Jun
26
2020
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Fleetsmith customers unhappy with loss of third-party app support after Apple acquisition

When Apple confirmed it had acquired Fleetsmith, a mobile device management vendor, on Wednesday, it seemed like a straightforward purchase, but Fleetsmith customers quickly learned a key piece of functionality had stopped working  — and many weren’t happy about it.

Apple systems administrators began complaining on social media on the morning of the acquisition announcement that the company was no longer allowing them to connect to third-party applications.

“Primarily Fleetsmith maintained a third-party app catalog, so you could deploy things like Chrome or Zoom to your Macs, and Fleetsmith would maintain security updates for those apps. This was the main reason we purchased Fleetsmith,” a Fleetsmith customer told TechCrunch.

The customer added that the company described this functionality as a major feature in a company blog post:

For apps like Chrome, which are managed through the Fleetsmith Catalog, we handle all aspects of testing, packaging, triage, and deployment automatically. Whenever there’s an update (including security patches), we quickly add them to the Catalog so that our customers can enforce the latest version. In this case, we had the Chrome 78.0.3904.87 patch up within a couple hours of the update dropping.

As one system administrator pointed out, being able to manage Chrome browser security in an automated way was a huge part of this, and that was also removed along with third party app support.

As it turned out, Apple had made it clear that it was discontinuing this feature in an email to Fleetsmith customers on the day of the transition. The email included links to several help articles that were supposed to assist admins with the transition. (The email is included in full at the end of this article.)

The general consensus among admins that I spoke to was that these articles were not terribly helpful. While they described a way to fix the issues, they said that Apple has turned what was a highly automated experience into a highly manual one, effectively eliminating the speed and ease of use advantage of having the update feature in the first place.

Apple did confirm that it had responded to some help ticket requests after the changes this week, saying that it would soon restore some configurations for Catalog apps, and was working with impacted customers as needed. The company did not make clear, however, why they removed this functionality in the first place.

Fleetsmith offered a couple of key features that appealed to Mac system administrators. For starters, it let them set up new Macs automatically out of the box. This allows them to ship a new Mac or other Apple device, and as soon as the employee powers it up and connects to Wi-Fi, it connects to Fleetsmith, where systems administrators can track usage and updates. In addition, it allowed System Administrators to enforce Apple security and OS updates on company devices.

What’s more, it could also do the same thing with third-party applications like Google Chrome, Zoom or many others. When these companies pushed a new update, system administrators could make sure all users had the most recent version running on their machines. This is the key functionality that was removed this week.

It’s not clear why Apple chose to strip out these features outlined in the email to customers, but it seems likely that most of this functionality isn’t coming back, other than restoring some configurations for Catalog apps.

Email that went out to Fleetsmith customers the day of the acquisition outlining the changes:

 

Attempts to reach Fleetsmith founders for comment were unsuccessful. Should that change we will update the article.

Jun
24
2020
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Dell’s debt hangover from $67B EMC deal could put VMware stock in play

When Dell bought EMC in 2016 for $67 billion it was one of the biggest acquisitions in tech history, and it brought with it a boatload of debt. Since then Dell has been working on ways to mitigate that debt by selling off various pieces of the corporate empire and going public again, but one of its most valuable assets remains VMware, a company that came over as part of the huge EMC deal.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Dell is considering selling part of its stake in VMware. The news sent the stock of both companies soaring.

It’s important to understand that even though VMware is part of the Dell family, it runs as a separate company, with its own stock and operations, just as it did when it was part of EMC. Still, Dell owns 81% of that stock, so it could sell a substantial stake and still own a majority of the company, or it could sell it all, or incorporate into the Dell family, or of course it could do nothing at all.

Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, thinks this might just be about floating a trial balloon. “Companies do things like this all the time to gauge value, together and apart, and my hunch is this is one of those pieces of research,” Moorhead told TechCrunch.

But as Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research, points out, it’s an idea that could make sense. “It’s plausible. VMware is more valuable than Dell, and their innovation track record is better than Dell’s over the last few years,” he said.

Mueller added that Dell has been juggling its debts since the EMC acquisition, and it will struggle to innovate its way out of that situation. What’s more, Dell has to wait on any decision until September 2021 when it can move some or all of VMware tax-free, five years after the EMC acquisition closed.

