Apr
17
2019
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Spotinst, the startup enabling companies to purchase and manage excess cloud capacity, acquires StratCloud

Spotinst, the cloud automation and optimization startup founded in Tel Aviv but now with offices in San Francisco, New York and London, has acquired AWS partner StratCloud. Terms of the deal remain undisclosed, although I’m hearing it combines both cash and stock and was somewhere in the region of $5 million.

As part of the acquisition, StratCloud’s team of 15 people will be joining Spotinst, including founder Patrick Gartlan, who will become VP, Cloud Services at Spotinst. StratCloud hadn’t raised any venture capital but instead was bootstrapped by Gartlan, who was the former CTO of cloud optimization company CloudCheckr.

Founded in 2015, Spotinst enables enterprises to optimize their cloud infrastructure usage by automating the process of using excess — and therefore cheaper — capacity from leading cloud providers.

As TechCrunch’s Ron Miller previously explained, cloud platforms like AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform, all of which Spotinst supports, have to maintain more resources than they need at any given time. All three companies offer steep discounts to customers who want to access these resources, but they come with a strict condition that the platforms can take those resources back whenever they need them — which is where Spotinst (and today’s acquisition of StratCloud) comes in.

Spotinst’s platform manages the process of acquiring spare capacity, powered by predictive AI, and seamlessly switches providers before it’s withdrawn. This ensures that cloud computing “workloads” keep functioning, while the customer still receives the best possible price.

Meanwhile, StratCloud tech is described as an “optimization platform” that buys, sells and converts reserved capacity, therefore maximizing savings for on-demand infrastructure. “This leads to lower compute payments, without engineers having to change anything in the applications and infrastructure they manage,” explains Spotinst.

Related to this, Spotinst will migrate StratCloud’s several dozen customers to the Spotinst platform, where they’ll continue to receive all of the current functionality.

Overall, the acquisition means Spotinst can now offer a complete solution for cloud users, including offering reserved instances and unused computer power so that enterprises can run any workload and support large-scale migrations on any cloud provider. In addition, Spotinst says the combined technologies give Managed Service Providers (MSPs) a comprehensive tool to optimize cloud workloads for all of their managed customers.

Spotinst claims more than 1,500 enterprise customers in 52 countries, including Samsung, N26, Duolingo, Ticketmaster and Wix. The company currently employs approximately 150 staff across its four offices and has raised $52 million in VC funding to date.

Apr
17
2019
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Salesforce is buying MapAnything, a startup that raised over $84 million

Salesforce announced today it’s buying another company built on its platform. This time it’s MapAnything, which as the name implies, helps companies build location-based workflows, something that could come in handy for sales or service calls.

The companies did not reveal the selling price, and Salesforce didn’t have anything to add beyond a brief press release announcing the deal.

“The addition of MapAnything to Salesforce will help the world’s leading brands accurately plan: how many people they need, where to put them, how to make them as productive as possible, how to track what’s being done in real time and what they can learn to improve going forward,” Salesforce wrote in the statement announcing the deal.

It was a logical acquisition on many levels. In addition to being built on the Salesforce platform, the product was sold through the Salesforce AppExchange, and over the years MapAnything has been a Salesforce SI Partner, an ISV Premier Partner, according the company.

“Salesforce’s pending acquisition of MapAnything comes at a critical time for brands. Customer Experience is rapidly overtaking price as the leading reason companies win in the market. Leading companies like MillerCoors, Michelin, Unilever, Synchrony Financial and Mohawk Industries have all seen how location-enabled field sales and service professionals can focus on the right activities against the right customers, improving their productivity, and allowing them to provide value in every interaction,” company co-founder and CEO John Stewart wrote in a blog post announcing the deal.

MapAnything boasts 1900 customers in total, and that is likely to grow substantially once it officially becomes part of the Salesforce family later this year.

MapAnything was founded in 2009, so it’s been around long enough to raise over $84 million, according to Crunchbase. Last year, we covered the company’s $33.1 million Series B round, which was led by Columbus Nova.

