Nov
15
2018
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Uber joins Linux Foundation, cementing commitment to open-source tools

Uber announced today at the 2018 Uber Open Summit that it was joining the Linux Foundation as a Gold Member, making a firm commitment to using and contributing to open-source tools.

Uber CTO Thuan Pham sees the Linux Foundation as a place for companies like his to nurture and develop open-source projects. “Open source technology is the backbone of many of Uber’s core services and as we continue to mature, these solutions will become ever more important,” he said in a blog post announcing the partnership.

What’s surprising is not that they joined, but that it took so long. Uber has been long known for making use of open source in its core tools, working on over 320 open-source projects and repositories from 1,500 contributors involving over 70,000 commits, according to data provided by the company.

“Uber has made significant investments in shared software development and community collaboration through open source over the years, including contributing the popular open-source project Jaeger, a distributed tracing system, to the Linux Foundation’s Cloud Native Computing Foundation in 2017,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin was certainly happy to welcome Uber into the fold. “Their expertise will be instrumental for our projects as we continue to advance open solutions for cloud native technologies, deep learning, data visualization and other technologies that are critical to businesses today,” Zemlin said in a statement.

The Linux Foundation is an umbrella group supporting myriad open-source projects and providing an organizational structure for companies like Uber to contribute and maintain open-source projects. It houses sub-organizations like the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, Cloud Foundry Foundation, The Hyperledger Foundation and the Linux operating system, among others.

These open-source projects provide a base on top of which contributing companies and the community of developers can add value if they wish and build a business. Others like Uber, which uses these technologies to fuel their backend systems, won’t sell additional services, but can capitalize on the openness to help fuel their own requirements in the future, while also acting as a contributor to give as well as take.

Nov
15
2018
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Docker inks partnership with MuleSoft as Salesforce takes a strategic stake

Docker and MuleSoft have announced a broad deal to sell products together and integrate their platforms. As part of it, Docker is getting an investment from Salesforce, the CRM giant that acquired MuleSoft for $6.5 billion last spring.

Salesforce is not disclosing the size of the stake it’s taking in Docker, but it is strategic: it will see its new MuleSoft working with Docker to connect containerized applications to multiple data sources across an organization. Putting the two companies together, you can connect these containerized applications to multiple data sources in a modern way, even with legacy applications.

The partnership is happening on multiple levels and includes technical integration to help customers more easily use the two toolsets together. It also includes a sales agreement to invite each company’s sales team when it makes sense, and to work with systems integrators and ISVs, who help companies put these kind of complex solutions to work inside large organizations.

Docker chief product officer Scott Johnston said it was really about bringing together two companies whose missions were aligned with what they were hearing from customers. That involves tapping into some broad trends around getting more out of their legacy applications and a growing desire to take an API-driven approach to developer productivity, while getting additional value out of their existing data sources. “Both companies have been working separately on these challenges for the last several years, and it just made sense as we listen to the market and listen to customers that we joined forces,” Johnston told TechCrunch.

Uri Sarid, MuleSoft’s CTO, agrees that customers have been using both products and it called for a more formal arrangement. “We have joint customers and the partnership will be fortifying that. So that’s a great motion, but we believe in acceleration. And so if there are things that we can do, and we now have plans for what we will do to make that even faster, to make that even more natural and built-in, we can accelerate the motion to this. Before, you had to think about these two concerns separately, and we are working on interoperability that makes you not have to think about them separately,” he explained.

This announcement comes at a time of massive consolidation in the enterprise. In the last couple of weeks, we have seen IBM buying Red Hat for $34 billion, SAP acquiring Qualtrics for $8 billion and Vista Equity Partners scooping up Apptio for $1.94 billion. Salesforce acquired MuleSoft earlier this year in its own mega deal in an effort to bridge the gap between data in the cloud and on-prem.

The final piece of today’s announcement is that investment from Salesforce Ventures. Johnston would not say how much the investment was for, but did say it was about aligning the two partners.

Docker had raised almost $273 million before today’s announcement. It’s possible it could be looking for a way to exit, and with the trend toward enterprise consolidation, Salesforce’s investment may be a way to test the waters for just that. If it seems like an odd match, remember that Salesforce bought Heroku in 2010 for $212 million.

