Dec
07
2018
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Pivotal announces new serverless framework

Pivotal has always been about making open-source tools for enterprise developers, but surprisingly, up until now, the arsenal has lacked a serverless component. That changed today with the alpha launch of Pivotal Function Service.

Pivotal Function Service is a Kubernetes-based, multi-cloud function service. It’s part of the broader Pivotal vision of offering you a single platform for all your workloads on any cloud,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the new service.

What’s interesting about Pivotal’s flavor of serverless, besides the fact that it’s based on open source, is that it has been designed to work both on-prem and in the cloud in a cloud native fashion, hence the Kubernetes-based aspect of it. This is unusual to say the least.

The idea up until now has been that the large-scale cloud providers like Amazon, Google and Microsoft could dial up whatever infrastructure your functions require, then dial them down when you’re finished without you ever having to think about the underlying infrastructure. The cloud provider deals with whatever compute, storage and memory you need to run the function, and no more.

Pivotal wants to take that same idea and make it available in the cloud across any cloud service. It also wants to make it available on-prem, which may seem curious at first, but Pivotal’s Onsi Fakhouri says customers want that same abilities both on-prem and in the cloud. “One of the key values that you often hear about serverless is that it will run down to zero and there is less utilization, but at the same time there are customers who want to explore and embrace the serverless programming paradigm on-prem,” Fakhouri said. Of course, then it is up to IT to ensure that there are sufficient resources to meet the demands of the serverless programs.

The new package includes several key components for developers, including an environment for building, deploying and managing your functions, a native eventing ability that provides a way to build rich event triggers to call whatever functionality you require and the ability to do this within a Kubernetes-based environment. This is particularly important as companies embrace a hybrid use case to manage the events across on-prem and cloud in a seamless way.

One of the advantages of Pivotal’s approach is that Pivotal can work on any cloud as an open product. This is in contrast to the cloud providers like Amazon, Google and Microsoft, which provide similar services that run exclusively on their clouds. Pivotal is not the first to build an open-source Function as a Service, but they are attempting to package it in a way that makes it easier to use.

Serverless doesn’t actually mean there are no underlying servers. Instead, it means that developers don’t have to point to any servers because the cloud provider takes care of whatever infrastructure is required. In an on-prem scenario, IT has to make those resources available.

Dec
05
2018
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Camunda hauls in $28M investment as workflow automation remains hot

Camunda, a Berlin-based company that builds open-source workflow automation software, announced a €25 million (approximately $28 million) investment from Highland Europe today.

This is the company’s first investment in its 10-year history. CEO and co-founder Jakob Freund says the company has been profitable since Day One, but decided to bring in outside capital now to take on a more aggressive international expansion.

The company launched in 2008 and for the first five years offered business process management consulting services, but they found traditional offerings from companies like Oracle, IBM and Pega weren’t encouraging software developers to really embrace BPM and build new applications.

In 2013 the company decided to solve that problem and began a shift from consulting to software. “We launched our own open-source project, Camunda BPM, in 2013. We also offered a commercial distribution, obviously, because that’s where the revenue came from,” Freund explained.

The project took off and they flipped their revenue sources from 80 percent consulting/20 percent software to 90 percent software/10 percent consulting in the five years since first creating the product. They boast 200 paying customers and have built out an entire stack of products since their initial product launch.

The company expanded from 13 employees in 2013 to 100 today, with offices in Berlin and San Francisco. Freund wants to open more offices and to expand the head count. To do that, he felt the time was right to go out and get some outside money. He said they continue to be profitable and more than doubled their ARR (annual recurring revenue) in the last 12 months, but knowing they wanted to expand quickly, they wanted the investment as a hedge in case revenue slowed down during the expansion.

“However, we also want to invest heavily right now and build up the team very quickly over the next couple of years. And we want to do that in such a quick way that we want to make sure that if the revenue growth doesn’t happen as quickly as the headcount building, we’re not getting any situation where we would then need to go look funding,” he explained. Instead, they struck while the company and the overall workflow automation space is hot.

He says they want to open more sales and support offices on the east coast of the U.S. and move into Asia, as well. Further, they want to keep investing in the open-source products, and the new money gives them room to do all of this.

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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Canonical plans to raise its first outside funding as it looks to a future IPO

It’s been 14 years since Mark Shuttleworth first founded and funded Canonical and the Ubuntu project. At the time, it was mostly a Linux distribution. Today, it’s a major enterprise player that offers a variety of products and services. Throughout the years, Shuttleworth self-funded the project and never showed much interest in taking outside money. Now, however, that’s changing.

As Shuttleworth told me, he’s now looking for investors as he looks to get the company on track to an IPO. It’s no secret that the company’s recent re-focusing on the enterprise — and shutting down projects like the Ubuntu phone and the Unity desktop environment — was all about that, after all. Shuttleworth sees raising money as a step in this direction — and as a way of getting the company in shape for going public.

