Apr
18
2018
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Cloud Foundry Foundation looks east as Alibaba joins as a gold member

Cloud Foundry is among the most successful open source project in the enterprise right now. It’s a cloud-agnostic platform-as-a-service offering that helps businesses develop and run their software more efficiently. In many enterprises, it’s now the standard platform for writing new applications. Indeed, half of the Fortune 500 companies now use it in one form or another.

With the imminent IPO of Pivotal, which helped birth the project and still sits at the core of its ecosystem, Cloud Foundry is about to gets its first major moment in the spotlight outside of its core audience. Over the course of the last few years, though, the project and the foundation that manages it have also received the sponsorship of  companies like Cisco, IBM, SAP, SUSE, Google, Microsoft, Ford, Volkswagen and Huawei.

Today, China’s Alibaba Group is joining the Cloud Foundry Foundation as a gold member. Compared to AWS, Azure and Google Cloud, the Alibaba Cloud gets relatively little press, but it’s among the largest clouds in the world. Starting today, Cloud Foundry is also available on the Alibaba Cloud, with support for both the Cloud Foundry application and container runtimes.

Cloud Foundry CTO Chip Childers told me that he expects Alibaba to become an active participant in the open source community. He also noted that Cloud Foundry is seeing quite a bit of growth in China — a sentiment that I’ve seen echoed by other large open source projects, including the likes of OpenStack.

Open source is being heavily adopted in China and many companies are now trying to figure out how to best contribute to these kind of projects. Joining a foundation is an obvious first step. Childers also noted that many traditional enterprises in China are now starting down the path of digital transformation, which is driving the adoption of both open source tools and cloud in general.

Apr
18
2018
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Cloud.gov makes Cloud Foundry easier to adopt for government agencies

At the Cloud Foundry Summit in Boston, the team behind the U.S. government’s cloud.gov application platform announced that it is now a certified Cloud Foundry platform that is guaranteed to be compatible with other certified providers, like Huawei, IBM, Pivotal, SAP and — also starting today — SUSE. With this, cloud.gov becomes the first government agency to become Cloud Foundry-certified.

The point behind the certification is to ensure that all of the various platforms that support Cloud Foundry are compatible with each other. In the government context, this means that agencies can easily move their workloads between clouds (assuming they have all the necessary government certifications in place). But what’s maybe even more important is that it also ensures skills portability, which should make hiring and finding contractors easier for these agencies. Given that the open source Cloud Foundry project has seen quite a bit of adoption in the private sector, with half of the Fortune 500 companies using it, that’s often an important factor for deciding which platform to build on.

From the outset, cloud.gov, which was launched by the General Services Administration’s 18F office to improve the U.S. government’s public-facing websites and applications, was built on top of Cloud Foundry. Similar agencies in Australia and the U.K. have made the same decision to standardize on the Cloud Foundry platform. Cloud Foundry launched its certification program a few years ago; last year it added another program for certifying the skills of individual developers.

To be able to run government workloads, a cloud platform has to offer a certain set of security requirements. As Cloud Foundry Foundation CTO Chip Childers told me, the work 18F did to get the FedRAMP authorization for cloud.gov helped bring better controls to the upstream project, too, and he stressed that all of the governments that have adopted the platform have contributed to the overall project.

Apr
17
2018
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Google Cloud releases Dialogflow Enterprise Edition for building chat apps

Building conversational interfaces is a hot new area for developers. Chatbots can be a way to reduce friction in websites and apps and to give customers quick answers to commonly asked questions in a conversational framework. Today, Google announced it was making Dialogflow Enterprise Edition generally available. It had previously been in beta.

This technology came to them via the API.AI acquisition in 2016. Google wisely decided to change the name of the tool along the way, giving it a moniker that more closely matched what it actually does. The company reports that hundreds of thousands of developers are using the tool already to build conversational interfaces.

This isn’t just an all-Google tool, though. It works across voice interface platforms, including Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Facebook Messenger, giving developers a tool to develop their chat apps once and use them across several devices without having to change the underlying code in a significant way.

What’s more, with today’s release the company is providing increased functionality and making it easier to transition to the enterprise edition at the same time.

