Google’s Anthos multi-cloud platform gets improved logging, Windows container support and more

Google today announced a sizable update to its Anthos multi-cloud platform that lets you build, deploy and manage containerized applications anywhere, including on Amazon’s AWS and (in preview) and Microsoft Azure.

Version 1.7 includes new features like improved metrics and logging for Anthos on AWS, a new Connect gateway to interact with any cluster right from Google Cloud and a preview of Google’s managed control plane for Anthos Service Mesh. Other new features include Windows container support for environments that use VMware’s vSphere platform and new tools for developers to make it easier for them to deploy their applications to any Anthos cluster.

Today’s update comes almost exactly two years after Google CEO Sundar Pichai originally announced Anthos at its Cloud Next event in 2019 (before that, Google called this project the ‘Google Cloud Services Platform,’ which launched three years ago). Hybrid- and multi-cloud, it’s fair to say, takes a key role in the Google Cloud roadmap — and maybe more so for Google than for any of its competitors. And recently, Google brought on industry veteran Jeff Reed to become the VP of Product Management in charge of Anthos.

Reed told me that he believes that there are a lot of factors right now that are putting Anthos in a good position. “The wind is at our back. We bet on Kubernetes, bet on containers — those were good decisions,” he said. Increasingly, customers are also now scaling out their use of Kubernetes and have to figure out how to best scale out their clusters and deploy them in different environments — and to do so, they need a consistent platform across these environments. He also noted that when it comes to bringing on new Anthos customers, it’s really those factors that determine whether a company will look into Anthos or not.

He acknowledged that there are other players in this market, but he argues that Google Cloud’s take on this is also quite different. “I think we’re pretty unique in the sense that we’re from the cloud, cloud-native is our core approach,” he said. “A lot of what we talk about in [Anthos] 1.7 is about how we leverage the power of the cloud and use what we call ‘an anchor in the cloud’ to make your life much easier. We’re more like a cloud vendor there, but because we support on-prem, we see some of those other folks.” Those other folks being IBM/Red Hat’s OpenShift and VMware’s Tanzu, for example. 

The addition of support for Windows containers in vSphere environments also points to the fact that a lot of Anthos customers are classical enterprises that are trying to modernize their infrastructure, yet still rely on a lot of legacy applications that they are now trying to bring to the cloud.

Looking ahead, one thing we’ll likely see is more integrations with a wider range of Google Cloud products into Anthos. And indeed, as Reed noted, inside of Google Cloud, more teams are now building their products on top of Anthos themselves. In turn, that then makes it easier to bring those services to an Anthos-managed environment anywhere. One of the first of these internal services that run on top of Anthos is Apigee. “Your Apigee deployment essentially has Anthos underneath the covers. So Apigee gets all the benefits of a container environment, scalability and all those pieces — and we’ve made it really simple for that whole environment to run kind of as a stack,” he said.

I guess we can expect to hear more about this in the near future — or at Google Cloud Next 2021.

 


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft goes all in on healthcare with $19.7B Nuance acquisition

When Microsoft announced it was acquiring Nuance Communications this morning for $19.7 billion, you could be excused for doing a Monday morning double take at the hefty price tag.

That’s surely a lot of money for a company on a $1.4 billion run rate, but Microsoft, which has already partnered with the speech-to-text market leader on several products over the last couple of years, saw a company firmly embedded in healthcare and it decided to go all in.

And $20 billion is certainly all in, even for a company the size of Microsoft. But 2020 forced us to change the way we do business from restaurants to retailers to doctors. In fact, the pandemic in particular changed the way we interact with our medical providers. We learned very quickly that you don’t have to drive to an office, wait in waiting room, then in an exam room, all to see the doctor for a few minutes.

Instead, we can get on the line, have a quick chat and be on our way. It won’t work for every condition of course — there will always be times the physician needs to see you — but for many meetings such as reviewing test results or for talk therapy, telehealth could suffice.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says that Nuance is at the center of this shift, especially with its use of cloud and artificial intelligence, and that’s why the company was willing to pay the amount it did to get it.

“AI is technology’s most important priority, and healthcare is its most urgent application. Together, with our partner ecosystem, we will put advanced AI solutions into the hands of professionals everywhere to drive better decision-making and create more meaningful connections, as we accelerate growth of Microsoft Cloud in Healthcare and Nuance,” Nadella said in a post announcing the deal.

Microsoft sees this deal doubling what was already a considerable total addressable market to nearly $500 billion. While TAMs always tend to run high, that is still a substantial number.

It also fits with Gartner data, which found that by 2022, 75% of healthcare organizations will have a formal cloud strategy in place. The AI component only adds to that number and Nuance brings 10,000 existing customers to Microsoft including some of the biggest healthcare organizations in the world.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says the deal could provide Microsoft with a ton of health data to help feed the underlying machine learning models and make them more accurate over time.

“There is going be a ton of health data being captured by the interactions coming through telemedicine interactions, and this could create a whole new level of health intelligence,” Leary told me.

