Jan
23
2019
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Open-source leader Confluent raises $125M on $2.5B valuation

Confluent, the commercial company built on top of the open-source Apache Kafka project, announced a $125 million Series D round this morning on an enormous $2.5 billion valuation.

The round was led by existing investor Sequoia Capital, with participation from Index Ventures and Benchmark, which also participated in previous rounds. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $206 million, according to the company.

The valuation soared from the previous round when the company was valued at $500 million. What’s more, the company’s bookings have scaled along with the valuation.

Graph: Confluent

 

While CEO Jay Kreps wouldn’t comment directly on a future IPO, he hinted that it is something the company is looking to do at some point. “With our growth and momentum so far, and with the latest funding, we are in a very good position to and have a desire to build a strong, independent company,” Kreps told TechCrunch.

Confluent and Kafka have developed a streaming data technology that processes massive amounts of information in real time, something that comes in handy in today’s data-intensive environment. The base streaming database technology was developed at LinkedIn as a means of moving massive amounts of messages. The company decided to open-source that technology in 2011, and Confluent launched as the commercial arm in 2014.

Kreps, writing in a company blog post announcing the funding, said that the events concept encompasses the basic building blocks of businesses. “These events are the orders, sales and customer experiences, that constitute the operation of the business. Databases have long helped to store the current state of the world, but we think this is only half of the story. What is missing are the continually flowing stream of events that represents everything happening in a company, and that can act as the lifeblood of its operation,” he wrote.

Kreps pointed out that as an open-source project, Confluent depends on the community. “This is not something we’re doing alone. Apache Kafka has a massive community of contributors of which we’re just one part,” he wrote.

While the base open-source component remains available for free download, it doesn’t include the additional tooling the company has built to make it easier for enterprises to use Kafka. Recent additions include a managed cloud version of the product and a marketplace, Confluent Hub, for sharing extensions to the platform.

As we watch the company’s valuation soar, it does so against a backdrop of other companies based on open source selling for big bucks in 2018, including IBM buying Red Hat for $34 billion in October and Salesforce acquiring MuleSoft in June for $6.5 billion.

The company’s most recent round was $50 million in March, 2017.

Jan
22
2019
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Okta appoints former Charles Schwab exec to board of directors

Okta, the Nasdaq-listed cloud identity management company, has recruited former Charles Schwab chief marketing officer Becky Saeger to its board of directors. The latest appointment comes one month after the company named Shellye Archambeau, former chief executive officer of MetricStream, to its board.

Saeger becomes Okta’s third female board member. Michelle Wilson, a former senior vice president and general counsel at Amazon, joined the company’s board in 2015. According to data collected by Women on Boards, women hold just over 17 percent of corporate board seats, up from 16.0 percent in 2017.

“A board is there for a few reasons,” Okta co-founder and CEO Todd McKinnon told TechCrunch. “One is to oversee a company’s management and strategy. A company like Okta is in a fast-growing industry and there is too much of a tendency for groupthink. You need someone around you to question the basis of what you’re thinking about.”

McKinnon has spoken openly about his commitment to diversity. In a letter to employees in early 2017, for example, he denounced President Donald Trump’s temporary ban on refugee admissions to the U.S. “Diversity of thought and experience are fundamental values at Okta, that includes religious beliefs, gender diversity, sexual orientation and political views,” he wrote. “No matter who you voted for, our opposition to this policy is not just about our business — it is also about our belief in the American freedoms and protections that have made our country so innovative and accepting of those most in need.”

Okta’s C-suite, though majority male, includes chief customer officer Krista Anderson-Copperman, executive vice president and chief of staff Angela Grady, and chief people officer Kristina Johnson.

Saeger, who McKinnon chose for her marketing and financial services acumen, also sits on the board of E*TRADE, an online broker.

“I am excited about the notion that as this company grows and evolves, the brand can become more visible and more meaningful,” Saeger told TechCrunch.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Okta debuted on the stock exchange in April 2017, closing up 38 percent on its first day of trading.

Jan
22
2019
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Citizens Reserve is building a supply chain platform on the blockchain

Citizens Reserve, a Bay Area startup, has a broad goal of digitizing the supply chain. Last fall, the company launched the Alpha version of Suku, a Supply Chain as a Service platform built on the blockchain. Today, it announced a partnership with Smartrac, an RFID tag manufacturer, based in Amsterdam, as a key identity piece for the platform.