“The first step would be private equity,” he told me. “And really, that’s because having outside investors with outside members of the board essentially starts to get you to have to report and be part of that program. I’ve got a set of things that I think we need to get right. That’s what we’re working towards now. Then there’s a set of things that private investors are looking for and the next set of things is when you’re doing a public offering, there’s a different level of discipline required.”

It’s no secret that Shuttleworth, who sports an impressive beard these days, was previously resistant to this, and he acknowledged as much. “I think that’s a fair characterization,” he said. “I enjoy my independence and I enjoy being able to make long-term calls. I still feel like I’ll have the ability to do that, but I do appreciate keenly the responsibility of taking other people’s money. When it’s your money, it’s slightly different.”

Refocusing Canonical on the enterprise business seems to be paying off already. “The numbers are looking good. The business is looking healthy. It’s not a charity. It’s not philanthropy,” he said. “There are some key metrics that I’m watching, which are the gate for me to take the next step, which would be growth equity.” Those metrics, he told me, are the size of the business and how diversified it is.

Shuttleworth likens this program of getting the company ready to IPO to getting fit. “There’s no point in saying: I haven’t done any exercise in the last 10 years but I’m going to sign up for tomorrow’s marathon,” he said.

The move from being a private company to taking outside investment and going public — especially after all these years of being self-funded — is treacherous, though, and Shuttleworth admitted as much, especially in terms of being forced to setting short-term goals to satisfy investors that aren’t necessarily in the best interest of the company in the long term. Shuttleworth thinks he can negotiate those issues, though.

Interestingly, he thinks the real danger is quite a different one. “I think the most dangerous thing in making that shift is the kind of shallowness of the unreasonably big impact that stock price has on people’s mood,” he said. “Today, at Canonical, it’s 600 people. You might have some that are having a really great day and some that are having a shitty day. And they have to figure out what’s real about both of those scenarios. But they can kind of support each other. […] But when you have a stock ticker, everybody thinks they’re having a great day, or everybody thinks they’re having a shitty day in a way that may be completely uncorrelated to how well they’re actually doing.”

Shuttleworth does not believe that IBM’s acquisition of its competitor Red Hat will have any immediate effect on its business, though. What he does think, however, is that this move is making a lot of people rethink for the first time in years the investment they’ve been making in Red Hat and its enterprise Linux distribution. Canonical’s promise is that Ubuntu, as well as its OpenStack tools and services, are not just competitive but also more cost-effective in the long run, and offer enterprises an added degree of agility. And if more businesses start looking at Canonical and Ubuntu, that can only speed up Shuttleworth’s (and his bankers’) schedule for hitting Canonical’s metrics for raising money and going public.

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
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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Neo4j nabs $80M Series E as graph database tech flourishes

Neo4j has helped popularize the graph database. Today it was rewarded with an $80 million Series E to bring their products to a wider market in what could be the company’s last private fundraise.

The round was led by One Peak Partners and Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital with participation from existing investors Creandum, Eight Roads and Greenbridge Partners. Today’s investment exactly doubles their previous amount bringing the total raised to $160 million.

Neo4j founder and CEO Emil Eifrem didn’t want to discuss valuation, calling it essentially a vanity metric. “We’re not sharing that. I never understood that. It’s just weird bragging rights. It makes no sense to customers, and makes no sense to anyone,” he said referring to the valuation.

Graph view of Neo4j funding rounds. Graphic: Neo4j

When you bring a company like Morgan Stanley on as an investor, it could be interpreted as a kind of signal that the company is thinking ahead to going public. While Eifrem wasn’t ready to commit to anything, he suggested that this is very likely the last time he raises funds privately. He says that he doesn’t like to think in terms of how he will exit so much as building a good company and seeing where that takes him. “If your mental framework is around building a great company, you’re going to have all kinds of options along the way. So that’s what I’m completely focused on,” Eifrem explained.

In 2016, when his company got a $36 million Series D investment, Eifrem says that they were working to expand in the enterprise. They have been successful with around 200 enterprise customers to their credit including Walmart, UBS, IBM and NASA. He says their customers include 20 of the top 25 banks and 7 of the top 10 retailers.

This year, the company began expanding into artificial intelligence. It makes sense. Graph databases help companies understand the connections in large datasets and AI usually involves large amounts of data to drive the learning models.

Two common graph database use case examples are the social graph on a social site like Facebook, which lets you see the connections between you and your friends or the purchase graph on an Ecommerce site like Amazon which lets you see if you bought one product, chances are you’ll also be interested in these others (based on your purchase history and what other consumers have done who have bought similar products).