That of course could drive a lot of privacy concerns where health data is involved, and it will be up to Microsoft, which just experienced a major breach on its Exchange email server products last month, to assure the public that their sensitive health data is being protected.

Leary says that ensuring data privacy is going to be absolutely key to the success of the deal. “The potential this move has is pretty powerful, but it will only be realized if the data and insights that could come from it are protected and secure — not only protected from hackers but also from unethical use. Either could derail what could be a game changing move,” he said.

Microsoft also seemed to recognize that when it wrote, “Nuance and Microsoft will deepen their existing commitments to the extended partner ecosystem, as well as the highest standards of data privacy, security and compliance.”

We are clearly on the edge of a sea change when it comes to how we interact with our medical providers in the future. COVID pushed medicine deeper into the digital realm in 2020 out of simple necessity. It wasn’t safe to go into the office unless absolutely necessary.

The Nuance acquisition, which is expected to close some time later this year, could help Microsoft shift deeper into the market. It could even bring Teams into it as a meeting tool, but it’s all going to depend on the trust level people have with this approach, and it will be up to the company to make sure that both healthcare providers and the people they serve have that.


By Ron Miller

Microsoft is acquiring Nuance Communications for $19.7B

Microsoft agreed today to acquire Nuance Communications, a leader in speech to text software, for $19.7 billion. Bloomberg broke the story over the weekend that the two companies were in talks.

In a post announcing the deal, the company said this was about increasing its presence in the healthcare vertical, a place where Nuance has done well in recent years. In fact, the company announced the Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare last year, and this deal is about accelerating its presence there. Nuance’s products in this area include Dragon Ambient eXperience, Dragon Medical One and PowerScribe One for radiology reporting.

“Today’s acquisition announcement represents the latest step in Microsoft’s industry-specific cloud strategy,” the company wrote. The acquisition also builds on several integrations and partnerships the two companies have made in the last couple of years.

The company boasts 10,000 healthcare customers, according to information on the website. Those include AthenaHealth, Johns Hopkins, Mass General Brigham and Cleveland Clinic to name but a few, and it was that customer base that attracted Microsoft to pay the price it did to bring Nuance into the fold.

Nuance CEO Mark Benjamin will remain with the company and report to Scott Guthrie, Microsoft’s EVP in charge of the cloud and AI group.

Nuance has a complex history. It went public in 2000 and began buying speech recognition products including Dragon Dictate from Lernout Hauspie in 2001. It merged with a company called ScanSoft in 2005. That company began life as Visioneer, a scanning company in 1992.

Today, the company has a number of products including Dragon Dictate, a consumer and business text to speech product that dates back to the early 1990s. It’s also involved in speech recognition, chat bots and natural language processing particularly in healthcare and other verticals.

The company has 6,000 employees spread across 27 countries. In its most recent earnings report from November 2020, which was for Q42020, the company reported $352.9 million in revenue compared to $387.6 million in the same period a year prior. That’s not the direction a company wants to go in, but it is still a run rate of over $1.4 billion.

At the time of that earnings call, the company also announced it was selling its medical transcription and electronic health record (EHR) Go-Live services to Assured Healthcare Partners and Aeries Technology Group. Company CEO Benjamin said this was about helping the company concentrate on its core speech services.

“With this sale, we will reach an important milestone in our journey towards a more focused strategy of advancing our Conversational AI, natural language understanding and ambient clinical intelligence solutions,” Benjamin said in a statement at the time.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft already has a number speech recognition and chat bot products of its own including desktop speech to text services in Windows and on Azure, but it took a chance to buy a market leader and go deeper into the healthcare vertical.

The transaction has already been approved by both company boards and Microsoft reports it expects the deal to close by the end of this year, subject to standard regulatory oversight and approval by Nuance shareholders.

This would mark the second largest purchase by Microsoft ever, only surpassed by the $26.2 billion the company paid for LinkedIn in 2016.


By Ron Miller

Immersion cooling to offset data centers’ massive power demands gains a big booster in Microsoft

LiquidStack does it. So does Submer. They’re both dropping servers carrying sensitive data into goop in an effort to save the planet. Now they’re joined by one of the biggest tech companies in the world in their efforts to improve the energy efficiency of data centers, because Microsoft is getting into the liquid-immersion cooling market.

Microsoft is using a liquid it developed in-house that’s engineered to boil at 122 degrees Fahrenheit (lower than the boiling point of water) to act as a heat sink, reducing the temperature inside the servers so they can operate at full power without any risks from overheating.

The vapor from the boiling fluid is converted back into a liquid through contact with a cooled condenser in the lid of the tank that stores the servers.

“We are the first cloud provider that is running two-phase immersion cooling in a production environment,” said Husam Alissa, a principal hardware engineer on Microsoft’s team for datacenter advanced development in Redmond, Washington, in a statement on the company’s internal blog. 

While that claim may be true, liquid cooling is a well-known approach to dealing with moving heat around to keep systems working. Cars use liquid cooling to keep their motors humming as they head out on the highway.

