Mar
23
2020
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Startups are helping cloud infrastructure customers avoid vendor lock-in

For much of the history of enterprise technology, companies tended to buy from a single vendor because it made managing the entire affair much easier while giving them a “single throat to choke” when something went wrong. On the flip side, it also put customers at the mercy of said vendor — and it wasn’t always pretty.

As we move deeper into the cloud model, many IT pros are looking for more flexibility than they had in the past, avoiding the vendor lock-in from the previous generation of enterprise tech, and what being beholden to a single vendor could mean for the bottom line and their own flexibility.

This is something that comes up frequently in discussions about moving workloads from one cloud to another, and is sometimes referred to as a multi-cloud approach. Customers are loath to leave their workloads in the hands of one vendor again and repeat the mistakes of the past. They are looking to have the same flexibility on the infrastructure side that they are getting in the SaaS world, where companies tend to purchase best-of-breed from multiple vendors.

That means, they want the freedom to move workloads between clouds, but that’s not always as easy a prospect as it might seem, and it’s an area where startups could help lead the way.

What’s the problem?

What’s stopping customers from just moving data and applications between clouds? It turns out that there is a complex interlinking of public cloud APIs that help the applications and data work in tandem. If you want to pull out of one public cloud, it’s not a simple matter of just migrating to the next one.

Feb
03
2020
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HPE acquires cloud native security startup Scytale

HPE announced today that it has acquired Scytale, a cloud native security startup that is built on the open-source Secure Production Identity Framework for Everyone (SPIFFE) protocol. The companies did not share the acquisition price.

Specifically, Scytale looks at application-to-application identity and access management, something that is increasingly important as more transactions take place between applications without any human intervention. It’s imperative that the application knows it’s OK to share information with the other application.

This is an area that HPE wants to expand into, Dave Husak, HPE fellow and GM of cloudless initiative wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition. “As HPE progresses into this next chapter, delivering on our differentiated, edge to cloud platform as-a-service strategy, security will continue to play a fundamental role. We recognize that every organization that operates in a hybrid, multi-cloud environment requires 100% secure, zero trust systems, that can dynamically identify and authenticate data and applications in real-time,” Husak wrote.

He also was careful to stress that HPE would continue to be good stewards of the SPIFFE and SPIRE (the SPIFFE Runtime Environment) projects, both of which are under the auspices of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

Scytale co-founder Sunil James, writing in a blog post about the deal, indicated that this was important to the founders that HPE respect the startup’s open-source roots. “Scytale’s DNA is security, distributed systems, and open-source. Under HPE, Scytale will continue to help steward SPIFFE. Our ever-growing and vocal community will lead us. We’ll toil to maintain this transparent and vendor-neutral project, which will be fundamental in HPE’s plans to deliver a dynamic, open, and secure edge-to-cloud platform,” he wrote.

Scytale was founded in 2017 and had raised $8 million, according to PitchBook data. The bulk of that was in a $5 million Series A last March led by Bessemer. The deal closed today.

Dec
30
2019
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VMware completes $2.7 billion Pivotal acquisition

VMware is closing the year with a significant new component in its arsenal. Today it announced it has closed the $2.7 billion Pivotal acquisition it originally announced in August.

The acquisition gives VMware another component in its march to transform from a pure virtual machine company into a cloud native vendor that can manage infrastructure wherever it lives. It fits alongside other recent deals like buying Heptio and Bitnami, two other deals that closed this year.

They hope this all fits neatly into VMware Tanzu, which is designed to bring Kubernetes containers and VMware virtual machines together in a single management platform.

“VMware Tanzu is built upon our recognized infrastructure products and further expanded with the technologies that Pivotal, Heptio, Bitnami and many other VMware teams bring to this new portfolio of products and services,” Ray O’Farrell, executive vice president and general manager of the Modern Application Platforms Business Unit at VMware, wrote in a blog post announcing the deal had closed.

Craig McLuckie, who came over in the Heptio deal and is now VP of R&D at VMware, told TechCrunch in November at KubeCon that while the deal hadn’t closed at that point, he saw a future where Pivotal could help at a professional services level, as well.

“In the future when Pivotal is a part of this story, they won’t be just delivering technology, but also deep expertise to support application transformation initiatives,” he said.

Up until the closing, the company had been publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, but as of today, Pivotal becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of VMware. It’s important to note that this transaction didn’t happen in a vacuum, where two random companies came together.

