Sep
22
2020
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Microsoft launches new Cortana features for business users

Cortana may have failed as a virtual assistant for consumers, but Microsoft is still betting on it (or at least its brand) for business use cases, now that it has rebranded it as a “personal productivity assistant” as part of Microsoft 365. Today, at its Ignite conference, Microsoft launched and announced a number of new Cortana services for business users.

These include the general availability of Cortana for the new Microsoft Teams displays the company is launching in partnership with a number of hardware vendors. You can think of these as dedicated smart displays for Teams that are somewhat akin to Google Assistant-enabled smart displays, for example — but with the sole focus on meetings. These days, it’s hard to enable a device like this without support for a voice assistant, so there you go. It’ll be available in September in English in the U.S. and will then roll out to Australia, Canada, the U.K. and India in the coming months.

In addition to these Teams devices, which Microsoft is not necessarily positioning for meeting rooms but as sidekicks to a regular laptop or desktop, Cortana will also soon come to Teams Rooms devices. Once we go back to offices and meeting rooms, after all, few people will want to touch a shared piece of hardware, so a touchless experience is a must.

For a while now, Microsoft has also been teasing more email-centric Cortana services. Play My Emails, a service that reads you your email out aloud and that’s already available in the U.S. on iOS and Android, is coming to Australia, Canada, the U.K. and India in the coming months. But more importantly, later this month, Outlook for iOS users will be able to interact with their inbox by voice, initiate calls to email senders and play emails from specific senders.

Cortana can now also send you daily briefing emails if you are a Microsoft 365 Enterprise user. This feature is now generally available and will get better meeting preparation, integration with Microsoft To Do and other new features in the coming months.

And if you’re using Cortana on Windows 10, this chat-based app now lets you compose emails, for example (at least if you speak English and are in the U.S.). And if you so desire, you can now use a wake word to launch it.

Aug
18
2020
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Melbourne-based CI/CD platform Buildkite gets $28 million AUD Series A led by OpenView

Buildkite’s founding team — Lachlan Donald, Keith Pitt and Tim Lucas — working remotely

Buildkite, a Melbourne-based company that provides a hybrid continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) platform for software developers, announced today that it has raised AUD $28 million (about USD $20.2 million) in Series A funding, bringing its valuation to more than AUD $200 million (about USD $145 million).

The funding was led by OpenView, an investment firm that focuses on growth-stage enterprise software companies, with participation from General Catalyst.

This round is the company’s first since Buildkite raised about AUD $200,000 in seed funding when it was founded in 2013.

Co-founder and chief executive officer Lachlan Donald told TechCrunch that Buildkite didn’t seek more funding earlier because it was growing profitably. In fact, the company turned away interested investors “because we wanted to focus on sustainable growth and maintain control of our destiny.”

But Donald said they were open to investment from OpenView and General Catalyst because they see the two investors as “true partners as we enter and define this next generation of CI/CD.”

Buildkite’s team is small, with just 26 employees. “We’re a lean, focused team, so their expert advice and guidance will help more software teams around the world discover Buildkite,” Donald said. He added that part of the funding round will be used to give 42X returns to early investors and shareholders, and the rest will be used on product development.

In a statement about the funding, OpenView partner Mackey Craven said, “The global pandemic and the resulting economic uncertainty underlines the importance for companies to maximize efficiencies and build for growth. As the world continues to build digital-first applications, we believe Buildkite’s unique approach will be the new enterprise standard of CI/CD and we’re excited to be supporting them in realizing this ambition.”

Continuous integration gives software teams an automated way to develop and test applications, making collaboration more efficient, while continuous delivery refers to the process of pushing code to environments for further testing by other teams, or deploying it to customers. CI/CD platforms make it easier for fast-growing tech companies to test and deliver software. Buildkite says it now has more than 1,000 customers, including Shopify, Pinterest and Wayfair.

As part of the round, Jean-Michel Lemieux, Shopify’s chief technology officer, and Ashley Smith, chief revenue officer at Gatsby and OpenView venture partner, will join Buildkite’s board.

The increased use of online applications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic means there is more demand for CI/CD platform, since engineering teams need to work more quickly.

“A good example is Shopify, one of our longstanding partners. They came to us after they outgrew their previous hosted CI provider,” Donald said. “Their challenge is one we see across all of customers — they needed to reduce build time and scale their team across multiple time zones. Once they wrapped Buildkite into their development flow, they saw a 75% reduction in build wait times. They grew their team by 300% and have still been able to keep build time under 10 minutes.”