As technology companies confront the physical limits of Moore’s Law, the demand for faster, higher performance processors mean designing new architectures that can handle more power, the company wrote in a blog post. Power flowing through central processing units has increased from 150 watts to more than 300 watts per chip and the GPUs responsible for much of Bitcoin mining, artificial intelligence applications and high end graphics each consume more than 700 watts per chip.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft isn’t the first tech company to apply liquid cooling to data centers and the distinction that the company uses of being the first “cloud provider” is doing a lot of work. That’s because bitcoin mining operations have been using the tech for years. Indeed, LiquidStack was spun out from a bitcoin miner to commercialize its liquid immersion cooling tech and bring it to the masses.

“Air cooling is not enough”

More power flowing through the processors means hotter chips, which means the need for better cooling or the chips will malfunction.

“Air cooling is not enough,” said Christian Belady, vice president of Microsoft’s datacenter advanced development group in Redmond, in an interview for the company’s internal blog. “That’s what’s driving us to immersion cooling, where we can directly boil off the surfaces of the chip.”

For Belady, the use of liquid cooling technology brings the density and compression of Moore’s Law up to the datacenter level

The results, from an energy consumption perspective, are impressive. The company found that using two-phase immersion cooling reduced power consumption for a server by anywhere from 5 percent to 15 percent (every little bit helps).

Microsoft investigated liquid immersion as a cooling solution for high performance computing applications such as AI. Among other things, the investigation revealed that two-phase immersion cooling reduced power consumption for any given server by 5% to 15%. 

Meanwhile, companies like Submer claim they reduce energy consumption by 50%, water use by 99%, and take up 85% less space.

For cloud computing companies, the ability to keep these servers up and running even during spikes in demand, when they’d consume even more power, adds flexibility and ensures uptime even when servers are overtaxed, according to Microsoft.

“[We] know that with Teams when you get to 1 o’clock or 2 o’clock, there is a huge spike because people are joining meetings at the same time,” Marcus Fontoura, a vice president on Microsoft’s Azure team, said on the company’s internal blog. “Immersion cooling gives us more flexibility to deal with these burst-y workloads.”

At this point, data centers are a critical component of the internet infrastructure that much of the world relies on for… well… pretty much every tech-enabled service. That reliance however has come at a significant environmental cost.

“Data centers power human advancement. Their role as a core infrastructure has become more apparent than ever and emerging technologies such as AI and IoT will continue to drive computing needs. However, the environmental footprint of the industry is growing at an alarming rate,” Alexander Danielsson, an investment manager at Norrsken VC noted last year when discussing that firm’s investment in Submer.

Solutions under the sea

If submerging servers in experimental liquids offers one potential solution to the problem — then sinking them in the ocean is another way that companies are trying to cool data centers without expending too much power.

Microsoft has already been operating an undersea data center for the past two years. The company actually trotted out the tech as part of a push from the tech company to aid in the search for a COVID-19 vaccine last year.

These pre-packed, shipping container-sized data centers can be spun up on demand and run deep under the ocean’s surface for sustainable, high-efficiency and powerful compute operations, the company said.

The liquid cooling project shares most similarity with Microsoft’s Project Natick, which is exploring the potential of underwater datacenters that are quick to deploy and can operate for years on the seabed sealed inside submarine-like tubes without any onsite maintenance by people. 

In those data centers nitrogen air replaces an engineered fluid and the servers are cooled with fans and a heat exchanger that pumps seawater through a sealed tube.

Startups are also staking claims to cool data centers out on the ocean (the seaweed is always greener in somebody else’s lake).

Nautilus Data Technologies, for instance, has raised over $100 million (according to Crunchbase) to develop data centers dotting the surface of Davey Jones’ Locker. The company is currently developing a data center project co-located with a sustainable energy project in a tributary near Stockton, Calif.

With the double-immersion cooling tech Microsoft is hoping to bring the benefits of ocean-cooling tech onto the shore. “We brought the sea to the servers rather than put the datacenter under the sea,” Microsoft’s Alissa said in a company statement.

Ioannis Manousakis, a principal software engineer with Azure (left), and Husam Alissa, a principal hardware engineer on Microsoft’s team for datacenter advanced development (right), walk past a container at a Microsoft datacenter where computer servers in a two-phase immersion cooling tank are processing workloads. Photo by Gene Twedt for Microsoft.


By Jonathan Shieber

YL Ventures sells its stake in cybersecurity unicorn Axonius for $270M

YL Ventures, the Israel-focused cybersecurity seed fund, today announced that it has sold its stake cybersecurity asset management startup Axonius, which only a week ago announced a $100 million Series D funding round that now values it at around $1.2 billion.

ICONIQ Growth, Alkeon Capital Management, DTCP and Harmony Partners acquired YL Venture’s stake for $270 million. This marks YL’s first return from its third $75 million fund, which it raised in 2017, and the largest return in the firm’s history.