Companies use RFID to track products from field or factory to market. Eric Piscini, CEO at Citizens, says this partnership helps solve a crucial piece of digitizing the supply chain. It provides a way to trace products on their journey to market, and ensure their provenance, whether that is to be sure no labor was exploited in production, environmental standards were maintained or that the products were stored under the proper conditions to ensure freshness.

One of the big issues in track and trace on the supply chain is simply identifying the universe of items in motion across the world at any given moment. RFID tagging provides a way to give each of these items a digital identity, which can be placed on the blockchain to help prevent fraud. Once you have an irrefutable digital identity, it solves a big problem around digitizing the supply chain.

He said this is all part of a broader effort to move the supply chain to the digital realm by building a platform on the blockchain. This not only provides an irrefutable, traceable digital record, it can have all kinds of additional benefits, like reducing theft and fraud and ensuring provenance.

There are so many parties involved in this process, from farmers and manufacturers to customs authorities to shipping and container companies to logistics companies moving the products to market to the stores that sell the goods. Getting all of the various parties involved in the supply chain to move to a blockchain solution remains a huge challenge.

Today’s partnership offers one way to help build an identity mechanism for the Citizens Reserve solution. The company is also working on other partnerships to help solve other problems, like warehouse management and logistics.

The company currently has 11 employees based in Los Gatos, Calif. It has raised $11 million, according to Piscini.

Jan
18
2019
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Salesforce is building new tower in Dublin and adding hundreds of jobs

Salesforce put the finishing touches on a tower in San Francisco last year. In October, it announced Salesforce Tower in Atlanta. Today, it was Dublin’s turn. Everyone gets a tower.

Salesforce first opened an office in Dublin back in 2001, and has since expanded to 1,400 employees. Today’s announcement represents a significant commitment to expand even further, adding 1,500 new jobs over the next five years.

The new tower in Dublin is actually going to be a campus made up of four interconnecting buildings on the River Liffey. It will eventually encompass 430,000 square feet with the first employees expected to move into the new facility sometime in the middle of 2021.

Artist’s rendering of Salesforce Tower Dublin rooftop garden. Picture: Salesforce

Martin Shanahan, who is CEO at IDA Ireland, the state agency responsible for attracting foreign investment in Ireland, called this one of the largest single jobs announcements in the 70-year history of his organization.

As with all things Salesforce, they will do this up big with an “immersive video lobby” and a hospitality space for Salesforce employees, customers and partners. This space, which will be known as the “Ohana Floor,” will also be available for use by nonprofits.They also plan to build paths along the river that will connect the campus to the city center.

Artist’s rendering of Salesforce Tower Dublin lobby. Picture: Salesforce

The company intends to make the project “one of the most sustainable building projects to-date” in Dublin, according to a statement announcing the project. What does that mean? It will, among other things, be a nearly Net Zero Energy building and it will use 100 percent renewable energy, including onsite solar panels.

Finally, as part of the company’s commitment to the local communities in which it operates, it announced a $1 million grant to Educate Together, an education nonprofit. The grant should help the organization expand its mission running equality-based schools. Salesforce has been supporting the group since 2009 with software grants, as well as a program where Salesforce employees volunteer at some of the organization’s schools.

Jan
17
2019
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IBM and Vodafone form cloud, 5G and AI business venture and ink $550M service deal

IBM is one of the world’s biggest system integrators, but to get closer to where enterprises are actually doing their work, it’s been inking partnerships with companies that build devices and run the networks enterprises are using for their IT, and today comes the latest development on that front.

IBM is announcing a new venture with mobile carrier Vodafone, in a deal that will comes in two parts. First, IBM will supply Vodafone’s B2B unit Vodafone Business with managed services in the areas of cloud and hosting. And second, the two will together work on building and delivering solutions in areas like AI, cloud, 5G, IoT and software defined networking to enterprise customers.

The latter part of the deal appears to be a classic JV that will see both sides bringing something to the table — employees from both companies will be moving into a separate office together very soon that will essentially be “neutral” territory. The former part, meanwhile, will see Vodafone paying IBM some $550 million in an eight-year agreement.

That price tag alone is a strong indicator that this deal is a big one for both companies.

The agreement follows along the lines of what IBM inked with Apple several years ago, where the two would work together to develop enterprise solutions that would have been more challenging to do on their own.