At the time of the funding CEO John Stewart told me that his company’s products present location data more logically on a map instead of in a table. ‘“Our Core product helps users (most often field-based sales or service workers) visualize their data on a map, interact with it to drive productivity, and then use geolocation services like our mobile app or complex routing to determine the right cadence to meet them,” Stewart told me last year.

It raised an additional $42.5 million last November. Investors included General Motors Ventures and (unsurprisingly) Salesforce Ventures.

Apr
17
2019
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Google Cloud brings on 27-year SAP veteran as it doubles down on enterprise adoption

Thomas Kurian, the newly minted CEO of Google Cloud, used the company’s Cloud Next conference last week to lay out his vision for the future of Google’s cloud computing platform. That vision involves, in part, a hiring spree to give businesses that want to work with Google more people to talk to and get help from. Unsurprisingly, Kurian is also looking to put his stamp on the executive team, too, and today announced that former SAP executive Robert Enslin is joining Google Cloud as its new president of Global Customer Operations.

Enslin’s hire is another clear signal that Kurian is focused on enterprise customers. Enslin, after all, is a veteran of the enterprise business, with 27 years at SAP, where he served on the company’s executive board until he announced his resignation from the company earlier this month. After leading various parts of SAP, including as president of its cloud product portfolio, president of SAP North America and CEO of SAP Japan, Enslin announced that he had “a few more aspirations to fulfill.” Those aspirations, we now know, include helping Google Cloud expand its lineup of enterprise customers.

“Rob brings great international experience to his role having worked in South Africa, Europe, Asia and the United States—this global perspective will be invaluable as we expand Google Cloud into established industries and growth markets around the world,” Kurian writes in today’s announcement.

For the last two years, Google Cloud already had a president of Global Customer Operations, though, in the form of Paul-Henri Ferrand, a former Dell exec who was brought on by Google Cloud’s former CEO Diane Greene . Kurian says that Ferrand “has decided to take on a new challenge within Google.”

Apr
16
2019
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Google expands its container service with GKE Advanced

With its Kubernetes Engine (GKE), Google Cloud has long offered a managed service for running containers on its platform. Kubernetes users tend to have a variety of needs, but so far, Google only offered a single tier of GKE that wasn’t necessarily geared toward the high-end enterprise users the company is trying to woo. Today, however, the company announced a new advanced edition of GKE that introduces a number of new features and an enhanced financially backed SLA, additional security tools and new automation features. You can think of GKE Advanced as the enterprise version of GKE.

The new service will launch in the second quarter of the year and hasn’t yet announced pricing. The regular version of GKE is now called GKE Standard.

Google says the service builds upon the company’s own learnings from running a complex container infrastructure internally for years.

For enterprise customers, the financially backed SLA is surely a nice bonus. The promise here is 99.95 percent guaranteed availability for regional clusters.

Most users who opt for a managed Kubernetes environment do so because they don’t want to deal with the hassle of managing these clusters themselves. With GKE Standard, there’s still some work to be done with regard to scaling the clusters. Because of this, GKE Advanced includes a Vertical Pod Autoscaler that keeps on eye on resource utilization and adjusts it as necessary, as well as Node Auto Provisioning, an enhanced version of cluster autoscaling in GKE Standard.

In addition to these new GKE Advanced features, Google is adding GKE security features like the GKE Sandbox, which is currently in beta and will come exclusively to GKE Advanced once it’s launched, and the ability to enforce that only signed and verified images are used in the container environment.

The Sandbox uses Google’s gVisor container sandbox runtime. With this, every sandbox gets its own user-space kernel, adding an additional layer of security. With Binary Authorization, GKE Advanced users also can ensure that all container images are signed by a trusted authority before they are put into production. Somebody could theoretically still smuggle malicious code into the containers, but this process, which enforces standard container release practices, for example, should ensure that only authorized containers can run in the environment.

GKE Advanced also includes support for GKE usage metering, which allows companies to keep tabs on who is using a GKE cluster and charge them according. This feature, too, will be exclusive to GKE Advanced.