Other CI platforms available include Jenkins, CircleCI, Travis, Codeship and GitLab. Co-founder and chief technology officer Keith Pitt said one of the ways that BuildKite differentiates from its rivals is its focus on security, which prompted his interest in building the platform in the first place.

“Back in 2013, my then-employer asked that I stop using a cloud-based CI/CD platform due to security concerns, but I found the self-hosted alternatives to be incredibly outdated,” Pitt said. “I realized a hybrid approach was the solution for testing and deploying software at scale without compromising security or performance, but was surprised to find a hybrid CI/CD tool didn’t exist yet. I decided to create it myself, and Buildkite was born.”

May
18
2020
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GO1, an enterprise learning platform, picks up $40M from Microsoft, Salesforce and more

With a large proportion of knowledge workers doing now doing their jobs from home, the need for tools to help them feel connected to their profession can be as important as tools to, more practically, keep them connected. Today, a company that helps do precisely that is announcing a growth round of funding after seeing engagement on its platform triple in the last month.

GO1.com, an online learning platform focused specifically on professional training courses (both those to enhance a worker’s skills as well as those needed for company compliance training), is today announcing that it has raised $40 million in funding, a Series C that it plans to use to continue expanding its business. The startup was founded in Brisbane, Australia and now has operations also based out of San Francisco — it was part of a Y Combinator cohort back in 2015 — and more specifically, it wants to continue growth in North America, and to continue expanding its partner network.

GO1 not disclosing its valuation but we are asking. It’s worth pointing out that not only has it seen engagement triple in the last month as companies turn to online learning to keep users connected to their professional lives even as they work among children and house pets, noisy neighbours, dirty laundry, sourdough starters, and the rest (and that’s before you count the harrowing health news we are hit with on a regular basis). But even beyond that, longer term GO1 has shown some strong signs that speak of its traction.

It counts the likes of the University of Oxford, Suzuki, Asahi and Thrifty among its 3,000+ customers, with more than 1.5 million users overall able to access over 170,000 courses and other resources provided by some 100 vetted content partners. Overall usage has grown five-fold over the last 12 months. (GO1 works both with in-house learning management systems or provides its own.)

“GO1’s growth over the last couple of months has been unprecedented and the use of online tools for training is now undergoing a structural shift,” said Andrew Barnes, CEO of GO1, in a statement. “It is gratifying to fill an important void right now as workers embrace online solutions. We are inspired about the future that we are building as we expand our platform with new mediums that reach millions of people every day with the content they need.”

The funding is coming from a very strong list of backers: it’s being co-led by Madrona Venture Group and SEEK — the online recruitment and course directory company that has backed a number of edtech startups, including FutureLearn and Coursera — with participation also from Microsoft’s venture arm M12; new backer Salesforce Ventures, the investing arm of the CRM giant; and another previous backer, Our Innovation Fund.

Microsoft is a strategic backer: GO1 integrated with Teams, so now users can access GO1 content directly via Microsoft’s enterprise-facing video and messaging platform.

“GO1 has been critical for business continuity as organizations navigate the remote realities of COVID-19,” said Nagraj Kashyap, Microsoft Corporate Vice President and Global Head of M12, in a statement. “The GO1 integration with Microsoft Teams offers a seamless learning experience at a time when 75 million people are using the application daily. We’re proud to invest in a solution helping keep employees learning and businesses growing through this time.”

Similarly, Salesforce is also coming in as a strategic, integrating this into its own online personal development products and initiatives.

“We are excited about partnering with GO1 as it looks to scale its online content hub globally. While the majority of corporate learning is done in person today, we believe the new digital imperative will see an acceleration in the shift to online learning tools. We believe GO1 fits well into the Trailhead ecosystem and our vision of creating the life-long learner journey,” said Rob Keith, Head of Australia, Salesforce Ventures, in a statement.

Working remotely has raised a whole new set of challenges for organizations, especially those whose employees typically have never before worked for days, weeks and months outside of the office.

Some of these have been challenges of a more basic IT nature: getting secure access to systems on the right kinds of machines and making sure people can communicate in the ways that they need to to get work done.

But others are more nuanced and long-term but actually just as important, such as making sure people remain in a healthy state of mind about work. Education is one way of getting them on the right track: professional development is not only useful for the person to do her or his job better, but it’s a way to motivate people, to focus their minds, and take a rest from their routines, but in a way that still remains relevant to work.

