Feb
12
2019
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Google and IBM still trying desperately to move cloud market-share needle

When it comes to the cloud market, there are few known knowns. For instance, we know that AWS is the market leader with around 32 percent of market share. We know Microsoft is far back in second place with around 14 percent, the only other company in double digits. We also know that IBM and Google are wallowing in third or fourth place, depending on whose numbers you look at, stuck in single digits. The market keeps expanding, but these two major companies never seem to get a much bigger piece of the pie.

Neither company is satisfied with that, of course. Google so much so that it moved on from Diane Greene at the end of last year, bringing in Oracle veteran Thomas Kurian to lead the division out of the doldrums. Meanwhile, IBM made an even bigger splash, plucking Red Hat from the market for $34 billion in October.

This week, the two companies made some more noise, letting the cloud market know that they are not ceding the market to anyone. For IBM, which is holding its big IBM Think conference this week in San Francisco, it involved opening up Watson to competitor clouds. For a company like IBM, this was a huge move, akin to when Microsoft started building apps for iOS. It was an acknowledgement that working across platforms matters, and that if you want to gain market share, you had better start thinking outside the box.

While becoming cross-platform compatible isn’t exactly a radical notion in general, it most certainly is for a company like IBM, which if it had its druthers and a bit more market share, would probably have been content to maintain the status quo. But if the majority of your customers are pursuing a multi-cloud strategy, it might be a good idea for you to jump on the bandwagon — and that’s precisely what IBM has done by opening up access to Watson across clouds in this fashion.

Clearly buying Red Hat was about a hybrid cloud play, and if IBM is serious about that approach, and for $34 billion, it had better be — it would have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. As IBM Watson CTO and chief architect Ruchir Puri told my colleague Frederic Lardinois about the move, “It’s in these hybrid environments, they’ve got multiple cloud implementations, they have data in their private cloud as well. They have been struggling because the providers of AI have been trying to lock them into a particular implementation that is not suitable to this hybrid cloud environment.” This plays right into the Red Hat strategy, and I’m betting you’ll see more of this approach in other parts of the product line from IBM this year. (Google also acknowledged this when it announced a hybrid strategy of its own last year.)

Meanwhile, Thomas Kurian had his coming-out party at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco earlier today. Bloomberg reports that he announced a plan to increase the number of salespeople and train them to understand specific verticals, ripping a page straight from the playbook of his former employer, Oracle.

He suggested that his company would be more aggressive in pursuing traditional enterprise customers, although I’m sure his predecessor, Diane Greene, wasn’t exactly sitting around counting on inbound marketing interest to grow sales. In fact, rumor had it that she wanted to pursue government contracts much more aggressively than the company was willing to do. Now it’s up to Kurian to grow sales. Of course, given that Google doesn’t report cloud revenue it’s hard to know what growth would look like, but perhaps if it has more success it will be more forthcoming.

As Bloomberg’s Shira Ovide tweeted today, it’s one thing to turn to the tried and true enterprise playbook, but that doesn’t mean that executing on that approach is going to be simple, or that Google will be successful in the end.

These two companies obviously desperately want to alter their cloud fortunes, which have been fairly dismal to this point. The moves announced today are clearly part of a broader strategy to move the market share needle, but whether they can or the market positions have long ago hardened remains to be seen.

Feb
12
2019
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Glide helps you build mobile apps from a spreadsheet without coding

The founders of Glide, a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2019 class, had a notion that building mobile apps in the enterprise was too hard. They decided to simplify the process by starting with a spreadsheet, and automatically turning the contents into a slick mobile app.

David Siegel, CEO and co-founder at Glide, was working with his co-founders Jason Smith, Mark Probst and Antonio Garcia Aprea at Xamarin, a cross-platform mobile development company that Microsoft acquired for $500 million in 2016. There, they witnessed first-hand the difficulty that companies were having building mobile apps. When their two-year stint at Microsoft was over, the four founders decided to build a startup to solve the problem.

“We saw how desperate some of the world’s largest companies were to have a mobile strategy, and also how painful and expensive it is to develop mobile apps. And we haven’t seen significant progress on that 10 years after the smartphone debuted,” Siegel told TechCrunch.

The founders began with research, looking at almost 100 no-code tools and were not really satisfied with any of them. They chose the venerable spreadsheet, a business tool many people use to track information, as the source for their mobile app builder, starting with Google Sheets.

“There’s a saying that spreadsheets are the most the most successful programming model of all time, and smartphones are the most successful computers of all time. So when we started exploring Glide we asked ourselves, can these two forces be combined to create something very valuable to let individuals and businesses build the type of apps that we saw Xamarin customers needed to build, but much more quickly,” Siegel said.