“Starting today, you can combine batch operations that would have required multiple API calls into a single API call, reducing lines of code and shortening development time. Dialogflow API V2 is also now the default for all new agents, integrating with Google Cloud Speech-to-Text, enabling agent management via API, supporting gRPC, and providing an easy transition to Enterprise Edition with no code migration,” Dan Aharon, Google’s product manager for Cloud AI, wrote in a company blog post announcing the tool.

The company showed off a few new customers using Dialogflow to build chat interfaces for their customers, including KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Domino’s and Ticketmaster.

The new tool, which is available today, supports more than 30 languages and as a generally available enterprise product comes with a support package and service level agreement (SLA).

Apr
13
2018
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Zuora’s IPO is another step in golden age of enterprise SaaS

Zuroa’s founder and CEO Tien Tzuo had a vision of a subscription economy long before most people ever considered the notion. He knew that for companies to succeed with subscriptions, they needed a bookkeeping system that understood how they collected and reported money. The company went public yesterday, another clear sign post on the road to SaaS maturation.

Tzuo was an early employee at Salesforce and their first CMO. He worked there in the early days in the late 90s when Salesforce’s Marc Benioff famously rented an apartment to launch the company. Tzuo was at Salesforce 9 years, and it helped him understand the nature of subscription-based businesses like Salesforce.

“We created a great environment for building, marketing and delivering software. We rewrote the rules, the way it was built, marketed and sold,” Tzuo told me in an interview in 2016.

He saw a fundamental problem with traditional accounting methods, which were designed for selling a widget and declaring the revenue. A subscription was an entirely different model and it required a new way to track revenue and communicate with customers. Tzuo took the long view when he started his company in early 2007, leaving a secure job at a growing company like Salesforce.

He did it because he had the vision, long before anyone else, that SaaS companies would require a subscription bookkeeping system, but before long, so would other unrelated businesses.

Building a subscription system

As he put it in that 2016 interview, if you commit to pay me $1 for 10 years, you know that $1 was coming in come hell or high water, that’s $10 I know I’m getting, but I can’t declare the money until I get it. That recurring revenue still has value though because my investors know that I’m secure for 10 years, even though it’s not on the books yet. That’s where Zuora came in. It could account for that recurring revenue when nobody else could. What’s more, it could track the billing over time, and send out reminders, help the companies stay engaged with their customers.

Photo: Lukas Kurka/Getty Images

As Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research put it, they pioneered the whole idea of a subscription economy, and not just for SaaS companies. Over the last several years, we’ve heard companies talking about selling services and SLAs (service/uptime agreements) instead of a one-time sale of an item, but not that long ago it wasn’t something a lot of companies were thinking about.

“They pioneered how companies can think about monetization,” Wang said. “So large companies like a GE could go from selling a wind turbine one time to selling a subscription to deliver a certain number of Kw/hr of green energy at peak hours from 1 to 5 pm with 98 percent uptime.” There wasn’t any way to do this before Zuora came along.

Jason Lemkin, founder at SaaStr, a firm that invests in SaaS startups, says Tzuo was a genuine visionary and helped create the underlying system for SaaS subscriptions to work. “The most interesting part of Zuora is that it is a “second” order SaaS play. It could only thrive once SaaS became mainstream, and could only scale on top of other recurring revenue businesses. Zuora started off as a niche player helping SaaS companies do billing, and it dramatically expanded and thrived as SaaS became … Software.”

Market catches up with idea

When he launched the company in 2007, perhaps he saw that extension of his idea out on the distant horizon. He certainly saw companies like Salesforce needing a service like the one he had decided to create. The early investors must have recognized that his vision was early and it would take a slow, steady climb on the way to exiting. It took 11 years and $242 million in venture capital before they saw the payoff. The revenue after 11 years was a reported $167 million. There is plenty of room to grow.

But yesterday the company had its initial public offering, and it was by any measure a huge success. According TechCrunch’s Katie Roof, “After pricing its IPO at $14 and raising $154 million, the company closed at $20, valuing the company around $2 billion.” Today it was up a bit more as of this writing.

When you consider the Tzuo’s former company has become a $10 billion company, that companies like Box, Zendesk, Workday and Dropbox have all gone public, and others like DocuSign and Smartsheets are not far behind, it’s pretty clear that we are in a golden age of SaaS — and chances are it’s only going to get better.

