AWS adds user monitoring and A/B testing to CloudWatch

Amazon CloudWatch was introduced way back in 2009 to help AWS customers view data about their cloud usage and spending. Today at the dawn of AWS re:Invent, the company’s cloud customer conference taking place in Las Vegas this week, the cloud division announced a couple of enhancements to the product.

Amazon has been building on the types of data provided by CloudWatch, and today it added user monitoring. With Real User Monitoring, AWS customers can understand when there is a problem with a deployment and take corrective action before customers really begin to feel it.

“Amazon CloudWatch RUM will help you to collect the metrics that give you the insights that will help you to identify, understand, and improve this experience. You simply register your application, add a snippet of JavaScript to the header of each page and deploy,” Amazon’s Jeff Barr wrote in a blog post announcing the feature.

This doesn’t exactly fall under the category of stunning innovation. It’s something companies like AppDynamics and New Relic have been doing for years, but as with most things Amazon they are providing a soup-to-nuts experience for customers inside AWS, and this type of monitoring lets you know when things could be going wrong with your AWS application.

The other new feature is a new experiments tool called CloudWatch Evidently, which helps developers set feature flags and run A/B tests inside an application they are building on top of AWS. Rather than just updating an app for every user, developers may want to test it on a limited subset of users and see if the new feature breaks anything, or if users prefer a particular approach or design more.

They can limit the people who see a new feature by setting a feature flag in the code and setting up the parameters for that feature. In addition, you can do A/B testing, another form of experimentation, that lets you test features with a certain subset of users to see which feature or design people prefer.

Neither of these is new either. Companies like Split.io have been doing more broad feature flag management for some time, and companies like Optimizely have been building companies around A/B testing.

CloudWatch Evidently is already available in 9 Amazon cloud regions with pay-as-you-go pricing, while CloudWatch RUM is also available now in 10 regions at a cost of $1 per 100,000 events collected.

AWS Braket gets improved support for hybrid quantum-classical workloads

In 2019, AWS launched Braket, its quantum computing service that makes hardware and software tools from its partners Rigetti, IonQ and D-Wave available in its cloud. Given how quickly quantum computing is moving ahead, it’s maybe no surprise that a lot has changed since then. Among other things, hybrid algorithms that use classical computers to optimize quantum algorithms — a process similar to training machine learning models — have become a standard tool for developers. Today, AWS announced improved support for running these hybrid algorithms on Braket.

Previously, to run these algorithms, developers would have to set up and manage the infrastructure to run the optimization algorithms on classical machines and then manage the integration with the quantum computing hardware, in addition to the monitoring and visualization tools for analyzing the results.

Image Credits: AWS

But that’s not all. “Another big challenge is that [Quantum Processing Units] are shared, inelastic resources, and you compete with others for access,” AWS’s Danilo Poccia explains in today’s announcement. “This can slow down the execution of your algorithm. A single large workload from another customer can bring the algorithm to a halt, potentially extending your total runtime for hours. This is not only inconvenient but also impacts the quality of the results because today’s QPUs need periodic re-calibration, which can invalidate the progress of a hybrid algorithm. In the worst case, the algorithm fails, wasting budget and time.”

With the new Amazon Braket Hybrid Jobs feature, developers get a fully managed service that handles the hardware and software interactions between the classical and quantum machines — and developers will get priority access to quantum processing units to provide them with more predictability. Braket will automatically spin up the necessary resources (and shut them down once a job is completed). Developers can set custom metrics for their algorithms and, using Amazon CloudWatch, they can visualize the results in near real time.

“As application developers, Braket Hybrid Jobs gives us the opportunity to explore the potential of hybrid variational algorithms with our customers,” said Vic Putz, head of engineering at QCWare. “We are excited to extend our integration with Amazon Braket and the ability to run our own proprietary algorithms libraries in custom containers means we can innovate quickly in a secure environment. The operational maturity of Amazon Braket and the convenience of priority access to different types of quantum hardware means we can build this new capability into our stack with confidence.”

AWS launches new robotics programs

To kick of re:Invent, AWS’s flagship conference, the cloud computing giant today announced IoT RoboRunner, a new service for building applications that help large fleets of robots work together. This new service aims to provide the infrastructure necessary to build the work and fleet management applications necessary to run the kind of robot fleets that Amazon itself utilizes in its warehouses, for example.

The company also today announced a new robotics accelerator program.

At its core, RoboRunner helps developers build applications that integrate with robots from different manufacturers and manage the lifecycle of these applications. Currently, AWS argues, it’s too difficult to integrate robots from different vendors into a single system, leaving enterprises with a number of silos where they manage their robots, which in turn makes it hard to build applications where these heterogeneous fleets cooperate.

Image Credits: AWS

RoboRunner provides developers with a centralized data repository for their entire fleet, as well as a registry for modeling all of the destinations in a given facility and a registry for keeping track of all of the tasks performed by these robots.

The target customer for this service is large industrial enterprises that operate fleets of automated guided vehicles, mobile robots and robotic arms.

In addition to RoboRunner, AWS also announced a new robotics startup accelerator, the AWS Robotics Startup Accelerator, in collaboration with MassRobotics.