Photo: Glide

The company developed Glide, a service that lets you add information to a Google Sheet spreadsheet, and then very quickly create an app from the contents without coding. “You can easily assemble a polished, data-driven app that you can customize and share as a progressive web app, meaning you can get a link that you can share with anybody, and they can load it in a browser without downloading an app, or you can publish Glide apps as native apps to app stores,” Siegel explained. What’s more, there is a two-way connection between app and spreadsheet, so that when you add information in either place, the other element is updated.

The founders decided to apply at Y Combinator after consulting with former Xamarin CEO, and current GitHub chief executive, Nat Friedman. He and other advisors told them YC would be a great place for first-time founders to get guidance on building a company, taking advantage of the vast YC network.

One of the primary lessons he says that they have learned is the importance of getting out in the field and talking to customers, and not falling into the trap of falling in love with the act of building the tool. The company has actually helped fellow YC companies build mobile apps using the Glide tool.

Glide is live today and people can create apps using their own spreadsheet data, or using the templates available on the site as a starting point. There is a free tier available to try it without obligation.

Feb
12
2019
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Datadog acquires app testing company Madumbo

Datadog, the popular monitoring and analytics platform, today announced that it has acquired Madumbo, an AI-based application testing platform.

“We’re excited to have the Madumbo team join Datadog,” said Olivier Pomel, Datadog’s CEO. “They’ve built a sophisticated AI platform that can quickly determine if a web application is behaving correctly. We see their core technology strengthening our platform and extending into many new digital experience monitoring capabilities for our customers.”

Paris-based Madumbo, which was incubated at Station F and launched in 2017, offers its users a way to test their web apps without having to write any additional code. It promises to let developers build tests by simply interacting with the site, using the Madumbo test recorder, and to help them build test emails, password and testing data on the fly. The Madumbo system then watches your site and adapts its check to whatever changes you make. This bot also watches for JavaScript errors and other warnings and can be integrated into a deployment script.

The team will join Datadog’s existing Paris office and will work on new products, which Datadog says will be announced later this year. Datadog will phase out the Madumbo platform over the course of the next few months.

“Joining Datadog and bringing Madumbo’s AI-powered testing technology to its platform is an amazing opportunity,” said Gabriel-James Safar, CEO of Madumbo. “We’ve long admired Datadog and its leadership, and are excited to expand the scope of our existing technology by integrating tightly with Datadog’s other offerings.”

Feb
12
2019
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InVision acquires design file versioning startup Trunk

InVision, the design company valued at $1.9 billion, has today announced the acquisition of Australia-based Trunk.

Trunk is focused wholly on file versioning for designers. In the world of engineering, GitHub has provided a way for developers to keep versions organized — developers can track changes, create a separate branch to experiment, and collaborate more easily with other developers by merging branches. But the same courtesy hasn’t properly been extended to designers, who usually spend plenty of time scrolling through long email chains searching for the latest version of the attachment.

The deal, the terms of which were not disclosed, came about after Trunk applied for funding from InVision’s Design Forward Fund. After taking a look at the Trunk business and getting to know the team better, InVision decided to take it a step further with a proper acquisition offer.

“We’re truly inverting the workflow,” said InVision CEO and founder Clark Valberg . “It’s gone from engineering first to design first because, in the process of building, design is the best place to have conversations across the company. Everyone can understand it and strategize. Engineers have had version control since the very early days.”

The Trunk team will be focusing their energy on Studio, InVision’s design tool, which launched about a year ago.

The launch of Studio was the first time that InVision truly showed its hand, revealing efforts to go well beyond a simple collaboration tool and become the Salesforce of the design world.

In order to do so, InVision is building bridges between itself and other design focused startups, whether its through integrations, investment, or straight-up acquisition.

“As a growing company with some 800 employees, we’re always looking for people who are passionate about each individual slice of this design pie as possible,” said Valberg. “After using Trunk’s technology, we realized that they really really really care about this slice around design file versioning.”

The InVision collaboration suite currently boasts a place at 98 percent of the Fortune 100 companies, with more than 5 million users. This means the company is shifting its focus squarely to Studio. Design collaboration software was a relatively novel idea back when InVision launched, but design software wasn’t. With Studio, InVision is taking on incumbents like Adobe and other newcomers such as Sketch.

Of course, the feature set of Studio itself is important in beating out other design tools, but InVision believes that the real deal closer is integration with the deeper back-end of InVision’s suite of tools, such as InVision collaboration and now, design file versioning.