Apr
13
2018
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Sensu raises $10M to build a robust monitoring system for all your different operations

While companies’ operations become increasingly fragmented into a wide variety of different spots — especially if they exist somewhere in a group of different cloud tools — making sure those operations are still healthy has become more and more critical.

And for companies whose lifeblood is directly keeping that software online longer, it’s even more important. Uptime maps directly to revenue, and that’s why Caleb Hailey — who previously worked on this as a consultancy — decided to start Sensu to try to piece together the monitoring operations into a single spot where a company can keep an eye on the health of their operations. The company said it has raised $10 million in a new financing round led by Battery Ventures, with existing investor Foundry Group participating. Battery’s General Partner Dharmesh Thakker is joining the company’s board of directors.

“Big enterprises are hesitant to work on startups, they’re risk averse, and it reduces the risk exposure to double down on an open source stack,” Hailey said. ” But this open source technology, it’s used in the largest institutions in the world, and we have found that by delivering cost savings in a competitive market we have already established a rapidly growing developer stream.”

While all those different tools may have their own way of monitoring the health of a system, Sensu tries to get all this into one place to make things a little easier than checking things one-by-one. The aim is to be more proactive and try to flag problems before they are even noticed by the people using Sensu, plugging directly into services like Slack or sending emails to flag potential issues before they end up becoming larger problems. Like others like Cloudera, Sensu builds its business around helping companies deploy this otherwise open source technology efficiently.

Sensu’s backstory starts as a consultancy for Hailey, which was focused on infrastructure and automation — especially as more and more companies moved to a hybrid cloud model that existed partially in some box somewhere on Azure or AWS. Starting off as an open source project is one way that he hopes to convince larger enterprises that might already be using similar tools to adopt a known entity rather than just giving some random startup the keys to maintaining their operations.

The monitoring space is still a competitive — and crowded — one. There are tools like AppDynamics or New Relic, but Hailey argues that Sensu can be competitive with those as they are very bundled while his startup helps companies piece together a more complete solution. For example, a company might need higher granularity in their reports, and Sensu aims to try to provide a robust toolkit for companies that have many disparate operations they need to keep online and running smoothly.

Apr
11
2018
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With Fargate, AWS wants to make containers more cloud native

At its re:Invent developer conference, AWS made so many announcements that even some of the company’s biggest launches only got a small amount of attention. While the company’s long-awaited Elastic Container Service for Kubernetes got quite a bit of press, the launch of the far more novel Fargate container service stayed under the radar.

When I talked to him earlier this week, AWS VP and Amazon CTO (and EDM enthusiast) Werner Vogels admitted as much. “I think some of the Fargate stuff got a bit lost in all the other announcements that there were,” he told me. “I think it is a major step forward in making containers more cloud native and we see quite a few of our customers jumping on board with Fargate.”

Fargate, if you haven’t followed along, is a technology for AWS’ Elastic Container Service (ECS) and Kubernetes Service (EKS) that abstracts all of the underlying infrastructure for running containers away. You pick your container orchestration engine and the service does the rest. There’s no need for managing individual servers or clusters. Instead, you simply tells ECS or EKS that you want to launch a container with Fargate, define the CPU and memory requirements of your application and let the service handle the rest.

To Vogels, who also published a longer blog post on Fargate today, the service is part of the company’s mission to help developers focus on their applications — and not the infrastructure. “I always compare it a bit to the early days of cloud,” said Vogels. “Before we had AWS, there were only virtual machines. And many companies build successful businesses around it. But when you run virtual machines, you still have to manage the hardware. […] One of the things that happened when we introduced EC2 [the core AWS cloud computing service] in the early days, was sort of that it decoupled things from the hardware. […] I think that tremendously improved developer productivity.”

But even with the early containers tools, if you wanted to run them directly on AWS or even in ECS, you still had to do a lot of work that had little to do with actually running the containers. “Basically, it’s the same story,” Vogels said. “VMs became the hardware for the containers. And a significant amount of work for developers went into that orchestration piece.”

What Amazon’s customers wanted, however, was being able to focus on running their containers — not what Vogels called the “hands-on hardware-type of management.” “That was so pre-cloud,” he added and in his blog post today, he also notes that “container orchestration has always seemed to me to be very not cloud native.”

