Jul
08
2018
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Serverless computing could unleash a new startup ecosystem

While serverless computing isn’t new, it has reached an interesting place in its development. As developers begin to see the value of serverless architecture, a whole new startup ecosystem could begin to develop around it.

Serverless isn’t exactly serverless at all, but it does enable a developer to set event triggers and leave the infrastructure requirements completely to the cloud provider. The vendor delivers exactly the right amount of compute, storage and memory and the developer doesn’t even have to think about it (or code for it).

That sounds ideal on its face, but as with every new technology, for each solution there is a set of new problems and those issues tend to represent openings for enterprising entrepreneurs. That could mean big opportunities in the coming years for companies building security, tooling, libraries, APIs, monitoring and a whole host of tools serverless will likely require as it evolves.

Building layers of abstraction

In the beginning we had physical servers, but there was lots of wasted capacity. That led to the development of virtual machines, which enabled IT to take a single physical server and divide it into multiple virtual ones. While that was a huge breakthrough for its time, helped launch successful companies like VMware and paved the way for cloud computing, it was the only beginning.

Then came containers, which really began to take off with the development of Docker and Kubernetes, two open source platforms. Containers enable the developer to break down a large monolithic program into discrete pieces, which helps it run more efficiently. More recently, we’ve seen the rise of serverless or event-driven computing. In this case, the whole idea of infrastructure itself is being abstracted away.

Photo: shutterjack/Getty Images

While it’s not truly serverless, since you need underlying compute, storage and memory to run a program, it is removing the need for developers to worry about servers. Today, so much coding goes into connecting the program’s components to run on whatever hardware (virtual or otherwise) you have designated. With serverless, the cloud vendor handles all of that for the developer.

All of the major vendors have launched serverless products with AWS Lambda, Google Cloud Functions and Microsoft Azure Functions all offering a similar approach. But it has the potential to be more than just another way to code. It could eventually shift the way we think about programming and its relation to the underlying infrastructure altogether.

It’s important to understand that we aren’t quite there yet, and a lot of work still needs to happen for serverless to really take hold, but it has enormous potential to be a startup feeder system in coming years and it’s certainly caught the attention of investors looking for the next big thing.

Removing another barrier to entry

Tim Wagner, general manager for AWS Lambda, says the primary advantage of serverless computing is that it allows developers to strip away all of the challenges associated with managing servers. “So there is no provisioning, deploying, patching or monitoring — all those details at the the server and operating system level go away,” he explained.

He says this allows developers to reduce the entire coding process to the function level. The programmer defines the event or function and the cloud provider figures out the exact amount of underlying infrastructure required to run it. Mind you, this can be as little as a single line of code.

Blocks of servers in cloud data center.

Colin Anderson/Getty Images

Sarah Guo, a partner at Greylock Partners, who invests in early stage companies sees serverless computing as offering a way for developers to concentrate on just the code by leaving the infrastructure management to the provider. “If you look at one of the amazing things cloud computing platforms have done, it has just taken a lot of the expertise and cost that you need to build a scalable service and shifted it to [the cloud provider],” she said. Serverless takes that concept and shifts it even further by allowing developers to concentrate solely on the user’s needs without having to worry about what it takes to actually run the program.

Survey says…

Cloud computing company Digital Ocean recently surveyed over 4800 IT pros, of which 55 percent identified themselves as developers. When asked about serverless, nearly half of respondents reported they didn’t fully understand the serverless concept. On the other hand, they certainly recognized the importance of learning more about it with 81 percent reporting that they plan to do further research this year.

When asked if they had deployed a serverless application in the last year, not surprisingly about two-thirds reported they hadn’t. This was consistent across regions with India reporting a slightly higher rate of serverless adoption.

Graph: Digital Ocean

Of those using serverless, Digital Ocean found that AWS was by far the most popular service with 58 percent of respondents reporting Lambda was their chosen tool, followed by Google Cloud Functions with 23 percent and Microsoft Azure Functions further back at 10 percent.

Interestingly enough, one of the reasons that respondents reported a reluctance to begin adopting serverless was a lack of tooling. “One of the biggest challenges developers report when it comes to serverless is monitoring and debugging,” the report stated. That lack of visibility, however could also represent an opening for startups.