Indeed, while IBM does provide systems integration services, it hasn’t moved as deeply into mobile-specific solutions for businesses, even as its other operational units — doing research and other work in AI, cloud, quantum computing and other areas — are making strong headway on specific projects, some of which involve mobile technology. Now that it’s nearly in full possession of RedHat — which it is in the process of buying for $34 billion, a deal that’s now received the approval of RedHat’s shareholders — it will also have open source cloud computing to add to that.

What the Vodafone deal will tap is taking more of those cutting-edge developments that IBM has built and worked on in specific projects, and productise them for a wider audience of businesses and other organisations, which might already be Vodafone customers.

“To deliver multi-cloud strategies in the real world, enterprises need to invest at many levels, ranging from cloud connectivity to cloud governance and management. This new venture between Vodafone and IBM addresses the ‘full stack’ of real-world multi-cloud concerns with a powerful combination of capabilities that should enable customers to deliver multi-cloud strategies in all layers of their organizations,” noted Carla Arend, senior program director for European software at IDC.

The Apple / IBM deal is more than instructive in this case; it will help fuel this new venture. From what I understand, several fruits of that labor will be making their way into the IBM / Vodafone deal, too, which makes sense, considering Vodafone’s position as a mobile carrier and the iPhone making some strong headway into the business market.

“IBM has built industry-leading hybrid cloud, AI and security capabilities underpinned by deep industry expertise,” said IBM Chairman, President and CEO Ginni Rometty in a statement. “Together, IBM and Vodafone will use the power of the hybrid cloud to securely integrate critical business applications, driving business innovation – from agriculture to next- generation retail.”

“Vodafone has successfully established its cloud business to help our customers succeed in a digital world,” said Vodafone CEO Nick Read, in the statement. “This strategic venture with IBM allows us to focus on our strengths in fixed and mobile technologies, whilst leveraging IBM’s expertise in multicloud, AI and services. Through this new venture we’ll accelerate our growth and deepen engagement with our customers while driving radical simplification and efficiency in our business.”

I’ve been told that the first joint “customer engagements” are already happening with an unnamed energy company. Thinking about what kinds of services Vodafone may be providing to end users today — they will cover mobile data and voice connectivity, mobile broadband, IoT and 5G services — this first deal will involve tapping all four, with an emphasis on 5G and IoT.

Jan
16
2019
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AWS launches Backup, a fully managed backup service for AWS

Amazon’s AWS cloud computing service today launched Backup, a new tool that makes it easier for developers on the platform to back up their data from various AWS services and their on-premises apps. Out of the box, the service, which is now available to all developers, lets you set up backup policies for services like Amazon EBS volumes, RDS databases, DynamoDB tables, EFS file systems and AWS Storage Gateway volumes. Support for more services is planned, too. To back up on-premises data, businesses can use the AWS Storage Gateway.

The service allows users to define their various backup policies and retention periods, including the ability to move backups to cold storage (for EFS data) or delete them completely after a certain time. By default, the data is stored in Amazon S3 buckets.

Most of the supported services, except for EFS file systems, already feature the ability to create snapshots. Backup essentially automates that process and creates rules around it, so it’s no surprise that pricing for Backup is the same as for using those snapshot features (with the exception of the file system backup, which will have a per-GB charge). It’s worth noting that you’ll also pay a per-GB fee for restoring data from EFS file systems and DynamoDB backups.

Currently, Backup’s scope is limited to a given AWS region, but the company says that it plans to offer cross-region functionality later this year.

“As the cloud has become the default choice for customers of all sizes, it has attracted two distinct types of builders,” writes Bill Vass, AWS’s VP of Storage, Automation, and Management Services. “Some are tinkerers who want to tweak and fine-tune the full range of AWS services into a desired architecture, and other builders are drawn to the same breadth and depth of functionality in AWS, but are willing to trade some of the service granularity to start at a higher abstraction layer, so they can build even faster. We designed AWS Backup for this second type of builder who has told us that they want one place to go for backups versus having to do it across multiple, individual services.”

Early adopters of AWS Backup are State Street Corporation, Smile Brands and Rackspace, though this is surely a service that will attract its fair share of users as it makes the life of admins quite a bit easier. AWS does have quite a few backup and storage partners, though, who may not be all that excited to see AWS jump into this market, too — though they often offer a wider range of functionality than AWS’s service, including cross-region and offsite backups.

