Sep
08
2021
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Google Workspace opens up spaces for all users

Employee location has become a bit more complicated as some return to the office, while others work remotely. To embrace those hybrid working conditions, Google is making more changes to its Google Workspace offering by going live with spaces in Google Chat for all users.

Spaces integrates with Workspace tools, like the calendar, Drive and documents, to provide a more hybrid work experience where users can see the full history, content and context of conversations, regardless of their location.

Google’s senior director of product management, Sanaz Ahari, wrote in a blog post Wednesday that customers wanted spaces to be more like a “central hub for collaboration, both in real time and asynchronously. Instead of starting an email chain or scheduling a video meeting, teams can come together directly in a space to move projects and topics along.”

Here are some new features users can see in spaces:

  • One interface for everything — inbox, chats, spaces and meetings.
  • Spaces, and content therein, can be made discoverable for people to find and join in the conversation.
  • Better search ability within a team’s knowledge base.
  • Ability to reply to any message within a space.
  • Enhanced security and admin tools to monitor communication.

Employees can now indicate if they will be virtual or in-person on certain days in Calendar for collaboration expectations. As a complement, users can call colleagues on both mobile and desktop devices in Google Meet.

Calendar work location. Image Credits: Google

In November, all customers will be able to use Google Meet’s Companion Mode to join a meeting from a personal device while tapping into in-room audio and video. Also later this year, live-translated captions will be available in English to French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, with more languages being added in the future.

In addition, Google is also expanding its Google Meet hardware portfolio to include two new all-in-one video conferencing devices, third-party devices — Logitech’s video bar and Appcessori’s mobile device speaker dock — and interoperability with Webex by Cisco.

Google is tying everything together with a handbook for navigating hybrid work, which includes best practice blueprints for five common hybrid meetings.

 

Sep
02
2021
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Box, Zoom chief product officers discuss how the changing workplace drove their latest collaboration

If the past 18 months is any indication, the nature of the workplace is changing. And while Box and Zoom already have integrations together, it makes sense for them to continue to work more closely.

Their newest collaboration is the Box app for Zoom, a new type of in-product integration that allows users to bring apps into a Zoom meeting to provide the full Box experience.

While in Zoom, users can securely and directly access Box to browse, preview and share files from Zoom — even if they are not taking part in an active meeting. This new feature follows a Zoom integration Box launched last year with its “Recommended Apps” section that enables access to Zoom from Box so that workflows aren’t disrupted.

The companies’ chief product officers, Diego Dugatkin with Box and Oded Gal with Zoom, discussed with TechCrunch why seamless partnerships like these are a solution for the changing workplace.

With digitization happening everywhere, an integration of “best-in-breed” products for collaboration is essential, Dugatkin said. Not only that, people don’t want to be moving from app to app, instead wanting to stay in one environment.

“It’s access to content while never having to leave the Zoom platform,” he added.

It’s also access to content and contacts in different situations. When everyone was in an office, meeting at a moment’s notice internally was not a challenge. Now, more people are understanding the value of flexibility, and both Gal and Dugatkin expect that spending some time at home and some time in the office will not change anytime soon.

As a result, across the spectrum of a company, there is an increasing need for allowing and even empowering people to work from anywhere, Dugatkin said. That then leads to a conversation about sharing documents in a secure way for companies, which this collaboration enables.

The new Box and Zoom integration enables meeting in a hybrid workplace: chat, video, audio, computers or mobile devices, and also being able to access content from all of those methods, Gal said.

“Companies need to be dynamic as people make the decision of how they want to work,” he added. “The digital world is providing that flexibility.”

This long-term partnership is just scratching the surface of the continuous improvement the companies have planned, Dugatkin said.

Dugatkin and Gal expect to continue offering seamless integration before, during and after meetings: utilizing Box’s cloud storage, while also offering the ability for offline communication between people so that they can keep the workflow going.

“As Diego said about digitization, we are seeing continuous collaboration enhanced with the communication aspect of meetings day in and day out,” Gal added. “Being able to connect between asynchronous and synchronous with Zoom is addressing the future of work and how it is shaping where we go in the future.”

Jul
15
2021
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Lightyear nabs $13M Series A as online network procurement takes shape

It seems like everything is being pushed online now, but network procurement stubbornly has remained an in-person or phone-based negotiation. Lightyear, an early-stage New York City startup, decided to change that last year, and the company announced a $13.1 million Series A today.

The round was led by Ridge Ventures with participation from Zigg Capital and a slew of individual investors. Today’s investment comes on the heels of a $3.7 million seed round last October, bringing the total raised to $16.8 million.