Nov
15
2018
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Airtable, maker of a coding platform for non-techies, raises $100M at a $1.1B valuation

If data is the new oil, you might think of apps are the cars that need it to move. Now, a startup that has built a platform to let everyone — not just those with technical expertise — make and drive their own “cars” has raised a significant round of funding to grow its business. Airtable — which uses a simple interface built on spreadsheets and other tools familiar to knowledge workers as a frontend to produce apps and other web-based experiences — has raised $100 million in funding to expand its business with more talent and offices outside the US. Along with the funding, the company has now catapulted to a $1.1 billion valuation.

Catapult is the key word here: according to PitchBook the company was only valued at $152 million in its last round — eight months ago.

Airtable’s tools are now in use by some 80,000 businesses today, the company said, representing a real growth spurt. To put that into some context, when the company raised $52 million eight months ago, it said it had only 30,000 customers.

This latest round — a Series C — was led by Josh Kushner at Thrive Capital, Peter Fenton at Benchmark, and Philippe and Thomas Laffont at Coatue Management. Delphine Arnault, Emily Weiss, Alexa Von Tobel, Sarah Smith, Dan Rose, and previous investors CRV and Caffeinated Capital also participated — bringing the total raised by Airtable to $170 million.

Howie Liu, the CEO who co-founded Airtable with Emmett Nicholas (now CTO) and Andrew Ofstad, said that the initial idea for the product came out of their own experience. The tech world had already identified that many tools for building apps and other products were potentially too technical for the vast majority of knowledge workers in the tech industry (who might not have coding experience), but the solutions in the market for making things like apps were still “too expensive and complicated to use.”

“The vision was to democratise the value proposition,” he said. A database, the founders decided, “in its most flexible form, can be customised to what you need, and that would be better than using someone else’s existing database model.”

Airtable is not the only company that has identified the problem and tried to solve it by building powerful macros under the hood of otherwise standard-looking database interfaces.

DashDash is building a similar concept out of Europe focused specifically on spreadsheets, and we’re even seeing Microsoft and partners building more functionality into the world’s leading spreadsheet provider, Excel.

Indeed, that’s not seen as stiff competition, but a sign for Airtable’s investors of just how much opportunity there is in the space. “Airtable has established itself as the leader in what will become a very large market,” Josh Kushner, managing partner at Thrive Capital, said in a statement.

One of the important aspects of Airtable is its Slack-like approach to the task of using its platform to build things.

The company has a platform called Blocks that not only lets its users bring in data from a number of sources, but also to select a number of different kinds of outputs for how and where would like the data to be used, whether it is in a marketing campaign across text messaging, an AI-based bot, or a VR experience. Liu confirmed for me that for now Excel is not one of its integration partners, for now.

Another notable point is that Airtable is yet another example of how the most promising startups are racking up funding in rapid rounds at the moment.

Just yesterday, no less than four different startups — Service Titan, UiPath, Nikola, and SAM — announced rounds of funding coming on the heels of fundraising mere months earlier. It’s a sign of how the market is very hot at the moment: VCs and other investment firms have raised fuelled by large sums of cash that now need to be put to use, and they are all looking for strong bets to do just that.

Fast-growing startups in areas that are on the rise present safe harbours to these investors, and with tens and hundreds of billions of dollars at these funds still in play, we’ll probably continue to witness this funding trend for some time to come.

Nov
14
2018
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Microsoft to acquire Xoxco as focus on AI and bot developers continues

Microsoft has been all in on AI this year, and in the build versus buy equation, the company has been leaning heavily toward buying. This morning, the company announced its intent to acquire Xoxco, an Austin-based software developer with a focus on bot design, making it the fourth AI-related company Microsoft has purchased this year.

“Today, we are announcing we have signed an agreement to acquire Xoxco, a software product design and development studio known for its conversational AI and bot development capabilities,” Lili Cheng, corporate VP for conversational AI at Microsoft wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

Xoxco, which was founded in 2009 — long before most of us were thinking about conversational bots — has raised $1.5 million. It began working on bots in 2013, and is credited with developing the first bot for Slack to help schedule meetings. The companies did not reveal the price, but it fits nicely with Microsoft’s overall acquisition strategy this year, and an announcement today involving a new bot building tool to help companies build conversational bots more easily.

When you call into a call center these days, or even interact on chat, chances are your initial interaction is with a conversational bot, rather than a human. Microsoft is trying to make it easier for developers without AI experience to tap into Microsoft’s expertise on the Azure platform (or by downloading the bot framework from its newly acquired GitHub).

“With this acquisition, we are continuing to realize our approach of democratizing AI development, conversation and dialog, and integrating conversational experiences where people communicate,” Cheng wrote.

