Tech giants should let startups defer cloud payments

Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are the landlords. Amidst the Coronavirus economic crisis, startups need a break from paying rent. They’re in a cash crunch. Revenue has stopped flowing in, capital markets like venture debt are hesitant, and startups and small-to-medium sized businessesf are at risk of either having to lay off huge numbers of employees and/or shut down.

Meanwhile, the tech giants are cash rich. Their success this decade means they’re able to weather the storm for a few months. Their customers cannot.

Cloud infrastructure costs area amongst many startups’ top expenses besides payroll. The option to pay these cloud bills later could save some from going out of business or axing huge parts of their staff. Both would hurt the tech industry, the economy, and the individuals laid off. But most worryingly for the giants, it could destroy their customer base.

The mass layoffs have already begun. Soon we’re sure to start hearing about sizable companies shutting down, upended by COVID-19. But there’s still an opportunity to stop a larger bloodbath from ensuing.

That’s why I have a proposal: cloud relief.

The platform giants should let startups and small businesses defer their cloud infrastructure payments for three to six months until they can pay them back in installments. Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, these companies’ additional infrastructure products, and other platform providers should let customers pause payment until the worst of the first wave of the COVID-19 economic disruption passes. Profitable SAAS providers like Salesforce could give customers an extension too.

There are plenty of altruistic reasons to do this. They have the resources to help businesses in need. We all need to support each other in these tough times. This could protect tons of families. Some of these startups are providing important services to the public and even discounting them, thereby ramping up their bills while decreasing revenue.

Then there are the PR reasons. After years of techlash and anti-trust scrutiny, here’s the chance for the giants to prove their size can be beneficial to the world. Recruiters could use it as a talking point. “We’re the company that helped save Silicon Valley.” There’s an explanation for them squirreling away so much cash: the rainy day has finally arrived.

But the capitalistic truth and the story they could sell to Wall Street is that it’s not good for our business if our customers go out of business. Look at what happened to infrastructure providers in the dotcom crash. When tons of startups vaporized, so did the profits for those selling them hosting and tools. Any government stimulus for businesses would be better spent by them paying employees than paying the cloud companies that aren’t in danger. Saving one future Netflix from shutting down could cover any short-term loss from helping 100 other businesses.

This isn’t a handout. These startups will still owe the money. They’d just be able to pay it a little later, spread out over their monthly bills for a year or so. Once mass shelter-in-place orders subside, businesses can operate at least a little closer to normal, and investors get less cautious, customers will have the cash they need to pay their dues. Plus interest if necessary.

Meanwhile, they’ll be locked in and loyal customers for the foreseeable future. Cloud vendors could gate the deferment to only customers that have been with them for X amount of months or that have already spent Y amount on the platform. The vendors could also offer the deferment on the condition that customers add a year or more to their existing contracts. Founders will remember who gave them the benefit of the doubt.

cloud ice cream cone imagine

Consider it a marketing expense. Platforms often offer discounts or free trials to new customers. Now it’s existing customers that need a reprieve. Instead of airport ads, the giants could spend the money ensuring they’ll still have plenty of developers building atop them by the end of 2020.

Beyond deferred payment, platforms could just push the due date on all outstanding bills to three or six months from now. Alternatively, they could offer a deep discount such as 50% off for three months if they didn’t want to deal with accruing debt and then servicing it. Customers with multi-year contracts could offered the opportunity to downgrade or renegotiate their contracts without penalties. Any of these might require giving sales quota forgiveness to their account executives.

It would likely be far too complicated and risky to accept equity in lieu of cash, a cut of revenue going forward, or to provide loans or credit lines to customers. The clearest and simplest solution is to let startups skip a few payments, then pay more every month later until they clear their debt. When asked for comment or about whether they’re considering payment deferment options, Microsoft declined, and Amazon and Google did not respond.

To be clear, administering payment deferment won’t be simple or free. There are sure to be holes that cloud economists can poke in this proposal, but my goal is to get the conversation startup. It could require the giants to change their earnings guidance. Rewriting deals with significantly sized customers will take work on both ends, and there’s a chance of breach of contract disputes. Giants would face the threat of customers recklessly using cloud resources before shutting down or skipping town.

Most taxing would be determining and enforcing the criteria of who’s eligible. The vendors would need to lay out which customers are too big so they don’t accidentally give a cloud-intensive but healthy media company a deferment they don’t need. Businesses that get questionably excluded could make a stink in public. Executing on the plan will require staff when giants are stretched thin trying to handle logistics disruptions, misinformation, and accelerating work-from-home usage.

