Feb
20
2019
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Mixmax brings LinkedIn integration and better task automation to its Gmail tool

Mixmax today introduced version 2.0 of its Gmail-based tool and plugin for Chrome that promises to make your daily communications chores a bit easier to handle.

With version 2.0, Mixmax gets an updated editor that better integrates with the current Gmail interface and that gets out of the way of popular extensions like Grammarly. That’s table stakes, of course, but I’ve tested it for a bit and the new version does indeed do a better job of integrating itself into the current Gmail interface and feels a bit faster, too.

What’s more interesting is that the service now features a better integration with LinkedIn . There’s both an integration with the LinkedIn Sales Navigator, LinkedIn’s tool for generating sales leads and contacting them, and LinkedIn’s messaging tools for sending InMail and connection requests — and sees info about a recipient’s LinkedIn profile, including the LinkedIn Icebreakers section — right from the Mixmax interface.

Together with its existing Salesforce integration, this should make the service even more interesting to sales people. And the Salesforce integration, too, is getting a bit of a new feature that can now automatically create a new contact in the CRM tool when a prospect’s email address — maybe from LinkedIn — isn’t in your database yet.

Also new in Mixmax 2.0 is something the company calls “Beast Mode.” Not my favorite name, I have to admit, but it’s an interesting task automation tool that focuses on helping customer-facing users prioritize and complete batches of tasks quickly and that extends the service’s current automation tools.

Finally, Mixmax now also features a Salesforce-linked dialer widget for making calls right from the Chrome extension.

“We’ve always been focused on helping business people communicate better, and everything we’re rolling out for Mixmax 2.0 only underscores that focus,” said Mixmax CEO and co-founder Olof Mathé. “Many of our users live in Gmail and our integration with LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator ensures users can conveniently make richer connections and seamlessly expand their networks as part of their email workflow.”

Whether you get these new features depends on how much you pay, though. Everybody, including free users, gets access to the refreshed interface. Beast Mode and the dialer are available with the enterprise plan, the company’s highest-level plan which doesn’t have a published price. The dialer is also available for an extra $20/user/month on the $49/month/user Growth plan. LinkedIn Sales Navigator support is available with the growth and enterprise plans.

Sadly, that means that if you are on the cheaper Starter and Small Business plans ($9/user/month and $24/user/month respectively), you won’t see any of these new features anytime soon.

Feb
20
2019
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Google’s hybrid cloud platform is now in beta

Last July, at its Cloud Next conference, Google announced the Cloud Services Platform, its first real foray into bringing its own cloud services into the enterprise data center as a managed service. Today, the Cloud Services Platform (CSP) is launching into beta.

It’s important to note that the CSP isn’t — at least for the time being — Google’s way of bringing all of its cloud-based developer services to the on-premises data center. In other words, this is a very different project from something like Microsoft’s Azure Stack. Instead, the focus is on the Google Kubernetes Engine, which allows enterprises to then run their applications in both their own data centers and on virtually any cloud platform that supports containers.As Google Cloud engineering director Chen Goldberg told me, the idea here it to help enterprises innovate and modernize. “Clearly, everybody is very excited about cloud computing, on-demand compute and managed services, but customers have recognized that the move is not that easy,” she said and noted that the vast majority of enterprises are adopting a hybrid approach. And while containers are obviously still a very new technology, she feels good about this bet on the technology because most enterprises are already adopting containers and Kubernetes — and they are doing so at exactly the same time as they are adopting cloud and especially hybrid clouds.

It’s important to note that CSP is a managed platform. Google handles all of the heavy lifting like upgrades and security patches. And for enterprises that need an easy way to install some of the most popular applications, the platform also supports Kubernetes applications from the GCP Marketplace.

As for the tech itself, Goldberg stressed that this isn’t just about Kubernetes. The service also uses Istio, for example, the increasingly popular service mesh that makes it easier for enterprises to secure and control the flow of traffic and API calls between its applications.

With today’s release, Google is also launching its new CSP Config Management tool to help users create multi-cluster policies and set up and enforce access controls, resource quotas and more. CSP also integrates with Google’s Stackdriver Monitoring service and continuous delivery platforms.