Eifrem wants to use the money to expand the company internationally and provide localized service in terms of language and culture wherever their customers happen to be. As an example, he says today European customers might get an English speaking customer service agent if they called in for help. He wants to provide service and the website in the local language and the money should help accomplish that.

Neo4j was founded in 2007 as an open source project. Companies and individuals can still download the base product for free, but the company has also built a successful and growing commercial business on top of that open source project. With an $80 million runway, the next stop could be Wall Street.

Oct
30
2018
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Cockroach Labs launches CockroachDB as managed service

Cockroach Lab’s open source SQL database, CockroachDB, has been making inroads since it launched last year, but as any open source technology matures, in order to move deeper into markets it has to move beyond technical early adopters to a more generalized audience. To help achieve that, the company announced a new CockroachDB managed service today.

The service has been designed to be cloud-agnostic, and for starters it’s going to be available on Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform. Cockroach, which launched in 2015, has always positioned itself as modern cloud alternative to the likes of Oracle or even Amazon’s Aurora database.

As company co-founder and CEO Spencer Kimball told me in an interview in May, those companies involve too much vendor lock-in for his taste. His company launched as open alternative to all of that. “You can migrate a Cockroach cluster from one cloud to another with no down time,” Kimball told TechCrunch in May.

He believes having that kind of flexibility is a huge advantage over what other vendors are offering, and today’s announcement carries that a step further. Instead of doing all the heavy lifting of setting up and managing a database and the related infrastructure, Cockroach is now offering CockroachDB as a service to handle all of that for you.

Kimball certainly recognizes that by offering his company’s product in this format, it will help grow his market. “We’ve been seeing significant migration activity away from Oracle, AWS Aurora, and Cassandra, and we’re now able to get our customers to market faster with Managed CockroachDB,” Kimball said in a statement.

The database itself offers the advantage of being ultra-resilient, meaning it stays up and running under most circumstances and that’s a huge value proposition for any database product. It achieves up time through replication, so if one version of itself goes down, the next can take over.

As an open source tool, it has been making money up until now by offering an enterprise version, which includes backup, support and other premium pieces. With today’s announcement, the company can get a more direct revenue stream from customers subscribing to the database service.

A year ago, the company announced version 1.0 of CockroachDB and $27 million in Series B financing, which was led by Redpoint with participation from Benchmark, GV, Index Ventures and FirstMark. They’ve obviously been putting that money to good use developing this new managed service.

Oct
29
2018
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IBM is betting the farm on Red Hat — and it better not mess up

Who expects a $34 billion deal involving two enterprise powerhouses to drop on a Sunday afternoon, but IBM and Red Hat surprised us yesterday when they pulled the trigger on a historically large deal.

IBM has been a poster child for a company moving through a painful transformation. As Box CEO (and IBM business partner) Aaron Levie put it on Twitter, sometimes a company has to make a bold move to push that kind of initiative forward:

They believe they can take their complex mix of infrastructure/software/platform services and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain and analytics, and blend all of that with Red Hat’s profitable fusion of enterprise open source tools, cloud native, hybrid cloud and a keen understanding of the enterprise.

As Jon Shieber pointed out yesterday, it was a tacit acknowledgement that company was not going to get the results it was hoping for with emerging technologies like Watson artificial intelligence. It needed something that translated more directly into sales.

Red Hat can be that enterprise sales engine. It already is a company on a $3 billion revenue run rate, and it has a goal of hitting $5 billion. While that’s somewhat small potatoes for a company like IBM that generates $19 billion a quarter, it represents a crucial addition.

That’s because in spite of its iffy earnings reports over the last five years, Synergy Research reported that IBM had 7 percent of the cloud infrastructure market in its most recent report, which it defines as Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service and hosted private cloud. It is the latter that IBM is particularly good at.

The company has the pieces in place now and a decent amount of marketshare, but Red Hat gives it a much more solid hybrid cloud story to tell. They can potentially bridge that hosted private cloud business with their own public cloud (and presumably even those of their competitors) and use Red Hat as a cloud native and open source springboard, giving their sales teams a solid story to tell.

IBM already has a lot of enterprise credibility on its own, of course. It sells on top of many of the same open source tools as Red Hat, but it hasn’t been getting the sales and revenue momentum that Red Hat has enjoyed. If you combine the enormous IBM sales engine and their services business with that of Red Hat, you have the potential to crank this into a huge business.

Photo: Ron Mller

It’s worth noting that the deal needs to pass shareholder muster and clear global regulatory hurdles before they can combine the two organizations. IBM has predicted that it will take at least until the second half of next year to close this deal and it could take even longer.

IBM has to use that time wisely and well to make sure when they pull the trigger, these two companies blend as smoothly as possible across technology and culture. It’s never easy to make these mega deals work with so much money and pressure involved, but it is imperative that Big Blue not screw this up. This could very well represent its last best chance to right the ship once and for all.

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