Apr
16
2019
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Why it just might make sense that Salesforce.com is buying Salesforce.org

Yesterday, Salesforce .com announced its intent to buy its own educational/nonprofit arm, Salesforce.org, for $300 million. On its face, this feels like a confusing turn of events, but industry experts say it’s really about aligning educational and nonprofit verticals across the entire organization.

Salesforce has always made a lot of hay about being a responsible capitalist. It’s something it highlights at events and really extends with the 1-1-1 model it created, which gives one percent of profit, time and resources (product) to education and nonprofits. Its employees are given time off and are encouraged to work in the community. Salesforce.org has been the driver behind this, but something drove the company to bring Salesforce.org into the fold.

While it’s easy to be cynical about the possible motivations, it could be a simple business reason, says Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research. As he pointed out, it didn’t make a lot of sense from a business perspective to be running two separate entities with separate executive teams, bookkeeping systems and sales teams. What’s more, he said there was some confusion over lack of alignment and messaging between the Salesforce.com education sales team and what was happening at Salesforce.org. Finally, he says because Salesforce.org couldn’t issue Salesforce.com stock options, it might not have been attracting the best talent.

“It allows them to get better people and talent, and it’s also eliminating redundancies with the education vertical. That was really the big driver behind this,” Wang told TechCrunch.

Tony Byrne, founder and principal analyst at Real Story Group agreed. “My guess is that they were struggling to align roadmaps between the offerings (.com and .org), and they see .org as more strategic now and want to make sure they’re in the fold,” he said.

Focusing on the charity arm

Brent Leary, principal and co-founder at CRM Essentials, says it’s also about keeping that charitable focus front and center, while pulling that revenue into the Salesforce.com revenue stream. “It seems like doing good is set to be really good for business, making it a potentially very good idea to be included as part of Salesforce’s top line revenue numbers, Leary said.

For many, this was simply about keeping up with Microsoft and Google in the nonprofit space, and being part of Salesforce.com makes more sense in terms of competing. “I believe Salesforce’s move to bring Salesforce.org in house was a well-timed strategic move to have greater influence on the company’s endeavors into the Not for Profit (NFP) space. In the wake of Microsoft’s announcements of significantly revamping and adding resources to its Dynamics 365 Nonprofit Accelerator, Salesforce would be well-served to also show greater commitment on their end to helping NFPs acquire greater access to technologies that enable them to carry out their mission,” Daniel Newman, founder and principal analyst at Futurum Research, said.

Good or bad idea?

But not everyone sees this move in a positive light. Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst and founder at Moor Insights and Strategies, says it could end up being a public relations nightmare for Salesforce if the general public doesn’t understand the move. Salesforce could exacerbate that perception if it ends up raising prices for nonprofits and education.

“Salesforce and Benioff’s move with Salesforce.org is a big risk and could blow up in its face. The degree of negative reaction will be dependent on how large the price hikes are and how much earnings get diluted. We won’t know that until more details are released,” Moorhead said.

The deal is still in progress, and will take some months to close, but if it’s simply an administrative move designed to create greater efficiencies, it could make sense. The real question that remains is how this will affect educational and nonprofit institutions as the company combines Salesforce.org and Salesforce.com.

Salesforce did not wish to comment for this story.

Apr
14
2019
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Diving into Google Cloud Next and the future of the cloud ecosystem

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois and Ron Miller offered up their analysis on the major announcements that came out of Google’s Cloud Next conference this past week, as well as their opinions on the outlook for the company going forward.

Google Cloud announced a series of products, packages and services that it believes will improve the company’s competitive position and differentiate itself from AWS and other peers. Frederic and Ron discuss all of Google’s most promising announcements, including its product for managing hybrid clouds, its new end-to-end AI platform, as well as the company’s heightened effort to improve customer service, communication, and ease-of-use.

“They have all of these AI and machine learning technologies, they have serverless technologies, they have containerization technologies — they have this whole range of technologies.

But it’s very difficult for the average company to take these technologies and know what to do with them, or to have the staff and the expertise to be able to make good use of them. So, the more they do things like this where they package them into products and make them much more accessible to the enterprise at large, the more successful that’s likely going to be because people can see how they can use these.