“On-prem is not easy,” Goldberg said, and given that this is the first time the company is really supporting software in a data center that is not its own, that’s probably an understatement. But Google also decided that it didn’t want to force users into a specific set of hardware specifications like Azure Stack does, for example. Instead, CSP sits on top of VMware’s vSphere server virtualization platform, which most enterprises already use in their data centers anyway. That surely simplifies things, given that this is a very well-understood platform.

Feb
20
2019
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Arm expands its push into the cloud and edge with the Neoverse N1 and E1

For the longest time, Arm was basically synonymous with chip designs for smartphones and very low-end devices. But more recently, the company launched solutions for laptops, cars, high-powered IoT devices and even servers. Today, ahead of MWC 2019, the company is officially launching two new products for cloud and edge applications, the Neoverse N1 and E1. Arm unveiled the Neoverse brand a few months ago, but it’s only now that it is taking concrete form with the launch of these new products.

“We’ve always been anticipating that this market is going to shift as we move more towards this world of lots of really smart devices out at the endpoint — moving beyond even just what smartphones are capable of doing,” Drew Henry, Arms’ SVP and GM for Infrastructure, told me in an interview ahead of today’s announcement. “And when you start anticipating that, you realize that those devices out of those endpoints are going to start creating an awful lot of data and need an awful lot of compute to support that.”

To address these two problems, Arm decided to launch two products: one that focuses on compute speed and one that is all about throughput, especially in the context of 5G.

ARM NEOVERSE N1

The Neoverse N1 platform is meant for infrastructure-class solutions that focus on raw compute speed. The chips should perform significantly better than previous Arm CPU generations meant for the data center and the company says that it saw speedups of 2.5x for Nginx and MemcacheD, for example. Chip manufacturers can optimize the 7nm platform for their needs, with core counts that can reach up to 128 cores (or as few as 4).

“This technology platform is designed for a lot of compute power that you could either put in the data center or stick out at the edge,” said Henry. “It’s very configurable for our customers so they can design how big or small they want those devices to be.”

The E1 is also a 7nm platform, but with a stronger focus on edge computing use cases where you also need some compute power to maybe filter out data as it is generated, but where the focus is on moving that data quickly and efficiently. “The E1 is very highly efficient in terms of its ability to be able to move data through it while doing the right amount of compute as you move that data through,” explained Henry, who also stressed that the company made the decision to launch these two different platforms based on customer feedback.

There’s no point in launching these platforms without software support, though. A few years ago, that would have been a challenge because few commercial vendors supported their data center products on the Arm architecture. Today, many of the biggest open-source and proprietary projects and distributions run on Arm chips, including Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Ubuntu, Suse, VMware, MySQL, OpenStack, Docker, Microsoft .Net, DOK and OPNFV. “We have lots of support across the space,” said Henry. “And then as you go down to that tier of languages and libraries and compilers, that’s a very large investment area for us at Arm. One of our largest investments in engineering is in software and working with the software communities.”

And as Henry noted, AWS also recently launched its Arm-based servers — and that surely gave the industry a lot more confidence in the platform, given that the biggest cloud supplier is now backing it, too.

Feb
20
2019
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Why Daimler moved its big data platform to the cloud

Like virtually every big enterprise company, a few years ago, the German auto giant Daimler decided to invest in its own on-premises data centers. And while those aren’t going away anytime soon, the company today announced that it has successfully moved its on-premises big data platform to Microsoft’s Azure cloud. This new platform, which the company calls eXtollo, is Daimler’s first major service to run outside of its own data centers, though it’ll probably not be the last.

As Daimler’s head of its corporate center of excellence for advanced analytics and big data Guido Vetter told me, the company started getting interested in big data about five years ago. “We invested in technology — the classical way, on-premise — and got a couple of people on it. And we were investigating what we could do with data because data is transforming our whole business as well,” he said.

By 2016, the size of the organization had grown to the point where a more formal structure was needed to enable the company to handle its data at a global scale. At the time, the buzz phrase was “data lakes” and the company started building its own in order to build out its analytics capacities.