Creating ecosystems

The thing about abstraction is that it simplifies operations on one level, but it also creates a new set of requirements, some expected and some that might surprise as a new way of programming scales. This lack of tooling could potentially hinder the development, but more often than not when necessity calls, it can stimulate the development of a new set of instrumentation.

This is certainly something that Guo recognizes as an investor. “I think there is a lot of promise as we improve a bunch of things around making it easier for developers to access serverless, while expanding the use cases, and concentrating on issues like visibility and security, which are all [issues] when you give more and more control of [the infrastructure] to someone else,” she said.

Photo: shylendrahoode/Getty Images

Ping Li, general partner at Accel also sees an opportunity here for investors. “I think the reality is that anytime there’s a kind of shift from a developer application perspective, there’s an opportunity to create a new set of tools or products that help you enable those platforms,” he said.

Li says the promise is there, but it won’t happen right away because there needs to be a critical mass of developers using serverless methodologies first. “I would say that we are definitely interested in serverless in that we believe it’s going to be a big part of how applications will be built in the future, but it’s still in its early stages,” Ping said.

S. Somasgear, managing director at Madrona Ventures says that even as serverless removes complexity, it creates a new set of issues, which in turn creates openings for startups. “It is complicated because we are trying to create this abstraction layer over the underlying infrastructure and telling the developers that you don’t need to worry about it. But that means, there are a lot of tools that have to exist in place — whether it is development tools, deployment tools, debugging tools or monitoring tools — that enable the developer to know certain things are happening when you’re operating in a serverless environment.

Beyond tooling

Having that visibility in a serverless world is a real challenge, but it is not the only opening here. There are also opportunities for trigger or function libraries or companies akin to Twilio or Stripe, which offer easy API access to a set of functionality without having a particular expertise like communications or payment gateways There could be similar analogous needs in the serverless world.

Companies are beginning to take advantage of serverless computing to find new ways of solving problems. Over time, we should begin to see more developer momentum toward this approach and more tools develop.

While it is early days, as Guo says, it’s not as though developers love running infrastructure. It’s just been a necessity. “I think will be very interesting. I just think we’re still very early in the ecosystem,” she said. Yet certainly the potential is there if the pieces fall into place and programmer momentum builds around this way of developing applications for it to really take off and for a startup ecosystem to follow.

Jul
03
2018
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Google Cloud’s COO departs after 7 months

At the end of last November, Google announced that Diane Bryant, who at the time was on a leave of absence from her position as the head of Intel’s data center group, would become Google Cloud’s new COO. This was a major coup for Google, but it wasn’t meant to last. After only seven months on the job, Bryant has left Google Cloud, as Business Insider first reported today.

“We can confirm that Diane Bryant is no longer with Google. We are grateful for the contributions she made while at Google and we wish her the best in her next pursuit,” a Google spokesperson told us when we reached out for comment.

The reasons for Bryant’s departure are currently unclear. It’s no secret that Intel is looking for a new CEO and Bryant would fit the bill. Intel also famously likes to recruit insiders as its leaders, though I would be surprised if the company’s board had already decided on a replacement. Bryant spent more than 25 years at Intel and her hire at Google looked like it would be a good match, especially given that Google’s position behind Amazon and Microsoft in the cloud wars means that it needs all the executive talent it can get.

When Bryant was hired, Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene noted that “Diane’s strategic acumen, technical knowledge and client focus will prove invaluable as we accelerate the scale and reach of Google Cloud.” According to the most recent analyst reports, Google Cloud’s market share has ticked up a bit — and its revenue has increased at the same time — but Google remains a distant third in the competition and it doesn’t look like that’s changing anytime soon.

Jun
27
2018
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Microsoft launches two new Azure regions in China

Microsoft today launched two new Azure regions in China. These new regions, China North 2 in Beijing and China East 2 in Shanghai, are now generally available and will complement the existing two regions Microsoft operates in the country (with the help of its local partner, 21Vianet).

As the first international cloud provider in China when it launched its first region there in 2014, Microsoft has seen rapid growth in the region and there is clearly demand for its services there. Unsurprisingly, many of Microsoft’s customers in China are other multinationals that are already betting on Azure for their cloud strategy. These include the likes of Adobe, Coke, Costco, Daimler, Ford, Nuance, P&G, Toyota and BMW.