Still, this is the moment when the fortunate need to lend a hand to the vulnerable. Not a hand out, but a hand up. Companies with billions in cash in their coffers could save those struggling to pay salaries. All the fundraisers and info centers and hackathons are great, but this is how the tech giants can live up to their lofty mission statements.

We all live in the cloud now. Don’t evict us. #CloudRelief

Thanks to Falon Fatemi, Corey Quinn, Ilya Fushman, Jason Kim, Ilya Sukhar, and Michael Campbell for their ideas and feedback on this proposal


By Josh Constine

Microsoft acquires 5G specialist Affirmed Networks

Microsoft today announced that it has acquired Affirmed Networks, a company that specializes in fully virtualized, cloud-native networking solutions for telecom operators.

With its focus on 5G and edge computing, Affirmed looks like the ideal acquisition target for a large cloud provider looking to get deeper into the telco business. According to Crunchbase, Affirmed had raised a total of $155 million before this acquisition and the company’s over 100 enterprise customers include the likes of AT&T, Orange, Vodafone, Telus, Turkcell and STC.

“As we’ve seen with other technology transformations, we believe that software can play an important role in helping advance 5G and deliver new network solutions that offer step-change advancements in speed, cost and security,” writes Yousef Khalidi, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Azure Networking. “There is a significant opportunity for both incumbents and new players across the industry to innovate, collaborate and create new markets, serving the networking and edge computing needs of our mutual customers.”

With its customer base, Affirmed gives Microsoft another entry point into the telecom industry. Previously, the telcos would often build their own data centers and stuff it with costly proprietary hardware (and the software to manage it). But thanks to today’s virtualization technologies, the large cloud platforms are now able to offer the same capabilities and reliability without any of the cost. And unsurprisingly, a new technology like 5G with its promise of new and expanded markets makes for a good moment to push forward with these new technologies.

Google recently made some moves in this direction with its Anthos for Telecom and Global Mobile Edge Cloud, too. Chances are, we will see all of the large cloud providers continue to go after this market in the coming months.

In a somewhat odd move, only yesterday Affirmed announced a new CEO and President, Anand Krishnamurthy. It’s not often that we see these kinds of executive moves hours before a company announces its acquisition.

The announcement doesn’t feature a single hint at today’s news and includes all of the usual cliches we’ve come to expect from a press release that announces a new CEO. “We are thankful to Hassan for his vision and commitment in guiding the company through this extraordinary journey and positioning us for tremendous success in the future,” Krishnamurthy wrote at the time. “It is my honor to lead Affirmed as we continue to drive this incredible transformation in our industry.”

We asked Affirmed for some more background about this and will update this post once we hear more.


By Frederic Lardinois

Pentagon asks court for time to reconsider JEDI award to Microsoft

The JEDI contract award process might never be done. Following legal challenges from Amazon after the Pentagon’s massive, $10 billion cloud contract was awarded to Microsoft in October, the Pentagon indicated in court documents last night that it wishes to reconsider the award.

It’s just the latest plot twist in an epic government procurement saga.

Here’s what we know. The Pentagon filing is based on Amazon’s complaints about the technical part of the deal only. Amazon has said that it believes political interference influenced the awarding of the contract. However, the cloud computing giant also believes it beat Microsoft on the technical merits in a majority of instances required in the request for proposals issued by the Pentagon.

In fact, sources told TechCrunch, “AWS’s protest identified evaluation errors, clear deficiencies and unmistakable bias in six of the eight evaluation factors.”

Obviously Amazon was happy to hear this news. “We are pleased that the DoD has acknowledged ‘substantial and legitimate’ issues that affected the JEDI award decision, and that corrective action is necessary,” a spokesperson stated.

“We look forward to complete, fair, and effective corrective action that fully insulates the re-evaluation from political influence and corrects the many issues affecting the initial flawed award.”

The court granted the Pentagon 120 days to review the results again, but indicated it could take longer. In the mean time, the project is at a standstill.

On Friday, the court issued a ruling that Amazon was likely to succeed on its complaint on merit, and that could have been the impetus of this latest action by the Pentagon.