Electric lineup, Daimler AG

“Sooner or later, we hit the limits as it’s not our core business to run these big environments,” Vetter said. “Flexibility and scalability are what you need for AI and advanced analytics and our whole operations are not set up for that. Our backend operations are set up for keeping a plant running and keeping everything safe and secure.” But in this new world of enterprise IT, companies need to be able to be flexible and experiment — and, if necessary, throw out failed experiments quickly.

So about a year and a half ago, Vetter’s team started the eXtollo project to bring all the company’s activities around advanced analytics, big data and artificial intelligence into the Azure Cloud, and just over two weeks ago, the team shut down its last on-premises servers after slowly turning on its solutions in Microsoft’s data centers in Europe, the U.S. and Asia. All in all, the actual transition between the on-premises data centers and the Azure cloud took about nine months. That may not seem fast, but for an enterprise project like this, that’s about as fast as it gets (and for a while, it fed all new data into both its on-premises data lake and Azure).

If you work for a startup, then all of this probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, but for a more traditional enterprise like Daimler, even just giving up control over the physical hardware where your data resides was a major culture change and something that took quite a bit of convincing. In the end, the solution came down to encryption.

“We needed the means to secure the data in the Microsoft data center with our own means that ensure that only we have access to the raw data and work with the data,” explained Vetter. In the end, the company decided to use the Azure Key Vault to manage and rotate its encryption keys. Indeed, Vetter noted that knowing that the company had full control over its own data was what allowed this project to move forward.

Vetter tells me the company obviously looked at Microsoft’s competitors as well, but he noted that his team didn’t find a compelling offer from other vendors in terms of functionality and the security features that it needed.

Today, Daimler’s big data unit uses tools like HD Insights and Azure Databricks, which covers more than 90 percents of the company’s current use cases. In the future, Vetter also wants to make it easier for less experienced users to use self-service tools to launch AI and analytics services.

While cost is often a factor that counts against the cloud, because renting server capacity isn’t cheap, Vetter argues that this move will actually save the company money and that storage costs, especially, are going to be cheaper in the cloud than in its on-premises data center (and chances are that Daimler, given its size and prestige as a customer, isn’t exactly paying the same rack rate that others are paying for the Azure services).

As with so many big data AI projects, predictions are the focus of much of what Daimler is doing. That may mean looking at a car’s data and error code and helping the technician diagnose an issue or doing predictive maintenance on a commercial vehicle. Interestingly, the company isn’t currently bringing to the cloud any of its own IoT data from its plants. That’s all managed in the company’s on-premises data centers because it wants to avoid the risk of having to shut down a plant because its tools lost the connection to a data center, for example.

Feb
19
2019
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Redis Labs raises a $60M Series E round

Redis Labs, a startup that offers commercial services around the Redis in-memory data store (and which counts Redis creator and lead developer Salvatore Sanfilippo among its employees), today announced that it has raised a $60 million Series E funding round led by private equity firm Francisco Partners.

The firm didn’t participate in any of Redis Labs’ previous rounds, but existing investors Goldman Sachs Private Capital Investing, Bain Capital Ventures, Viola Ventures and Dell Technologies Capital all participated in this round.

In total, Redis Labs has now raised $146 million and the company plans to use the new funding to accelerate its go-to-market strategy and continue to invest in the Redis community and product development.

Current Redis Labs users include the likes of American Express, Staples, Microsoft, Mastercard and Atlassian . In total, the company now has more than 8,500 customers. Because it’s pretty flexible, these customers use the service as a database, cache and message broker, depending on their needs. The company’s flagship product is Redis Enterprise, which extends the open-source Redis platform with additional tools and services for enterprises. The company offers managed cloud services, which give businesses the choice between hosting on public clouds like AWS, GCP and Azure, as well as their private clouds, in addition to traditional software downloads and licenses for self-managed installs.

Redis Labs CEO Ofer Bengal told me the company’s isn’t cash positive yet. He also noted that the company didn’t need to raise this round but that he decided to do so in order to accelerate growth. “In this competitive environment, you have to spend a lot and push hard on product development,” he said.

It’s worth noting that he stressed that Francisco Partners has a reputation for taking companies forward and the logical next step for Redis Labs would be an IPO. “We think that we have a very unique opportunity to build a very large company that deserves an IPO,” he said.