In Vogels’ view, it seems, if you are still worried about infrastructure, you’re not really cloud native. He also noted that the original promise of AWS was that AWS would worry about running the infrastructure while developers got to focus on what mattered for their businesses. It’s services like Fargate and maybe also Lambda that take this overall philosophy the furthest.

Even with a container service like ECS or EKS, though, the clusters still don’t run completely automatically and you still end up provisioning capacity that you don’t need all the time. The promise of Fargate is that it will auto-scale for you and that you only pay for the capacity you actually need.

“Our customers, they just want to build software, they just want to build their applications. They don’t want to be bothered with how to exactly map this container down to that particular virtual machine — which is what they had to do,” Vogels said. “With Fargate, you select the type of CPUs you want to use for a particular task and it will autoscale this for you. Meaning that you actually only have to pay for the capacity you use.”

When it comes to abstracting away infrastructure, though, Fargate does this for containers, but it’s worth noting that a serverless product like AWS Lambda takes it even further. For Vogels, this is a continuum and driven by customer demand. While AWS is clearly placing big bets on containers, he is also quite realistic about the fact that many companies will continue to use containers for the foreseeable future. “VMs won’t go away,” he said.

With a serverless product like Lambda, you don’t even think about the infrastructure at all anymore, not even containers — you get to fully focus on the code and only pay for the execution of that code. And while Vogels sees the landscape of VMs, containers and serverless as a continuum, where customers move from one to the next, he also noted that AWS is seeing enterprises that are skipping over the container step and going all in on serverless right away.

Apr
09
2018
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Benioff: Every VC in Silicon Valley turned us down

In an interview last month with Julie Bort from Business Insider, Parker Harris and Marc Benioff told the story of how when they first launched the company, they were trying to raise money and nobody would give them a dime. Benioff said he went to every venture capital in Silicon Valley — and was turned down every single time.

This could be a lesson for every startup out there with a vision, who is not able to find conventional financing for your idea. Salesforce found the money, but it took one on one fundraising, rather than the traditional VC route.

The company famously launched in an apartment that Benioff rented, and he put up some of his own money to buy the company’s first computers. Then it was time to go downtown and ask the VCs for money and it did not go well.

“I had to go hat in hand, like I was a high tech beggar, down to Silicon Valley to raise some money…And as I go from venture capitalist to venture capitalist to venture capitalist — and a lot of them are my friends, people I’ve gone to lunch with — and each and every one of them said no,” Benioff said. “Salesforce was never able to raise a single dollar from a venture capitalist,” he added.

He suggested there were a lot of reasons for that including competitors who would call after his meetings and deliberately sabotage him or people who simply didn’t believe in the cloud as a vision of the future of software.

Whatever the reasons, Salesforce was eventually able to raise over $60 million from private individual investors, before going public in 2004. In the context of today’s venture capital environment, it is pretty tough to imagine a guy like Benioff not finding one taker, especially when you consider that he was not exactly an unknown quantity. And still no one would write him a check.

But this wasn’t now. It was in the late 1990s when nobody was thinking about cloud computing and the notion of software on the internet was a distant idea. Benioff was imagining something completely different and not one firm had the vision to see what was coming. Today, Salesforce is a $10 billion company and those folks that turned him down have to be wondering what they were thinking.

“When you start something like Salesforce, you want to surround yourself with people who do believe in you, who do believe you’re going to be successful because you’re going to have a whole bunch of people who are going to tell you that you’re not, Benioff said.

That’s something every entrepreneur should remember.

Apr
08
2018
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Salesforce is working on a blockchain product

Salesforce has always been a company that is looking ahead to the next big technology, whether that was mobile, social, internet of things or artificial intelligence. In an interview with Business Insider’s Julie Bort at the end of March, Salesforce co-founders Marc Benioff and Parker Harris talked about a range of subjects including how the company came to be working on one of the next hot technologies, a blockchain product.

Benioff told a story of being at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland where a bit of serendipity led him to start thinking about blockchain and how it could be used as part of the Salesforce family of products.

As it turned out, there was a crypto conference going on at the same time as the WEF and the two worlds collided at a Salesforce event at the Intercontinental Hotel. While there, one of the crypto conference attendees engaged Benioff in a conversation and it was the start of something.