“While Dell can juggle finances, it cannot master innovation. The company’s cloud strategy is only working on a shrinking market and that ain’t easy to execute and grow on. So yeah, next year makes sense after the five-year tax-free thing kicks in,” he said.

In between the spreadsheets

VMware is worth $63.9 billion today, while Dell is valued at a far more modest $38.9 billion, according to Yahoo Finance data. But beyond the fact that the companies’ market caps differ, they are also quite different in terms of their ability to generate profit.

Looking at their most recent quarters each ending May 1, 2020, Dell turned $21.9 billion in revenue into just $143 million in net income after all expenses were counted. In contrast, VMware generated just $2.73 billion in revenue, but managed to turn that top line into $386 million worth of net income.

So, VMware is far more profitable than Dell from a far smaller revenue base. Even more, VMware grew more last year (from $2.45 billion to $2.73 billion in revenue in its most recent quarter) than Dell, which shrank from $21.91 billion in Q1 F2020 revenue to $21.90 billion in its own most recent three-month period.

VMware also has growing subscription software (SaaS) revenues. Investors love that top line varietal in 2020, having pushed the valuation of SaaS companies to new heights. VMware grew its SaaS revenues from $411 million in the year-ago period to $572 million in its most recent quarter. That’s not rocketship growth mind you, but the business category was VMware’s fastest growing segment in percentage and gross dollar terms.

So VMware is worth more than Dell, and there are some understandable reasons for the situation. Why wouldn’t Dell sell some VMware to lower its debts if the market is willing to price the virtualization company so strongly? Heck, with less debt perhaps Dell’s own market value would rise.

It’s all about that debt

Almost four years after the deal closed, Dell is still struggling to figure out how to handle all the debt, and in a weak economy, that’s an even bigger challenge now. At some point, it would make sense for Dell to cash in some of its valuable chips, and its most valuable one is clearly VMware.

Nothing is imminent because of the five-year tax break business, but could something happen? September 2021 is a long time away, and a lot could change between now and then, but on its face, VMware offers a good avenue to erase a bunch of that outstanding debt very quickly and get Dell on much firmer financial ground. Time will tell if that’s what happens.

Jun
24
2020
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Apple has acquired Fleetsmith, a startup that helps IT manage Apple devices remotely

At a time when IT has to help employees set up and manage devices remotely, a service that simplifies those processes could certainly come in handy. Apple recognized that, and acquired Fleetsmith today, a startup that helps companies do precisely that with Apple devices.

While Apple didn’t publicize the acquisition, it has confirmed the deal with TechCrunch, while Fleetsmith announced the deal in a company blog post. Neither company was sharing the purchase price.

The startup has built technology that takes advantage of Apple’s Device Enrollment Program, allowing IT departments to bring devices online as soon as the employee takes it out of the box and powers it up.

At the time of its $30 million Series B funding last year, CEO Zack Blum explained the company’s core value proposition: “From a customer perspective, they can ship devices directly to their employees. The employee unwraps it, connects to Wi-Fi and the device is enrolled automatically in Fleetsmith,” Blum explained at that time.

Over time, the company has layered on other useful pieces beyond automating device registration, like updating devices automatically with OS and security updates, while letting IT see a dashboard of the status of all devices under management, all in a pretty slick interface.

While Apple will in all likelihood continue to work with Jamf, the leader in the Apple device management space, this acquisition gives the company a remote management option at a time when it’s essential with so many employees working from home.

Fleetsmith, which has raised more than $40 million from investors, like Menlo Ventures, Tiger Global Management, Upfront Ventures and Harrison Metal, will continue to sell the product through the company website, according to the blog post.

The founders put a happy face on the deal, as founders tend to do. “We’re thrilled to join Apple. Our shared values of putting the customer at the center of everything we do without sacrificing privacy and security, means we can truly meet our mission, delivering Fleetsmith to businesses and institutions of all sizes, around the world,” they wrote.