In addition to the new China regions, Microsoft also today launched a new availability zone for its region in the Netherlands. While availability zones have long been standard among the big cloud providers, Azure only launched this feature — which divides a region into multiple independent zones — into general availability earlier this year. The regions in the Netherlands, Paris and Iowa now offer this additional safeguard against downtime, with others to follow soon.

In other Azure news, Microsoft also today announced that Azure IoT Edge is now generally available. In addition, Microsoft announced the second generation of its Azure Data Lake Storage service, which is now in preview, and some updates to the Azure Data Factory, which now includes a web-based user interface for building and managing data pipelines.

Jun
26
2018
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With Cloud Filestore, the Google Cloud gets a new storage option

Google is giving developers a new storage option in its cloud. Cloud Filestore, which will launch into beta next month, essentially offers a fully managed network attached storage (NAS) service in the cloud. This means that companies can now easily run applications that need a traditional file system interface on the Google Cloud Platform.

Traditionally, developers who wanted access to a standard file system over the kind of object storage and database options that Google already offered had to rig up a file server with a persistent disk. Filestore does away with all of this and simply allows Google Cloud users to spin up storage as needed.

The promise of Filestore is that it offers high throughput, low latency and high IOPS. The service will come in two tiers: premium and standard. The premium tier will cost $0.30 per GB and month and promises a throughput speed of 700 MB/s and 30,000 IOPS, no matter the storage capacity. Standard-tier Filestore storage will cost $0.20 per GB and month, but performance scales with capacity and doesn’t hit peak performance until you store more than 10TB of data in Filestore.

Google launched Filestore at an event in Los Angeles that mostly focused on the entertainment and media industry. There are plenty of enterprise applications in those verticals that need a shared file system, but the same can be said for many other industries that rely on similar enterprise applications.

The Filestore beta will launch next month. Because it’s still in beta, Google isn’t making any uptime promises right now and there is no ETA for when the service will come out of beta.

Jun
26
2018
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YC grad ZenProspect rebrands as Apollo, lands $7M Series A

ZenProspect, a startup that emerged from the Y Combinator Winter 2016 class to help companies use data and intelligence to increase sales, announced today that it was rebranding as Apollo. It also announced a $7 million Series A investment.

The round was led by Nexus Venture Partners. Social Capital and Y Combinator also participated. Apparently Y Combinator liked what they saw enough to continue to invest in the company.

Apollo helps customers connect their sales people with the right person at the right time. That is typically a customer that is most likely to buy the product. It does this by combining a number of tools including a rules engine to automate prospect routing, a lead scoring tool and analytics to measure results at a granular level, among others.

Apollo analytics. Photo: Apollo

The company also uses data they have collected from 200 million contacts at 10 million companies to match sellers to buyers along with the information in the user’s own CRM tools — typically Salesforce. Apollo is making this vast database of company and contact data available for customers to use themselves for free starting today.

Apollo CEO and founder Tim Zheng says the company was born out of a need at a previous venture. He was working at a startup that was floundering and sales had flatlined. When they couldn’t find a product on the market to help them, they decided to build it and saw the number of users increase from 5000 to 150,000 users in just five weeks. That eventually reached a million users.  As he spoke to friends at other Bay area companies about what his company had done, he heard a lot of interest, and decided to turn that sales tool into a company.

The company launched as ZenProspect in 2015 and went through Y Combinator in 2016. They were the third fastest growing company in that YC batch, generating $1 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) during their tenure. In fact, they were profitable out of the gate, using their own software to sell the product.

Zheng points out that there are thousands of sales tools out there, but he said, even if you bought every one of them and stitched them together you still wouldn’t have a great sales process. Zheng says his company has figured out how to solve that problem and provide that structure to deliver the best prospects to sales people to close deals.

The company works closely with Salesforce as 80 percent of its customers are using data inside of Salesforce in conjunction with the Apollo tool. It’s worth noting, however, that Apollo is not built on top of Salesforce platform. It just integrates with it.

They target both early stage startups looking to increase sales and established enterprise customers with huge sales teams. So far it’s been working. Today, Apollo has 500 customers and 50 employees. With the current influx of money, they expect to get to 120 in the next 12 -18 months.