With this sale, the company’s third fund still has six portfolio companies remaining. It closed its fourth fund with $120 million in committed capital in the middle of 2019.

Unlike YL, which focuses on early-stage companies — though it also tends to participate in some later-stage rounds — the investors that are buying its stake specialize in later-stage companies that are often on an IPO path. ICONIQ Growth has invested in the likes of Adyen, CrowdStrike, Datadog and Zoom, for example, and has also regularly partnered with YL Ventures on its later-stage investments.

“The transition from early-stage to late-stage investors just makes sense as we drive toward IPO, and it allows each investor to focus on what they do best,” said Dean Sysman, co-founder and CEO of Axonius. “We appreciate the guidance and support the YL Ventures team has provided during the early stages of our company and we congratulate them on this successful journey.”

To put this sale into perspective for the Silicon Valley- and Tel Aviv-based YL Ventures, it’s worth noting that it currently manages about $300 million. Its current portfolio includes the likes of Orca Security, Hunters and Cycode. This sale is a huge win for the firm.

Its most headline-grabbing exit so far was Twistlock, which was acquired by Palo Alto Networks for $410 million in 2019, but it has also seen exits of its portfolio companies to Microsoft, Proofpoint, CA Technologies and Walmart, among others. The fund participated in Axonius’ $4 million seed round in 2017 up to its $58 Million Series C round a year ago.

It seems like YL Ventures is taking a very pragmatic approach here. It doesn’t specialize in late-stage firms — and until recently, Israeli startups always tended to sell long before they got to a late-stage round anyway. And it can generate a nice — and guaranteed — return for its own investors, too.

“This exit netted $270 million in cash directly to our third fund, which had $75 million total in capital commitments, and this fund still has 6 outstanding portfolio companies remaining,” Yoav Leitersdorf, YL Ventures’ founder and managing partner, told me. “Returning multiple times that fund now with a single exit, with the rest of the portfolio companies still there for the upside is the most responsible — yet highly profitable path — we could have taken for our fund at this time. And all this while diverting our energies and means more towards our seed-stage companies (where our help is more impactful), and at the same time supporting Axonius by enabling it to bring aboard such excellent late-stage investors as ICONIQ and Alkeon – a true win-win-win situation for everyone involved!”

He also noted that this sale achieved a top-decile return for the firm’s limited partners and allows it to focus its resources and attention toward the younger companies in its portfolio.


By Frederic Lardinois

Parabol raises $8M after reaching 100,000 users of its agile meeting software

This morning Parabol, a startup that provides retrospective meeting software to agile development teams, announced that it has closed an $8 million Series A. Microsoft’s venture capital arm, M12, led the deal. The investment also saw participation from Techstars, CRV, and Haystack.

TechCrunch caught up with Parabol CEO Jordan Husney to talk about the round, and his company. We were curious how large the market that Parabol serves is, and if the company was overly-nicheing its service. While the startup is still young, the answer appears to be no – adding to our general sentiment that the software market is even larger than we perhaps thought.

Let’s explore how Parabol came to be, and how it came to pick its target market. Or more precisely, how its target market chose it.

Building horizontally, focusing vertically

After a stint in the consulting world, Husney was more than aware of the communications issues that distributed teams can endure. With multiple offices the norm among big companies, he told TechCrunch in an interview, communications between remote workers came down to an email thread, or a meeting. A self-described “recovering engineer,” Husney wondered if there was space in the business market for “structured communications,” or the type of asynchronous meetings that are popular in the code-writing world.

Borrowing from the ethos of agile development, a method of writing software that prioritizes collaboration and evolution over process and documentation, Husney built Parabol to bring agile work and communications methods to non-developer business teams. If agile principles were good at helping foster developer results through status meetings, why wouldn’t the same process translate to other work settings?

But the market had other ideas. Instead of hitting it big in the business world, owing to the friction resulting from needing what Husney described as a “behavior change” — something often lethal to rapid adoption of a new service, or product — agile teams themselves started using Parabol’s tech.

The startup followed the demand. And there’s quite a lot of it, as it turns out. Husney estimated that there are around 20 million agile developers in the world, the business from which has helped propel companies like Atlassian to enormous heights. It’s a big enough pool for the startup to swim in for a long time.

Returning to our earlier note about the depth of the software market, Parabol is a good reference point. It appears capable of building a real company on the back of supporting a subset of the software creation world’s peculiar meeting style; the market for software is simply gigantic.

Growth

After deciding to support agile software teams, growth came quickly to Parabol. In 2018 and 2019, the company saw growth of 20% to 40% each month, its CEO said. Calling his company a “rocket,” Husney gave partial credit to Parabol’s freemium go-to-market model, a common approach when selling to developers who eschew the traditional sales process.

By selling to the already-converted, Parabol found product-market fit. Husney himself had underestimated the demand from agile software developers for tools to support they work, because he thought that they’d already figured out their own needs, he told TechCrunch.

