomes expensive or even in some cases impossible. And given the speed with which things are moving, and the increasing sophistication of the machines that are being built (cars as “hardware”), something had to change.

That is what BMW and Microsoft are addressing. For BMW it will give it a hand in helping shape how standards develop, and for Microsoft it will give it a potential window into expanding its business in this enterprise sector.

The collaborative approach has been a big one for tech companies hoping to find a common way forward in the future of computing. Microsoft may own a lot of proprietary platforms that are not open source, but it’s making efforts to collaborate more in a number of other ways. It works with SAP, Adobe, WPP and others on the Open Data Initiative; with Intel, Google and others it’s working on an open standard for connecting data centers; it’s part of an open standard initiative for software licensing; and it’s part of a new cross-licensing patent database.


By Ingrid Lunden

WorkClout brings SaaS to factory floor to increase operational efficiency

Factory software tools are often out of reach of small manufacturers, forcing them to operate with inefficient manual systems. WorkClout, a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2019 class, wants to change that by offering a more affordable SaaS alternative to traditional manufacturing software solutions.

Company co-founder and CEO Arjun Patel grew up helping out in his Dad’s factory and he saw first-hand how difficult it is for small factory owners to automate. He says that traditional floor management tools are expensive and challenging to implement.

“What motivated me is that when my Dad was trying to implement a similar system,” Patel said. He said that his father’s system had cost over $240K, taken over a year to get going and wasn’t really doing what he wanted it to do. That’s when he decided to help.

He teamed up with Bryan Trang, who became the CPO and Richard Girges, who became the CTO to build the system that his Dad (and others in a similar situation) needed. Specifically, the company developed a cloud software solution that helps manufacturers increase their operational efficiency. “Two things that we do really well is track every action on the factory floor and use that data to make suggestions on how to increase efficiency. We also determine how much work can be done in a given time period, taking finite resources into consideration,” Patel explained.

He said that one of the main problems that small-to-medium sized manufacturers face is a lack of visibility into their businesses. WorkClout looks at orders, activities, labor and resources to determine the best course of action to a complete an order in the most cost-effective way.

“WorkClout gives our customers a better way to allocate resources and greater visibility of what’s actually happening on the factory floor. The more data that they have, the more accurate picture they have of what’s going on,” Patel said.

Production Schedule view. Screenshot: WorkClout

The company is still working on the pricing model, but today it charges administrative users like plant management, accounting and sales. Machine operators get access to the data for free. The current rate for paid users starts at $99 per user per month. There is an additional one-time charge for implementation and training.

As for the Y Combinator experience, Patel says that it has helped him focus on what’s important. “It really makes you hone in on building the product and getting customers, then making sure those two things are leading to customer happiness,” he said.

While the company does have to help customers get going today, the goal is to make the product more self-serve over time as they begin to understand the different verticals they are developing solutions for. The startup launched in December and already has 13 customers, generating $100,000 in annual recurring revenue (ARR), according to Patel.


By Ron Miller

RiskRecon’s security assessment services for third party vendors raises $25 million

In June of this year, Chinese hackers managed to install software into the networks of a contractor for the U.S. Navy and steal information on a roughly $300 million top secret submarine program.

Two years ago, hackers infiltrated the networks of a vendor servicing the Australian military and made off with files containing a trove of information on Australian and U.S. military hardware and plans. That hacker stole roughly 30 gigabytes of data, including information on the nearly half-a-trillion dollar F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

Third party vendors, contractors, and suppliers to big companies have long been the targets for cyber thieves looking for access to sensitive data, and the reason is simple. Companies don’t know how secure their suppliers really are and can’t take the time to find out.

The Department of Defense can have the best cybersecurity on the planet, but when that moves off to a subcontractor how can the DOD know how the subcontractor is going to protect that data?” says Kelly White, the chief executive of RiskRecon, a new firm that provides audits of vendors’ security profile. 

The problem is one that the Salt Lake City-based executive knew well. White was a former security executive for Zion Bank Corporation after spending years in the cyber security industry with Ernst & Young and TrueSecure — a Washington DC-based security vendor.

When White began work with Zion, around 2% of the company’s services were hosted by third parties, less than five years later and that number had climbed to over 50%. When White identified the problem in 2010, he immediately began developing a solution on his own time. RiskRecon’s chief executive estimates he spent 3,000 hours developing the service between 2010 and 2015, when he finally launched the business with seed capital from General Catalyst .

And White says the tools that companies use to ensure that those vendors have adequate security measures in place basically boiled down to an emailed check list that the vendors would fill out themselves.

That’s why White built the RiskRecon service, which has just raised $25 million in a new round of funding led by Accel Partners with participation from Dell Technologies Capital, General Catalyst, and F-Prime Capital, Fidelity Investments venture capital affiliate.

The company’s software looks at what White calls the “internet surface” of a vendor and maps the different ways in which that surface can be compromised. “We don’t require any insider information to get started,” says White. “The point of finding systems is to understand how well an organization is managing their risk.”

White says that the software does more than identify the weak points in a vendor’s security profile, it also tries to get a view into the type of information that could be exposed at different points on an network,

According to White, the company has over 50 customers among the Fortune 500 who are already using his company’s services across industries like financial services, oil and gas and manufacturing.

The money from RiskRecon’s new round will be used to boost sales and marketing efforts as the company looks to expand into Europe, Asia and further into North America.

“Where there’s not transparency there’s often poor performance,” says White. “Ccybersecurity has gone a long time without true transparency. You can’t have strong accountability without strong transparency.”


By Jonathan Shieber

Splunk turns data processing chops to Industrial IoT

Splunk has always been known as a company that can sift through oodles of log or security data and help customers surface the important bits. Today, it announced it was going to try to apply that same skill set to Industrial Internet of Things data.

IIoT is data found in manufacturing settings, typically come from sensors on the factory floor giving engineers and plant managers data about the health and well-being of the machines running in the facility. Up until now, that data hasn’t had a modern place to live. Traditionally, companies pull the data into Excel and try to slice and dice it to find the issues

Splunk wants to change that with Splunk Industrial Asset Intelligence (IAI). The latest product pulls data from a variety of sources where it can be presented to management and engineers with the information they need to see along with critical alerts.

The new product takes advantage of some existing Splunk tools being built on top of Splunk Enterprise, but instead of processing data coming from IT systems, it’s looking at Industrial Control Systems (ICS), sensors, SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems and applications and pulling all that data together and presenting it to the key constituencies in a dashboard.

It is not a simple matter, however, to set up these dashboards, pull the data from the various data sources, some of which may be modern and some quite old, and figure out what’s important for a particular customer. Splunk says it has turned to systems integrators to help with that part of the implementation.

Splunk understands data, but it also recognizes working in the manufacturing sector is new territory for them, so they are looking to SIs with expertise in manufacturing to help them work with the unique requirements of this group. But it’s still data says Ammar Maraqa. Splunk SVP of Business Operations And Strategy and General Manager of IoT Markets

“If you step back at the end of the day, Splunk is able to ingest and correlate heterogeneous sets of data to provide a view into what’s happening in their environments,” Maraqa said.

With today’s announcement, Splunk Industrial Asset Intelligence exits Beta for a limited release. It should be generally available sometime in the Fall.