Jun
24
2020
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Why AWS built a no-code tool

AWS today launched Amazon Honeycode, a no-code environment built around a spreadsheet-like interface that is a bit of a detour for Amazon’s cloud service. Typically, after all, AWS is all about giving developers all of the tools to build their applications — but they then have to put all of the pieces together. Honeycode, on the other hand, is meant to appeal to non-coders who want to build basic line-of-business applications. If you know how to work a spreadsheet and want to turn that into an app, Honeycode is all you need.

To understand AWS’s motivation behind the service, I talked to AWS VP Larry Augustin and Meera Vaidyanathan, a general manager at AWS.

“For us, it was about extending the power of AWS to more and more users across our customers,” explained Augustin. “We consistently hear from customers that there are problems they want to solve, they would love to have their IT teams or other teams — even outsourced help — build applications to solve some of those problems. But there’s just more demand for some kind of custom application than there are available developers to solve it.”

Image Credits: Amazon

In that respect then, the motivation behind Honeycode isn’t all that different from what Microsoft is doing with its PowerApps low-code tool. That, too, after all, opens up the Azure platform to users who aren’t necessarily full-time developers. AWS is taking a slightly different approach here, though, but emphasizing the no-code part of Honeycode.

“Our goal with honey code was to enable the people in the line of business, the business analysts, project managers, program managers who are right there in the midst, to easily create a custom application that can solve some of the problems for them without the need to write any code,” said Augustin. “And that was a key piece. There’s no coding required. And we chose to do that by giving them a spreadsheet-like interface that we felt many people would be familiar with as a good starting point.”

A lot of low-code/no-code tools also allow developers to then “escape the code,” as Augstin called it, but that’s not the intent here and there’s no real mechanism for exporting code from Honeycode and take it elsewhere, for example. “One of the tenets we thought about as we were building Honeycode was, gee, if there are things that people want to do and we would want to answer that by letting them escape the code — we kept coming back and trying to answer the question, ‘Well, okay, how can we enable that without forcing them to escape the code?’ So we really tried to force ourselves into the mindset of wanting to give people a great deal of power without escaping to code,” he noted.

Image Credits: Amazon

There are, however, APIs that would allow experienced developers to pull in data from elsewhere. Augustin and Vaidyanathan expect that companies may do this for their users on tthe platform or that AWS partners may create these integrations, too.

Even with these limitations, though, the team argues that you can build some pretty complex applications.

“We’ve been talking to lots of people internally at Amazon who have been building different apps and even within our team and I can honestly say that we haven’t yet come across something that is impossible,” Vaidyanathan said. “I think the level of complexity really depends on how expert of a builder you are. You can get very complicated with the expressions [in the spreadsheet] that you write to display data in a specific way in the app. And I’ve seen people write — and I’m not making this up — 30-line expressions that are just nested and nested and nested. So I really think that it depends on the skills of the builder and I’ve also noticed that once people start building on Honeycode — myself included — I start with something simple and then I get ambitious and I want to add this layer to it — and I want to do this. That’s really how I’ve seen the journey of builders progress. You start with something that’s maybe just one table and a couple of screens, and very quickly, before you know, it’s a far more robust app that continues to evolve with your needs.”

Another feature that sets Honeycode apart is that a spreadsheet sits at the center of its user interface. In that respect, the service may seem a bit like Airtable, but I don’t think that comparison holds up, given that both then take these spreadsheets into very different directions. I’ve also seen it compared to Retool, which may be a better comparison, but Retool is going after a more advanced developer and doesn’t hide the code. There is a reason, though, why these services were built around them and that is simply that everybody is familiar with how to use them.

“People have been using spreadsheets for decades,” noted Augustin. “They’re very familiar. And you can write some very complicated, deep, very powerful expressions and build some very powerful spreadsheets. You can do the same with Honeycode. We felt people were familiar enough with that metaphor that we could give them that full power along with the ability to turn that into an app.”

The team itself used the service to manage the launch of Honeycode, Vaidyanathan stressed — and to vote on the name for the product (though Vaidyanathan and Augustin wouldn’t say which other names they considered.