…Google does have thousands of engineers, and they have very smart people, but not every company does, and that’s the whole idea of the cloud. The cloud is supposed to take this stuff, put it together in such a way that you don’t have to be Google, or you don’t have to be Facebook, you don’t have to be Amazon, and you can take the same technology and put it to use in your company”

Image via Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Frederic and Ron dive deeper into how the new offerings may impact Google’s market share in the cloud ecosystem and which verticals represent the best opportunity for Google to win. The two also dig into the future of open source in cloud and how they see customer use cases for cloud infrastructure evolving.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Apr
11
2019
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Google Cloud makes some strong moves to differentiate itself from AWS and Microsoft

Google Cloud held its annual customer conference, Google Cloud Next, this week in San Francisco. It had a couple of purposes. For starters, it could introduce customers to new CEO Thomas Kurian for the first time since his hiring at the end of last year. And secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it could demonstrate that it can offer a value proposition that is distinct from AWS and Microsoft.

Kurian’s predecessor, Diane Greene, was fond of saying that it was still early days for the cloud market, and she’s still right, but while the pie has continued to grow substantially, Google’s share of the market has stayed stubbornly in single digits. It needed to use this week’s conference as at least a springboard to showcase its strengths.

Its lack of commercial cloud market clout has always been a bit of a puzzler. This is Google after all. It runs Google Search and YouTube and Google Maps and Google Docs. These are massive services that rarely go down. You would think being able to run these massive services would translate into massive commercial success, but so far it hasn’t.

Missing ingredients

Even though Greene brought her own considerable enterprise cred to GCP, having been a co-founder at VMware, the company that really made the cloud possible by popularizing the virtual machine, she wasn’t able to significantly change the company’s commercial cloud fortunes.

In a conversation with TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois, Kurian talked about missing ingredients, like having people to talk to (or maybe a throat to choke). “A number of customers told us ‘we just need more people from you to help us.’ So that’s what we’ll do,” Kurian told Lardinois.

But, of course, it’s never one thing when it comes to a market as complex as cloud infrastructure. Sure, you can add more bodies in customer support or sales, or more aggressively pursue high-value enterprise customers, or whatever Kurian has identified as holes in GCP’s approach up until now, but it still requires a compelling story, and Google took a big step toward having the ingredients for a new story this week.

Changing position

Google is trying to position itself in the same way as any cloud vendor going after AWS. They are selling themselves as the hybrid cloud company that can help with your digital transformation. It’s a common strategy, but Google did more than throw out the usual talking points this week. It walked the walk too.

For starters, it introduced Anthos, a single tool to manage your workloads wherever they live, even in a rival cloud. This is a big deal, and if it works as described, it does give that new beefed-up sales team at Google Cloud a stronger story to tell around integration. As my colleague, Frederic Lardinois described it:

So with Anthos, Google will offer a single managed service that will let you manage and deploy workloads across clouds, all without having to worry about the different environments and APIs. That’s a big deal and one that clearly delineates Google’s approach from its competitors’. This is Google, after all, managing your applications for you on AWS and Azure.

AWS hasn’t made made many friends in the open-source community of late, and Google reiterated that it was going to be the platform that is friendly to open-source projects. To that end, it announced a number of major partnerships.

Finally, the company took a serious look at verticals, trying to put together packages of Google Cloud services designed specifically for a given vertical. As an example, it put together a package for retailers that included special services to help keep you up and running during peak demand; tools to suggest if you like this, you might be interested in these items; contact center AI; and other tools specifically geared toward the retail market. You can expect the company will be doing more of this to make the platform more attractive to a given market space.

Photo: Michael Short/Bloomberg via Getty Images

All of this and more, way too much to summarize in one article, was exactly what Google Cloud needed to do this week. Now comes the hard part. They have come up with some good ideas and they have to go out and sell it.

Nobody has ever denied that Google lacked good technology. That has always been an inherently obvious strength, but it has struggled to translate that into substantial market share. That is Kurian’s challenge. As Greene used to say, in baseball terms, it’s still early innings. And it really still is, but the game is starting to move along, and Kurian needs to get the team moving in the right direction if it expects to be competitive.