What Parabol has built is not a simple tool, however. Powering retrospective meetings and incident post-mortems, its software collects notes from workers on things that should be done, things that should no longer done, and things that should be kept up. The service then aggregates them automatically by topic, followed by users voting to decide on changes and takeaway actions. The result is an asynchronous way for developer teams to stay in sync.

The startup closed a Seed round in November of 2019, just in time to have cash on hand for the COVID-19 pandemic. The rapid switch to remote work quickly drove Parabol’s user growth from 600 per week in January of 2020, to 5,000 per week in March of the same year. The company has some public usage data available here, in case you want to check the spike yourself.

After raising its $4 million Seed, Husney decided to raise more capital after being told by others that it was a great time to do so. And after winding up with a few firms to choose between, wound up taking Microsoft’s money.

There’s a story there. Per Husney, Microsoft’s M12 was not on the top of its venture capital list; there is a somewhat good reason for that, as taking strategic capital over pure-venture capital is a choice and not the best one for every startup. But after Husney and company got to know the Microsoft partners, and each side underwent diligence, the fit became clear. According to the CEO, M12’s investing team called various Microsoft groups — Azure, GitHub, etc — to ask them about their views on Parabol. They raved. So Microsoft had strong internal signals concerning the deal, and Parabol learned that its potential investor was a heavy user of its product.

The deal worked out.

Why $8 million and not more? The startup’s growth plan isn’t super capital intensive according to Husney, and its market is pulling it instead of the other way around. The team is dilution-conscious as well, he explained. The founding team put the company together in 2015, and didn’t raise its seed round until 2019. It was ramen days back then, he explained; you’ll cling to your ownership, I suppose, when you have bought it that dearly.

Parabol runs lean on purpose. Husney said that his team was not following the Reid Hoffman blitzscaling ethos, instead focusing on hiring for individual leverage. In the CEO’s view, you don’t need to scale quickly to build collaboration products.

The $8 million raise could give Parabol infinite runway, the CEO said, but his company instead raised it for about a 24 month spend. At the end of that he expects the company to have around 30 workers, up from its current 10.

Parabol wants to quadruple its revenues this year, and triple them in 2022. And it wants to scale to 500,000 users from its current 100,000 this year, reaching one million by the end of next year. Let’s see how it performs against those goals.


By Alex Wilhelm

Microsoft brings tighter integration to Dynamics 365 and Teams

As the pandemic drags on and we learn about the requirements of working from home with distributed teams, users could be craving more integration across their tools to help reduce the clicks required to complete a set of tasks. Today at the Ignite Conference, Microsoft announced tighter integration between its business suite Dynamics 365 and its collaboration tool Teams to help with that issue.

Alysa Taylor, corporate VP for business applications and global industry at Microsoft, pointed out that one of the advantages of this native integration approach is that it helps reduce context switching across different applications. “We are committed to really bringing together the collaboration platform and the business process layer to enable salespeople, service representatives, operations managers [and other similar roles] to really have a unified platform in which they both collaborate and have their everyday business functions,” Taylor explained.

This could manifest itself in a number of different ways across marketing, sales and service. For instance, a marketer can create a webinar, which they set up and track in Dynamics 365 Marketing tools and run in Teams as a streaming event with the Teams streaming setup integrated directly into the Dynamics 365 console.

In a sales example Taylor says, “We’re enabling sellers to be able to track the career movements of their contacts using the LinkedIn Sales Navigator, as well as connect very specific sales records within Microsoft Teams without ever having to leave Dynamics 365 Sales. So you can be in the Sales application and you have the ability to deeply understand a contact and any contact changes that occur in Teams, and that’s automatically updated in Sales.”

If your company is not an all-Microsoft shop and wants to use different tools as part of these workflows, Taylor says that you can use Microsoft cross-cloud connectors to connect to another service, and this is true regardless of the tasks involved (so long as the connector to the desired application is available).

Salesforce, a primary rival of Microsoft in the business software space, spent over $27 billion to buy Slack at the end of last year to bring this kind of integration to its platform. Taylor sees the acquisition as a reaction to the integration Microsoft already has and continues to build.

“I think that Salesforce had to acquire Slack to be able to have that collaboration [we have], so we are years ahead of what they’re going to be able to provide because they will not have these native integrations. So I actually see the Salesforce acquisition as a response to what we’re doing with Dynamics 365 and Teams,” Taylor told me.

It’s worth pointing out that Salesforce is far ahead of Microsoft when it comes market share in the CRM space with over 19% versus under 3% for Microsoft, according to Gartner numbers from 2019. While it’s possible these numbers have shifted some since then, probably not significantly.


By Ron Miller

Microsoft Azure expands its NoSQL portfolio with Managed Instances for Apache Cassandra

At its Ignite conference today, Microsoft announced the launch of Azure Managed Instance for Apache Cassandra, its latest NoSQL database offering and a competitor to Cassandra-centric companies like Datastax. Microsoft describes the new service as a ‘semi-managed offering that will help companies bring more of their Cassandra-based workloads into its cloud.