Jun
22
2020
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ServiceNow to acquire Belgian configuration management startup Sweagle

With more companies moving workers home, making sure your systems are up and running has become more important than ever. ServiceNow, which includes in its product catalog an IT Help Desk component, recognizes that help desks have been bombarded during the pandemic. To help stop configuration problems before they start, the company today acquired Sweagle, a configuration management startup based in Belgium.

The companies did not share the purchase price.

ServiceNow gets a couple of boosts in the deal. First of all, it gets the startup’s configuration management products, which it can incorporate into its own catalog, but it also gains the machine learning and DevOps knowledge of the company’s employees. (The company would not share the exact number of employees, but PitchBook pegs it at 15.)

RJ Jainendra, ServiceNow’s vice president and general manager of DevOps and IT Business Management, sees a company that has pioneered the IT configuration management automation space, and brings with it capabilities that can boost ServiceNow’s offerings. “With capabilities for configuration data management from Sweagle, we will empower DevOps teams to deliver application and infrastructure changes more rapidly while reducing risk,” Jainendra said in a statement.

ServiceNow claims that there can be as many as 50,000 different configuration elements in a single enterprise application. Sweagle has designed a configuration data management platform with machine learning underpinnings to help customers simplify and automate that complexity. Configuration errors can cause shutdowns, security issues and other serious problems for companies.

Sweagle was founded in 2017 and raised $4.05 million on a post-valuation of $11.88 million, according to PitchBook data.

The company is part of a growing pattern of early-stage startups being sucked up by larger companies during the pandemic, including VMware acquiring Ocatarine and Atlassian buying Halp in May and NetApp snagging Spot earlier this month.

This is the third acquisition for ServiceNow this year, all involving AI underpinnings. In January it bought Loom Systems and Passsage AI. The deal is expected to close in Q3 this year, according to ServiceNow.

Jun
03
2020
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NetApp to acquire Spot (formerly Spotinst) to gain cloud infrastructure management tools

When Spotinst rebranded to Spot in March, it seemed big changes were afoot for the startup, which originally helped companies find and manage cheap infrastructure known as spot instances (hence its original name). We had no idea how big at the time. Today, NetApp announced plans to acquire the startup.

The companies did not share the price, but Israeli publication CTECH pegged the deal at $450 million. NetApp would not confirm that price.

It may seem like a strange pairing, a storage company and a startup that helps companies find bargain infrastructure and monitor cloud costs, but NetApp sees the acquisition as a way for its customers to bridge storage and infrastructure requirements.

“The combination of NetApp’s leading shared storage platform for block, file and object and Spot’s compute platform will deliver a leading solution for the continuous optimization of cost for all workloads, both cloud native and legacy,” Anthony Lye, senior vice president and general manager for public cloud services at NetApp said in a statement.

Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research says the deal makes sense on that level, but it depends on how well NetApp incorporates the Spot technology into its stack. “At the end of the day to run next generation applications successfully in the cloud you need to be efficient on compute and storage usage. NetApp is doing great on the latter but needed way to monitor and automate compute consultation. This is what Spot brings to the table, so the combination makes sense, but as in all acquisitions execution is key now,” Mueller told TechCrunch.

Spot helps companies do a couple of things. First of all it manages spot and reserved instances for customers in the cloud. Spot instances in particular, are extremely cheap because they represent unused capacity at the cloud provider. The catch is that the vendor can take the resources back when they need them, and Spot helps safely move workloads around these requirements.

Reserved instances are cloud infrastructure you buy in advance for a discounted price. The cloud vendor gives a break on pricing, knowing that it can count on the customer to use a certain amount of infrastructure resources.

At the time it rebranded, the company also had gotten into monitoring cloud spending and usage across clouds. Amiram Shachar, co-founder and CEO at Spot, told TechCrunch in March, “With this new product we’re providing a more holistic platform that lets customers see all of their cloud spending in one place — all of their usage, all of their costs, what they are spending and doing across multiple clouds — and then what they can actually do [to deploy resources more efficiently],” he said at the time.

Shachar writing in a blog post today announcing the deal indicated the company will continue to support its products as part of the NetApp family, and as startup CEOs typically say at a time like this, move much faster as part of a large organization.

“Spot will continue to offer and fully support our products, both now and as part of NetApp when the transaction closes. In fact, joining forces with NetApp will bring additional resources to Spot that you’ll see in our ability to deliver our roadmap and new innovation even faster and more broadly,” he wrote in the post.