Apr
11
2019
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Much to Oracle’s chagrin, Pentagon names Microsoft and Amazon as $10B JEDI cloud contract finalists

Yesterday, the Pentagon announced two finalists in the $10 billion, decade-long JEDI cloud contract process — and Oracle was not one of them. In spite of lawsuits, official protests and even back-channel complaining to the president, the two finalists are Microsoft and Amazon.

“After evaluating all of the proposals received, the Department of Defense has made a competitive range determination for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud request for proposals, in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations. The two companies within the competitive range will participate further in the procurement process,” Elissa Smith, DoD spokesperson for Public Affairs Operations told TechCrunch. She added that those two finalists were in fact Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS, the cloud computing arm of Amazon).

This contract procurement process has caught the attention of the cloud computing market for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s a large amount of money, but perhaps the biggest reason it had cloud companies going nuts was that it is a winner-take-all proposition.

It is important to keep in mind that whether it’s Microsoft or Amazon that is ultimately chosen for this contract, the winner may never see $10 billion, and it may not last 10 years, because there are a number of points where the DoD could back out —  but the idea of a single winner has been irksome for participants in the process from the start.

Over the course of the last year, Google dropped out of the running, while IBM and Oracle have been complaining to anyone who will listen that the contract unfairly favored Amazon. Others have questioned the wisdom of even going with a single-vendor approach. Even at $10 billion, an astronomical sum to be sure, we have pointed out that in the scheme of the cloud business, it’s not all that much money — but there is more at stake here than money.

There is a belief here that the winner could have an upper hand in other government contracts, that this is an entrée into a much bigger pot of money. After all, if you are building the cloud for the Department of Defense and preparing it for a modern approach to computing in a highly secure way, you would be in a pretty good position to argue for other contracts with similar requirements.

In the end, in spite of the protests of the other companies involved, the Pentagon probably got this right. The two finalists are the most qualified to carry out the contract’s requirements. They are the top two cloud infrastructure vendors on the market, although Microsoft is far behind with around 13 or 14 percent market share. Amazon is far head, with around 33 percent, according to several companies that track such things.

Microsoft in particular has tools and resources that would be very appealing, especially Azure Stack — a mini private version of Azure, that you can stand up anywhere, an approach that would have great appeal to the military — but both companies have experience with government contracts, and both bring strengths and weaknesses to the table. It will undoubtedly be a tough decision.

In February, the contract drama took yet another turn when the department reported it was investigating new evidence of conflict of interest by a former Amazon employee who was involved in the RFP process for a time before returning to the company. Smith reports that the department found no such conflict, but there could be some ethical violations they are looking into.

“The department’s investigation has determined that there is no adverse impact on the integrity of the acquisition process. However, the investigation also uncovered potential ethical violations, which have been further referred to DOD IG,” Smith explained.

The DoD is supposed to announce the winner this month, but the drama has continued non-stop.

Apr
10
2019
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With consumer G+ dead, Currents hopes to make waves in the enterprise

Google today announced that Google+ in G Suite, the last remaining remnants of what was once Google’s attempt to rival Facebook and Twitter, will now be called Currents. We don’t need to belabor the fact that Google+ was a flop and that its death was probably long overdue. We’ve done that. Now it’s time to look ahead and talk about what’s next for Currents. To do that, I sat down with David Thacker, the VP of Product Management for G Suite, at Google’s Cloud Next conference.

As Thacker told me, Google has shifted its resources to have the former Google+ team focus on Currents instead. But before we get to what that teams plans to do, let’s talk about the name first. Currents, after all, was also the name of the predecessor of Google Play Newsstand, the app that was the predecessor of the Google News app.

The official line is that “Currents” is meant to evoke the flow of information. Thacker also noted that the team did a lot of research around the name and that it had “very low recognition.” I guess that’s fair. It also allows Google to reuse an old trademark without having to jump through too many hoops. Since the Google+ name obviously now carries some baggage, changing the name makes sense anyway. “The enterprise version is distinct and separate now and it was causing confusion among our customers,” said Thacker.