Jun
19
2018
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Google injects Hire with AI to speed up common tasks

Since Google Hire launched last year it has been trying to make it easier for hiring managers to manage the data and tasks associated with the hiring process, while maybe tweaking LinkedIn while they’re at it. Today the company announced some AI-infused enhancements that they say will help save time and energy spent on manual processes.

“By incorporating Google AI, Hire now reduces repetitive, time-consuming tasks, like scheduling interviews into one-click interactions. This means hiring teams can spend less time with logistics and more time connecting with people,” Google’s Berit Hoffmann, Hire product manager wrote in a blog post announcing the new features.

The first piece involves making it easier and faster to schedule interviews with candidates. This is a multi-step activity that involves scheduling appropriate interviewers, choosing a time and date that works for all parties involved in the interview and scheduling a room in which to conduct the interview. Organizing these kind of logistics tend to eat up a lot of time.

“To streamline this process, Hire now uses AI to automatically suggest interviewers and ideal time slots, reducing interview scheduling to a few clicks,” Hoffmann wrote.

Photo: Google

Another common hiring chore is finding keywords in a resume. Hire’s AI now finds these words for a recruiter automatically by analysing terms in a job description or search query and highlighting relevant words including synonyms and acronyms in a resume to save time spent manually searching for them.

Photo: Google

Finally, another standard part of the hiring process is making phone calls, lots of phone calls. To make this easier, the latest version of Google Hire has a new click-to-call function. Simply click the phone number and it dials automatically and registers the call in call a log for easy recall or auditing.

While Microsoft has LinkedIn and Office 365, Google has G Suite and Google Hire. The strategy behind Hire is to allow hiring personnel to work in the G Suite tools they are immersed in every day and incorporate Hire functionality within those tools.

It’s not unlike CRM tools that integrate with Outlook or GMail because that’s where sales people spend a good deal of their time anyway. The idea is to reduce the time spent switching between tools and make the process a more integrated experience.

While none of these features individually will necessarily wow you, they are making use of Google AI to simplify common tasks to reduce some of the tedium associated with every-day hiring tasks.

Jun
19
2018
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Cisco buys July Systems to bring digital experience to the real world

Customer experience management is about getting to know your customer’s preferences in an online context, but pulling that information into the real world often proves a major challenge for organizations. This results in a huge disconnect when a customer walks into a physical store. This morning, Cisco announced it has bought July Systems, a company that purports to solve that problem.

The companies did not share the acquisition price.

July Systems connects to a building’s WiFi system to understand the customer who just walked in the door, how many times they have shopped at this retailer, their loyalty point score and so forth. This gives the vendor the same kind of understanding about that customer offline as they are used to getting online.

It’s an interesting acquisition for Cisco, taking advantage of some of its strengths as a networking company, given the WiFi component, but also moving in the direction of providing more specific customer experience services.

“Enterprises have an opportunity to take advantage of their in-building Wi-Fi for a broad range of indoor location services. In addition to providing seamless connectivity, Wi-Fi can help enterprises glean deep visitor behavior insights, associate these learnings with their enterprise systems, and drive better customer and employee experiences,” Cisco’s Rob Salvagno wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

As is often the case with these kinds of purchases, the two companies are not strangers. In fact, July Systems lists Cisco as a partner prominently on the company website (along with AWS). Customers include an interesting variety from Intercontinental Hotels Group to the New York Yankees baseball team.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research says the acquisition is also about taking advantage of 5G. “July Systems gives Cisco the ability to expand its localization and customer experience management (CXM) capabilities pre-5g and post-5g. The WiFi analytics improve CXM, but more importantly Cisco also gains a robust developer community,” Wang told TechCrunch.

According to reports, the company had over $67 billion in cash as of February. That leaves plenty of money to make investments like this one and the company hasn’t been shy about using their cash horde to buy companies as they try to transform from a pure hardware company to one built on services

In fact, they have made 211 acquisitions over the years, according to data on Crunchbase. In recent years they have made some eye-popping ones like plucking AppDynamics for $3.7 billion just before it was going to IPO in 2017 or grabbing Jasper for $1.4 billion in 2016, but the company has also made a host of smaller ones like today’s announcement.