NetApp has been quite acquisitive this year. It acquired Talon Storage in early March and CloudJumper at the end of April. This represents the twentieth acquisition overall for the company, according to Crunchbase data.

Spot was founded in 2015 in Tel Aviv. It has raised over $52 million, according to Crunchbase data. The deal is expected to close later this year, assuming it passes typical regulatory hurdles.

Jun
01
2020
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Salesforce names Vlocity founder David Schmaier CEO of new Salesforce Industries division

When Salesforce announced it was acquiring Vlocity for $1.33 billion in February, it was a deal that made sense for both companies. Today, the company announced that the deal has closed and Vlocity CEO David Schmaier has been named CEO of a new division called Salesforce Industries.

Vlocity has built several industry-specific CRM tools such as media and entertainment, healthcare and government on top of the Salesforce platform. While Salesforce has developed some of its own industry solutions, having a division devoted to verticalized tools creates additional market opportunities for the company.

Schmaier sees the new division as a commitment from the company on the value of an industry-focused approach.

“As Vlocity becomes part of what we’re calling Salesforce Industries, this will be a larger group within Salesforce to really focus on bringing these industry-specific solutions to the customer, helping them go digital and working in a whole new way,” Schmaier told TechCrunch.

Salesforce president and COO Bret Taylor will be Schmaier’s boss. Writing in a blog post announcing the new division, Taylor said that like so many aspects of technology solutions these days, the industry focus is about helping companies with digital transformation. As the world changes before our eyes during the pandemic, companies are being forced to move operations online, and Salesforce wants to provide more specific solutions for customers who need it.

“Companies in every industry have a digital transformation imperative like never before — and many are accelerating their plans for a digital-first, work-from-anywhere environment. With Salesforce Customer 360 and Vlocity, our customers have the most advanced industries platform as well as tools and expert guidance completely tailored to their specific needs,” Taylor wrote.

Schmaier says the fact that his company’s tooling was already built on top of Salesforce allows them to really hit the ground running without the integration challenges that combining organizations typically face after an acquisition like this one.

“I’ve been involved in various mergers and acquisitions over my 30-year career, and this is the most unique one I’ve ever seen because the products are already 100% integrated because we built our six vertical applications on top of the Salesforce platform. So they’re already 100% Salesforce, which is really kind of amazing. So that’s going to make this that much simpler,” he said.

It’s likely that Salesforce will continue to build on the new division and add additional applications over time given the platform is already in place. “We basically have a platform now inside Salesforce to build verticals. So the cost to build new verticals is a fraction of what it was for us to build the first one because of this industry cloud platform. So we are going to look at opportunities to build new ones but we’re not ready to announce that today. For starters, we are forming this one organization,” Schmaier said.

The company reported a record quarter last Thursday, but light guidance for next quarter spooked investors and the stock was down on Friday (it is up .77% today as of publication). The company does not rest on its laurels though, and having a division in place like Salesforce Industries provides a more focused way of dealing with verticals and another possible source of revenue.

Jun
01
2020
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Equinix is buying 13 data centers from Bell Canada for $750M

Equinix, the data center company, has the distinction of recently recording its 69th straight positive quarter. One way that it has achieved that kind of revenue consistency is through strategic acquisitions. Today, the company announced that it’s purchasing 13 data centers from Bell Canada for $750 million, greatly expanding its footing in the country.

The deal is financially detailed by Equinix across two axes, including how much the data centers cost in terms of revenue, and adjusted profit. Regarding revenue, Equinix notes that it is paying $750 million for what it estimates to be $105 million in “annualized revenue,” calculated using the most recent quarter’s results multiplied by four. This gives the purchase a revenue multiple of a little over 7x.

Equinix also provided an adjusted profit multiple, saying that the 13 data center locations “[represent] a purchase multiple of approximately 15x EV / adjusted EBITDA.” Unpacking that, the company is saying that the asset’s enterprise value (similar to market capitalization, a popular valuation metric for public companies) is worth about 15 times its earnings before interest, taxes, deprecation and amortization (EBITDA). This seems a healthy price, but not one that is outrageous.