GO1 is absolutely not the only company pursuing this opportunity. Others include Udemy and Coursera, which have both come to enterprise after initially focusing more on traditional education plays. And LinkedIn Learning (which used to be known as Lynda, before LinkedIn acquired it and shifted the branding) was a trailblazer in this space.

For these, enterprise training sits in a different strategic place to GO1, which started out with compliance training and onboarding of employees before gravitating into a much wider set of topics that range from photography and design, through to Java, accounting, and even yoga and mindfulness training and everything in between.

It’s perhaps the directional approach, alongside its success, that have set GO1 apart from the competition and that has attracted the investment, which seems to have come ahead even of the current boost in usage.

“We met GO1 many months before COVID-19 was on the tip of everyone’s tongue and were impressed then with the growth of the platform and the ability of the team to expand their corporate training offering significantly in North America and Europe,” commented S. Somasegar, managing director, Madrona Venture Group, in a statement. “The global pandemic has only increased the need to both provide training and retraining – and also to do it remotely. GO1 is an important link in the chain of recovery.” As part of the funding Somasegar will join the GO1 board of directors.

Notably, GO1 is currently making all COVID-19 related learning resources available for free “to help teams continue to perform and feel supported during this time of disruption and change,” the company said.

Mar
04
2020
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Google Cloud announces four new regions as it expands its global footprint

Google Cloud today announced its plans to open four new data center regions. These regions will be in Delhi (India), Doha (Qatar), Melbourne (Australia) and Toronto (Canada) and bring Google Cloud’s total footprint to 26 regions. The company previously announced that it would open regions in Jakarta, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Seoul and Warsaw over the course of the next year. The announcement also comes only a few days after Google opened its Salt Lake City data center.

GCP already had a data center presence in India, Australia and Canada before this announcement, but with these newly announced regions, it now offers two geographically separate regions for in-country disaster recovery, for example.

Google notes that the region in Doha marks the company’s first strategic collaboration agreement to launch a region in the Middle East with the Qatar Free Zones Authority. One of the launch customers there is Bespin Global, a major managed services provider in Asia.

“We work with some of the largest Korean enterprises, helping to drive their digital transformation initiatives. One of the key requirements that we have is that we need to deliver the same quality of service to all of our customers around the globe,” said John Lee, CEO, Bespin Global. “Google Cloud’s continuous investments in expanding their own infrastructure to areas like the Middle East make it possible for us to meet our customers where they are.”

Dec
16
2019
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Cisco acquires ultra-low latency networking specialist Exablaze

Cisco today announced that it has acquired Exablaze, an Australia-based company that designs and builds advanced networking gear based on field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). The company focuses on solutions for businesses that need ultra-low latency networking, with a special emphasis on high-frequency trading. Cisco plans to integrate Exablaze’s technology into its own product portfolio.

“By adding Exablaze’s segment leading ultra-low latency devices and FPGA-based applications to our portfolio, financial and HFT customers will be better positioned to achieve their business objectives and deliver on their customer value proposition,” writes Cisco’s head of corporate development Rob Salvagno.

Founded in 2013, Exablaze has offices in Sydney, New York, London and Shanghai. While financial trading is an obvious application for its solutions, the company also notes that it has users in the big data analytics, high-performance computing and telecom space.

Cisco plans to add Exablaze to its Nexus portfolio of data center switches. The company also argues that in addition to integrating Exablaze’s current portfolio, the two companies will work on next-generation switches, with an emphasis on creating opportunities for expanding its solutions into AI and ML segments.

“The acquisition will bring together Cisco’s global reach, extensive sales and support teams, and broad technology and manufacturing base, with Exablaze’s cutting-edge low-latency networking, layer 1 switching, timing and time synchronization technologies, and low-latency FPGA expertise,” explains Exablaze co-founder and chairman Greg Robinson.

Cisco, which has always been quite acquisitive, has now made six acquisitions this year. Most of these were software companies, but with Acacia Communications, it also recently announced its intention to acquire another fabless semiconductor company that builds optical interconnects.

 

Oct
01
2019
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Salesforce is building an office tower in Sydney, pledging 1000 new jobs in next five years

Salesforce announced this week that it’s building another shiny tower. This one will be in Sydney with views of the harbor and the iconic Sydney Opera House. The company has also committed to adding 1000 new jobs in the next five years and to building the tower in a sustainable fashion.