 

Jan
16
2019
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Nvidia’s T4 GPUs are now available in beta on Google Cloud

Google Cloud today announced that Nvidia’s Turing-based Tesla T4 data center GPUs are now available in beta in its data centers in Brazil, India, Netherlands, Singapore, Tokyo and the United States. Google first announced a private test of these cards in November, but that was a very limited alpha test. All developers can now take these new T4 GPUs for a spin through Google’s Compute Engine service.

The T4, which essentially uses the same processor architecture as Nvidia’s RTX cards for consumers, slots in-between the existing Nvidia V100 and P4 GPUs on the Google Cloud Platform . While the V100 is optimized for machine learning, though, the T4 (as its P4 predecessor) is more of a general-purpose GPU that also turns out to be great for training models and inferencing.

In terms of machine and deep learning performance, the 16GB T4 is significantly slower than the V100, though if you are mostly running inference on the cards, you may actually see a speed boost. Unsurprisingly, using the T4 is also cheaper than the V100, starting at $0.95 per hour compared to $2.48 per hour for the V100, with another discount for using preemptible VMs and Google’s usual sustained use discounts.

Google says that the card’s 16GB memory should easily handle large machine learning models and the ability to run multiple smaller models at the same time. The standard PCI Express 3.0 card also comes with support for Nvidia’s Tensor Cores to accelerate deep learning and Nvidia’s new RTX ray-tracing cores. Performance tops out at 260 TOPS and developers can connect up to four T4 GPUs to a virtual machine.

It’s worth stressing that this is also the first GPU in the Google Cloud lineup that supports Nvidia’s ray-tracing technology. There isn’t a lot of software on the market yet that actually makes use of this technique, which allows you to render more lifelike images in real time, but if you need a virtual workstation with a powerful next-generation graphics card, that’s now an option.

With today’s beta launch of the T4, Google Cloud now offers quite a variety of Nvidia GPUs, including the K80, P4, P100 and V100, all at different price points and with different performance characteristics.

Jan
16
2019
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Infor lands $1.5 billion investment ahead of IPO

Infor, a NYC-based enterprise software company, announced a massive $1.5 billion investment today that could be the precursor to an IPO in the next 12-24 months. One analyst is estimating that the valuation could be at least $60 billion.

The investment is being led by Koch Industries’ investment arm, Koch Equity Development, and Golden Gate Capital. Today’s investment comes on top of a $2 billion+ cash infusion from Koch in 2017, bringing the total raised to at least more than $3.5 billion along with a hefty $6.1 billion in debt. That’s a lot of cash.

In fact, the company plans to use a large portion of today’s investment to pay down part of that debt, including $500 million in senior secured notes due in 2020, which it plans to pay off next month, and $750 million in HoldCo senior contingent cash pay notes due in 2021, which it plans to pay off in May. The thinking is that the company wants to reduce its debt load ahead of its IPO.

“We expect this paydown, in combination with cash flows and estimated IPO proceeds, will provide Infor with leverage levels consistent with other successful IPOs over the past few years,” Infor CFO Kevin Samuelson explained during an investor call today.

The company wouldn’t rule out additional investments before going public, but it was looking firmly toward an IPO. “We’ve spoken for some time about the many advantages that we believe Infor will receive if the company goes public, including improved brand recognition, a broader employee equity program, additional currency for M&A and more financial clarity for our customers and prospects,” Samuelson said.

Infor may be the largest company you never heard of, with more than 17,000 employees and 68,000 customers in more than 100 countries worldwide. All of those customers generated $3 billion in revenue in 2018. That’s a significant presence.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, told TechCrunch that based on that revenue, he believes the valuation could be in the neighborhood of $60 billion. He based that on $3 billion in revenue, while using Oracle and SAP as similar industry comparisons. These companies have a 20X price/earnings ratio. He adds, that would make it the largest tech IPO ever for a NYC tech company if that comes to pass. Infor would not confirm this number with a spokesperson telling TechCrunch, “We cannot comment on value at this time.”

What does this company do to achieve this size and scope? It’s not unlike many other large enterprise companies, says Wang. It produces cloud software solutions around typical enterprise needs such as CRM, ERP and supply chain asset management.