“Customers can easily take on-prem Cassandra workloads and add limitless cloud scale while maintaining full compatibility with the latest version of Apache Cassandra,” Microsoft explains in its press materials. “Their deployments gain improved performance and availability, while benefiting from Azure’s security and compliance capabilities.”

Like its counterpart, Azure SQL Manages Instance, the idea here is to give users access to a scalable, cloud-based database service. To use Cassandra in Azure before, businesses had to either move to Cosmos DB, its highly scalable database service which supports the Cassandra, MongoDB, SQL and Gremlin APIs, or manage their own fleet of virtual machines or on-premises infrastructure.

Cassandra was originally developed at Facebook and then open-sourced in 2008. A year later, it joined the Apache Foundation and today it’s used widely across the industry, with companies like Apple and Netflix betting on it for some of their core services, for example. AWS launched a managed Cassandra-compatible service at its re:Invent conference in 2019 (it’s called Amazon Keyspaces today), Microsoft only launched the Cassandra API for Cosmos DB last November. With today’s announcement, though, the company can now offer a full range of Cassandra-based servicer for enterprises that want to move these workloads to its cloud.


By Frederic Lardinois

Is overseeing cloud operations the new career path to CEO?

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

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

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

Replacing a legend

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

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

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

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


By Ron Miller

Amazon asks judge to set aside Microsoft’s $10B DoD JEDI cloud contract win

It’s been more than two years since the Pentagon announced its $10 billion, decade long JEDI cloud contract, which was supposed to provide a pathway to technological modernization for U.S. armed forces. While Microsoft was awarded the contract in October 2019, Amazon went to court to protest that decision, and it has been in legal limbo ever since.

Yesterday marked another twist in this government procurement saga when Amazon released its latest legal volley, asking a judge to set aside the decision to select Microsoft. Its arguments are similar to ones it has made before, but this time takes aim at the Pentagon’s reevaluation process, which after reviewing the contract and selection process, still found in a decision released this past September that Microsoft had won.

Amazon believes that reevaluation was highly flawed, and subject to undue influence, bias and pressure from the president. Based on this, Amazon has asked the court to set aside the award to Microsoft .

The JEDI reevaluations and re-award decision have fallen victim to an Administration that suppresses the good-faith analysis and reasoning of career officials for political reasons — ultimately to the detriment of national security and the efficient and lawful use of taxpayer dollars. DoD has demonstrated again that it has not executed this procurement objectively and in good faith. This re-award should be set aside.

As you might imagine, Frank X. Shaw, corporate vice president for communications at Microsoft does not agree, believing his company won on merit and by providing the best price.

“As the losing bidder, Amazon was informed of our pricing and they realized they’d originally bid too high. They then amended aspects of their bid to achieve a lower price. However, when looking at all the criteria together, the career procurement officials at the DoD decided that given the superior technical advantages and overall value, we continued to offer the best solution,” Shaw said in a statement shared with TechCrunch.

As for Amazon, a spokesperson told TechCrunch, “We are simply seeking a fair and objective review by the court, regarding the technical errors, bias and political interference that blatantly impacted this contract award.”

And so it goes.

The Pentagon announced it was putting out a bid for a $10 billion, decade long contract in 2018, dubbing it JEDI, short for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure. The procurement process has been mired in controversy from the start, and the size and scope of the deal has attracted widespread attention, much more than your typical government contract. It brought with it claims of bias, particularly by Oracle, that the bidding process was designed to favor Amazon.

We are more than two years beyond the original announcement. We are more than year beyond the original award to Microsoft, and it still remains stuck in a court battle with two major tech companies continuing to snipe at one another. With neither likely to give in, it will be up to the court to decide the final outcome, and perhaps end this saga once and for all.

Note: The DoD did not respond to our request for comment. Should that change, we will update the story.


By Ron Miller

Cloud infrastructure revenue grows 33% this quarter to almost $33B

The cloud infrastructure market kept growing at a brisk pace last quarter, as the pandemic continued to push more companies to the cloud with offices shut down in much of the world. This week the big three — Amazon, Microsoft and Google — all reported their numbers and as expected the news was good with Synergy Research reporting revenue growth of 33% year over year, up to almost $33 billion for the quarter.

Still, John Dinsdale, chief analyst at Synergy was a bit taken aback that the market continued to grow as much as it did. “While we were fully expecting continued strong growth in the market, the scale of the growth in Q3 was a little surprising,” he said in a statement.

He added, “Total revenues were up by $2.5 billion from the previous quarter causing the year-on-year growth rate to nudge upwards, which is unusual for such a large market. It is quite clear that COVID-19 has provided an added boost to a market that was already developing rapidly.”

Per usual Amazon led the way with $11.6 billion in revenue, up from $10.8 billion last quarter. That’s up 29% year over year. Amazon continues to exhibit slowing growth in the cloud market, but because of its market share lead of 33%, a rate that has held fairly steady for some time, the growth is less important than the eye-popping revenue it continues to generate, almost double its closest rival Microsoft .