The new Virtual Assistant Accelerator solution announced today also aligns with the Xoxco purchase. Eric Boyd, corporate VP for AI at Microsoft, says the Virtual Assistant Accelerator pulls together some AI tools such as speech-to-text, natural language processing and an action engine into a single place to simplify bot creation.

“It’s a tool that makes it much easier for you to go and create a virtual assistant. It orchestrates a number of components that we offer, but we didn’t make them easy to use [together]. And so it’s really simplifying the creation of a virtual assistant,” he explained.

Today’s acquisition comes on the heels of a number of AI-related acquisitions. The company bought Semantic Machines in May to give users a more life-like conversation with bots. It snagged Bonsai in June to help simplify AI development. And it grabbed Lobe in September, another tool for making it easier for developers to incorporate AI in their applications.

Nov
13
2018
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Zendesk shifts to platform play with Zendesk Sunshine launch

Zendesk has always been strongly focused on customer service in the cloud. They began to look at this more broadly in September when they purchased Base to move into sales automation and CRM. Today, the company announced Zendesk Sunshine, a new platform for creating customer-focused applications on top of Zendesk’s toolset.

All of this appears to be with an eye toward shifting Zendesk from its core customer service mission to a broader customer management business. Mikkel Svane, founder and CEO at Zendesk, says Sunshine is about moving his company toward a platform play, something that many cloud companies have aspired to. “Sunshine is a platform for building your own apps, and also for managing and storing and connecting all your customer data,” Svane told TechCrunch.

For starters, Zendesk is partnering with AWS to act as the infrastructure services backend for the applications built on the Sunshine platform. “You can build apps on top of Sunshine, typically customer experience or customer relationship apps, and it’s built natively on AWS, so that you have access to all the AWS services. And of course, all of the applications rely on the Sunshine platform for information sharing, etc,” he explained.

He says they deliberately chose the public cloud because they believe that is where developers want to operate today. “We believe that businesses and developers should take advantage of the public cloud paradigms and use frameworks such as Sunshine to build these applications,” he said.

Svane says for starters, this approach is aimed at helping Zendesk customers build applications to take advantage of the data they are collecting inside of Zendesk as a natural byproduct of doing work with the service, but over time independent developers could begin working on the platform too.

He sees today’s announcement as a first step toward expanding the company’s set of products and services, and it’s something they plan to build on in the coming years. “You’re going to see a lot more on our roadmap over the next couple of years to truly embrace our platform mission and our ultimate goal is to be a ubiquitous CRM platform where anyone who wants to can build any kind of customer-facing application, and really benefit from the public cloud and from the Sunshine framework and have data flow seamlessly between services, vendors and applications,” he said.

We saw customer experience take center stage this week when SAP bought Qualtrics for $8 billion. The customer has clearly become increasingly important and Zendesk has access to a lot of customer data, which developers can take advantage of to build customized customer-centric applications. The only thing that’s truly surprising about this announcement is that Zendesk didn’t make a platform play sooner.

But perhaps as a more mature vendor, and with Base in the fold, they feel they are more prepared to make this type of move now than they were in the past. Whatever the reason, every enterprise cloud company worth its salt has tried to be a developer platform, and with today’s announcement, it’s Zendesk’s turn.

Nov
12
2018
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The Ceph storage project gets a dedicated open-source foundation

Ceph is an open source technology for distributed storage that gets very little public attention but that provides the underlying storage services for many of the world’s largest container and OpenStack deployments. It’s used by financial institutions like Bloomberg and Fidelity, cloud service providers like Rackspace and Linode, telcos like Deutsche Telekom, car manufacturers like BMW and software firms like SAP and Salesforce.

These days, you can’t have a successful open source project without setting up a foundation that manages the many diverging interests of the community and so it’s maybe no surprise that Ceph is now getting its own foundation. Like so many other projects, the Ceph Foundation will be hosted by the Linux Foundation.

“While early public cloud providers popularized self-service storage infrastructure, Ceph brings the same set of capabilities to service providers, enterprises, and individuals alike, with the power of a robust development and user community to drive future innovation in the storage space,” writes Sage Weil, Ceph co-creator, project leader, and chief architect at Red Hat for Ceph. “Today’s launch of the Ceph Foundation is a testament to the strength of a diverse open source community coming together to address the explosive growth in data storage and services.”