In fact, VMware and Pivotal were part of the consortium of companies that Dell purchased when it acquired EMC in 2015 for $67 billion. While both were part of EMC and then Dell, each one operated separately and independently. At the time of the sale to Dell, Pivotal was considered a key piece, one that could stand strongly on its own.

Pivotal and VMware had another strong connection. Pivotal was originally created by a combination of EMC, VMware and GE (which owned a 10% stake for a time) to give these large organizations a separate company to undertake transformation initiatives.

It raised a hefty $1.7 billion before going public in 2018. A big chunk of that came in one heady day in 2016 when it announced $650 million in funding led by Ford’s $180 million investment.

The future looked bright at that point, but life as a public company was rough, and after a catastrophic June earnings report, things began to fall apart. The stock dropped 42% in one day. As I wrote in an analysis of the deal:

The stock price plunged from a high of $21.44 on May 30th to a low of $8.30 on August 14th. The company’s market cap plunged in that same time period falling from $5.828 billion on May 30th to $2.257 billion on August 14th. That’s when VMware admitted it was thinking about buying the struggling company.

VMware came to the rescue and offered $15.00 a share, a substantial premium above that August low point. As of today, it’s part of VMware.

Nov
22
2019
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Making sense of a multi-cloud, hybrid world at KubeCon

More than 12,000 attendees gathered this week in San Diego to discuss all things containers, Kubernetes and cloud-native at KubeCon.

Kubernetes, the container orchestration tool, turned five this year, and the technology appears to be reaching a maturity phase where it accelerates beyond early adopters to reach a more mainstream group of larger business users.

That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of work to be done, or that most enterprise companies have completely bought in, but it’s clearly reached a point where containerization is on the table. If you think about it, the whole cloud-native ethos makes sense for the current state of computing and how large companies tend to operate.

If this week’s conference showed us anything, it’s an acknowledgment that it’s a multi-cloud, hybrid world. That means most companies are working with multiple public cloud vendors, while managing a hybrid environment that includes those vendors — as well as existing legacy tools that are probably still on-premises — and they want a single way to manage all of this.

The promise of Kubernetes and cloud-native technologies, in general, is that it gives these companies a way to thread this particular needle, or at least that’s the theory.

Kubernetes to the rescue

Photo: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

If you were to look at the Kubernetes hype cycle, we are probably right about at the peak where many think Kubernetes can solve every computing problem they might have. That’s probably asking too much, but cloud-native approaches have a lot of promise.

Craig McLuckie, VP of R&D for cloud-native apps at VMware, was one of the original developers of Kubernetes at Google in 2014. VMware thought enough of the importance of cloud-native technologies that it bought his former company, Heptio, for $550 million last year.

As we head into this phase of pushing Kubernetes and related tech into larger companies, McLuckie acknowledges it creates a set of new challenges. “We are at this crossing the chasm moment where you look at the way the world is — and you look at the opportunity of what the world might become — and a big part of what motivated me to join VMware is that it’s successfully proven its ability to help enterprise organizations navigate their way through these disruptive changes,” McLuckie told TechCrunch.

He says that Kubernetes does actually solve this fundamental management problem companies face in this multi-cloud, hybrid world. “At the end of the day, Kubernetes is an abstraction. It’s just a way of organizing your infrastructure and making it accessible to the people that need to consume it.

“And I think it’s a fundamentally better abstraction than we have access to today. It has some very nice properties. It is pretty consistent in every environment that you might want to operate, so it really makes your on-prem software feel like it’s operating in the public cloud,” he explained.

Simplifying a complex world

One of the reasons Kubernetes and cloud-native technologies are gaining in popularity is because the technology allows companies to think about hardware differently. There is a big difference between virtual machines and containers, says Joe Fernandes, VP of product for Red Hat cloud platform.

“Sometimes people conflate containers as another form of virtualization, but with virtualization, you’re virtualizing hardware, and the virtual machines that you’re creating are like an actual machine with its own operating system. With containers, you’re virtualizing the process,” he said.

He said that this means it’s not coupled with the hardware. The only thing it needs to worry about is making sure it can run Linux, and Linux runs everywhere, which explains how containers make it easier to manage across different types of infrastructure. “It’s more efficient, more affordable, and ultimately, cloud-native allows folks to drive more automation,” he said.

Bringing it into the enterprise

Photo: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

It’s one thing to convince early adopters to change the way they work, but as this technology enters the mainstream. Gabe Monroy, partner program manager at Microsoft says to carry this technology to the next level, we have to change the way we talk about it.