 

While the political influence piece might not be overtly part of this filing, it does lurk in the background. The president has made it clear that he doesn’t like Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post. As we wrote last year:

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

As we previously reported, AWS CEO Andy Jassy, stated at a press event at AWS re:Invent in December that the company believed there was political bias at play in the decision-making process.

“What I would say is that it’s fairly obvious that we feel pretty strongly that it was not adjudicated fairly,” he said. He added, “I think that we ended up with a situation where there was political interference. When you have a sitting president, who has shared openly his disdain for a company, and the leader of that company, it makes it really difficult for government agencies, including the DoD, to make objective decisions without fear of reprisal.”

We have requested comment from Microsoft and DoD and will update the story should they respond.


By Ron Miller

Box is now letting all staff work from home to reduce coronavirus risk

Box has joined a number of tech companies supporting employees to work remotely from home in response  the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

It’s applying the policy to all staff, regardless of location.

Late yesterday Box co-founder Aaron Levie tweeted a statement detailing the cloud computing company’s response to COVID-19 — to, as he put it, “ensure the availability of our service and safety of our employees”.

In recent days Twitter has similarly encouraged all staff members to work from home. While companies including Amazon, Google, LinkedIn and Microsoft have also advised some staff to work remotely to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus.

In its response statement Box writes that it’s enacted its business continuity plans “to ensure core business functions and technology are operational in the event of any potential disruption”.

“We have long recognized the potential risks associated with service interruptions due to adverse events, such as an earthquake, power outage or a public health crisis like COVID-19, affecting our strategic, operational, stakeholder and customer obligations. This is why we have had a Business Continuity program in place to provide the policies and plans necessary for protecting Box’s operations and critical business functions,” the company writes.

In a section on “workforce resilience and business continuity” it notes that work from home practices are a normal part of its business operations but says it’s now extending the option to all its staff, regardless of the office or location they normally work out of — saying it’s doing so “out of an abundance of caution during COVID-19”.

Other measures the company says it’s taken to further reduce risk include suspending all international travel and limiting non-essential domestic travel; reducing large customer events and gatherings; and emphasizing health and hygiene across all office locations — “by maintaining sanitation supplies and encouraging an ‘if you are sick, stay home’ mindset”.

It also says it’s conducting all new hire orientation and candidate interviews virtually.

Box names a number of tools it says it routinely uses to support mobility and remote working, including its own service for secure content collaboration; Zoom’s video communication tool; the Slack messaging app; Okta for secure ID; plus additional unnamed “critical cloud tools” for ensuring “uninterrupted remote work for all employees”.

Clearly spying the opportunity to onboard new users, as more companies switch on remote working as a result of COVID-19 concerns, Box’s post also links to free training resources for its own cloud computing tools.


By Natasha Lomas

Stack Overflow expands its Teams service with new integrations

Most developers think of Stack Overflow as a question and answer site for their programming questions. But over the last few years, the company has also built a successful business in its Stack Overflow for Teams product, which essentially offers companies a private version of its Q&A product. Indeed, the Teams product now brings in a significant amount of revenue for the company and the new executive team at Stack Overflow is betting that it can help the company grow rapidly in the years to come.

To make Teams even more attractive to businesses, the company today launched a number of new integrations with Jira (Enterprise and Business), GitHub (Enterprise and Business) and Microsoft Teams (Enterprise). These join existing integrations with Slack, Okta and the Business tier of Microsoft Teams.

“I think the integrations that we have been building are reflective of that developer workflow and all of the number of tools that someone who is building and leveraging technology has to interact with,” Stack Overflow Chief Product Officer Teresa Dietrich told me. “When we think about integrations, we think about the vertical right and I think that ‘developer workflow’ is one of those industry verticals that we’re thinking about. ChatOps is obviously another one, as you can see from our Slack and Teams integration. And the JIRA and GitHub [integrations] that we’re building are really at the core of a developer workflow.”

Current Stack Overflow for Teams customers include the likes of Microsoft, Expensify and Wix. As the company noted, 65 percent of its existing Teams customers use GitHub, so it’s no surprise that it is building out this integration.


By Frederic Lardinois

Honeywell says it will soon launch the world’s most powerful quantum computer

“The best-kept secret in quantum computing.” That’s what Cambridge Quantum Computing (CQC) CEO Ilyas Khan called Honeywell‘s efforts in building the world’s most powerful quantum computer. In a race where most of the major players are vying for attention, Honeywell has quietly worked on its efforts for the last few years (and under strict NDA’s, it seems). But today, the company announced a major breakthrough that it claims will allow it to launch the world’s most powerful quantum computer within the next three months.