Global reach of Equinix including expanded Canadian operations shown in left panel (Image: Equinix)

The acquisition not only gives the company that additional revenue and a stronger foothold in the tenth largest economy in the world, it also gains 600 customers using the Bell data centers, of which 500 are net new.

As much of the world is attempting to digitally transform in the midst of the pandemic and current economic crisis, Equinix sees this as an opportunity to help more Canadian customers go digital more quickly.

“Equinix has been serving the Canadian market in Toronto for more than a decade. This expansion and scale gives the Canadian market a clear and rapid migration path to digital transformation. We’re looking forward to deepening our relationships with our existing Canada-based customers and helping new companies throughout the country position themselves for digital success,” Jon Lin, Equinix president, Americas told TechCrunch.

This is not the first time that Equinix has taken a bunch of data centers off the hands of a telco. In fact, three years ago, the company bought 29 centers from Verizon (which is the owner of TechCrunch) for $3.6 billion.

As telcos move away from the data center business, companies like Equinix are able to come in and expand into new markets and increase revenue. It’s one of the ways it continues to generate positive revenue year after year.

Today’s deal is just part of that strategy to keep expanding into new markets and finding new ways to generate additional revenue as more companies use their services. Equinix rents space in its data centers and provides all the services that companies need without having to run their own. That would include things like heating, cooling, racks and wiring.

Even though public cloud companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google are generating headlines with growing revenues, plenty of companies still want to run their own equipment without going to the expense of actually owning the building where the equipment resides.

Today’s deal is expected to close in the second half of the year, assuming it clears all of the regulatory scrutiny required in a purchase like this.

May
29
2020
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Cisco to acquire internet monitoring solution ThousandEyes

When Cisco bought AppDynamics in 2017 for $3.7 billion just before the IPO, the company sent a clear signal it wanted to move beyond its pure network hardware roots into the software monitoring side of the equation. Yesterday afternoon the company announced it intends to buy another monitoring company, this time snagging internet monitoring solution ThousandEyes.

Cisco would not comment on the price when asked by TechCrunch, but published reports from CNBC and others pegged the deal at around $1 billion. If that’s accurate, it means the company has paid around $4.7 billion for a pair of monitoring solutions companies.

Cisco’s Todd Nightingale, writing in a blog post announcing the deal said that the kind of data that ThousandEyes provides around internet user experience is more important than ever as internet connections have come under tremendous pressure with huge numbers of employees working from home.

ThousandEyes keeps watch on those connections and should fit in well with other Cisco monitoring technologies. “With thousands of agents deployed throughout the internet, ThousandEyes’ platform has an unprecedented understanding of the internet and grows more intelligent with every deployment, Nightingale wrote.

He added, “Cisco will incorporate ThousandEyes’ capabilities in our AppDynamics application intelligence portfolio to enhance visibility across the enterprise, internet and the cloud.”

As for ThousandEyes, co-founder and CEO Mohit Lad told a typical acquisition story. It was about growing faster inside the big corporation than it could on its own. “We decided to become part of Cisco because we saw the potential to do much more, much faster, and truly create a legacy for ThousandEyes,” Lad wrote.

It’s interesting to note that yesterday’s move, and the company’s larger acquisition strategy over the last decade is part of a broader move to software and services as a complement to its core networking hardware business.

Just yesterday, Synergy Research released its network switch and router revenue report and it wasn’t great. As companies have hunkered down during the pandemic, they have been buying much less network hardware, dropping the Q1 numbers to seven year low. That translated into a $1 billion less in overall revenue in this category, according to Synergy.

While Cisco owns the vast majority of the market, it obviously wants to keep moving into software services as a hedge against this shifting market. This deal simply builds on that approach.

ThousandEyes was founded in 2010 and raised over $110 million on a post valuation of $670 million as of February 2019, according to Pitchbook Data.

May
18
2020
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Verizon wraps up BlueJeans acquisition lickety split

When Verizon (which owns this publication) announced it was buying video conferencing company BlueJeans for around $500 million last month, you probably thought it was going take awhile to bake, but the companies announced today that they has closed the deal.