Nov
05
2019
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Chronosphere launches with $11M Series A to build scalable, cloud-native monitoring tool

Chronosphere, a startup from two ex-Uber engineers who helped create the open-source M3 monitoring project to handle Uber-level scale, officially launched today with the goal of building a commercial company on top of the open-source project.

It also announced an $11 million investment led by Greylock, with participation from venture capitalist Lee Fixel.

While the founders, CEO Martin Mao and CTO Rob Skillington, were working at Uber, they recognized a gap in the monitoring industry, particularly around cloud-native technologies like containers and microservices. There weren’t any tools available on the market that could handle Uber’s scaling requirements — so like any good engineers, they went out and built their own.

“We looked around at the market at the time and couldn’t find anything in open source or commercially available that could really scale to our needs. So we ended up building and open sourcing our solution, which is M3. Over the last three to four years we’ve scaled M3 to one of the largest production monitoring systems in the world today,” Mao explained.

The essential difference between M3 and other open-source, cloud-native monitoring solutions like Prometheus is that ability to scale, he says.

One of the main reasons they left to start a company, with the blessing of Uber, was that the community began asking for features that didn’t really make sense for Uber. By launching Chronosphere, Mao and Skillington would be taking on the management of the project moving forward (although sharing governance for the time being with Uber), while building those enterprise features the community has been requesting.

The new company’s first product will be a cloud version of M3 to help reduce some of the complexity associated with managing an M3 project. “M3 itself is a fairly complex piece of technology to run. It is solving a fairly complex problem at large scale, and running it actually requires a decent amount of investment to run at large scale, so the first thing we’re doing is taking care of that management,” Mao said.

Jerry Chen, who led the investment at Greylock, saw a company solving a big problem. “They were providing such a high-resolution view of what’s going on in your cloud infrastructure and doing that at scale at a cost that actually makes sense. They solved that problem at Uber, and I saw them, and I was like wow, the rest of the market needs what guys built and I wrote the Series A check. It was as simple as that,” Chen told TechCrunch.

The cloud product is currently in private beta; they expect to open to public beta early next year.

Nov
04
2019
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Volterra announces $50M investment to manage apps in hybrid environment

Volterra is an early-stage startup that has been quietly working on a comprehensive solution to help companies manage applications in hybrid environments. The company emerged from stealth today with a $50 million investment and a set of products.

Investors include Khosla Ventures and Mayfield, along with strategic investors M12 (Microsoft’s venture arm), Itochu Technology Ventures and Samsung NEXT. The company, which was founded in 2017, already has 100 employees and more than 30 customers.

What attracted these investors and customers is a full-stack solution that includes both hardware and software to manage applications in the cloud or on-prem. Volterra founder and CEO Ankur Singla says when he was at his previous company, Contrail Systems, which was acquired by Juniper Networks in 2012 for $176 million, he saw first-hand how large companies were struggling with the transition to hybrid.

“The big problem we saw was in building and operating applications that scale is a really hard problem. They were adopting multiple hybrid cloud strategies, and none of them solved the problem of unifying the application and the infrastructure layer, so that the application developers and DevOps teams don’t have to worry about that,” Singla explained.

He says the Volterra solution includes three main products — VoltStack?, VoltMesh and VoltConsole — to help solve this scaling and management problem. As Volterra describes the total solution, “Volterra has innovated a consistent, cloud-native environment that can be deployed across multiple public clouds and edge sites — a distributed cloud platform. Within this SaaS-based offering, Volterra integrates a broad range of services that have normally been siloed across many point products and network or cloud providers.” This includes not only the single management plane, but security, management and operations components.

Diagram: Volterra

The money has come over a couple of rounds, helping to build the solution to this point, and it required a complex combination of hardware and software to do it. They are hoping organizations that have been looking for a cloud-native approach to large-scale applications, such as industrial automation, will adopt this approach.

Oct
29
2019
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Datameer announces $40M investment as it pivots away from Hadoop roots

Datameer, the company that was born as a data prep startup on top of the open-source Hadoop project, announced a $40 million investment and a big pivot away from Hadoop, while staying true to its big data roots.

The investment was led by existing investor ST Telemedia . Existing investors Redpoint Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Nextworld Capital, Citi Ventures and Top Tier Capital Partners also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to almost $140 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Company CEO Christian Rodatus says the company’s original mission was about making Hadoop easier to use for data scientists, business analysts and engineers. In the last year, the three biggest commercial Hadoop vendors — Cloudera, Hortonworks and MapR — fell on hard times. Cloudera and Hortonworks merged and MapR was sold to HPE in a fire sale.

