Aug
22
2019
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Enterprise software is hot — who would have thought?

Once considered the most boring of topics, enterprise software is now getting infused with such energy that it is arguably the hottest space in tech.

It’s been a long time coming. And it is the developers, software engineers and veteran technologists with deep experience building at-scale technologies who are energizing enterprise software. They have learned to build resilient and secure applications with open-source components through continuous delivery practices that align technical requirements with customer needs. And now they are developing application architectures and tools for at-scale development and management for enterprises to make the same transformation.

“Enterprise had become a dirty word, but there’s a resurgence going on and Enterprise doesn’t just mean big and slow anymore,” said JD Trask, co-founder of Raygun enterprise monitoring software. “I view the modern enterprise as one that expects their software to be as good as consumer software. Fast. Easy to use. Delivers value.”

The shift to scale out computing and the rise of the container ecosystem, driven largely by startups, is disrupting the entire stack, notes Andrew Randall, vice president of business development at Kinvolk.

In advance of TechCrunch’s first enterprise-focused event, TC Sessions: Enterprise, The New Stack examined the commonalities between the numerous enterprise-focused companies who sponsor us. Their experiences help illustrate the forces at play behind the creation of the modern enterprise tech stack. In every case, the founders and CTOs recognize the need for speed and agility, with the ultimate goal of producing software that’s uniquely in line with customer needs.

We’ll explore these topics in more depth at The New Stack pancake breakfast and podcast recording at TC Sessions: Enterprise. Starting at 7:45 a.m. on Sept. 5, we’ll be serving breakfast and hosting a panel discussion on “The People and Technology You Need to Build a Modern Enterprise,” with Sid Sijbrandij, founder and CEO, GitLab, and Frederic Lardinois, enterprise writer and editor, TechCrunch, among others. Questions from the audience are encouraged and rewarded, with a raffle prize awarded at the end.

Traditional virtual machine infrastructure was originally designed to help manage server sprawl for systems-of-record software — not to scale out across a fabric of distributed nodes. The disruptors transforming the historical technology stack view the application, not the hardware, as the main focus of attention. Companies in The New Stack’s sponsor network provide examples of the shift toward software that they aim to inspire in their enterprise customers. Portworx provides persistent state for containers; NS1 offers a DNS platform that orchestrates the delivery internet and enterprise applications; Lightbend combines the scalability and resilience of microservices architecture with the real-time value of streaming data.

“Application development and delivery have changed. Organizations across all industry verticals are looking to leverage new technologies, vendors and topologies in search of better performance, reliability and time to market,” said Kris Beevers, CEO of NS1. “For many, this means embracing the benefits of agile development in multicloud environments or building edge networks to drive maximum velocity.”

Enterprise software startups are delivering that value, while they embody the practices that help them deliver it.

The secrets to speed, agility and customer focus

Speed matters, but only if the end result aligns with customer needs. Faster time to market is often cited as the main driver behind digital transformation in the enterprise. But speed must also be matched by agility and the ability to adapt to customer needs. That means embracing continuous delivery, which Martin Fowler describes as the process that allows for the ability to put software into production at any time, with the workflows and the pipeline to support it.

Continuous delivery (CD) makes it possible to develop software that can adapt quickly, meet customer demands and provide a level of satisfaction with benefits that enhance the value of the business and the overall brand. CD has become a major category in cloud-native technologies, with companies such as CircleCI, CloudBees, Harness and Semaphore all finding their own ways to approach the problems enterprises face as they often struggle with the shift.

“The best-equipped enterprises are those [that] realize that the speed and quality of their software output are integral to their bottom line,” Rob Zuber, CTO of CircleCI, said.

Speed is also in large part why monitoring and observability have held their value and continue to be part of the larger dimension of at-scale application development, delivery and management. Better data collection and analysis, assisted by machine learning and artificial intelligence, allow companies to quickly troubleshoot and respond to customer needs with reduced downtime and tight DevOps feedback loops. Companies in our sponsor network that fit in this space include Raygun for error detection; Humio, which provides observability capabilities; InfluxData with its time-series data platform for monitoring; Epsagon, the monitoring platform for serverless architectures and Tricentis for software testing.

“Customer focus has always been a priority, but the ability to deliver an exceptional experience will now make or break a “modern enterprise,” said Wolfgang Platz, founder of Tricentis, which makes automated software testing tools. “It’s absolutely essential that you’re highly responsive to the user base, constantly engaging with them to add greater value. This close and constant collaboration has always been central to longevity, but now it’s a matter of survival.”