Part of this new competitive environment also involves competitors that use other companies’ open-source projects to build their own products without contributing back. Redis Labs was one of the first of a number of open-source companies that decided to offer its newest releases under a new license that still allows developers to modify the code but that forces competitors that want to essentially resell it to buy a commercial license. Ofer specifically notes AWS in this context. It’s worth noting that this isn’t about the Redis database itself but about the additional modules that Redis Labs built. Redis Enterprise itself is closed-source.

“When we came out with this new license, there were many different views,” he acknowledged. “Some people condemned that. But after the initial noise calmed down — and especially after some other companies came out with a similar concept — the community now understands that the original concept of open source has to be fixed because it isn’t suitable anymore to the modern era where cloud companies use their monopoly power to adopt any successful open source project without contributing anything to it.”

Feb
14
2019
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Peltarion raises $20M for its AI platform

Peltarion, a Swedish startup founded by former execs from companies like Spotify, Skype, King, TrueCaller and Google, today announced that it has raised a $20 million Series A funding round led by Euclidean Capital, the family office for hedge fund billionaire James Simons. Previous investors FAM and EQT Ventures also participated, and this round brings the company’s total funding to $35 million.

There is obviously no dearth of AI platforms these days. Peltarion focus on what it calls “operational AI.” The service offers an end-to-end platform that lets you do everything from pre-processing your data to building models and putting them into production. All of this runs in the cloud and developers get access to a graphical user interface for building and testing their models. All of this, the company stresses, ensures that Peltarion’s users don’t have to deal with any of the low-level hardware or software and can instead focus on building their models.

“The speed at which AI systems can be built and deployed on the operational platform is orders of magnitude faster compared to the industry standard tools such as TensorFlow and require far fewer people and decreases the level of technical expertise needed,” Luka Crnkovic-Friis, of Peltarion’s CEO and co-founder, tells me. “All this results in more organizations being able to operationalize AI and focusing on solving problems and creating change.”

In a world where businesses have a plethora of choices, though, why use Peltarion over more established players? “Almost all of our clients are worried about lock-in to any single cloud provider,” Crnkovic-Friis said. “They tend to be fine using storage and compute as they are relatively similar across all the providers and moving to another cloud provider is possible. Equally, they are very wary of the higher-level services that AWS, GCP, Azure, and others provide as it means a complete lock-in.”

Peltarion, of course, argues that its platform doesn’t lock in its users and that other platforms take far more AI expertise to produce commercially viable AI services. The company rightly notes that, outside of the tech giants, most companies still struggle with how to use AI at scale. “They are stuck on the starting blocks, held back by two primary barriers to progress: immature patchwork technology and skills shortage,” said Crnkovic-Friis.

The company will use the new funding to expand its development team and its teams working with its community and partners. It’ll also use the new funding for growth initiatives in the U.S. and other markets.

Dec
11
2018
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The Cloud Native Computing Foundation adds etcd to its open-source stable

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), the open-source home of projects like Kubernetes and Vitess, today announced that its technical committee has voted to bring a new project on board. That project is etcd, the distributed key-value store that was first developed by CoreOS (now owned by Red Hat, which in turn will soon be owned by IBM). Red Hat has now contributed this project to the CNCF.

Etcd, which is written in Go, is already a major component of many Kubernetes deployments, where it functions as a source of truth for coordinating clusters and managing the state of the system. Other open-source projects that use etcd include Cloud Foundry, and companies that use it in production include Alibaba, ING, Pinterest, Uber, The New York Times and Nordstrom.

“Kubernetes and many other projects like Cloud Foundry depend on etcd for reliable data storage. We’re excited to have etcd join CNCF as an incubation project and look forward to cultivating its community by improving its technical documentation, governance and more,” said Chris Aniszczyk, COO of CNCF, in today’s announcement. “Etcd is a fantastic addition to our community of projects.”