In addition, Honeywell also today announced that it has made strategic investments in CQC and Zapata Computing, both of which focus on the software side of quantum computing. The company has also partnered with JPMorgan Chase to develop quantum algorithms using Honeywell’s quantum computer. The company also recently announced a partnership with Microsoft.

Honeywell has long built the kind of complex control systems that power many of the world’s largest industrial sites. It’s that kind of experience, be that that has now allowed it to build an advanced ion trap that is at the core of its efforts.

This ion trap, the company claims in a paper that accompanies today’s announcement, has allowed the team to achieve decoherence times that are significantly longer than those of its competitors.

“It starts really with the heritage that Honeywell had to work from,” Tony Uttley, the president of Honeywell Quantum Solutions, told me. “And we, because of our businesses within aerospace and defense and our business in oil and gas — with solutions that have to do with the integration of complex control systems because of our chemicals and materials businesses — we had all of the underlying pieces for quantum computing, which are just fabulously different from classical computing. You need to have ultra-high vacuum system capabilities. You need to have cryogenic capabilities. You need to have precision control. You need to have lasers and photonic capabilities. You have to have magnetic and vibrational stability capabilities. And for us, we had our own foundry and so we are able to literally design our architecture from the trap up.”

The result of this is a quantum computer that promises to achieve a quantum Volume of 64. Quantum Volume (QV), it’s worth mentioning, is a metric that takes into account both the number of qubits in a system as well as decoherence times. IBM and others have championed this metric as a way to, at least for now, compare the power of various quantum computers.

So far, IBM’s own machines have achieved QV 32, which would make Honeywell’s machine significantly more powerful.

Khan, whose company provides software tools for quantum computing and was one of the first to work with Honeywell on this project, also noted that the focus on the ion trap is giving Honeywell a bit of an advantage. “I think that the choice of the ion trap approach by Honeywell is a reflection of a very deliberate focus on the quality of qubit rather than the number of qubits, which I think is fairly sophisticated,” he said. “Until recently, the headline was always growth, the number of qubits running.”

The Honeywell team noted that many of its current customers are also likely users of its quantum solutions. These customers, after all, are working on exactly the kind of problems in chemistry or material science that quantum computing, at least in its earliest forms, is uniquely suited for.

Currently, Honeywell has about 100 scientists, engineers and developers dedicated to its quantum project.


By Frederic Lardinois

Google cancels Cloud Next because of coronavirus, goes online-only

Google today announced that it is canceling the physical part of Cloud Next, its cloud-focused event and its largest annual conference by far with around 30,000 attendees, over concerns around the current spread of COVID-19.

Given all of the recent conference cancellations, this announcement doesn’t come as a huge surprise, especially after Facebook canceled its F8 developer conference only a few days ago.

Cloud Next was scheduled to run from Apri 6 to 8. Instead of the physical event, Google will now host an online event under the “Google Cloud Next ’20: Digital Connect” moniker. So there will still be keynotes and breakout sessions, as well as the ability to connect with experts.

“Innovation is in Google’s DNA and we are leveraging this strength to bring you an immersive and inspiring event this year without the risk of travel,” the company notes in today’s announcement.

The virtual event will be free and in an email to attendees, Google says that it will automatically refund all tickets to this year’s conference. It will also automatically cancel all hotel reservations made through its conference reservation system.

It now remains to be seen what happens to Google’s other major conference, I/O, which is slated to run from May 12 to 14 in Mountain View. The same holds true for Microsoft’s rival Build conference in Seattle, which is scheduled to start on May 19. These are the two premier annual news events for both companies, but given the current situation, nobody would be surprised if they got canceled, too.


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft’s Cortana drops consumer skills as it refocuses on business users

With the next version of Windows 10, coming this spring, Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant will lose a number of consumer skills around music and connected homes, as well as some third-party skills. That’s very much in line with Microsoft’s new focus for Cortana, but it may still come as a surprise to the dozens of loyal Cortana fans.

Microsoft is also turning off Cortana support in its Microsoft Launcher on Android by the end of April and on older versions of Windows that have reached their end-of-service date, which usually comes about 36 months after the original release.

cortana

As the company explained last year, it now mostly thinks of Cortana as a service for business users. The new Cortana is all about productivity, with deep integrations into Microsoft’s suite of Office tools, for example. In this context, consumer services are only a distraction, and Microsoft is leaving that market to the likes of Amazon and Google .