July Systems was founded back in 2001 and raised almost $60 million from a variety of investors including Sequoia Capital, Intel Capital, CRV and Motorola Solutions. Salvagno indicated the July Systems group will become incorporated into Cisco’s enterprise networking group. The deal is expected to be finalized in the first quarter of fiscal 2019.

Jun
15
2018
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Adobe could be the next $10 billion software company

Adobe reported its Q2 FY’18 earnings yesterday and the news was quite good. The company announced $2.2 billion in revenue for the quarter up 24 percent year over year. That puts them on an impressive $8.8 billion run rate, within reach of becoming the next $10 billion software company (or at least on a run rate).

Revenue was up across all major business lines, but as has been the norm, the vast majority comes from the company’s bread and butter, Creative Cloud, which houses the likes of Photoshop, InDesign and Dreamweaver, among others. In fact digital media, which includes Creative Cloud and Document Cloud accounted for $1.55 billion of the $2.2 billion in total revenue. The vast majority of that, $1.30 billion was from the creative side of the house with Document Cloud pulling in $243 million.

Adobe has been mostly known as a creative tools company until recent years when it also moved into marketing, analytics and advertising. Recently it purchased Magento for $1.6 billion, giving it a commerce component to go with those other pieces. Clearly Adobe has set its sights on Salesforce, which also has a strong marketing component and is not coincidentally perhaps, the most recently crowned $10 billion software company.

Moving into commerce

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen speaking to analysts on the post-reporting earnings call sees Magento as filling in a key piece across understanding the customer from shopping to purchase. “The acquisition of Magento will make Adobe the only company with leadership in content creation, marketing, advertising, analytics and now commerce, enabling real-time personalized experiences across the entire customer journey, whether on the web, mobile, social, in-product or in-store. We believe the addition of Magento expands our available market opportunity, builds out our product portfolio, and addresses a key underserved customer need,” Narayen told analysts.

If Adobe could find a way to expand that marketing and commerce revenue, it could easily surpass that $10 billion revenue run rate threshold, but so far while it has been growing, it remains less than half of the Creative revenue at $586 million. Yes, it grew at an 18 percent year over year clip, but it seems as though there is potential for so much more there and clearly Narayen hopes that the money spent on Magento will help drive that growth.

Battling with Salesforce

Even while it was announcing its revenue, rival Salesforce was meeting with Marketing Cloud customers in Chicago at the Salesforce Connections conference, a move that presented an interesting juxtaposition between the two competitors. Both have a similar approach to the marketing side, while Salesforce concentrates on the customer including CRM and service components. Adobe differentiates itself with content, which shows up on the balance sheet as the majority of its revenue .

Both companies have growth in common too. Salesforce has been on quite a run over the last five years reaching $3 billion in revenue for the first time last quarter. Adobe hit $2 billion for the first time in November. Consider that prior to moving to a subscription model in 2013, Adobe had revenue of $995 billion. Since it moved to that subscription model, it has reaped the benefits of recurring revenue and grown steadily ever since.

Each has used strategic acquisitions to help fuel that growth with Salesforce acquiring 27 companies since 2013 and Adobe 13, according to Crunchbase data. Each has bought a commerce company with Adobe buying Magento this year and Salesforce grabbing Demandware two years ago.

Adobe has the toolset to keep the marketing side of its business growing. It might never reach the revenue of the creative side, but it could help push the company further than it’s ever been. Ten billion dollars seems well within reach if things continue along the current trajectory.

Jun
13
2018
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Docker aims to federate container management across clouds

When Docker burst on the scene in 2013, it brought the idea of containers to a broad audience. Since then Kubernetes has emerged as a way to orchestrate the delivery of those containerized apps, but Docker saw a gap that wasn’t being addressed beyond pure container deployment that they are trying to address with the next release of Docker Enterprise Edition. Docker made the announcement today at DockerCon in San Francisco.

Scott Johnston, chief product officer at Docker says that Docker Enterprise Edition’s new federated application management feature helps operations manage multiple clusters, whether those clusters are on premise, in the cloud or across different public cloud providers. This allows federated management of application wherever they live and supports managed Kubernetes tools from the big three public cloud providers including Azure AKS, AWS EKS and Google GKE.