DevOps is a bit overplayed, but it still is the mainstay workflow for cloud-native technologies and critical to achieving engineering speed and agility in a decoupled, cloud-native architecture. However, DevOps is also undergoing its own transformation, buoyed by the increasing automation and transparency allowed through the rise of declarative infrastructure, microservices and serverless technologies. This is cloud-native DevOps. Not a tool or a new methodology, but an evolution of the longstanding practices that further align developers and operations teams — but now also expanding to include security teams (DevSecOps), business teams (BizDevOps) and networking (NetDevOps).

“We are in this constant feedback loop with our customers where, while helping them in their digital transformation journey, we learn a lot and we apply these learnings for our own digital transformation journey,” Francois Dechery, chief strategy officer and co-founder of CloudBees, said. “It includes finding the right balance between developer freedom and risk management. It requires the creation of what we call a continuous everything culture.”

Leveraging open-source components is also core in achieving speed for engineering. Open-source use allows engineering teams to focus on building code that creates or supports the core business value. Startups in this space include Tidelift and open-source security companies such as Capsule8. Organizations in our sponsor portfolio that play roles in the development of at-scale technologies include The Linux Foundation, the Cloud Native Computing Foundation and the Cloud Foundry Foundation.

“Modern enterprises … think critically about what they should be building themselves and what they should be sourcing from somewhere else,” said Chip Childers, CTO of Cloud Foundry Foundation . “Talented engineers are one of the most valuable assets a company can apply to being competitive, and ensuring they have the freedom to focus on differentiation is super important.”

You need great engineering talent, giving them the ability to build secure and reliable systems at scale while also the trust in providing direct access to hardware as a differentiator.

Is the enterprise really ready?

The bleeding edge can bleed too much for the likings of enterprise customers, said James Ford, an analyst and consultant.

“It’s tempting to live by mantras like ‘wow the customer,’ ‘never do what customers want (instead build innovative solutions that solve their need),’ ‘reduce to the max,’ … and many more,” said Bernd Greifeneder, CTO and co-founder of Dynatrace . “But at the end of the day, the point is that technology is here to help with smart answers … so it’s important to marry technical expertise with enterprise customer need, and vice versa.”

How the enterprise adopts new ways of working will affect how startups ultimately fare. The container hype has cooled a bit and technologists have more solid viewpoints about how to build out architecture.

One notable trend to watch: The role of cloud services through projects such as Firecracker. AWS Lambda is built on Firecracker, the open-source virtualization technology, built originally at Amazon Web Services . Firecracker serves as a way to get the speed and density that comes with containers and the hardware isolation and security capabilities that virtualization offers. Startups such as Weaveworks have developed a platform on Firecracker. OpenStack’s Kata containers also use Firecracker.

“Firecracker makes it easier for the enterprise to have secure code,” Ford said. It reduces the surface security issues. “With its minimal footprint, the user has control. It means less features that are misconfigured, which is a major security vulnerability.”

Enterprise startups are hot. How they succeed will determine how well they may provide a uniqueness in the face of the ever-consuming cloud services and at-scale startups that inevitably launch their own services. The answer may be in the middle with purpose-built architectures that use open-source components such as Firecracker to provide the capabilities of containers and the hardware isolation that comes with virtualization.

Hope to see you at TC Sessions: Enterprise. Get there early. We’ll be serving pancakes to start the day. As we like to say, “Come have a short stack with The New Stack!”

Aug
22
2019
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NASA’s new HPE-built supercomputer will prepare for landing Artemis astronauts on the Moon

NASA and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) have teamed up to build a new supercomputer, which will serve NASA’s Ames Research Center in California and develop models and simulations of the landing process for Artemis Moon missions.

The new supercomputer is called “Aitken,” named after American astronomer Robert Grant Aitken, and it can run simulations at up to 3.69 petaFLOPs of theoretical performance power. Aitken is custom-designed by HPE and NASA to work with the Ames modular data center, which is a project it undertook starting in 2017 to massively reduce the amount of water and energy used in cooling its supercomputing hardware.

Aitken employs second-generation Intel Xeon processors, Mellanox InfiniBand high-speed networking, and has 221 TB of memory on board for storage. It’s the result of four years of collaboration between NASA and HPE, and it will model different methods of entry, descent and landing for Moon-destined Artemis spacecraft, running simulations to determine possible outcomes and help determine the best, safest approach.

This isn’t the only collaboration between HPE and NASA: The enterprise computer maker built for the agency a new kind of supercomputer able to withstand the rigors of space, and sent it up to the ISS in 2017 for preparatory testing ahead of potential use on longer missions, including Mars. The two partners then opened that supercomputer for use in third-party experiments last year.