CEO and co-founder Dennis Thankachan says that the company has been able to gain customers by offering a new way to procure network resources, which was a great improvement over manual negotiating.

“Last year we launched Lightyear, which was the first tool for buying your telecom infrastructure on the web. And although changing behaviors and the way that enterprises have done things for years is difficult, the status quo in telecom has been zero transparency, no web-based ways to do things, and oftentimes interfacing with really, really large vendors where you have no negotiating leverage even if you’re a big enterprise. That experience was so poor that a lot of enterprises were extremely happy to see what we put in the market,” he said.

What Lightyear offers is an online marketplace where companies can interact with vendors and get a range of price quotes to make a more informed buying decision. The company spent a lot of time improving the product since last October when you could configure some basic stuff, get a price quote and Lightyear would help you buy it.

Now Thankachan says that the solution covers the full life cycle of services including configuring a bigger array of services, helping manage the installation of the services and helping reduce the amount of delays and errors in installs. Finally, they help track and manage network inventory and can automate renewal for a whole group of services.

That has resulted in 4X growth in just nine months since the last round. In addition, the company had relationships with 400 vendors in October and has grown that to mid-500 vendors today. The startup has also doubled the number of employees to around 20.

Thankachan says that as a person of color he is particularly cognizant about building a diverse and inclusive culture. “I’m a person of color, who has been a minority in different work environments in the past, and I know how that feels and how frustrating that can be for a person who feels like their voice is not heard. […] So I think we can start to build a culture that is not necessarily the norm in [the telecommunications industry] by trying to give opportunities to [underrepresented] people,” he said.

Yousuf Khan, a partner at Ridge Ventures, who is leading the round and will be joining the board under the terms of the deal, says that as a former CIO he found Lightyear’s approach quite appealing.

“As a former CIO and someone who has led global technology operations, it’s refreshing to see Lightyear transforming the way business infrastructure gets bought…I wish Lightyear existed during my years as a CIO,” Khan said in a statement.

 

Nov
10
2020
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Qualcomm Ventures invests in four 5G startups

Qualcomm Ventures, Qualcomm’s investment arm, today announced four new strategic investments in 5G-related startups. These companies are private mobile network specialist Celona, mobile network automation platform Cellwize, the edge computing platform Azion and Pensando, another edge computing platform that combines its software stack with custom hardware.

The overall goal here is obviously to help jumpstart 5G use cases in the enterprise and — by extension — for consumers by investing in a wide range of companies that can build the necessary infrastructure to enable these.

“We invest globally in the wireless mobile ecosystem, with a goal of expanding our base of customers and partners — and one of the areas we’re particularly excited about is the area of 5G,” Quinn Li, a senior VP at Qualcomm and the global head of Qualcomm Ventures, told me. “Within 5G, there are three buckets of areas we look to invest in: one is in use cases, second is in network transformation, third is applying 5G technology in enterprises.”

So far, Qualcomm Ventures has invested more than $170 million in the 5G ecosystem, including this new batch. The firm did not disclose how much it invested in these four new startups, though.

Overall, this new set of companies touches upon the core areas Qualcomm Ventures is looking at, Li explained. Celona, for example, aims to make it as easy for enterprises to deploy private cellular infrastructure as it is to deploy Wi-Fi today.

“They built this platform with a cloud-based controller that leverages the available spectrum — CBRS — to be able to take the cellular technology, whether it’s LTE or 5G, into enterprises,” Li explained. “And then these enterprise use cases could be in manufacturing settings, could be in schools, could be in hospitals, or it could be on campus for universities.”

Cellwize, meanwhile, helps automate wireless networks to make them more flexible and manageable, in part by using machine learning to tune the network based on the data it collects. One of the main investment theses for this fund, Li told me, is that wireless technology will become increasingly software-defined, and Cellwize fits right into this trend. The potential customer here isn’t necessarily an individual enterprise, though, but wireless and mobile operators.

Edge computing, where Azion and Pensando play, is obviously also a hot category right now, and one where 5G has some obvious advantages, so it’s maybe no surprise that Qualcomm Ventures is putting a bit of a focus on these today with its investments in Azion and Pensando.

“As we move forward, [you will] see a lot of the compute moving from the cloud into the edge of the network, which allows for processing happening at the edge of the network, which allows for low latency applications to run much faster and much more efficiently,” Li said.

In total, Qualcomm Ventures has deployed $1.5 billion and made 360 investments since its launch in 2000. Some of the more successful companies the firm has invested in include unicorns like Zoom, Cloudflare, Xiaomi, Cruise Automation and Fitbit.