Because the new Cortana experience is all about Microsoft 365, the subscription service that includes access to the Office tools, email, online storage and more, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the assistant’s new feature will give you access to data from these tools, including your calendar, Microsoft To Do notes and more.

And while some consumer features are going away, Microsoft stresses that Cortana will still be able to tell you a joke, set alarms and timers, and give you answers from Bing.

For now, all of this only applies to English-speaking users in the U.S. Outside of the U.S., most of the productivity features will launch in the future.


By Frederic Lardinois

Lightspeed leads Laiye’s $42M round to bet on Chinese enterprise IT

Laiye, a Chinese startup that offers robotic process automation services to several major tech firms in the nation and government agencies, has raised $42 million in a new funding round as it looks to scale its business.

The new financing round, Series C, was co-led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Lightspeed China Partners. Cathay Innovation, which led the startup’s Series B+ round and Wu Capital, which led the Series B round, also participated in the new round.

China has been the hub for some of the cheapest labor in the world. But in recent years, a number of companies and government agencies have started to improve their efficiency with the help of technology.

That’s where Laiye comes into play. Robotic process automation (RPA) allows software to mimic several human behaviors such as keyboard strokes and mouse clicks.

“For instance, a number of banks did not previously offer APIs, so humans had to sign in and fetch the data and then feed it into some other software. Processes like these could be automated by our platform,” said Arvid Wang, co-founder and co-chief executive of Laiye, in an interview with TechCrunch.

The four-and-a-half-year-old startup, which has raised more than $100 million to date, will use the fresh capital to hire talent from across the globe and expand its services. “We believe robotic process automation will achieve its full potential when it combines AI and the best human talent,” he said.

Laiye’s announcement today comes as the market for robotic automation process is still in nascent stage in China. There are a handful of startups looking into this space, but Laiye, which counts Microsoft as an investor, and Sequoia-backed UiPath are the two clear leaders in the market currently.

As my colleague Rita Liao wrote last year, it was only recently that some entrepreneurs and investors in China started to shift their attention from consumer-facing products to business applications.

Globally, RPA has emerged as the fastest growing market in enterprise space. A Gartner report found last year that RPA market grew over 63% in 2018. Recent surveys have shown that most enterprises in China today are also showing interest in enhancing their RPA projects and AI capabilities.

Laiye today has more than 200 partners and more than 200,000 developers have registered to use its multilingual UiBot RPA platform. UiBot enables integration with Laiye’s native and third-party AI capabilities such as natural language processing, optical character recognition, computer vision, chatbot and machine learning.

“We are very bullish on China, and the opportunities there are massive,” said Lightspeed partner Amy Wu in an interview. “Laiye is doing phenomenally there, and with this new fundraise, they can look to expand globally,” she said.


By Manish Singh

SentinelOne raises $200M at a $1.1B valuation to expand its AI-based endpoint security platform

As cybercrime continues to evolve and expand, a startup that is building a business focused on endpoint security has raised a big round of funding. SentinelOne — which provides a machine learning-based solution for monitoring and securing laptops, phones, containerised applications and the many other devices and services connected to a network — has picked up $200 million, a Series E round of funding that it says catapults its valuation to $1.1 billion.

The funding is notable not just for its size but for its velocity: it comes just eight months after SentinelOne announced a Series D of $120 million, which at the time valued the company around $500 million. In other words, the company has more than doubled its valuation in less than a year — a sign of the cybersecurity times.

This latest round is being led by Insight Partners, with Tiger Global Management, Qualcomm Ventures LLC, Vista Public Strategies of Vista Equity Partners, Third Point Ventures, and other undisclosed previous investors all participating.

Tomer Weingarten, CEO and co-founder of the company, said in an interview that while this round gives SentinelOne the flexibility to remain in “startup” mode (privately funded) for some time — especially since it came so quickly on the heels of the previous large round — an IPO “would be the next logical step” for the company. “But we’re not in any rush,” he added. “We have one to two years of growth left as a private company.”

While cybercrime is proving to be a very expensive business (or very lucrative, I guess, depending on which side of the equation you sit on), it has also meant that the market for cybersecurity has significantly expanded.