“I think we have really, in some ways, a revolutionary product in terms of bringing the power of AWS and putting it in the hands of people who are not coders,” said Augustin.

Nov
21
2019
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Linear takes $4.2M led by Sequoia to build a better bug tracker and more

Software will eat the world, as the saying goes, but in doing so, some developers are likely to get a little indigestion. That is to say, building products requires working with disparate and distributed teams, and while developers may have an ever-growing array of algorithms, APIs and technology at their disposal to do this, ironically the platforms to track it all haven’t evolved with the times. Now three developers have taken their own experience of that disconnect to create a new kind of platform, Linear, which they believe addresses the needs of software developers better by being faster and more intuitive. It’s bug tracking you actually want to use.

Today, Linear is announcing a seed round of $4.2 million led by Sequoia, with participation also from Index Ventures and a number of investors, startup founders and others that will also advise Linear as it grows. They include Dylan Field (Founder and CEO, Figma), Emily Choi (COO, Coinbase), Charlie Cheever (Co-Founder of Expo & Quora), Gustaf Alströmer (Partner, Y Combinator), Tikhon Berstram (Co-Founder, Parse), Larry Gadea (CEO, Envoy), Jude Gomila (CEO, Golden), James Smith (CEO, Bugsnag), Fred Stevens-Smith (CEO, Rainforest), Bobby Goodlatte, Marc McGabe, Julia DeWahl and others.

Cofounders Karri Saarinen, Tuomas Artman, and Jori Lallo — all Finnish but now based in the Bay Area — know something first-hand about software development and the trials and tribulations of working with disparate and distributed teams. Saarinen was previously the principal designer of Airbnb, as well as the first designer of Coinbase; Artman had been staff engineer and architect at Uber; and Lallo also had been at Coinbase as a senior engineer building its API and front end.

“When we worked at many startups and growth companies we felt that the tools weren’t matching the way we’re thinking or operating,” Saarinen said in an email interview. “It also seemed that no-one had took a fresh look at this as a design problem. We believe there is a much better, modern workflow waiting to be discovered. We believe creators should focus on the work they create, not tracking or reporting what they are doing. Managers should spend their time prioritizing and giving direction, not bugging their teams for updates. Running the process shouldn’t sap your team’s energy and come in the way of creating.”

Linear cofounders (from left): KarriSaarinen, Jori Lallo, and Tuomas Artma

All of that translates to, first and foremost, speed and a platform whose main purpose is to help you work faster. “While some say speed is not really a feature, we believe it’s the core foundation for tools you use daily,” Saarinen noted.

A ?K command calls up a menu of shortcuts to edit an issue’s status, assign a task, and more so that everything can be handled with keyboard shortcuts. Pages load quickly and synchronise in real time (and search updates alongside that). Users can work offline if they need to. And of course there is also a dark mode for night owls.

The platform is still very much in its early stages. It currently has three integrations based on some of the most common tools used by developers — GitHub (where you can link Pull Requests and close Linear issues on merge), Figma designs (where you can get image previews and embeds of Figma designs), and Slack (you can create issues from Slack and then get notifications on updates). There are plans to add more over time.

We started solving the problem from the end-user perspective, the contributor, like an engineer or a designer and starting to address things that are important for them, can help them and their teams,” Saarinen said. “We aim to also bring clarity for the teams by making the concepts simple, clear but powerful. For example, instead of talking about epics, we have Projects that help track larger feature work or tracks of work.”

Indeed, speed is not the only aim with Linear. Saarinen also said another area they hope to address is general work practices, with a take that seems to echo a turn away from time spent on manual management and more focus on automating that process.

“Right now at many companies you have to manually move things around, schedule sprints, and all kinds of other minor things,” he said. “We think that next generation tools should have built in automated workflows that help teams and companies operate much more effectively. Teams shouldn’t spend a third or more of their time a week just for running the process.”

The last objective Linear is hoping to tackle is one that we’re often sorely lacking in the wider world, too: context.