Daniel Newman, principal analyst at Futurum Research, says that Infor has grown rapidly through a series of acquisitions and an unusual approach to enterprise software. “What makes its approach to enterprise software unique is that rather than building software and then attempting to customize it for the unique [customer] needs, Infor takes an industry-based approach that incorporates both subtle and material capabilities to address specific industry needs that more generic ERP tools aren’t capable of out of the box,” Newman told TechCrunch.

He adds that this difference is attractive to many companies seeking ERP and enterprise asset management tools that are built with their business in mind, rather than completely customizing a software designed for any business in any industry.

As it turns out, Koch isn’t just an investor, it’s an Infor customer. “Koch was a customer of Infor before we became an investor in the company, and Koch Industries’ companies continue to move their most mission critical applications to Infor CloudSuites,” Jim Hannan, executive vice president and CEO for Enterprises at Koch Industries said in a statement.

The company, which was founded way back in 2002, has been shifting to the cloud over the last five years. It reports that more than 70 percent of its revenue is now derived from cloud products, fueled in part by an aggressive acquisition strategy.

Jan
15
2019
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Box hires former SAP exec as chief information security officer

Box announced today that it has hired Lakshmi Hanspal to be the company’s new chief information security officer (CISO). She boasts 20 years of security experience, including holding executive security roles at SAP Ariba and Bank of America. She also spent time in a senior role at PayPal.

In a blog post announcing the hire, the company defined her role this way: “In the role of CISO, Lakshmi will be responsible for Box’s cyber security practice, security operations and data and platform protection.”

Hanspal sees similarities in Box from her time at SAP Ariba, but she recognizes that she will face a different set of challenges. “My role at Box is similar to what I focused on at SAP Ariba with the biggest difference being Box’s geographical footprint. Box is a born in the cloud company and expanding rapidly globally, so my focus will also include securing public cloud operations (future stack) and risk transparency for our customers,” she told TechCrunch.

She said that will involve improving service maturity and sustainability through automation, while continuing to ensure the highest level of security of both Box corporate and product platforms.

Box CEO Aaron Levie indicated that security is central to everything Box does, so finding the right chief information security officer was absolutely critical. “Not only does Lakshmi bring with her an impressive and diverse leadership experience from her time at SAP, PayPal and Bank of America, but she’s an incredible team builder and culture add for Box that will take our security team to the next level,” Levie said.

Hanspal is the third woman on Box’s executive team, joining Stephanie Carullo, who was hired as chief operating officer in 2017 and chief people officer, Christie Lake.

Jan
15
2019
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Microsoft continues to build government security credentials ahead of JEDI decision

While the DoD is in the process of reviewing the $10 billion JEDI cloud contract RFPs (assuming the work continues during the government shutdown), Microsoft continues to build up its federal government security bona fides, regardless.

Today the company announced it has achieved the highest level of federal government clearance for the Outlook mobile app, allowing US Government Community Cloud (GCC) High and Department of Defense employees to use the mobile app. This is on top of FedRamp compliance, the company achieved last year.

“To meet the high level of government security and compliance requirements, we updated the Outlook mobile architecture so that it establishes a direct connection between the Outlook mobile app and the compliant Exchange Online backend services using a native Microsoft sync technology and removes middle tier services,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the update.

The update will allows these highly security-conscious employees to access some of the more recent updates to Outlook Mobile such as the ability to add a comment when canceling an event.

This is in line with government security updates the company made last year. While none of these changes are specifically designed to help win the $10 billion JEDI cloud contract, they certainly help make a case for Microsoft from a technology standpoint

As Microsoft corporate vice president for Azure, Julia White stated in a blog post last year, which we covered, “Moving forward, we are simplifying our approach to regulatory compliance for federal agencies, so that our government customers can gain access to innovation more rapidly,” White wrote at the time. The Outlook Mobile release is clearly in line with that.

Today’s announcement comes after the Pentagon announced just last week that it has awarded Microsoft a separate large contract for $1.7 billion. This involves providing Microsoft Enterprise Services for the Department of Defense (DoD), Coast Guard and the intelligence community, according to a statement from DoD.

All of this comes ahead of decision on the massive $10 billion, winner-take-all cloud contract. Final RFPs were submitted in October and the DoD is expected to make a decision in April. The process has not been without controversy with Oracle and IBM submitting a formal protests even before the RFP deadline — and more recently, Oracle filing a lawsuit alleging the contract terms violate federal procurement laws. Oracle has been particularly concerned that the contract was designed to favor Amazon, a point the DoD has repeatedly denied.

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