Endpoint security, the area where SentinelOne concentrates its efforts, last year was estimated to be around an $8 billion market, and analysts project that it could be worth as much as $18.4 billion by 2024.

Driving it is the single biggest trend that has changed the world of work in the last decade. Everyone — whether a road warrior or a desk-based administrator or strategist, a contractor or full-time employee, a front-line sales assistant or back-end engineer or executive — is now connected to the company network, often with more than one device. And that’s before you consider the various other “endpoints” that might be connected to a network, including machines, containers and more. The result is a spaghetti of a problem. One survey from LogMeIn, disconcertingly, even found that some 30% of IT managers couldn’t identify just how many endpoints they managed.

“The proliferation of devices and the expanding network are the biggest issues today,” said Weingarten. “The landscape is expanding and it is getting very hard to monitor not just what your network looks like but what your attackers are looking for.”

This is where an AI-based solution like SentinelOne’s comes into play. The company has roots in the Israeli cyberintelligence community but is based out of Mountain View, and its platform is built around the idea of working automatically not just to detect endpoints and their vulnerabilities, but to apply behavioral models, and various modes of protection, detection and response in one go — in a product that it calls its Singularity Platform that works across the entire edge of the network.

“We are seeing more automated and real-time attacks that themselves are using more machine learning,” Weingarten said. “That translates to the fact that you need defence that moves in real time as with as much automation as possible.”

SentinelOne is by no means the only company working in the space of endpoint protection. Others in the space include Microsoft, CrowdStrike, Kaspersky, McAfee, Symantec and many others.

But nonetheless, its product has seen strong uptake to date. It currently has some 3,500 customers, including three of the biggest companies in the world, and “hundreds” from the global 2,000 enterprises, with what it says has been 113% year-on-year new bookings growth, revenue growth of 104% year-on-year, and 150% growth year-on-year in transactions over $2 million. It has 500 employees today and plans to hire up to 700 by the end of this year.

One of the key differentiators is the focus on using AI, and using it at scale to help mitigate an increasingly complex threat landscape, to take endpoint security to the next level.

“Competition in the endpoint market has cleared with a select few exhibiting the necessary vision and technology to flourish in an increasingly volatile threat landscape,” said Teddie Wardi, MD of Insight Partners, in a statement. “As evidenced by our ongoing financial commitment to SentinelOne along with the resources of Insight Onsite, our business strategy and ScaleUp division, we are confident that SentinelOne has an enormous opportunity to be a market leader in the cybersecurity space.”

Weingarten said that SentinelOne “gets approached every year” to be acquired, although he didn’t name any names. Nevertheless, that also points to the bigger consolidation trend that will be interesting to watch as the company grows. SentinelOne has never made an acquisition to date, but it’s hard to ignore that, as the company to expand its products and features, that it might tap into the wider market to bring in other kinds of technology into its stack.

“There are definitely a lot of security companies out there,” Weingarten noted. “Those that serve a very specific market are the targets for consolidation.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Microsoft Dynamics 365 update is focused on harnessing data

Microsoft announced a major update to its Dynamics 365 product line today, which correlates to the growing amount of data in the enterprise, and how to collect and understand that data to produce better customer experiences.

This is, in fact, the goal of all vendors in this space including Salesforce and Adobe, who are also looking to help improve the customer experience. James Philips, who was promoted to president of Microsoft Business Applications just this week, says that Microsoft has also been keenly focused on harnessing the growing amount of data and helping make use of that inside the applications he is in charge of.

“To be frank every single thing that we’re doing at Microsoft, not just in business applications but across the entire Microsoft Cloud, is on the back of that vision that data is coming out of everything, and that those organizations that can collect that data, harmonize it and reason over it will be in a position to be proactive versus reactive,” Philips told TechCrunch.

New customer engagement tooling

For starters, the company is adding functionality to its customer data platform (CDP), a concept all major vendors (and a growing group of startups) have embraced. It pulls together all of the customer data from various systems into one place, making it easier to understand how the customer interacts with you with the goal of providing better experiences based on this knowledge. Microsoft’s CDP is called Customer Insights.

The company is adding some new connectors to help complete that picture of the customer. “We’re adding new first- and third-party data connections to Customer Insights that allow our customers to understand, for example audience memberships, brand affinities, demographic, psychographic and other characteristics of customers that are stored and then harnessed from Dynamics 365 Customer Insights,” Philips said.