HPE also announced earlier this year that it was buying supercomputer company Cray for $1.3 billion. Cray is another long-time partner of NASA’s supercomputing efforts, dating back to the space agency’s establishment of a dedicated computational modeling division and the establishing of its Central Computing Facility at Ames Research Center.

May
30
2019
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Fintech and clean tech? An odd couple or a perfect marriage?

The Valley’s rocky history with clean tech investing has been well-documented.

Startups focused on non-emitting generation resources were once lauded as the next big cash cow, but the sector’s hype quickly got away from reality.

Complex underlying science, severe capital intensity, slow-moving customers, and high-cost business models outside the comfort zones of typical venture capital, ultimately caused a swath of venture-backed companies and investors in the clean tech boom to fall flat.

Yet, decarbonization and sustainability are issues that only seem to grow more dire and more galvanizing for founders and investors by the day, and more company builders are searching for new ways to promote environmental resilience.

While funding for clean tech startups can be hard to find nowadays, over time we’ve seen clean tech startups shift down the stack away from hardware-focused generation plays towards vertical-focused downstream software.

A far cry from past waves of venture-backed energy startups, the downstream clean tech companies offered more familiar technology with more familiar business models, geared towards more recognizable verticals and end users. Now, investors from less traditional clean tech backgrounds are coming out of the woodworks to take a swing at the energy space.

An emerging group of non-traditional investors getting involved in the clean energy space are those traditionally focused on fintech, such as New York and Europe based venture firm Anthemis — a financial services-focused team that recently sat down with our fintech contributor Gregg Schoenberg and I (check out the full meat of the conversation on Extra Crunch).

The tie between clean tech startups and fintech investors may seem tenuous at first thought. However, financial services has long played a significant role in the energy sector and is now becoming a more common end customer for energy startups focused on operations, management and analytics platforms, thus creating real opportunity for fintech investors to offer differentiated value.

Finance powering the world?

Though the conversation around energy resources and decarbonization often focuses on politics, a significant portion of decisions made in the energy generation business is driven by pure economics — Is it cheaper to run X resource relative to resources Y and Z at a given point in time? Based on bid prices for Request for Proposals (RFPs) in a specific market and the cost-competitiveness of certain resources, will a developer be able to hit their targeted rate of return if they build, buy or operate a certain type of generation asset?

Alternative generation sources like wind, solid oxide fuel cells, or large-scale or even rooftop solar have reached more competitive cost levels – in many parts of the US, wind and solar are in fact often the cheapest form of generation for power providers to run.

Thus as renewable resources have grown more cost competitive, more, infrastructure developers, and other new entrants have been emptying their wallets to buy up or build renewable assets like large scale solar or wind farms, with the American Council on Renewable Energy even forecasting cumulative private investment in renewable energy possibly reaching up to $1 trillion in the US by 2030.

A major and swelling set of renewable energy sources are now led by financial types looking for tools and platforms to better understand the operating and financial performance of their assets, in order to better maximize their return profile in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Therefore, fintech-focused venture firms with financial service pedigrees, like Anthemis, now find themselves in pole position when it comes to understanding clean tech startup customers, how they make purchase decisions, and what they’re looking for in a product.

In certain cases, fintech firms can even offer significant insight into shaping the efficacy of a product offering. For example, Anthemis portfolio company kWh Analytics provides a risk management and analytics platform for solar investors and operators that helps break down production, financial analysis, and portfolio performance.

For platforms like kWh analytics, fintech-focused firms can better understand the value proposition offered and help platforms understand how their technology can mechanically influence rates of return or otherwise.

The financial service customers for clean energy-related platforms extends past just private equity firms. Platforms have been and are being built around energy trading, renewable energy financing (think financing for rooftop solar) or the surrounding insurance market for assets.

When speaking with several of Anthemis’ clean tech portfolio companies, founders emphasized the value of having a fintech investor on board that not only knows the customer in these cases, but that also has a deep understanding of the broader financial ecosystem that surrounds energy assets.

Founders and firms seem to be realizing that various arms of financial services are playing growing roles when it comes to the development and access to clean energy resources.

By offering platforms and surrounding infrastructure that can improve the ease of operations for the growing number of finance-driven operators or can improve the actual financial performance of energy resources, companies can influence the fight for environmental sustainability by accelerating the development and adoption of cleaner resources.

Ultimately, a massive number of energy decisions are made by financial services firms and fintech firms may often times know the customers and products of downstream clean-tech startups more than most.  And while the financial services sector has often been labeled as dirty by some, the vital role it can play in the future of sustainable energy offers the industry a real chance to clean up its image.

May
13
2019
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Market map: the 200+ innovative startups transforming affordable housing

In this section of my exploration into innovation in inclusive housing, I am digging into the 200+ companies impacting the key phases of developing and managing housing.