Given its broad adoption, it’s also no surprise that there’s a wide-ranging list of founding members. These include Amihan Global, Canonical, CERN, China Mobile, Digital Ocean, Intel, ProphetStor Data Service, OVH Hosting Red Hat, SoftIron, SUSE, Western Digital, XSKY Data Technology and ZTE. It’s worth noting that many of these founding members were already part of the slightly less formal Ceph Community Advisory Board.

“Ceph has a long track record of success what it comes to helping organizations with effectively managing high growth and expand data storage demands,” said Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation. “Under the Linux Foundation, the Ceph Foundation will be able to harness investments from a much broader group to help support the infrastructure needed to continue the success and stability of the Ceph ecosystem.”

cepha and linux foundation logo

Ceph is an important building block for vendors who build both OpenStack- and container-based platforms. Indeed, two-thirds of OpenStack users rely on Ceph and it’s a core part of Rook, a Cloud Native Computing Foundation project that makes it easier to build storage services for Kubernetes-based applications. As such, Ceph straddles many different worlds and it makes sense for the project to gets its own neutral foundation now, though I can’t help but think that the OpenStack Foundation would’ve also liked to host the project.

Today’s announcement comes only days after the Linux Foundation also announced that it is now hosting the GraphQL Foundation.

Nov
08
2018
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Google Cloud wants to make it easier for data scientists to share models

Today, Google Cloud announced Kubeflow pipelines and AI Hub, two tools designed to help data scientists put to work across their organizations the models they create.

Rajen Sheth, director of product management for Google Cloud’s AI and ML products, says that the company recognized that data scientists too often build models that never get used. He says that if machine learning is really a team sport, as Google believes, models must get passed from data scientists to data engineers and developers who can build applications based on them.

To help fix that, Google is announcing Kubeflow pipelines, which are an extension of Kubeflow, an open-source framework built on top of Kubernetes designed specifically for machine learning. Pipelines are essentially containerized building blocks that people in the machine learning ecosystem can string together to build and manage machine learning workflows.

By placing the model in a container, data scientists can simply adjust the underlying model as needed and relaunch in a continuous delivery kind of approach. Sheth says this opens up even more possibilities for model usage in a company.

“[Kubeflow pipelines] also give users a way to experiment with different pipeline variants to identify which ones produce the best outcomes in a reliable and reproducible environment,” Sheth wrote in a blog post announcing the new machine learning features.

The company is also announcing AI Hub, which, as the name implies, is a central place where data scientists can go to find different kinds of ML content, including Kubeflow pipelines, Jupyter notebooks, TensorFlow modules and so forth. This will be a public repository seeded with resources developed by Google Cloud AI, Google Research and other teams across Google, allowing data scientists to take advantage of Google’s own research and development expertise.

But Google wanted the hub to be more than a public library — it also sees it as a place where teams can share information privately inside their organizations, giving it a dual purpose. This should provide another way to extend model usage by making essential building blocks available in a central repository.

AI Hub will be available in Alpha starting today with some initial components from Google, as well as tools for sharing some internal resources, but the plan is to keep expanding the offerings and capabilities over time.

Google believes if it provides easier ways to share model building blocks across an organization, the more likely they will be put to work. These tools are a step toward achieving that.

Nov
07
2018
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CircleCI launches Orbs, a package manager for software delivery automation

DevOps platform CircleCI today announced a new partner program that will open up its platform and allow third-party tools to integrate with it. In addition, the company is launching Orbs, which it describes as “the world’s first package manager designed specifically for configuration of software delivery automation.”

Fresh off its $31 million funding round earlier this year, CircleCI is clearly on a mission to firmly plant its stake in the increasingly competitive continuous integration and delivery space. Its launch partners today include the likes of Cypress, JFrog, Pulumi, Sauce Labs, Sonatype and WhiteSource.

That partner program, though, mostly sets the stage for Orbs. The idea behind Orbs is to give the company’s users the ability to share their preferred CI/CD configuration across teams and projects by allowing them to package their commands, executors and jobs into a few lines of code. It’s basically a way to allow teams to automate more of their build/test/deploy workflow and share their best practices for configuring their software pipelines. For new users, these Orbs will also make it easier to get started without having to write a lot of boilerplate code.

CircleCI will offer its own set of certified Orbs, as well as those written by its partners. Currently, there are Orbs for working with Heroku and Amazon’s S3 and CodeDeploy, for example, as well as the obligatory Slack notification Orb. In total, CircleCI is launching 25 packages today.