Starting almost two years ago, Datameer recognized that against this backdrop, it was time for a change. It began developing a couple of new products. It didn’t want to abandon its existing customer base entirely, of course, so it began rebuilding its Hadoop product and is now calling it Datameer X. It is a modern cloud-native product built to run on Kubernetes, the popular open-source container orchestration tool. Instead of Hadoop, it will be based on Spark. He reports they are about two-thirds done with this pivot, but the product has been in the hands of customers.

The company also announced Neebo, an entirely new SaaS tool to give data scientists the ability to process data in whatever form it takes. Rodatus sees a world coming where data will take many forms, from traditional data to Python code from data analysts or data scientists to SaaS vendor dashboards. He sees Neebo bringing all of this together in a managed service with the hope that it will free data scientists to concentrate on getting insight from the data. It will work with data visualization tools like Tableau and Looker, and should be generally available in the coming weeks.

The money should help them get through this pivot, hire more engineers to continue the process and build a go-to-market team for the new products. It’s never easy pivoting like this, but the investors are likely hoping that the company can build on its existing customer base, while taking advantage of the market need for data science processing tools. Time will tell if it works.

Oct
02
2019
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Render challenges the cloud’s biggest vendors with cheaper, managed infrastructure

Render, a participant in the TechCrunch Disrupt SF Startup Battlefield, has a big idea. It wants to take on the world’s biggest cloud vendors by offering developers a cheaper alternative that also removes a lot of the complexity around managing cloud infrastructure.

Render’s goal is to help developers, especially those in smaller companies, who don’t have large DevOps teams, to still take advantage of modern development approaches in the cloud. “We are focused on being the easiest and most flexible provider for teams to run any application in the cloud,” CEO and founder Anurag Goel explained.

He says that one of the biggest pain points for developers and startups, even fairly large startups, is that they have to build up a lot of DevOps expertise when they run applications in the cloud. “That means they are going to hire extremely expensive DevOps engineers or consultants to build out the infrastructure on AWS,” he said. Even after they set up the cloud infrastructure, and move applications there, he points out that there is ongoing maintenance around patching, security and identity access management. “Render abstracts all of that away, and automates all of it,” Goel said.

It’s not easy competing with the big players on scale, but he says so far they have been doing pretty well, and plan to move much of their operations to bare metal servers, which he believes will help stabilize costs further.

render DSC02051

“Longer term, we have a lot of ideas [about how to reduce our costs], and the simplest thing we can do is to switch to bare metal to reduce our costs pretty much instantly.” He says the way they have built Render will make that easier to do. The plan now is to start moving their services to bare metal in the fourth quarter this year.

Even though the company only launched in April, it is already seeing great traction. “The response has been great. We’re now doing over 100 million HTTP requests every week. And we have thousands of developers and startups and everyone from people doing small hobby projects to even a major presidential campaign,” he said.

Although he couldn’t share the candidate’s name, he said they were using Render for everything including their infrastructure for hosting their web site and their back-end administration. “Basically all of their cloud infrastructure is on Render,” he said.

Render has raised a $2.2 million seed round and is continuing to add services to the product, including several new services it will announce this week around storage, infrastructure as code and one-click deployment.


Aug
26
2019
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VMware is bringing VMs and containers together, taking advantage of Heptio acquisition

At VMworld today in San Francisco, VMware introduced a new set of services for managing virtual machines and containers in a single view. Called Tanzu, the product takes advantage of the knowledge the company gained when it acquired Heptio last year.

As companies face an increasingly fragmented landscape of maintaining traditional virtual machines, alongside a more modern containerized Kubernetes environment, managing the two together has created its own set of management challenges for IT. This is further complicated by trying to manage resources across multiple clouds, as well as the in-house data centers. Finally, companies need to manage legacy applications, while looking to build newer containerized applications.

VMware’s Craig McLuckie and fellow Heptio co-founder Joe Beda were part of the original Kubernetes development team. They came to VMware via last year’s acquisition. McLuckie believes that Tanzu can help with all of this by applying the power of Kubernetes across this complex management landscape.

“The intent is to construct a portfolio that has a set of assets that cover every one of these areas, a robust set of capabilities that bring the Kubernetes substrate everywhere — a control plane that enables organizations to start to think about [and view] these highly fragmented deployments with Kubernetes [as the] common lens, and then the technologies you need to be able to bring existing applications forward and to build new application and to support third-party vendors bringing their applications into [this],” McLuckie explained.