Today, etcd has well over 450 contributors and nine maintainers from eight different companies. The fact that it ended up at the CNCF is only logical, given that the foundation is also the host of Kubernetes. With this, the CNCF now plays host to 17 projects that fall under its “incubated technologies” umbrella. In addition to etcd, these include OpenTracing, Fluentd, Linkerd, gRPC, CoreDNS, containerd, rkt, CNI, Jaeger, Notary, TUF, Vitess, NATS Helm, Rook and Harbor. Kubernetes, Prometheus and Envoy have already graduated from this incubation stage.

That’s a lot of projects for one foundation to manage, but the CNCF community is also extraordinarily large. This week alone about 8,000 developers are converging on Seattle for KubeCon/CloudNativeCon, the organization’s biggest event yet, to talk all things containers. It surely helps that the CNCF has managed to bring competitors like AWS, Microsoft, Google, IBM and Oracle under a single roof to collaboratively work on building these new technologies. There is a risk of losing focus here, though, something that happened to the OpenStack project when it went through a similar growth and hype phase. It’ll be interesting to see how the CNCF will manage this as it brings on more projects (with Istio, the increasingly popular service mesh, being a likely candidate for coming over to the CNCF as well).

Dec
06
2018
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Contentful raises $33.5M for its headless CMS platform

Contentful, a Berlin- and San Francisco-based startup that provides content management infrastructure for companies like Spotify, Nike, Lyft and others, today announced that it has raised a $33.5 million Series D funding round led by Sapphire Ventures, with participation from OMERS Ventures and Salesforce Ventures, as well as existing investors General Catalyst, Benchmark, Balderton Capital and Hercules. In total, the company has now raised $78.3 million.

It’s been less than a year since the company raised its Series C round and, as Contentful co-founder and CEO Sascha Konietzke told me, the company didn’t really need to raise right now. “We had just raised our last round about a year ago. We still had plenty of cash in our bank account and we didn’t need to raise as of now,” said Konietzke. “But we saw a lot of economic uncertainty, so we thought it might be a good moment in time to recharge. And at the same time, we already had some interesting conversations ongoing with Sapphire [formerly SAP Ventures] and Salesforce. So we saw the opportunity to add more funding and also start getting into a tight relationship with both of these players.”

The original plan for Contentful was to focus almost explicitly on mobile. As it turns out, though, the company’s customers also wanted to use the service to handle its web-based applications and these days, Contentful happily supports both. “What we’re seeing is that everything is becoming an application,” he told me. “We started with native mobile application, but even the websites nowadays are often an application.”

In its early days, Contentful focused only on developers. Now, however, that’s changing, and having these connections to large enterprise players like SAP and Salesforce surely isn’t going to hurt the company as it looks to bring on larger enterprise accounts.

Currently, the company’s focus is very much on Europe and North America, which account for about 80 percent of its customers. For now, Contentful plans to continue to focus on these regions, though it obviously supports customers anywhere in the world.

Contentful only exists as a hosted platform. As of now, the company doesn’t have any plans for offering a self-hosted version, though Konietzke noted that he does occasionally get requests for this.

What the company is planning to do in the near future, though, is to enable more integrations with existing enterprise tools. “Customers are asking for deeper integrations into their enterprise stack,” Konietzke said. “And that’s what we’re beginning to focus on and where we’re building a lot of capabilities around that.” In addition, support for GraphQL and an expanded rich text editing experience is coming up. The company also recently launched a new editing experience.

Nov
27
2018
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Red Hat acquires hybrid cloud data management service NooBaa

Red Hat is in the process of being acquired by IBM for a massive $34 billion, but that deal hasn’t closed yet and, in the meantime, Red Hat is still running independently and making its own acquisitions, too. As the company today announced, it has acquired Tel Aviv-based NooBaa, an early-stage startup that helps enterprises manage their data more easily and access their various data providers through a single API.

NooBaa’s technology makes it a good fit for Red Hat, which has recently emphasized its ability to help enterprise more effectively manage their hybrid and multicloud deployments. At its core, NooBaa is all about bringing together various data silos, which should make it a good fit in Red Hat’s portfolio. With OpenShift and the OpenShift Container Platform, as well as its Ceph Storage service, Red Hat already offers a range of hybrid cloud tools, after all.