Oct
27
2020
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Lightyear scores $3.7M seed to digitize networking infrastructure procurement

Lightyear, a New York City startup that wants to make it easier for large companies to procure networking infrastructure like internet and SD-WAN, announced a $3.7 million seed round today.

Amplo led the round with help from Susa Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Mark Cuban, David Adelman and Operator Partners. While it was at it, the company announced that it was emerging from stealth and offering its solution in public beta.

Company CEO and co-founder Dennis Thankachan says that while so much technology buying has moved online, networking technology procurement still involves phone calls for price quotes that could sometimes take weeks to get. Thankachan says that when he was working at a hedge fund specializing in telecommunications he witnessed this first hand and saw an opportunity for a startup to fill the void.

“Our objective is to make the process of buying telecom infrastructure, kind of like buying socks on Amazon, providing a real consumer-like experience to the enterprise and empowering buyers with data because information asymmetry and a lack of transparent data on what things should cost, where providers are available, and even what’s existing already in your network is really at the core of the problem for why this is frustrating for enterprise buyers,” Thankachan explained.

The company offers the ability to simply select a service and find providers in your area with costs and contract terms if it’s a simple purchase, but he recognizes that not all enterprise purchases will be that simple and the startup is working to digitize the corporate buying process into the Lightyear platform.

To provide the data that he spoke of, the company has already formed relationships with over 400 networking providers worldwide. The pricing model is in flux, but could involve a monthly subscription or a percentage of the sale. That is something they are working out, but they are using the latter during beta testing to keep the product free for now.

The company already has 10 employees and flush with the new investment, it plans to double that in the next year. Thankachan says as he builds the company, particularly as a person of color himself, he takes diversity and inclusion extremely seriously and sees it as part of the company’s core values.

“Trying to enable people from non-traditional backgrounds to succeed will be really important to us, and I think providing economic opportunity to people that traditionally would not have been afforded several aspects of economic opportunity is the biggest ways to fix the opportunity gap in this country,” he said.

The company, which launched a year ago has basically grown up during the pandemic. That means he has yet to meet any of his customers or investors in person, but he says he has learned to adapt to that approach. While he is based in NYC, his investors are are in the Bay Area and so that remote approach will remain in place for the time being.

As he makes his way from seed to a Series A, he says that it’s up to him to stay focused and execute with the goal of showing product-market fit across a variety of company types. He believes if the startup can do this, it will have the data to take to investors when it’s time to take the next step.

Oct
20
2020
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Microsoft debuts Azure Space to cater to the space industry, partners with SpaceX for Starlink data center broadband

Microsoft is taking its Azure cloud computing platform to the final frontier — space. It now has a dedicated business unit called Azure Space for that purpose, made up of industry heavyweights and engineers who are focused on space-sector services, including simulation of space missions, gathering and interpreting satellite data to provide insights and providing global satellite networking capabilities through new and expanded partnerships.

One of Microsoft’s new partners for Azure Space is SpaceX, the progenitor and major current player in the so-called “New Space” industry. SpaceX will be providing Microsoft with access to its Starlink low-latency satellite-based broadband network for Microsoft’s new Azure Modular Datacenter (MDC) — essentially an on-demand container-based data center unit that can be deployed in remote locations, either to operate on their own or boost local capabilities.

Image Credits: Microsoft

The MDC is a contained unit, and can operate off-grid using its own satellite network connectivity add-on. It’s similar in concept to the company’s work on underwater data centres, but keeping it on the ground obviously opens up more opportunities in terms of locating it where people need it, rather than having to be proximate to an ocean or sea.

The other big part of this announcement focuses on space preparedness via simulation. Microsoft revealed the Azure Orbital Emulator today, which provides in a computer emulated environment the ability to test satellite constellation operations in simulation, using both software and hardware. It’s basically aiming to provide as close to in-space conditions as are possible on the ground in order to get everything ready for coordinating large, interconnected constellations of automated satellites in low Earth orbit, an increasing need as more defense agencies and private companies pursue this approach versus the legacy method of relying on one, two or just a few large geosynchronous spacecraft.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Microsoft says the goal with the Orbital Emulator is to train AI for use on orbital spacecraft before those spacecraft are actually launched — from the early development phase, right up to working with production hardware on the ground before it takes its trip to space. That’s definitely a big potential competitive advantage, because it should help companies spot even more potential problems early on while they’re still relatively easy to fix (not the case on orbit).

This emulated environment for on-orbit mission prep is already in use by Azure Government customers, the company notes. It’s also looking for more partners across government and industry for space-related services, including communication, national security, satellite services including observation and telemetry and more.