It’s an ambitious vision that involves bringing together not only VMware’s traditional VM management tooling and Kubernetes, but also open-source pieces and other recent acquisitions, including Bitnami and Cloud Health along with Wavefront, which it acquired in 2017. Although the vision was defined long before the acquisition of Pivotal last week, it will also play a role in this. Originally that was as a partner, but now it will be as part of VMware.

The idea is to eventually cover the entire gamut of building, running and managing applications in the enterprise. Among the key pieces introduced today as technology previews are the Tanzu Mission Control, a tool for managing Kubernetes clusters wherever they live, and Project Pacific, which embeds Kubernetes natively into vSphere, the company’s virtualization platform, bringing together virtual machines and containers.

Screenshot 2019 08 26 08.07.38 1

VMware Tanzu (Slide: VMware)

McLuckie sees bringing virtual machine and Kubernetes together in this fashion provides a couple of key advantages. “One is being able to bring a robust, modern API-driven way of thinking about accessing resources. And it turns out that there is this really good technology for that. It’s called Kubernetes. So being able to bring a Kubernetes control plane to vSphere is creating a new set of experiences for traditional VMware customers that is moving much closer to a kind of cloud-like agile infrastructure type of experience. At the same time, vSphere is bringing a whole bunch of capabilities to Kubernetes that’s creating more efficient isolation capabilities,” he said.

When you think about the cloud-native vision, it has always been about enabling companies to manage resources wherever they live through a single lens, and this is what this set of capabilities that VMware has brought together under Tanzu is intended to do. “Kubernetes is a way of bringing a control metaphor to modern IT processes. You provide an expression of what you want to have happen, and then Kubernetes takes that and interprets it and drives the world into that desired state,” McLuckie explained.

If VMware can take all of the pieces in the Tanzu vision and make this happen, it will be as powerful as McLuckie believes it to be. It’s certainly an interesting attempt to bring all of a company’s application and infrastructure creation and management under one roof using Kubernetes as the glue — and with Heptio co-founders McLuckie and Beda involved, it certainly has the expertise in place to drive the vision.

Aug
05
2019
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Mesosphere changes name to D2IQ, shifts focus to Kubernetes, cloud native

Mesosphere was born as the commercial face of the open-source Mesos project. It was surely a clever solution to make virtual machines run much more efficiently, but times change and companies change. Today the company announced it was changing its name to Day2IQ, or D2IQ for short, and fixing its sights on Kubernetes and cloud native, which have grown quickly in the years since Mesos appeared on the scene.

D2IQ CEO Mike Fey says that the name reflects the company’s new approach. Instead of focusing entirely on the Mesos project, it wants to concentrate on helping more mature organizations adopt cloud native technologies.

“We felt like the Mesosphere name was somewhat constrictive. It made statements about the company that really allocated us to a given technology, instead of to our core mission, which is supporting successful Day Two operations, making cloud native a viable approach not just for the early adopters, but for everybody,” Fey explained.

Fey is careful to point out that the company will continue to support the Mesos-driven DC/OS solution, but the general focus of the company has shifted, and the new name is meant to illustrate that. “The Mesos product line is still doing well, and there are things that it does that nothing else can deliver on yet. So we’re not abandoning that totally, but we do see that Kubernetes is very powerful, and the community behind it is amazing, and we want to be a value-added member of that community,” he said.

He adds that this is not about jumping on the cloud-native bandwagon all of a sudden. He points out his company has had a Kubernetes product for more than a year running on top of DC/OS, and it has been a contributing member to the cloud native community.

It’s not just about a name change and refocusing the company and the brand, it also involves several new cloud-native products that the company has built to serve the type of audience, the more mature organization, that the new name was inspired by.

For starters, it’s introducing its own flavor of Kubernetes called Konvoy, which, it says, provides an “enterprise-grade Kubernetes experience.” The company will also provide a support and training layer, which it believes is a key missing piece, and one that is required by larger organizations looking to move to cloud native.

In addition, it is offering a data integration layer, which is designed to help integrate large amounts of data in a cloud-native fashion. To that end, it is introducing a beta of Kudo, an open-source cloud-native tool for building stateful operations in Kubernetes. The company has already offered to donate this tool to the Cloud Native Computing foundation, the open-source organization that houses Kubernetes and other cloud-native projects.

The company faces stiff competition in this space from some heavy hitters, like the newly combined IBM and Red Hat, but it believes by adhering to a strong open-source ethos, it can move beyond its Mesos roots to become a player in the cloud-native space. Time will tell if it made a good bet.

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