“I had been thinking a lot about what is Salesforce’s strategy around blockchain, and what is Salesforce’s strategies around cryptocurrencies and how will we relate to all of these things,” Benioff said. He is actually a big believer in the power of serendipity, and he said just by having that conversation, it started him down the road to thinking more seriously about Salesforce’s role in this developing technology.

He said the more he thought about it, the more he believed that Salesforce could make use of Blockchain. Then suddenly something clicked for him and he saw a way to put blockchain and cryptocurrencies to work in Salesforce. “That’s kind of how it works and I hope by Dreamforce we will have a blockchain and cryptocurrency solution.”

Benioff is clearly a visionary and says a lot of that comes from simply paying attention as he did when he talked to this person in Davos, and recognizing an opportunity to expand Salesforce in a meaningful way. “A lot [these ideas] comes from paying attention, listening. There’s new ideas coming all the time,” he said. He recognizes that there are more ideas out there than they can possibly execute, but part of his job is understanding which ones are the most important for Salesforce customers.

Blockchain is the electronic ledger used to track Bitcoin or other digital currencies, but it also has a more general business role. As an irrefutable and immutable record, it can track just about anything of value.

Dreamforce is Salesforce’s enormous annual customer conference. It will be held this year from September 25-28 in San Francisco, and if it all works as planned, they could be announcing a blockchain product this year.

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Check out the whole interview between Salesforce founders Parker Harris and Marc Benioff and Julie Bort from Business Insider:

Apr
05
2018
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Google Cloud gives developers more insights into their networks

Google Cloud is launching a new feature today that will give its users a new way to monitor and optimize how their data flows between their servers in the Google Cloud and other Google Services, on-premises deployments and virtually any other internet endpoint. As the name implies, VPC Flow Logs are meant for businesses that already use Google’s Virtual Private Cloud features to isolate their resources from other users.

VPC Flow Logs monitors and logs all the network flows (both UDP and TCP) that are sent from and received by the virtual machines inside a VPC, including traffic between Google Cloud regions. All of that data can be exported to Stackdriver Logging or BigQuery, if you want to keep it in the Google Cloud, or you can use Cloud Pub/Sub to export it to other real-time analytics or security platforms. The data updates every five seconds and Google promises that using this service has no impact on the performance of your deployed applications.

As the company notes in today’s announcement, this will allow network operators to get far more insight into the details of how the Google network performs and to troubleshoot issues if they arise. In addition, it will allow them to optimize their network usage and costs by giving them more information about their global traffic.

All of this data is also quite useful for performing forensics when it looks like somebody may have gotten into your network, too. If that’s your main use case, though, you probably want to export your data to a specialized security information and event management (SIEM) platform from vendors like Splunk or ArcSight.

Apr
04
2018
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AWS launches a cheaper single-zone version of its S3 storage service

AWS’ S3 storage service today launched a cheaper option for keeping data in the cloud — as long as developers are willing to give up a few 9s of availability in return for saving up to 20 percent compared to the standard S3 price for applications that need infrequent access. The name for this new S3 tier: S3 One Zone-Infrequent Access.

S3 was among the first services AWS offered. Over the years, the company added a few additional tiers to the standard storage service. There’s the S3 Standard tier with the promise of 99.999999999 percent durability and 99.99 percent availability and S3 Standard-Infrequent Access with the same durability promise and 99.9 percent availability. There’s also Glacier for cold storage.

Data stored in the Standard and Standard-Infrequent access tiers is replicated across three or more availability zones. As the name implies, the main difference between those and the One Zone-Infrequent Access tier is that with this cheaper option, all the data sits in only one availability zone. It’s still replicated across different machines, but if that zone goes down (or is destroyed), you can’t access your data.

Because of this, AWS only promises 99.5 percent availability and only offers a 99 percent SLA. In terms of features and durability, though, there’s no difference between this tier and the other S3 tiers.

As Amazon CTO Werner Vogels noted in a keynote at the AWS Summit in San Francisco today, it’s the replication across availability zones that defines the storage cost. In his view, this new service should be used for data that is infrequently accessed but can be replicated.

An availability of 99.5 percent does mean that you should expect to experience a day or two per year where you can’t access your data, though. For some applications, that’s perfectly acceptable, and Vogels noted that he expects AWS customers to use this for secondary backup copies or for storing media files that can be replicated.

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