“CircleCI Orbs are the most exciting thing in the CI world since Docker containers,” said Gleb Bahmutov, VP of Engineering at Cypress and an early-access orbs customer and contributor. “From a developer’s standpoint, orbs are a much-needed improvement from the regular ‘read the docs, copy/paste example, tweak for 30 minutes until CI passes’ — an outdated workflow. It’s an absolutely incredible experience.”

Nov
01
2018
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HashiCorp scores $100M investment on $1.9 billion valuation

HashiCorp, the company that has made hay developing open-source tools for managing cloud infrastructure, obviously has a pretty hefty commercial business going too. Today the company announced an enormous $100 million round on a unicorn valuation of $1.9 billion.

The round was led by IVP, whose investments include AppDynamics, Slack and Snap. Newcomer Bessemer Venture Partners joined existing investors GGV Capital, Mayfield, Redpoint Ventures and True Ventures in the round. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $179 million.

The company’s open-source tools have been downloaded 45 million times, according to data provided by the company. It has used that open-source base to fuel the business (as many have done before).

“Because practitioners choose technologies in the cloud era, we’ve taken an open source-first approach and partnered with the cloud providers to enable a common workflow for cloud adoption. Commercially, we view our responsibility as a strategic partner to the Global 2000 as they adopt hybrid and multi-cloud. This round of funding will help us accelerate our efforts,” company CEO Dave McJannet said in a statement.

To keep growing, it needs to build out its worldwide operations and that requires big bucks. In addition, as the company scales that means adding staff to beef up customer success, support and training teams. The company plans on making investments in these areas with the new funding.

HashiCorp launched in 2012. It was the brainchild of two college students, Mitchell Hashimoto and Armon Dadgar, who came up with the idea of what would become HashiCorp while they were still at the University of Washington. As I wrote in 2014 on the occasion of their $10 million Series A round:

After graduating and getting jobs, Hashimoto and Dadgar reunited in 2012 and launched HashiCorp. They decided to break their big problem down into smaller, more manageable pieces and eventually built the five open source tools currently on offer. In fact, they found as they developed each one, the community let them know about adjacent problems and they layered on each new tool to address a different need.

HashiCorp has continued to build on that early vision, layering on new tools over the years. It is not alone in building a business on top of open source and getting rewarded for their efforts. Just this morning, Neo4j, a company that built a business on top of its open-source graph database project, announced an $80 million Series E investment.

Nov
01
2018
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Rockset launches out of stealth with $21.5 M investment

Rockset, a startup that came out of stealth today, announced $21.5M in previous funding and the launch of its new data platform that is designed to simplify much of the processing to get to querying and application building faster.

As for the funding, it includes $3 million in seed money they got when they started the company, and a more recent $18.5 million Series A, which was led by Sequoia and Greylock.

Jerry Chen, who is a partner at Greylock sees a team that understands the needs of modern developers and data scientists, one that was born in the cloud and can handle a lot of the activities that data scientists have traditionally had to handle manually. “Rockset can ingest any data from anywhere and let developers and data scientists query it using standard SQL. No pipelines. No glue. Just real time operational apps,” he said.

Company co-founder and CEO Venkat Venkataramani is a former Facebook engineer where he learned a bit about processing data at scale. He wanted to start a company that would help data scientists get to insights more quickly.

Data typically requires a lot of massaging before data scientists and developers can make use of it and Rockset has been designed to bypass much of that hard work that can take days, weeks or even months to complete.

“We’re building out our service with innovative architecture and unique capabilities that allows full-featured fast SQL directly on raw data. And we’re offering this as a service. So developers and data scientists can go from useful data in any shape, any form to useful applications in a matter of minutes. And it would take months today,” Venkataramani explained.

To do this you simply connect your data set wherever it lives to Rockset and it deals with the data ingestion, building the schema, cleaning the data, everything. It also makes sure you have the right amount of infrastructure to manage the level of data you are working with. In other words, it can potentially simplify highly complex data processing tasks to start working with the raw data almost immediately using SQL queries.

To achieve the speed, Venkataramani says they use a number of indexing techniques. “Our indexing technology essentially tries to bring the best of search engines and columnar databases into one. When we index the data, we build more than one type of index behind the scenes so that a wide spectrum of pre-processing can be automatically fast out of the box,” he said. That takes the burden of processing and building data pipelines off of the user.

The company was founded in 2016. Chen and Sequoia partners Mike Vernal joined the Rockset board under the terms of the Series A funding, which closed last August.

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