“This allows us to do new things and move much faster in the enterprise,” Thacker explained. “To run a consumer social network at the scale of consumer G+ requires a lot of resources and efforts, as you can imagine. And that’s partially the reason we decided to sunset that product, as we just didn’t feel it was worth that investment given the user base on that. But it basically frees up that team to focus on the enterprise vision.”

Now, however, with consumer G+ gone, the company is going to invest in Currents. “We’re moving consumer resources into the enterprise,” he said.

The plan here clearly isn’t to just let Currents linger but to improve it for business users. And while Google has never publicly shared user numbers, Thacker argues that those businesses that do use it tend to use it expensively. The hope, though, surely, is to increase that number — whatever it may be — significantly over time. “If you look at our top G Suite customers, most of them use the product actively as a way to connect really broad organizations,” Thacker said.

Thacker also noted that this move now removes a lot of constraints since the team doesn’t have to think about consumer features anymore. “When Google+ was first designed, it was never designed for that [enterprise] use case, but organizations had the same need to break down silos and help spread ideas and knowledge in their company,” Thacker explained. “So while Google+ didn’t succeed as a consumer product, it will certainly live on in the enterprise.”

What will that future look like? As Thacker told me, the team started with revamping the posting workflow, which was heavily focused on image sharing, for example, which isn’t exactly all that important in a business context.

But there are other features the team is planning to launch, too, including better analytics. “Analytics is a really important part of it,” said Thacker. “When people are posting on Currents, whether it’s executives trying to engage their employee base, they want to see how that’s resonating. And so we built in some pretty rich analytics.”

The team also built a new set of administrative controls that help manage how organizations can control and manage their usage of Currents.

Going forward then, we may actually see a bit of innovation in Currents — something that was sorely lacking from Google+ while it was lingering in limbo. Google Cloud’s CEO Thomas Kurian told me that he wants to make collaboration one of his focus areas. Currents is an obvious fit there, and there are plenty of ways to integrate it with the rest of G Suite still.

Apr
10
2019
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Google Cloud takes aim at verticals starting with new set of tools for retailers

Google might not be Adobe or Salesforce, but it has a particular set of skills, which fit nicely with retailer requirements and can over time help improve the customer experience, even if that means just simply making sure the website or app is running, even on peak demand. Today, at Google Cloud Next, the company showed off a package of solutions as an example its vertical strategy.

Just this morning, the company announced a new phase of its partnership with Salesforce, where it’s using its contact center AI tools and chatbot technology in combination with Salesforce data to produce a product that plays to each company’s strengths and helps improve the customer service experience.

But Google didn’t stop with a high profile partnership. It has a few tricks of its own for retailers, starting with the classic retailer Black Friday kind of scenario. The easiest way to explain the value of cloud scaling is to look at a retail event like Black Friday when you know servers are going to be bombarded with traffic.

The cloud has always been good at scaling up for those kind of events, but it’s not perfect, as Amazon learned last year when it slowed down on Prime Day. Google wants to help companies avoid those kinds of disasters because a slow or down website translates into lots of lost revenue.

The company offers eCommerce Hosting, designed specifically for online retailers, and it is offering a special premium program, so retailers get “white glove treatment with technical architecture reviews and peak season operations support…” according to the company. In other words, it wants to help these companies avoid disastrous, money-losing results when a site goes down due to demand.

In addition, Google is offering real-time inventory tools, so customers and clerks can know exactly what stock is on hand, and it’s applying its AI expertise to this, as well with tools like Google Contact Center AI solution to help deliver better customer service experiences or Cloud Vision technology to help customers point their cameras at a product and see similar or related products. They also offer Recommendations AI, a tool, that says, if you bought these things, you might like this too, among other tools.

The company counts retail customers like Shopify and Ikea. In addition, the company is working with SI partners like Accenture, CapGemini and Deloitte and software partners like Salesforce, SAP and Tableau.

All of this is about creating a set of services created specifically for a given vertical to help that industry take advantage of the cloud. It’s one more way for Google Cloud to bring solutions to market and help increase its marketshare.

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