Oct
19
2020
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Juniper Networks acquires Boston-area AI SD-WAN startup 128 Technology for $450M

Today Juniper Networks announced it was acquiring smart wide area networking startup 128 Technology for $450 million.

This marks the second AI-fueled networking company Juniper has acquired in the last year and a half after purchasing Mist Systems in March 2019 for $405 million. With 128 Technology, the company gets more AI SD-WAN technology. SD-WAN is short for software-defined wide area networks, which means networks that cover a wide geographical area such as satellite offices, rather than a network in a defined space.

Today, instead of having simply software-defined networking, the newer systems use artificial intelligence to help automate session and policy details as needed, rather than dealing with static policies, which might not fit every situation perfectly.

Writing in a company blog post announcing the deal, executive vice president and chief product officer Manoj Leelanivas sees 128 Technology adding great flexibility to the portfolio as it tries to transition from legacy networking approaches to modern ones driven by AI, especially in conjunction with the Mist purchase.

“Combining 128 Technology’s groundbreaking software with Juniper SD-WAN, WAN Assurance and Marvis Virtual Network Assistant (driven by Mist AI) gives customers the clearest and quickest path to full AI-driven WAN operations — from initial configuration to ongoing AIOps, including customizable service levels (down to the individual user), simple policy enforcement, proactive anomaly detection, fault isolation with recommended corrective actions, self-driving network operations and AI-driven support,” Leelanivas wrote in the blog post.

128 Technologies was founded in 2014 and raised over $96 million, according to Crunchbase data. Its most recent round was a $30 million Series D investment in September 2019 led by G20 Ventures and The Perkins Fund.

In addition to the $450 million, Juniper has asked 128 Technology to issue retention stock bonuses to encourage the startup’s employees to stay on during the transition to the new owners. Juniper has promised to honor this stock under the terms of the deal. The deal is expected to close in Juniper’s fiscal fourth quarter, subject to normal regulatory review.

May
04
2020
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Nvidia acquires Cumulus Networks

Nvidia today announced its plans to acquire Cumulus Networks, an open-source-centric company that specializes in helping enterprises optimize their data center networking stack. Cumulus offers both its own Linux distribution for network switches, as well as tools for managing network operations. With Cumulus Express, the company also offers a hardware solution in the form of its own data center switch.

The two companies did not announce the price of the acquisition, but chances are we are talking about a considerable amount, given that Cumulus had raised $134 million since it was founded in 2010.

Mountain View-based Cumulus already had a previous partnership with Mellanox, which Nvidia acquired for $6.9 billion. That acquisition closed only a few days ago. As Mellanox’s Amit Katz notes in today’s announcement, the two companies first met in 2013, and they formed a first official partnership in 2016. Cumulus, it’s worth noting, was also an early player in the OpenStack ecosystem.

Having both Cumulus and Mellanox in its stable will give Nvidia virtually all the tools it needs to help enterprises and cloud providers build out their high-performance computing and AI workloads in their data centers. While you may mostly think about Nvidia because of its graphics cards, the company has a sizable data center group, which delivered close to $1 billion in revenue in the last quarter, up 43% from a year ago. In comparison, Nvidia’s revenue from gaming was just under $1.5 billion.

“With Cumulus, NVIDIA can innovate and optimize across the entire networking stack from chips and systems to software including analytics like Cumulus NetQ, delivering great performance and value to customers,” writes Katz. “This open networking platform is extensible and allows enterprise and cloud-scale data centers full control over their operations.”

Apr
16
2020
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Verizon is buying B2B videoconferencing firm BlueJeans

US carrier Verizon* has splashed out to buy veteran B2B videoconferencing platform, BlueJeans Network — shelling out less than $500 million on the acquisition, according to the Wall Street Journal which first reported the news.

A Verizon spokeswoman confirmed to TechCrunch that the price-tag is sub-$500M but did not provide a more exact figure. Videoconferencing platform Blue Jeans has raised ~$175M since being founded around a decade ago, per Crunchbase, with US investor NEA leading a Series E round back in 2015.

In a press release announcing the deal, Verizon said it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire the enterprise-grade videoconferencing and event platform in order to expand its “immersive unified communications portfolio”.

“Customers will benefit from a BlueJeans enterprise-grade video experience on Verizon’s high-performance global networks. In addition, the platform will be deeply integrated into Verizon’s 5G product roadmap, providing secure and real-time engagement solutions for high growth areas such as telemedicine, distance learning and field service work,” it wrote.