All of this, might make you wonder how they can collect this level of data and maintain GDPR/CCPA kind of compliance. Philips says that the company has been working on this for some time. “We did work at the company level to build a system that allows us and our customers to search for and then delete information about customers in each product group within Microsoft including my organization,” he explained.

The company has also added new sales forecasting tools and Dynamics 365 Sales Engagement Center. The first allows companies to tap into all this data to better predict the customers who sales is engaged with that are most likely to turn into sales. The second gives inside sales teams tools like next best action. These are not revolutionary by any means in the CRM space, but do provide new capabilities for Microsoft customers.

New operations level tooling

The operations side is related to what happens after the sale when the company begins to collect money and report revenue. To that end, the company is introducing a new product called Dynamic 365 Finance Insights, which you can think of as Customer Insights, except for money.

“This product is designed to help our customers predict and accelerate their cash flow. It’s designed specifically to identify opportunities where to focus your energy, where you may have the best opportunity to either close accounts payables or receivables or the opportunity to understand where you may have cash shortfalls,” Philips said.

Finally the company is introducing Dynamics 365 Project Operations,which provides a way for project-based business like construction, consulting and law to track the needs of the business.

“Those organizations, who are trying to operate in a project-based way now have with Dynamics 365 Project Operations, what we believe is the most widely used project management capability in Microsoft Project being joined now with all of the back-end capabilities for selling, accounting and planning that Dynamic 365 offers, all built on the same Common Data Platform, so that you can marry your front-end operations and operational planning with your back-end resource planning, workforce planning and operational processes,” he explained.

All of these tools are designed to take advantage of the growing amount of data coming into organizations, and provide ways to run businesses in a more automated and intelligent fashion that removes some of the manual steps involved in running a company.

To be clear, Microsoft is not alone in offering this kind of intelligent functionality. It is part of a growing movement to bring intelligence to all aspects of enterprise software, regardless of vendor.


By Ron Miller

Cloud spending said to top $30B in Q4 as Amazon, Microsoft battle for market share

We all know the cloud infrastructure market is extremely lucrative; analyst firm Canalys reports that the sector reached $30.2 billion in revenue for Q4 2019.

Cloud numbers are hard to parse because companies often lump cloud revenue into a single bucket regardless of whether it’s generated by infrastructure or software. What’s interesting about Canalys’s numbers is that it attempts to measure the pure infrastructure results themselves without other cloud incomes mixed in:

As an example, Microsoft reported $12.5 billion in total combined cloud revenue for the quarter, but Canalys estimates that just $5.3 billion comes from infrastructure (Azure). Amazon has the purest number with $9.8 billion of a reported $9.95 billion attributed to its infrastructure business. This helps you understand why in spite of the fact that Microsoft reported bigger overall cloud earnings numbers and a higher growth rate, Amazon still has just less than double Microsoft’s market share in terms of IaaS spend.

That’s not to say Microsoft didn’t still have a good quarter — it garnered 17.6% of revenue for the period. That’s up from 14.5% in the same quarter a year ago. What’s more, Amazon lost a bit of ground, according to Canalys, dropping from 33.4% in Q4 2018 to 32.4% in the most recent quarter.

Part of the reason for that is because Microsoft is growing at close to twice the rate as Amazon — 62.3% versus Amazon’s 33.2%.

Meanwhile, number-three vendor Google came in at $1.8 billion for pure infrastructure revenue, good for 6% of the market, up from 4.9% a year ago on growth rate 67.6%. Google reported $2.61 billion in overall cloud revenue, but that included software. Despite the smaller results, it was a good quarter for the Mountain View-based company.


By Ron Miller

Judge halts Microsoft work on JEDI contract after AWS request

A sealed order from a judge today has halted the $10 billion, decade long JEDI project in its tracks until AWS’s protest of the contract award to Microsoft can be heard by the court.

The order signed by Judge Patricia E. Campbell-Smith of the US Court Federal Claims stated:

The United States, by and through the Department of Defense, its officers, agents, and employees, is hereby PRELIMINARILY ENJOINED from proceeding with contract activities under Contract No. HQ0034-20-D-0001, which was awarded under Solicitation No. HQ0034-18-R-0077, until further order of the court.

The judge was not taking this lightly, adding that Amazon would have to put up $42 million bond to cover costs should it prove that the motion was filed wrongfully. Given Amazon’s value as of today is $1.08 trillion, they can probably afford to put up the money, but they must provide it by February 20th, and the court gets to hold the funds until a final determination has been made.