Johnston says that deploying the containers is just the first part of the problem. There is a whole set of issues to deal with outside of Kubernetes (and other orchestration tools) once your application begins being deployed. “So, you know, you get portability of containers with the Docker format and the Kubernetes or Compose description files, but once you land on an environment, that environment has deployment scripts, security models, user management and [so forth]. So while the app is portable, the management of these applications is not,” he explained.

He says that can lead to a set of separate deployment tools creating a new level of complexity that using containers was supposed to eliminate. This is especially true when deploying across multiple clouds (and on prem sometimes too). If you need load balancing, security, testing and so forth — the kinds of tasks the operations team has to undertake — and you want to apply these in a consistent way regardless of the environment, Johnston says that Docker EE should help by creating a single place to manage across environments and achieve that cloud native goal of managing all your applications and data and infrastructure in a unified way.

In addition to the federated management component, Docker also announced Windows Server containers on Kubernetes for Docker Enterprise Edition. It had previously announced support for Linux containers last year.

Finally, the company is introducing a template-based approach to Docker deployment to enable people in the organization with a bit less technical sophistication to deploy from a guided graphical process instead of a command line interface.

The federated application management is available in Beta starting the second half of this year, support for Windows Server Containers will be included in the next release of Docker Enterprise Edition later this year and Templates will be available in Docker Desktop in Beta later this year.

Jun
13
2018
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Salesforce deepens data sharing partnership with Google

Last Fall at Dreamforce, Salesforce announced a deepening friendship with Google . That began to take shape in January with integration between Salesforce CRM data and Google Analytics 360 and Google BigQuery. Today, the two cloud giants announced the next step as the companies will share data between Google Analytics 360 and the Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

This particular data sharing partnership makes even more sense as the companies can share web analytics data with marketing personnel to deliver ever more customized experiences for users (or so the argument goes, right?).

That connection certainly didn’t escape Salesforce’s VP of product marketing, Bobby Jania. “Now, marketers are able to deliver meaningful consumer experiences powered by the world’s number one marketing platform and the most widely adopted web analytics suite,” Jania told TechCrunch.

Brent Leary, owner of the consulting firm CRM Essentials says the partnership is going to be meaningful for marketers. “The tighter integration is a big deal because a large portion of Marketing Cloud customers are Google Analytics/GA 360 customers, and this paves the way to more seamlessly see what activities are driving successful outcomes,” he explained.

The partnership involves four integrations that effectively allow marketers to round-trip data between the two platforms. For starters, consumer insights from both Marketing Cloud and Google Analytics 360, will be brought together into a single analytics dashboard inside Marketing Cloud. Conversely, Market Cloud data will be viewable inside Google Analytics 360 for attribution analysis and also to use the Marketing Cloud information to deliver more customized web experiences. All three of these integrations will be generally available starting today.

A fourth element of the partnership being announced today won’t be available in Beta until the third quarter of this year. “For the first time ever audiences created inside the Google Analytics 360 platform can be activated outside of Google. So in this case, I’m able to create an audience inside of Google Analytics 360 and then I’m able to activate that audience in Marketing Cloud,” Jania explained.

An audience is like a segment, so if you have a group of like-minded individuals in the Google analytics tool, you can simply transfer it to Salesforce Marketing Cloud and send more relevant emails to that group.

This data sharing capability removes a lot of the labor involved in trying to monitor data stored in two places, but of course it also raises questions about data privacy. Jania was careful to point out that the two platforms are not sharing specific information about individual consumers, which could be in violation of the new GDPR data privacy rules that went into effect in Europe at the end of last month.

“What we’re [we’re sharing] is either metadata or aggregated reporting results. Just to be clear there’s no personal identifiable data that is flowing between the systems so everything here is 100% GDPR-compliant,” Jania said.

But Leary says it might not be so simple, especially in light of recent data sharing abuses. “With Facebook having to open up about how they’re sharing consumer data with other organizations, companies like Salesforce and Google will have to be more careful than ever before about how the consumer data they make available to their corporate customers will be used by them. It’s a whole new level of scrutiny that has to be apart of the data sharing equation,” Leary said.

The announcements were made today at the Salesforce Connections conference taking place in Chicago this week.

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