“NooBaa’s technologies will augment our portfolio and strengthen our ability to meet the needs of developers in today’s hybrid and multicloud world,” writes Ranga Rangachari, the VP and general manager for storage and hyperconverged infrastructure at Red Hat, in today’s announcement. “We are thrilled to welcome a technical team of nine to the Red Hat family as we work together to further solidify Red Hat as a leading provider of open hybrid cloud technologies.”

While virtually all of Red Hat’s technology is open source, NooBaa’s code is not. The company says that it plans to open source NooBaa’s technology in due time, though the exact timeline has yet to be determined.

NooBaa was founded in 2013. The company has raised some venture funding from the likes of Jerusalem Venture Partners and OurCrowd, with a strategic investment from Akamai Capital thrown in for good measure. The company never disclosed the size of that round, though, and neither Red Hat nor NooBaa are disclosing the financial terms of the acquisition.

Oct
28
2018
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Forget Watson, the Red Hat acquisition may be the thing that saves IBM

With its latest $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat, IBM may have found something more elementary than “Watson” to save its flagging business.

Though the acquisition of Red Hat  is by no means a guaranteed victory for the Armonk, N.Y.-based computing company that has had more downs than ups over the five years, it seems to be a better bet for “Big Blue” than an artificial intelligence program that was always more hype than reality.

Indeed, commentators are already noting that this may be a case where IBM finally hangs up the Watson hat and returns to the enterprise software and services business that has always been its core competency (albeit one that has been weighted far more heavily on consulting services — to the detriment of the company’s business).

Watson, the business division focused on artificial intelligence whose public claims were always more marketing than actually market-driven, has not performed as well as IBM had hoped and investors were losing their patience.

Critics — including analysts at the investment bank Jefferies (as early as one year ago) — were skeptical of Watson’s ability to deliver IBM from its business woes.

As we wrote at the time:

Jefferies pulls from an audit of a partnership between IBM Watson and MD Anderson as a case study for IBM’s broader problems scaling Watson. MD Anderson cut its ties with IBM after wasting $60 million on a Watson project that was ultimately deemed, “not ready for human investigational or clinical use.”

The MD Anderson nightmare doesn’t stand on its own. I regularly hear from startup founders in the AI space that their own financial services and biotech clients have had similar experiences working with IBM.

The narrative isn’t the product of any single malfunction, but rather the result of overhyped marketing, deficiencies in operating with deep learning and GPUs and intensive data preparation demands.

That’s not the only trouble IBM has had with Watson’s healthcare results. Earlier this year, the online medical journal Stat reported that Watson was giving clinicians recommendations for cancer treatments that were “unsafe and incorrect” — based on the training data it had received from the company’s own engineers and doctors at Sloan-Kettering who were working with the technology.

All of these woes were reflected in the company’s latest earnings call where it reported falling revenues primarily from the Cognitive Solutions business, which includes Watson’s artificial intelligence and supercomputing services. Though IBM chief financial officer pointed to “mid-to-high” single digit growth from Watson’s health business in the quarter, transaction processing software business fell by 8% and the company’s suite of hosted software services is basically an afterthought for business gravitating to Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon for cloud services.

To be sure, Watson is only one of the segments that IBM had been hoping to tap for its future growth; and while it was a huge investment area for the company, the company always had its eyes partly fixed on the cloud computing environment as it looked for areas of growth.

It’s this area of cloud computing where IBM hopes that Red Hat can help it gain ground.

“The acquisition of Red Hat is a game-changer. It changes everything about the cloud market,” said Ginni Rometty, IBM Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, in a statement announcing the acquisition. “IBM will become the world’s number-one hybrid cloud provider, offering companies the only open cloud solution that will unlock the full value of the cloud for their businesses.”

The acquisition also puts an incredible amount of marketing power behind Red Hat’s various open source services business — giving all of those IBM project managers and consultants new projects to pitch and maybe juicing open source software adoption a bit more aggressively in the enterprise.

As Red Hat chief executive Jim Whitehurst told TheStreet in September, “The big secular driver of Linux is that big data workloads run on Linux. AI workloads run on Linux. DevOps and those platforms, almost exclusively Linux,” he said. “So much of the net new workloads that are being built have an affinity for Linux.”

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