Innovations have reduced costs in the most expensive phases of the housing development and management process. I explore innovations in each of these phases, including construction, land, regulatory, financing, and operational costs.

Reducing Construction Costs

This is one of the top three challenges developers face, exacerbated by rising building material costs and labor shortages.

Mar
18
2019
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ClimaCell bets on IoT for better weather forecasts

To accurately forecast the weather, you first need lots of data — not just to train your forecasting models but also to generate more precise and granular forecasts. Typically, this has been the domain of government agencies, thanks to their access to this data and the compute power to run the extremely complex models. Anybody can now buy compute power in the cloud, though, and as the Boston and Tel Aviv-based startup ClimaCell is setting out to prove, there are now also plenty of other ways to get climate data thanks to a variety of relatively non-traditional sensors that can help generate more precise local weather predictions.

Now you may say that others, like Dark Sky, for example, are already doing that with their hyperlocal forecasts. But ClimaCell’s approach is very different, and with that has attracted as clients airlines like Delta, JetBlue and United, sports teams like the New England Patriots and agtech companies like Netafim.

“The biggest problem is that to predict the weather, you need to have observations and you need to have models,” ClimaCell CEO Shimon Elkabetz told me. “The entire industry is basically repackaging the data and models of the government [agencies]. And the governments don’t create the relevant infrastructure everywhere in the world. Even in the U.S., there’s room for improvement.”

And that’s where ClimaCell’s main innovation comes in. Instead of relying on government sensors, it’s using the Internet of Things to gather more weather data from far more places than would otherwise be possible. This kind of sensing technology could turn millions of existing connected devices — like cell phones, connected vehicles, street cameras, airplanes and drones — into virtual weather stations. It’s easy enough to see how this would work. If a driver turns on a windshield wiper or fog lights, you know it’s probably raining or foggy. Often, these cars also relay temperature data. If a street camera sees rain, it’s raining.

What’s more complex is that ClimaCell has also developed the technology to gather data from how atmospheric conditions impact the signal propagation between cell phones and their base stations. And to take this one step further — and beyond the ground level — it has also figured out how to gather similar data from satellite-to-ground microwave signals.

“The idea is that everything is sensitive to weather and we can turn everything into a weather sensor,” said Elkabetz. “That’s why we call it the weather of things. It enables us to put in place virtual sensors everywhere.”

Using all this data, ClimaCell is providing its customers, like airlines, ridesharing companies and energy companies, with real-time weather data and forecasts.

Using all of this data the company also recently launched flood alerts for about 500 cities that can provide 24 to 48-hour warnings ahead of major flood events. To do this, the company combined its weather data with its own hydrological model.

For now, most of ClimaCell’s business model focuses on selling its data and predictions to other businesses. The company plans to launch a consumer app in May, though. I got a sneak peek of the app; while I can’t vouch for the forecasts, it’s a very well-designed application that you’ll probably want to look at, no matter whether you’re a weather geek or just want to see if you can get a quick bike ride in before the rain starts.

Why a consumer app? “We want to become the biggest weather technology company in the world,” Elkabetz said. To get to this point, the company has raised a total of $68 million to date from investors that include Clearvision Ventures, JetBlue Technology Ventures, Ford Smart Mobility,  Envision Ventures, Canaan Partners, Fontinalis Partners and Square Peg Capital.

May
22
2017
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Kuang-Chi invests $5 million in SkyX, a maker of drones to monitor oil and gas pipelines

 Shenzhen-based Kuang-Chi Group is investing $5 million in SkyX Systems Corp., according to the drone tech startup’s founder and CEO Didi Horn. A former fighter pilot with the Israeli Air Force, Horn started SkyX in 2015 to help public and private companies monitor energy infrastructure from on high, using increasingly powerful drones and big data analytics. Read More

Apr
06
2017
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SkyX drones are half-helicopter, half-plane and built to fly long distances

 A Markham, Ontario startup called SkyX Ltd. emerged from stealth today to share with TechCrunch details about its unique industrial drone designs. The company’s SkyOne drones take off and land like a helicopter, but fly more like an airplane, with a range of more than 25 miles (40 km) per charge. For drone industry nerds, this means they have both VTOL and fixed-wing elements. Read More

Feb
07
2017
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Energy giant AES partners with Measure to improve worker safety with drones

Measure flies drones to inspect solar panels in a field below. Major power producer AES Corp. is ramping up the use of drones with an eye toward shielding workers from industry hazards. Rather than buy all their own unmanned aerial systems, they’ve engaged D.C.-based drone services provider Measure to get access to a more extensive fleet. Measure recently raised $15 million in venture funding. According to its Vice President and Chief… Read More

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