At the end of last month, Amazon filed a motion to stop work on the project until the court could rule on its protest. In protests of this sort it is not unusual to stop work until a final decision on the award can be made.

This is all part of an ongoing drama that has gone for a couple of years since the DoD put this out to bid. After much wrangling, the DoD awarded the contract to Microsoft at the end of October. Amazon filed suit in November, claiming that the president had unduly influenced the process. Earlier this week, the company filed paperwork to depose the president and Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper.

More to come.


By Ron Miller

OpsRamp raises $37.5M for its hybrid IT operations platform

OpsRamp, a service that helps IT teams discover, monitor, manage and — maybe most importantly — automate their hybrid environments, today announced that it has closed a $37.5 million funding round led by Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital, with participation from existing investor Sapphire Ventures and new investor Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

OpsRamp last raised funding in 2017, when Sapphire led its $20 million Series A round.

At the core of OpsRamp’s services is its AIOps platform. Using machine learning and other techniques, this service aims to help IT teams manage increasingly complex infrastructure deployments, provide intelligent alerting, and eventually automate more of their tasks. The company’s overall product portfolio also includes tools for cloud monitoring and incident management.

The company says its annual recurrent revenue increased by 300 percent in 2019 (though we obviously don’t know what number it started 2019 with). In total, OpsRamp says it now has 1,400 customers on its platform and alliances with AWS, ServiceNow, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure.

OpsRamp co-founder and CEO Varma Kunaparaju

According to OpsRamp co-founder and CEO Varma Kunaparaju, most of the company’s customers are mid to large enterprises. “These IT teams have large, complex, hybrid IT environments and need help to simplify and consolidate an incredibly fragmented, distributed and overwhelming technology and infrastructure stack,” he said. “The company is also seeing success in the ability of our partners to help us reach global enterprises and Fortune 5000 customers.”

Kunaparaju told me that the company plans to use the new funding to expand its go-to-market efforts and product offerings. “The company will be using the money in a few different areas, including expanding our go-to-market motion and new pursuits in EMEA and APAC, in addition to expanding our North American presence,” he said. “We’ll also be doubling-down on product development on a variety of fronts.”

Given that hybrid clouds only increase the workload for IT organizations and introduce additional tools, it’s maybe no surprise that investors are now interested in companies that offer services that rein in this complexity. If anything, we’ll likely see more deals like this one in the coming months.

“As more of our customers transition to hybrid infrastructure, we find the OpsRamp platform to be a differentiated IT operations management offering that aligns well with the core strategies of HPE,” said Paul Glaser, Vice President and Head of Hewlett Packard Pathfinder. “With OpsRamp’s product vision and customer traction, we felt it was the right time to invest in the growth and scale of their business.”


By Frederic Lardinois

In latest JEDI contract drama, AWS files motion to stop work on project

When the Department of Defense finally made a decision in October on the decade long, $10 billion JEDI cloud contract, it seemed that Microsoft had won. But nothing has been simple about this deal from the earliest days, so  it shouldn’t come as a surprise that last night Amazon filed a motion to stop work on the project until the court decides on its protest of the DoD’s decision.

The company announced on November 22nd that it had filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims protesting the DoD’s decision to select Microsoft. Last night’s motion is an extension of that move to put the project on hold until the court decides on the merits of the case.

“It is common practice to stay contract performance while a protest is pending and it’s important that the numerous evaluation errors and blatant political interference that impacted the JEDI award decision be reviewed. AWS is absolutely committed to supporting the DoD’s modernization efforts and to an expeditious legal process that resolves this matter as quickly as possible,” a spokesperson said in a statement last night.

As we previously reported, the statement echoes sentiments AWS CEO Andy Jassy made at a press event during AWS re:Invent in December:

“I would say is that it’s fairly obvious that we feel pretty strongly that it was not adjudicated fairly,” he said. He added, “I think that we ended up with a situation where there was political interference. When you have a sitting president, who has shared openly his disdain for a company, and the leader of that company, it makes it really difficult for government agencies, including the DoD, to make objective decisions without fear of reprisal.”

This is just the latest turn in a contract procurement process for the ages. It will now be up to the court to decide if the project should stop or not, and beyond that if the decision process was carried out fairly.


By Ron Miller