“Companies are setting their high-level goals, roadmaps and teams work on projects,” he said. “Often leadership doesn’t have good visibility into what is actually happening and how projects are tracking. Teams and contributors don’t always have the context or understanding of why they are working on the things, since you cannot follow the chain from your task to the company goal. We think that there are ways to build Linear to be a real-time picture of what is happening in the company when it comes to building products, and give the necessary context to everyone.”

Linear is a late entrant in a world filled with collaboration apps, and specifically workflow and collaboration apps targeting the developer community. These include not just Slack and GitHub, but Atlassian’s Trello and Jira, as well as Asana, Basecamp and many more.

Saarinen would not be drawn out on which of these (or others) that it sees as direct competition, noting that none are addressing developer issues of speed, ease of use and context as well as Linear is.

“There are many tools in the market and many companies are talking about making ‘work better,’” he said. “And while there are many issue tracking and project management tools, they are not supporting the workflow of the individual and team. A lot of the value these tools sell is around tracking work that happens, not actually helping people to be more effective. Since our focus is on the individual contributor and intelligent integration with their workflow, we can support them better and as a side effect makes the information in the system more up to date.”

Stephanie Zhan, the partner at Sequoia whose speciality is seed and Series A investments and who has led this round, said that Linear first came on her radar when it first launched its private beta (it’s still in private beta and has been running a waitlist to bring on new users. In that time it’s picked up hundreds of companies, including Pitch, Render, Albert, Curology, Spoke, Compound and YC startups including Middesk, Catch and Visly). The company had also been flagged by one of Sequoia’s Scouts, who invested earlier this year

Sequoia Logo Natalie Miyake

Although Linear is based out of San Francisco, it’s interesting that the three founders’ roots are in Finland (with Saarinen in Helsinki this week to speak at the Slush event), and brings up an emerging trend of Silicon Valley VCs looking at founders from further afield than just their own back yard.

“The interesting thing about Linear is that as they’re building a software company around the future of work, they’re also building a remote and distributed team themselves,” Zahn said. The company currently has only four employees.

In that vein, we (and others, it seems) had heard that Sequoia — which today invests in several Europe-based startups, including Tessian, Graphcore, Klarna, Tourlane, Evervault  and CEGX — has been considering establishing a more permanent presence in this part of the world, specifically in London.

Sources familiar with the firm, however, tell us that while it has been sounding out VCs at other firms, saying a London office is on the horizon might be premature, as there are as yet no plans to set up shop here. However, with more companies and European founders entering its portfolio, and as more conversations with VCs turn into decisions to make the leap to help Sequoia source more startups, we could see this strategy turning around quickly.

Jun
10
2019
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AWS is now making Amazon Personalize available to all customers

Amazon Personalize, first announced during AWS re:Invent last November, is now available to all Amazon Web Services customers. The API enables developers to add custom machine learning models to their apps, including ones for personalized product recommendations, search results and direct marketing, even if they don’t have machine learning experience.

The API processes data using algorithms originally created for Amazon’s own retail business,  but the company says all data will be “kept completely private, owned entirely by the customer.” The service is now available to AWS users in three U.S. regions, East (Ohio), East (North Virginia) and West (Oregon), two Asia Pacific regions (Tokyo and Singapore) and Ireland in the European Union, with more regions to launch soon.

AWS customers who have already added Amazon Personalize to their apps include Yamaha Corporation of America, Subway, Zola and Segment. In Amazon’s press release, Yamaha Corporation of America Director of Information Technology Ishwar Bharbhari said Amazon Personalize “saves us up to 60% of the time needed to set up and tune the infrastructure and algorithms for our machine learning models when compared to building and configuring the environment on our own.”

Amazon Personalize’s pricing model charges five cents per GB of data uploaded to Amazon Personalize and 24 cents per training hour used to train a custom model with their data. Real-time recommendation requests are priced based on how many are uploaded, with discounts for larger orders.