Speaking of Microsoft, Azure revenue was up 48% year over year, also slowing some, but good enough for a strong second place with 18% market share. Using Synergy’s total quarterly number of $33 billion, Microsoft came in at $5.9 billion in revenue for the quarter, up from $5.2 billion last quarter.

Finally Google announced cloud revenue of $3.4 billion, but that number includes all of its cloud revenue including G Suite and other software. Synergy reported that this was good for 9% or $2.98 billion, up from $2.7 billion last quarter, good for third place.

Alibaba and IBM were tied for fourth with 5% or around $1.65 billion each.

It’s worth noting that Canalys had similar numbers to Synergy with growth of 33% to $36.5 billion. They had the same market order with slightly different numbers with Amazon at 32%, Microsoft at 19% and Google at 7% and Alibaba in 4th place at 6%.

Canalys sees continued growth ahead, especially as hybrid cloud begins to merge with newer technologies like 5G and edge computing. “All three [providers] are collaborating with mobile operators to deploy their cloud stacks at the edge in the operators’ data centers. These are part of holistic initiatives to profit from 5G services among business customers, as well as transform the mobile operators’ IT infrastructure,” Canalysis analyst Blake Murray said in a statement.

While the pure growth continues to move steadily downward over time, this is expected in a market that’s maturing like cloud infrastructure, but as companies continue to shift workloads more rapidly to the cloud during the pandemic, and find new use cases like 5G and edge computing, the market could continue to generate substantial revenue well into the future.


By Ron Miller

Microsoft now lets you bring your own data types to Excel

Over the course of the last few years, Microsoft started adding the concept of ‘data types’ to Excel, that is, the ability to pull in geography and real-time stock data from the cloud, for example. Thanks to its partnership with Wolfram, Excel now features over 100 of these data types that can flow into a spreadsheet. But you won’t be limited to only these pre-built data types for long. Soon, Excel will also let you bring in your own data types.

That means you can have a ‘customer’ data type, for example, that can bring in rich customer data from a third-party service into Excel. The conduit fort his is either Power BI, which now allows Excel to pull in any data you previously published there, or Microsoft’s Power Query feature in Excel that lets you connect to a wide variety of data sources, including common databases like SQL Server, MySQL and PostreSQL, as well as third-party services like Teradata and Facebook.

“Up to this point, the Excel grid has been flat… it’s two dimensional,” Microsoft’ head of product for Excel, Brian Jones, writes in today’s announcement. “You can lay out numbers, text, and formulas across the flexible grid, and people have built amazing things with those capabilities. Not all data is flat though and forcing data into that 2D structure has its limits. With Data Types we’ve added a 3rd dimension to what you can build with Excel. Any cell can now contain a rich set of structured data… in just a single cell.”

The promise here is that this will make Excel more flexible and I’m sure a lot of enterprises will adapt these capabilities. These companies aren’t likely to move to Airtable or similar Excel-like tools anytime soon but have data analysis needs that are only increasing now that every company gathers more data than it knows what to do with. This is also a feature that none of Excel’s competitors currently offer, including Google Sheets.


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft debuts Azure Space to cater to the space industry, partners with SpaceX for Starlink datacenter broadband

Microsoft is taking its Azure cloud computing platform to the final frontier – space. It now has a dedicated business unit called Azure Space for that purpose, made up of industry heavyweights and engineers who are focused on space-sector services including simulation of space missions, gathering and interpreting satellite data to provide insights, and providing global satellite networking capabilities through new and expanded partnerships.

One of Microsoft’s new partners for Azure Space is SpaceX, the progenitor and major current player in the so-called ‘New Space’ industry. SpaceX will be providing Microsoft with access to its Starlink low-latency satellite based broadband network for Microsoft’s new Azure Modular Datacenter (MDC) – essentially an on-demand container-based datacenter unit that can be deployed in remote locations, either to operate on their own or boost local cababilities.

Image Credits: Microsoft

The MDC is a contained unit, and can operate off-grid using its own satellite network connectivity add-on. It’s similar in concept to the company’s work on underwater data centres, but keeping it on the ground obviously opens up more opportunities in terms of locating it where people need it, rather than having to be proximate to an ocean or sea.

The other big part of this announcement focuses on space preparedness via simulation. Microsoft revealed the Azure Orbital Emulator today, which provides in a computer emulated environment the ability to test satellites constellation operations in simulation, using both software and hardware. It’s basically aiming to provide as close to in-space conditions as are possible on the ground in order to get everything ready for coordinating large, interconnected constellations of automated satellites in low Earth orbit, an increasing need as more defense agencies and private companies pursue this approach vs. the legacy method of relying on one, two or just a few large geosynchronous spacecraft.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Microsoft says the goal with the Orbital Emulator is to train AI for use on orbital spacecraft before those spacecraft are actually launched – from the early development phase, right up to working with production hardware on the ground before it takes its trip to space. That’s definitely a big potential competitive advantage, because it should help companies spot even more potential problems early on while they’re still relatively easy to fix (not the case on orbit).