While it’s crystal clear that video conferencing is a hot item during the pandemic, all sides maintained that this deal was about much more than the short-term requirements of COVID-19. In fact, Verizon saw an enterprise-grade video conferencing platform that would fit nicely into its 5G strategy around things like tele-medicine and online learning.

They believe these needs will far outlast the current situation, and BlueJeans puts them in good shape to carry out a longer-term video strategy, especially on the burgeoning 5G platform. As BlueJean’s CEO Quentin Gallivan and co-founders, Krish Ramakrishnan and Alagu Periyannan reiterated in a blog post today announcing the deal has been finalized, they saw a lot of potential for growth inside the Verizon Business family that would have been difficult to achieve as a stand-alone company.

“Today, organizations are relying on connectivity and digital communications now more than ever. As Verizon announced, adding BlueJeans’ trusted, enterprise-grade video conferencing and event platform to the company’s Advanced Communications portfolio is critical to keep businesses, from small organizations to some of the world’s largest multinational brands, operating at the highest level,” the trio wrote.

As Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder and principal analyst at Deep Analysis told TechCrunch at the time of the acquisition announcement, Verizon got a good deal here.

Verizon is getting one of the only true enterprise-grade online conferencing systems in the market at a pretty low price,” he told TechCrunch. “On one level, all these systems do pretty much the same thing, but BlueJeans has always prided itself on superior sound and audio quality. It is also a system that scales well and can handle large numbers of participants as well, if not better, than its nearest competitors.

BlueJean brings with it 15,000 enterprise customers. It raised $175 million since its founding in 2009.

May
14
2020
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Microsoft is acquiring Metaswitch Networks to expand its Azure 5G strategy

Just weeks after announcing a deal to acquire 5G specialist Affirmed Networks, Microsoft is making another acquisition to strengthen its cloud-based telecoms offering. It’s acquiring Metaswitch Networks, a U.K.-based provider of cloud-based communications products used by carriers and network providers (customers include the likes of BT in the U.K., Sprint and virtual network consortium RINA.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed in today’s announcement. Metaswitch’s investors included the PE firms Northgate and WRV, Francisco Partners and Sequoia, but it’s unclear how much it had raised nor its last valuation. (The company has been around since 1981.)

The deal speaks to a growing focus from tech companies leveraging cloud architectures and the adoption of new networking technologies — specifically 5G — to capitalise on a bigger role in becoming service providers both to carriers and to those who would like to build carrier-like services (potentially bypassing telcos in the process), through the offering of virtualised products delivered from its cloud.

It comes just one day after Rakuten, the Japanese e-commerce and streaming services giant, announced that it would be acquiring Innoeye, another specialist in cloud-based communications services. Others like Amazon have also been building up their offerings in AWS serving the same market.

Microsoft describes the Metaswitch portfolio of cloud-native services — which include 5G data, voice and unified communications (contact center) products — as “complementary” to Affirmed.

“Microsoft intends to leverage the talent and technology of these two organizations, extending the Azure platform to both deploy and grow these capabilities at scale in a way that is secure, efficient and creates a sustainable ecosystem,” the company said. 

The migration to 5G represents a window of opportunity to companies that provide services to carriers. The latter have long been saddled with expensive, ageing equipment and now have the potential to replace some or all of that with software-based services, delivered via the cloud, that can be more easily updated and modified with market demand. That is the hope, at least. The reality may be that many carriers sweat out their assets and upgrade in small increments, as operational expenditure still represents a big investment and cost.

Microsoft is all too aware of that reality and also of the prospect of appearing like a threat, not a saviour.

“We will continue to support hybrid and multi-cloud models to create a more diverse telecom ecosystem and spur faster innovation, an expanded set of unique offerings and greater opportunities for differentiation,” it notes. “We will continue to partner with existing suppliers, emerging innovators and network equipment partners to share roadmaps and explore expanded opportunities to work together, including in the areas of radio access networks (RAN), next-generation core, virtualized services, orchestration and operations support system/business support system (OSS/BSS) modernization. A future that is interoperable has never been more important to ensure the success of customers and partners.”

Indeed, Microsoft’s been providing services to, and selling its own IT through, carriers for years before this. These latest acquisitions, however, represent a growing focus on what role it can play in that enterprise vertical in the years to come.

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