May
06
2019
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Microsoft and GitHub grow closer

Microsoft’s $7.5 billion acquisition of GitHub closed last October. Today, at its annual Build developer conference, Microsoft announced a number of new integrations between its existing services and GitHub. None of these are earth-shattering or change the nature of any of GitHub’s fundamental features, but they do show how Microsoft is starting to bring GitHub closer into the fold.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft isn’t announcing any major GitHub features at Build, though it was only a few weeks ago that the company made a major change by giving GitHub Free users access to unlimited private repositories. For major feature releases, GitHub has its own conference.

So what are the new integrations? Most of them center around identity management. That means GitHub Enterprise users can now use Azure Active Directory to access GitHub. Developers will also be able to use their existing GitHub accounts to log into Azure features like the Azure Portal and Azure DevOps. “This update enables GitHub developers to go from repository to deployment with just their GitHub account,” Microsoft argues in its release announcement.

As far as selling GitHub goes, Microsoft also today announced a new Visual Studio subscription with access to GitHub Enterprise for Microsoft’s Enterprise Agreement customers. Given that there is surely a lot of overlap between Visual Studio’s enterprise customers and GitHub Enterprise users, this move makes sense. Chances are, it’ll also make moving to GitHub Enterprise more enticing for current Visual Studio subscribers.

Lastly, the Azure Boards app, which offers features like Kanban boards and sprint planning tools, is now also available in the GitHub Marketplace.

Apr
24
2019
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Docker developers can now build Arm containers on their desktops

Docker and Arm today announced a major new partnership that will see the two companies collaborate in bringing improved support for the Arm platform to Docker’s tools.

The main idea here is to make it easy for Docker developers to build their applications for the Arm platform right from their x86 desktops and then deploy them to the cloud (including the Arm-based AWS EC2 A1 instances), edge and IoT devices. Developers will be able to build their containers for Arm just like they do today, without the need for any cross-compilation.

This new capability, which will work for applications written in JavaScript/Node.js, Python, Java, C++, Ruby, .NET core, Go, Rust and PHP, will become available as a tech preview next week, when Docker hosts its annual North American developer conference in San Francisco.

Typically, developers would have to build the containers they want to run on the Arm platform on an Arm-based server. With this system, which is the first result of this new partnership, Docker essentially emulates an Arm chip on the PC for building these images.

“Overnight, the 2 million Docker developers that are out there can use the Docker commands they already know and become Arm developers,” Docker EVP of Strategic Alliances David Messina told me. “Docker, just like we’ve done many times over, has simplified and streamlined processes and made them simpler and accessible to developers. And in this case, we’re making x86 developers on their laptops Arm developers overnight.”

Given that cloud-based Arm servers like Amazon’s A1 instances are often significantly cheaper than x86 machines, users can achieve some immediate cost benefits by using this new system and running their containers on Arm.

For Docker, this partnership opens up new opportunities, especially in areas where Arm chips are already strong, including edge and IoT scenarios. Arm, similarly, is interested in strengthening its developer ecosystem by making it easier to develop for its platform. The easier it is to build apps for the platform, the more likely developers are to then run them on servers that feature chips from Arm’s partners.

“Arm’s perspective on the infrastructure really spans all the way from the endpoint, all the way through the edge to the cloud data center, because we are one of the few companies that have a presence all the way through that entire path,” Mohamed Awad, Arm’s VP of Marketing, Infrastructure Line of Business, said. “It’s that perspective that drove us to make sure that we engage Docker in a meaningful way and have a meaningful relationship with them. We are seeing compute and the infrastructure sort of transforming itself right now from the old model of centralized compute, general purpose architecture, to a more distributed and more heterogeneous compute system.”

Developers, however, Awad rightly noted, don’t want to have to deal with this complexity, yet they also increasingly need to ensure that their applications run on a wide variety of platforms and that they can move them around as needed. “For us, this is about enabling developers and freeing them from lock-in on any particular area and allowing them to choose the right compute for the right job that is the most efficient for them,” Awad said.