“As the way we work continues to change, it is absolutely critical for businesses and public sector customers to have access to a comprehensive suite of offerings that are enterprise ready, secure, frictionless and that integrate with existing tools,” added Tami Erwin, CEO of Verizon Business, in a supporting statement. “Collaboration and communications have become top of the agenda for businesses of all sizes and in all sectors in recent months. We are excited to combine the power of BlueJeans’ video platform with Verizon Business’ connectivity networks, platforms and solutions to meet our customers’ needs.”

The acquisition comes at a time when videoconferencing is seeing a massive uptick in usage as white collar workers around the world log on to meetings from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although it’s BlueJeans’ rival, Zoom, that’s been the most high profile name linked to the viral videoconferencing boom in recent weeks. The latter recently revealed that daily meeting participants on its platform jumped from a modest 10M in December to 200M in March.

However such booming growth and consumer usage has brought increased scrutiny for Zoom — leading to a spate of warnings (and even some bans), related to security and privacy concerns. And earlier this month the company said it would freeze product dev to focus on the laundry list of issues that have surfaced as users have piled in and kicked its tires, taking a little of the shine off of surging growth. 

On the sheer usage front BlueJeans is certainly small fish in comparison to Zoom — having remained b2b focused. A BlueJeans spokeswoman told us it has more than $100M ARR and over 15,000 customers at this point. (Some notable users include Facebook and Disney.)

But it’s paying users that are likely of most interest to Verizon, hence talk of telemedicine, distance learning and field service work — areas ripe for coronavirus-accelerated digitization. Carriers generally, meanwhile, haven’t been able to translate increased usage during the pandemic into a revenue growth story — as a result of a combination of fixed costs, debt and market disruption that’s been hitting their shares during the coronavirus crisis, per Reuters. Bolting on more b2b tools looks to be one way of growing network revenues.

“The combination of BlueJeans’ world class enterprise video collaboration platform and trusted brand with Verizon Business’ next generation edge computing innovation will deliver highly differentiated and compelling solutions to our joint customers,” said Quentin Gallivan, BlueJeans CEO, in a statement. “We are very excited about joining the Verizon team and we truly believe the future of business communications starts today!”

Verizon said today that said BlueJeans founders and “key management” will join the company as part of the acquisition, with BlueJeans employees set to become Verizon employees immediately following the close of the deal — which is expected in the second quarter, pending customary closing conditions.

BlueJeans co-founder Krish Ramakrishnan has a history of exits, selling a couple of his previous startups to networking giant Cisco — where he has also worked, in between spinning out his own companies.

*Disclosure: Verizon is also TechCrunch’s parent company

Mar
31
2020
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Microsoft launches Edge Zones for Azure

Microsoft today announced the launch of Azure Edge Zones, which will allow Azure users to bring their applications to the company’s edge locations. The focus here is on enabling real-time low-latency 5G applications. The company is also launching a version of Edge Zones with carriers (starting with AT&T) in preview, which connects these zones directly to 5G networks in the carrier’s data center. And to round it all out, Azure is also getting Private Edge Zones for those who are deploying private 5G/LTE networks in combination with Azure Stack Edge.

In addition to partnering with carriers like AT&T, as well as Rogers, SK Telecom, Telstra and Vodafone, Microsoft is also launching new standalone Azure Edge Zones in more than 10 cities over the next year, starting with LA, Miami and New York later this summer.

“For the last few decades, carriers and operators have pioneered how we connect with each other, laying the foundation for telephony and cellular,” the company notes in today’s announcement. “With cloud and 5G, there are new possibilities by combining cloud services, like compute and AI with high bandwidth and ultra-low latency. Microsoft is partnering with them bring 5G to life in immersive applications built by organization and developers.”

This may all sound a bit familiar, and that’s because only a few weeks ago, Google launched Anthos for Telecom and its Global Mobile Edge Cloud, which at first glance offers a similar promise of bringing applications close to that cloud’s edge locations for 5G and telco usage. Microsoft argues that its offering is more comprehensive in terms of its partner ecosystem and geographic availability. But it’s clear that 5G is a trend all of the large cloud providers are trying to tap into. Microsoft’s own acquisition of 5G cloud specialist Affirmed Networks is yet another example of how it is looking to position itself in this market.

As far as the details of the various Edge Zone versions go, the focus of Edge Zones is mostly on IoT and AI workloads, while Microsoft notes that Edge Zones with Carriers is more about low-latency online gaming, remote meetings and events, as well as smart infrastructure. Private Edge Zones, which combine private carrier networks with Azure Stack Edge, is something only a small number of large enterprise companies would likely to look into, given the cost and complexity of rolling out a system like this.

 

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