Feb
12
2019
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Google takes Hire, its G Suite recruitment platform, to its first global markets, UK and Canada

The recruitment market is big business — worth some $554 billion annually according to the most recent report from the World Employment Confederation. In the tech world, that translates into a big opportunity to build tools to make a recruiter’s work easier, faster and more likely of success in finding the right people for the job. Now Google is stepping up its own efforts in the space: today it is expanding Hire, its G Suite-based recruitment management platform, to the UK and Canada, its first international markets outside the US.

Google is a somewhat late entrant into the market, launching Hire only in 2017 with the basic ability to use apps like Gmail, Calendar, Spreadsheets and Google Voice to help people manage and track candidates through the recruiting process and doing so by integrating with third-party job boards. In the interim, it has supercharged the service with bells and whistles that draw on the company’s formidable IP in areas like AI and search.

These tools provide robotic process automation-style aids to take away some of the more repetitive tasks around admin.

“Recruiters want time to talk to candidates but they don’t want to sit in systems clicking things,” said Dmitri Krakovsky, the VP leads Hire for Google. “We give time back by automating a lot of functionality.” They also sift out needles in haystacks of applicants and surface interesting “lookalikes” who didn’t quite make the cut (or take the job) so that they can be targeted for future opportunities.

And — naturally — while Hire links up with third-party job boards via services like eQuest to bring inbound people into the system, it also provides seamless integration with Jobs by Google, Google’s own vertical search effort that is taking on the traditional job board by letting people look for opportunities with natural language queries in Google’s basic search window

Krakovsky said that the first international launches in Canada and the UK made sense because of the lack of language barrier between them and the US. The UK was key for another reason, too: it gave Google the chance to tweak the product to comply with GDPR, he said, for future launches.

While markets like the UK and US represent some of the very biggest for recruitment services globally, it’s a long tail opportunity, and over time, the ambition will be to take Hire global, positioning it as a key rival against the likes of Taleo, LinkedIn, Jobvite, Zoho, SmartRecruiter and many others in the area of applicant sourcing and tracking.

Currently, Hire ranks only at number 23 among the top 100 applicant tracking systems globally, according to research from OnGig, but it also singles it out for its potential because it is, after all, Google. For now, Krakovsky said it’s not taking on large enterprises or even tiny mom-and-pop shops, but the very large opportunity of between 10 and a couple of thousand employees.

The bigger opportunity for Google is on a couple of levels. First, it sells Hire as a paid product that helps bolster the company’s wider offering of Google Cloud Platform software and services. These prices range from $100/month to $400/month depending on company size (and you work directly with Google on pricing if your organization is over 100 employees). Second, it bolsters the company’s wider ambitions in recruitment, which also include the API-based Cloud Talent Solutions and its vertical search job boards. It’s a quiet but huge strategy, considering the size of the market that is being tackled.

Google’s supercharging of Hire with AI and taking it international highlights another point. One of the biggest meta-trends in recruitment has been a push to try to hire with more diversity in mind, not just to bring fairness to the process, but to infuse businesses with different ways of thinking and catering to different audiences.

While AI is something that can definitely speed up certain processes, it has also been shown to be a potential cesspool of bias based on what is fed into it. One particularly messy example of that, in fact, came from an attempt by Amazon to build an AI-based recruitment tool, which it eventually had to shut down.

Google is well aware of that and has been keeping it in mind when building and expanding Hire particularly to new territories, which in themselves are exercises in handling diversity for AI systems.

Krakovsky noted that one example of how Google has been building more “understanding” AI is in its searches for veterans, who can look for jobs using their own jargon for expertise, which automatically gets translated into other skills in the way they might be described by employers outside the military.

That’s for sourcing jobs, of course. The key for the tech world, if it wants to build products that will have international staying power to upset the existing “hire”archy (sorry), will be to bring that kind of levelling to every aspect of the recruiting process over time.

Those at the top are not sitting back, either: just yesterday Jobvite (ranked fifth largest ATS tracking platform) announced a funding round of $200 million and three acquisitions.

Feb
11
2019
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Google Docs gets an API for task automation

Google today announced the general availability of a new API for Google Docs that will allow developers to automate many of the tasks that users typically do manually in the company’s online office suite. The API has been in developer preview since last April’s Google Cloud Next 2018 and is now available to all developers.

As Google notes, the REST API was designed to help developers build workflow automation services for their users, build content management services and create documents in bulk. Using the API, developers can also set up processes that manipulate documents after the fact to update them, and the API also features the ability to insert, delete, move, merge and format text, insert inline images and work with lists, among other things.