Messina noted that the promise of Docker has long been to remove the dependence of applications from the infrastructure on which they run. Adding Arm support simply extends this promise to an additional platform. He also stressed that the work on this was driven by the company’s enterprise customers. These are the users who have already set up their systems for cloud-native development with Docker’s tools — at least for their x86 development. Those customers are now looking at developing for their edge devices, too, and that often means developing for Arm-based devices.

Awad and Messina both stressed that developers really don’t have to learn anything new to make this work. All of the usual Docker commands will just work.

Jan
07
2019
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GitHub Free users now get unlimited private repositories

If you’re a GitHub user, but you don’t pay, this is a good week. Historically, GitHub always offered free accounts but the caveat was that your code had to be public. To get private repositories, you had to pay. Starting tomorrow, that limitation is gone. Free GitHub users now get unlimited private projects with up to three collaborators.

The amount of collaborators is really the only limitation here and there’s no change to how the service handles public repositories, which can still have unlimited collaborators.

This feels like a sign of goodwill on behalf of Microsoft, which closed its acquisition of GitHub last October, with former Xamarin CEO Nat Friedman taking over as GitHub’s CEO. Some developers were rather nervous about the acquisition (though it feels like most have come to terms with it). It’s also a fair guess to assume that GitHub’s model for monetizing the service is a bit different from Microsoft’s. Microsoft doesn’t need to try to get money from small teams — that’s not where the bulk of its revenue comes from. Instead, the company is mostly interested in getting large enterprises to use the service.

Talking about teams, GitHub also today announced that it is changing the name of the GitHub Developer suite to ‘GitHub Pro.’ The company says it’s doing so in order to “help developers better identify the tools they need.”

But what’s maybe even more important is that GitHub Business Cloud and GitHub Enterprise (now called Enterprise Cloud and Enterprise Server) have become one and are now sold under the ‘GitHub Enterprise’ label and feature per-user pricing.

The announcement of free private repositories probably took some of GitHub’s competitors by surprise, but here is what we heard from GitLab CEO Sid Sijbrandij: “GitHub today announced the launch of free private repositories with up to three collaborators. GitLab has offered unlimited collaborators on private repositories since the beginning.We believe Microsoft is focusing more on generating revenue with Azure and less on charging for DevOps software. At GitLab, we believe in a multi-cloud future where organizations use multiple public cloud platforms.”

Note: this story was scheduled for tomorrow, but due to a broken embargo, we decided to publish today. The updates will go live tomorrow.

Nov
29
2018
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AWS launches a managed Kafka service

Kafka is an open-source tool for handling incoming streams of data. Like virtually all powerful tools, it’s somewhat hard to set up and manage. Today, Amazon’s AWS is making this all a bit easier for its users with the launch of Amazon Managed Streaming for Kafka. That’s a mouthful, but it’s essentially Kafka as a fully managed, highly available service on AWS. It’s now available on AWS as a public preview.

As AWS CTO Werner Vogels noted in his AWS re:Invent keynote, Kafka users traditionally had to do a lot of heavy lifting to set up a cluster on AWS and to ensure that it could scale and handle failures. “It’s a nightmare having to restart all the cluster and the main nodes,” he said. “This is what I would call the traditional heavy lifting that AWS is really good at solving for you.”

It’s interesting to see AWS launch this service, given that it already offers a very similar tool in Kinesis, a tool that also focuses on ingesting streaming data. There are plenty of applications on the market today that already use Kafka, and AWS is clearly interested in giving those users a pathway to either move to a managed Kafka service or to AWS in general.

As with all things AWS, the pricing is a bit complicated, but a basic Kafka instance will start at $0.21 per hour. You’re not likely to just use one instance, so for a somewhat useful setup with three brokers and a good amount of storage and some other fees, you’ll quickly pay well over $500 per month.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

Nov
28
2018
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AWS Lake Formation makes setting up data lakes easier

The concept of data lakes has been around for a long time, but being able to set up one of these systems, which store vast amounts of raw data in its native formats, was never easy. AWS wants to change this with the launch of AWS Lake Formation. At its core, this new service, which is available today, allows developers to create a secure data lake within a few days.