This emulated environment for on-orbit mission prep is already in use by Azure Government customers, the company notes. It’s also looking for more partners across government and industry for space-related services, including communication, national security., satellite services including observation and telemetry and more.


By Darrell Etherington

Microsoft enhances customer data platform as pandemic drives need for personalization

When Microsoft introduced its customer data platform last February the focus was on simply connecting silos of data to help customers get the data into the system, but as the pandemic has taken hold this year, customers need deeper insight into their customers and Microsoft has made some enhancements to the platform today.

James Phillips, president of Microsoft business applications says the goal of the platform is about understanding customers at a deeper level. “From that depth of understanding our customers can engage their customers through the entirety of the customer lifecycle,” Phillips told TechCrunch.

That could involve a variety of activities such personalizing offers, speaking to them in a way that they know their customers want to be spoken to, offering them new products and services that better meet their needs or supporting them better, he said.

He adds that COVID-19 has changed customer priorities and forced them to make adjustments to the way they do business and how they interact with customers. “As everything’s gone digital, the need to deeply understand your customer and to increase the efficacy of those engagements has really been heightened through this pandemic,” he said.

The company is announcing several new components to the customer data platform product to help customers build that understanding. The first is called Customer Engagement, which as the name implies takes all that data they’ve pushed to the CDP to help understand that customer better and deliver more meaningful interactions. That goes into preview today.

“Engagement Insights is about directly funneling web, mobile and connected product data back into Customer Insights to help continue to enrich that understanding of the customer in order to better serve them,” he said.

The next piece is about putting AI to work on all that data to allow marketers to make more educated predictions about the customers based on what they know about them. This takes advantage of Azure Synapse Analytics and provides a set of pre-built AI templates to help customers with elements like predicting customer churn, automating product recommendations and estimating customer lifetime value.

In addition, the company is offering a data governance product to help protect that data and it’s integrating with Microsoft Customer Voice, the company’s survey tool to give customers the ability to fill in the blanks in the data by asking the customers when all of the data doesn’t provide an answer.

Phillips says all of these capabilities are about helping customers to be more agile, so that as the world shifts, as it has so dramatically this year, businesses can be in a better position to react to those changes more quickly and meet the changing customer requirements.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft clearly isn’t alone in this type of offering, as every big company that sells marketing tools from Adobe to Salesforce to SAP is offering similar products for similar reasons.


By Ron Miller

Daily Crunch: Microsoft launches Azure Communication Services

Microsoft takes on Twilio, Google launches a work-tracking tool and Mirakl raises $300 million. This is your Daily Crunch for September 22, 2020.

The big story: Microsoft launches Azure Communication Services

Microsoft announced today that it’s ready to compete with Twilio by launching a set of features that allow developers to add voice and video calling, chat, text messages and old-school telephony to their apps.

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

This is just one of a number of announcements that Microsoft made at its Ignite conference this morning. Other additions include a platform for detecting biological threats and the Azure Orbital service for satellite operators.

The tech giants

Google launches a work-tracking tool and Airtable rival, Tables — Tables’ bots help users do things like scheduling recurring email reminders when tasks are overdue and messaging a chat room when new form submissions are received.

Amazon adds support for Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu in local Indian languages push ahead of Diwali — The company said this move should help it reach an additional 200-300 million users in India.

Pinterest breaks daily download record due to user interest in iOS 14 design ideas — Following the release of iOS 14, the excitement around the ability to customize your iPhone home screen has been paying off for Pinterest.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Mirakl raises $300 million for its marketplace platform — Mirakl helps companies launch and manage a marketplace on their e-commerce websites.

Pure Watercraft ramps up its electric outboard motors with a $23 million series A — Pure Watercraft is building an electric outboard motor that can replace a normal gas one for most boating needs.

Morgan Beller, co-creator of the Libra digital currency, just joined the venture firm NFX — And yes, that means she’s leaving Facebook.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Despite a rough year for digital media, Blavity and The Shade Room are thriving — A recap of my Disrupt discussion with Morgan DeBaun of Blavity and Angelica Nwandu of The Shade Room.

Big tech has 2 elephants in the room: Privacy and competition — There’s clearly a nervousness among even well-established tech firms to discuss this topic.

How has Corsair Gaming posted such impressive pre-IPO numbers? — The company was founded in 1994, making it more of a mature business than a startup.

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

Everything else

TikTok, WeChat and the growing digital divide between the US and China — Catherine Shu discusses the dramatic shift in the relationship between tech companies in both countries.

Tech must radically rethink how it treats independent contractors — Just as COVID-19 has accelerated the move to remote work, our current crisis has accelerated the trend toward hiring independent contractors.

Bose introduces a new pair of sleep-focused earbuds — The timing of the Sleepbuds II could hardly be better.

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


By Anthony Ha