The canonical use case here is invoicing, where you need to regularly create similar documents with ever-changing order numbers and line items based on information from third-party systems (or maybe even just a Google Sheet). Google also notes that the API’s import/export abilities allow you to use Docs for internal content management systems.

Some of the companies that built solutions based on the new API during the preview period include Zapier, Netflix, Mailchimp and Final Draft. Zapier integrated the Docs API into its own workflow automation tool to help its users create offer letters based on a template, for example, while Netflix used it to build an internal tool that helps its engineers gather data and automate its documentation workflow.

 

 

Feb
08
2019
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Carbonite to acquire endpoint security company Webroot for $618.5M

Carbonite, the online backup and recovery company based in Boston, announced late yesterday that it will be acquiring Webroot, an endpoint security vendor, for $618.5 million in cash.

The company believes that by combining its cloud backup service with Webroot’s endpoint security tools, it will give customers a more complete solution. Webroot’s history actually predates the cloud, having launched in 1997. The private company reported $250 million in revenue for fiscal 2018, according to data provided by Carbonite . That will combine with Carbonite’s $296.4 million in revenue for the same time period.

Carbonite CEO and president Mohamad Ali saw the deal as a way to expand the Carbonite offering. “With threats like ransomware evolving daily, our customers and partners are increasingly seeking a more comprehensive solution that is both powerful and easy to use. Backup and recovery, combined with endpoint security and threat intelligence, is a differentiated solution that provides one, comprehensive data protection platform,” Ali explained in a statement.

The deal not only enhances Carbonite’s backup offering, it gives the company access to a new set of customers. While Carbonite sells mainly through Value Added Resellers (VARs), Webroot’s customers are mainly 14,000 Managed Service Providers (MSPs). That lack of overlap could increase its market reach through to the MSP channel. Webroot has 300,000 customers, according to Carbonite.

This is not the first Carbonite acquisition. It has acquired several other companies over the last several years, including buying Mozy from Dell a year ago for $145 million. The acquisition strategy is about using its checkbook to expand the capabilities of the platform to offer a more comprehensive set of tools beyond core backup and recovery.

Graphic: Carbonite

The company announced it is using cash on hand and a $550 million loan from Barclays, Citizens Bank and RBC Capital Markets to finance the deal. Per usual, the acquisition will be subject to regulatory approval, but is expected to close this quarter.

Feb
07
2019
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Someone could scoop up Slack before it IPOs

Earlier this week, Slack announced that it has filed the paperwork to go public at some point later this year. The big question is, will the company exit into the public markets as expected, or will one of the technology giants swoop in at the last minute with buckets of cash and take them off the market?

Slack, which raised more than $1 billion on an other-worldly $7 billion valuation, is an interesting property. It has managed to grow and be successful while competing with some of the world’s largest tech companies — Microsoft, Cisco, Facebook, Google and Salesforce. Not coincidentally, these deep-pocketed companies could be the ones that come knock, knock, knocking at Slack’s door.

Slack has managed to hold its own against these giants by doing something in this space that hadn’t been done effectively before. It made it easy to plug in other services, effectively making Slack a work hub where you could spend your day because your work could get pushed to you there from other enterprise apps.

As I’ve discussed before, this centralized hub has been a dream of communications tools for most of the 21st century. It began with enterprise IM tools in the early 2000s, and progressed to Enterprise 2.0 tools in the 2007 time frame. That period culminated in 2012 when Microsoft bought Yammer for $1.2 billion, the only billion-dollar exit for that generation of tools.

I remember hearing complaints about Enterprise 2.0 tools. While they had utility, in many ways they were just one more thing employees had to check for information beyond email. The talk was these tools would replace email, but a decade later email’s still standing and that generation of tools has been absorbed.

In 2013, Slack came along, perhaps sensing that Enterprise 2.0 never really got mobile and the cloud, and it recreated the notion in a more modern guise. By taking all of that a step further and making the tool a kind of workplace hub, it has been tremendously successful, growing to 8 million daily users in roughly 4 years, around 3 million of which were the paying variety, at last count.

Slack’s growth numbers as of May 2018

All of this leads us back to the exit question. While the company has obviously filed for IPO paperwork, it might not be the way it ultimately exits. Just the other day CNBC’s Jay Yarrow posited this questions on Twitter:

Not sure where he pulled that number from, but if you figure 3x valuation, that could be the value for a company of this ilk. There would be symmetry in Microsoft buying Slack six years after it plucked Yammer off the market, and it would remove a major competitive piece from the board, while allowing Microsoft access to Slack’s growing customer base.