While “a few days” may still sound like a long time in this age of instant gratification, it’s nothing in the world of enterprise software.

“Everybody is excited about data lakes,” said AWS CEO Andy Jassy in today’s AWS re:Invent keynote. “People realize that there is significant value in moving all that disparate data that lives in your company in different silos and make it much easier by consolidating it in a data lake.”

Setting up a data lake today means you have to, among other things, configure your storage and (on AWS) S3 buckets, move your data, add metadata and add that to a catalog. And then you have to clean up that data and set up the right security policies for the data lake. “This is a lot of work and for most companies, it takes them several months to set up a data lake. It’s frustrating,” said Jassy.

Lake Formation is meant to handle all of these complications with just a few clicks. It sets up the right tags and cleans up and dedupes the data automatically. And it provides admins with a list of security policies to help secure that data.

“This is a step-level change for how easy it is to set up data lakes,” said Jassy.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

Oct
10
2018
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Google’s Apigee officially launches its API monitoring service

It’s been about two years since Google acquired API management service Apigee. Today, the company is announcing new extensions that make it easier to integrate the service with a number of Google Cloud services, as well as the general availability of the company’s API monitoring solution.

Apigee API monitoring allows operations teams to get more insight into how their APIs are performing. The idea here is to make it easy for these teams to figure out when there’s an issue and what’s the root cause for it by giving them very granular data. “APIs are now part of how a lot of companies are doing business,” Ed Anuff, Apigee’s former SVP of product strategy and now Google’s product and strategy lead for the service, told me. “So that tees up the need for API monitoring.”

Anuff also told me that he believes that it’s still early days for enterprise API adoption — but that also means that Apigee is currently growing fast as enterprise developers now start adopting modern development techniques. “I think we’re actually still pretty early in enterprise adoption of APIs,” he said. “So what we’re seeing is a lot more customers going into full production usage of their APIs. A lot of what we had seen before was people using it for maybe an experiment or something that they were doing with a couple of partners.” He also attributed part of the recent growth to customers launching more mobile applications where APIs obviously form the backbone of much of the logic that drives those apps.

API Monitoring was already available as a beta, but it’s now generally available to all Apigee customers.

Given that it’s now owned by Google, it’s no surprise that Apigee is also launching deeper integrations with Google’s cloud services now — specifically services like BigQuery, Cloud Firestore, Pub/Sub, Cloud Storage and Spanner. Some Apigee customers are already using this to store every message passed through their APIs to create extensive logs, often for compliance reasons. Others use Cloud Firestore to personalize content delivery for their web users or to collect data from their APIs and then send that to BigQuery for analysis.

Anuff stressed that Apigee remains just as open to third-party integrations as it always was. That is part of the core promise of APIs, after all.

Aug
15
2018
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Webinar Thurs 16/8: Developing an App on MongoDB: Tips and Tricks

Please join Percona’s Sr. Technical Operations Architect Tim Vaillancourt as he presents Developing an App on MongoDB: Tips and Tricks on Thursday, August 16th, 2018, at 10:00 AM PDT (UTC-7) / 1:00 PM EDT (UTC-4).

A lot of developers prefer using MongoDB to other open source databases when developing applications. But why? How do you work with MongoDB to create a well-functioning application?

This webinar will help developers understand what MongoDB does and how it processes requests from applications.

In this webinar, we will cover:

  • Data, Queries and Indexes
  • Using indices efficiently
  • Reducing index and storage size with correct data types
  • The aggregation framework
  • Using the Explain and Operation Profiling features
  • MongoDB features to avoid
  • Using Read and Write Concerns for Integrity
  • Performance
  • Scaling read queries using Read Preference
  • What is MongoDB Sharding?
  • Using Percona Monitoring and Management (PMM) to visualize database usage
  • MongoDB users and built-in roles for application security
  • Using SRV DNS record support

By the end of the lesson, you will know how to avoid common problems with MongoDB in the application stage, instead of fixing it in production.

Register Now

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