In fact, Salesforce is pledging the new tower will be one of the greenest buildings in the country when they are finished. “The building has achieved Sydney’s first-ever WELL core and shell Platinum pre-certification, the highest obtainable pre-certification, and will achieve a 6 Star Green Star Design and As-Built rating, representing world excellence in sustainable design,” Salesforce’s Elizabeth Pinkham wrote in a blog post announcing the project.

As is Salesforce’s way, it’s going to be the tallest building in the city when it’s done, and will sit in the Circular Quay, part of the central business district in the city, and will house shops and restaurants on the main floor. As with all of its modern towers, it’s going to dedicate the top floor to allow for flexible use for employees, customers and partners. The building will also boast a variety of spaces including a Salesforce Innovation Center for customers along with social lounges, mindfulness areas and a variety of spaces for employees to collaborate.

Salesforce has had a presence in Sydney for over 15 years, according to the company, and this tower is an attempt to consolidate that presence into a single, modern space with room to expand over the next five years and add hundreds of new employees.

The announcement comes on the heels of the one earlier this year that the company was building a similarly grand project in Dublin to centralize operations in that city where it has had a presence since 2001.

Jun
18
2019
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Atlassian’s co-CEO Scott Farquhar will join us at TC Sessions: Enterprise

Few companies have changed the way developers work as profoundly as Atlassian. Its tools like Jira and Confluence are ubiquitous, and over the course of the last few years, the company has started to adapt many of them for wider enterprise usage outside of developer teams.

To talk about Atlassian’s story from being a small shop in Australia to a successful IPO — and its plans for the future — the company’s co-founder and co-CEO Scott Farquhar will join us at our inaugural TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise event on September 5 in San Francisco.

Farquhar co-founded Atlassian with Mike Cannon-Brookes, in 2001. It wasn’t until 2010, though, that the company raised its first major venture round ($60 million from Accel Partners). Even by that point, though, the company already had thousands of customers and a growing staff in Sydney and San Francisco.

Today, more than 150,000 companies use Atlassian’s tools. These range from the likes of Audi to Spotify, Twilio and Visa, with plenty of startups and small and medium businesses in between.

It’s no secret that Farquhar and Cannon-Brookes consider themselves accidental billionaires, so it’s maybe no surprise that in 2015, ahead of Atlassian’s successful IPO that valued it at well above $10 billion, he also signed on to the 1% Pledge movement.

Today, Farquhar also makes his own venture investments as part of Skip Capital, which he co-founded.

TC Sessions: Enterprise (September 5 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center) will take on the big challenges and promise facing enterprise companies today. TechCrunch’s editors will bring to the stage founders and leaders from established and emerging companies to address rising questions, like the promised revolution from machine learning and AI, intelligent marketing automation and the inevitability of the cloud, as well as the outer reaches of technology, like quantum computing and blockchain.

Tickets are now available for purchase on our website at the early-bird rate of $395; student tickets are just $245.

We have a limited number of Startup Demo Packages available for $2,000, which includes four tickets to attend the event.

For each ticket purchased for TC Sessions: Enterprise, you will also be registered for a complimentary Expo Only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF on October 2-4.

Apr
02
2018
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Microsoft launches 2 new Azure regions in Australia

Microsoft continues its steady pace of opening up new data centers and launching new regions for its Azure cloud. Today, the company announced the launch of two new regions in Australia. To deliver these new regions, Azure Australia Central and Central 2, Microsoft entered a strategic partnership with Canberra Data Centers and unsurprisingly, the regions are located in the country’s capital territory around Canberra. These new central regions complement Microsoft’s existing data center presence in Australia, which previously focused on the business centers of Sydney and Melbourne.

Given the location in Canberra, it’s also no surprise that Microsoft is putting an emphasis on its readiness for handling government workloads on its platform. Throughout its announcement, the company also emphasizes that all of its Australia data centers are also the right choice for its customers in New Zealand.

Julia White, Microsoft corporate VP for Azure, told me last month that the company’s strategy around its data center expansion has always been about offering a lot of small regions to allow it to be close to its customers (and, in return, to allow its customers to be close to their own customers, too). “The big distinction is the number of regions we have. “White said. “Microsoft started its infrastructure approach focused on enterprise organizations and built lots of regions because of that. We didn’t pick this regional approach because it’s easy or because it’s simple, but because we believe this is what our customers really want.”

Azure currently consists of 50 available or announced regions. Over time, more of these will also feature numerous availability zones inside every region, though for now, this recently announced feature is only present in two regions.

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