Nobody can see into the future, and maybe Slack does IPO and takes its turn as a public company, but it surely wouldn’t be a surprise if someone came along with an offer it couldn’t refuse, whatever that figure might be.

Feb
07
2019
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Google open sources ClusterFuzz

Google today announced that it is open sourcing ClusterFuzz, a scalable fuzzing tool that can run on clusters with more than 25,000 machines.

The company has long used the tool internally, and if you’ve paid particular attention to Google’s fuzzing efforts (and you have, right?), then this may all seem a bit familiar. That’s because Google launched the OSS-Fuzz service a couple of years ago and that service actually used ClusterFuzz. OSS-Fuzz was only available to open-source projects, though, while ClusterFuzz is now available for anyone to use.

The overall concept behind fuzzing is pretty straightforward: you basically throw lots of data (including random inputs) at your application and see how it reacts. Often, it’ll crash, but sometimes you’ll be able to find memory leaks and security flaws. Once you start anything at scale, though, it becomes more complicated and you’ll need tools like ClusterFuzz to manage that complexity.

ClusterFuzz automates the fuzzing process all the way from bug detection to reporting — and then retesting the fix. The tool itself also uses open-source libraries like the libFuzzer fuzzing engine and the AFL fuzzer to power some of the core fuzzing features that generate the test cases for the tool.

Google says it has used the tool to find more than 16,000 bugs in Chrome and 11,000 bugs in more than  160 open-source projects that used OSS-Fuzz. Since so much of the software testing and deployment toolchain is now generally automated, it’s no surprise that fuzzing is also becoming a hot topic these days (I’ve seen references to “continuous fuzzing” pop up quite a bit recently).

Feb
07
2019
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Microsoft Azure sets its sights on more analytics workloads

Enterprises now amass huge amounts of data, both from their own tools and applications, as well as from the SaaS applications they use. For a long time, that data was basically exhaust. Maybe it was stored for a while to fulfill some legal requirements, but then it was discarded. Now, data is what drives machine learning models, and the more data you have, the better. It’s maybe no surprise, then, that the big cloud vendors started investing in data warehouses and lakes early on. But that’s just a first step. After that, you also need the analytics tools to make all of this data useful.

Today, it’s Microsoft turn to shine the spotlight on its data analytics services. The actual news here is pretty straightforward. Two of these are services that are moving into general availability: the second generation of Azure Data Lake Storage for big data analytics workloads and Azure Data Explorer, a managed service that makes easier ad-hoc analysis of massive data volumes. Microsoft is also previewing a new feature in Azure Data Factory, its graphical no-code service for building data transformation. Data Factory now features the ability to map data flows.

Those individual news pieces are interesting if you are a user or are considering Azure for your big data workloads, but what’s maybe more important here is that Microsoft is trying to offer a comprehensive set of tools for managing and storing this data — and then using it for building analytics and AI services.

(Photo credit:Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

“AI is a top priority for every company around the globe,” Julia White, Microsoft’s corporate VP for Azure, told me. “And as we are working with our customers on AI, it becomes clear that their analytics often aren’t good enough for building an AI platform.” These companies are generating plenty of data, which then has to be pulled into analytics systems. She stressed that she couldn’t remember a customer conversation in recent months that didn’t focus on AI. “There is urgency to get to the AI dream,” White said, but the growth and variety of data presents a major challenge for many enterprises. “They thought this was a technology that was separate from their core systems. Now it’s expected for both customer-facing and line-of-business applications.”

Data Lake Storage helps with managing this variety of data since it can handle both structured and unstructured data (and is optimized for the Spark and Hadoop analytics engines). The service can ingest any kind of data — yet Microsoft still promises that it will be very fast. “The world of analytics tended to be defined by having to decide upfront and then building rigid structures around it to get the performance you wanted,” explained White. Data Lake Storage, on the other hand, wants to offer the best of both worlds.

Likewise, White argued that while many enterprises used to keep these services on their on-premises servers, many of them are still appliance-based. But she believes the cloud has now reached the point where the price/performance calculations are in its favor. It took a while to get to this point, though, and to convince enterprises. White noted that for the longest time, enterprises that looked at their analytics projects thought $300 million projects took forever, tied up lots of people and were frankly a bit scary. “But also, what we had to offer in the cloud hasn’t been amazing until some of the recent work,” she said. “We’ve been on a journey — as well as the other cloud vendors — and the price performance is now compelling.” And it sure helps that if enterprises want to meet their AI goals, they’ll now have to tackle these workloads, too.

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