“Today, there are only a few successful commercial robotics companies, and there are a few big reasons for this,” AWS CTO Werner Vogels writes in today’s announcement. “First, finding a fit in the robotics product market is difficult because real-world environments are dynamic and unpredictable, so pairing the right niche with the right capabilities can be a challenge. Second, building robots with a high degree of autonomy and intelligence requires multidisciplinary skills that are hard to find and recruit for. Third, robotics is capital intensive and requires large up-front investment in sensors, actuators, and mechanical hardware even when they’re already commercially available.”

The new program is open to early-stage startups (less than $10 million in revenue and $100 million raised. The selected companies will get access to specialized training and mentorship from robotics experts and up to $10,000 in AWS credits.  

Upbound nabs $60M to grow its open source Crossplane multi-cloud management project

Companies today want to avoid the lock-in they faced in the past with a single vendor. As a result, they are hedging their bets with a multi-cloud strategy, but this creates a new problem around finding a single tool for managing it all. That’s where Upbound comes in with its open source Crossplane multi-cloud management tool.

It’s a big problem, and up until now, companies have relied on the cloud vendors themselves to manage each one separately. While some solutions like Google Anthos and Red Hat OpenShift have come along, there was a lack of open source tooling until Upbound released Crossplane in May 2020.

Investors recognized the need identified by Upbound and rewarded the company with a $60 million Series B to help build the open source project while looking to grow the commercial version of the product. Altimeter Capital led the round with participation from GV, Intel Capital and Telstra Ventures.

Upbound founder and CEO Bassam Tabbara said that while the market has attempted to find a solution to this management challenge, he believes that his company is the first to build an open source community with the hope of developing this single management console and single API to manage across cloud tools.

“There’s been a lot of efforts around trying to build a single point of control. None of them have attacked this problem from a community perspective, creating a universal control plane that enables that in [a] community, while [building] the convergence around it,” he said.

“I think of Crossplane as the first to get to a point where we actually now have a convergence effect around a single universal cloud API. This has never happened before. It’s truly the first time that we’ve gotten to one. You can go to Crossplane right now and you get one declarative API that can be used to address all cloud resources and infrastructure sources across all vendors.”

Tabbara points out that the project is fully cloud-native and is managed under the umbrella of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), which manages Kubernetes and other key open source cloud-native technologies.

He said that Crossplane allows users to pick and choose the cloud vendors they want to use — whether cloud infrastructure vendors like AWS, Microsoft and Google or cloud-native tooling like Elastic, Confluent, Databricks and Snowflake — and manage all of that from a single API.

The company has grown and helped nurture the open source project and developed a commercial product in parallel called Upbound (like the company), which customers can install themselves in their cloud of choice or use a SaaS version that Upbound will manage for them.

It’s not only catching on with users. Tabbara said he has also been seeing major vendors like AWS, Azure, Equinix and IBM building integrations for Crossplane. He believes this is key, and it’s similar to the dynamic we saw in 2017 when the major cloud players began to rally around Kubernetes and the CNCF.

“It’s truly to the point where there is now a real convergence effect around Crossplane, not unlike the convergence effect that we saw around Kubernetes as a project, and not unlike the convergence we saw around Linux as a project,” he said.

It seems to be a project and a commercial vision with tremendous potential, one that investors see as a pivotal piece of the cloud puzzle and are willing to pour in significant capital to help build. If Upbound can execute on this vision, it may be onto something truly transformative, but only time will tell if they can make that happen.

Thought Machine closes $200M for its cloud native banking SaaS and becomes a unicorn

Thought Machine, a 2014 (Xoogler) founded startup that sells cloud-based b2b banking services, has closed a $200 million Series C round and announced that it’s achieved unicorn status (aka, passing a $1BN valuation).

The new funding follows an $83M Series B round last year — when it described its market cap as “increasing healthily”.

The Series C is led by New York- and San Francisco-based Nyca Partners, with other new investors including ING Ventures, JPMorgan Chase Strategic Investments and Standard Chartered Ventures — the investment arms of some of its global tier one banking clients.

Lloyds Banking Group, which led Thought Machine’s Series A, has also participated in the latest raise.

Other existing investors also returning for the Series C are British Patient Capital, Eurazeo, SEB, Molten Ventures (formerly Draper Esprit), Backed, and IQ Capital.

Thought Machine describes itself as a “cloud native core banking technology” firm — and is selling cloud-basked banking infrastructure to old and new banks as they look to offer their customers services via the cloud, moving away from mainframe, legacy banking tech (in the case of old school banks) or offering cloud-based services from the get-go in the case of challenger banks and fintech startups.

The startup’s Series C follows a period of accelerated growth, with Thought Machine noting it’s added 200+ employees since 2020 and relocating into a larger London HQ to accommodate its expanded headcount.

The new funding will be used to continue development and expansion of its flagship SaaS product Vault — a cloud-native platform which its b2b customers rely on to provide a range of retail banking services, from checking accounts, savings accounts, loans and credit cards to mortgages.

Vault is built around APIs, using a microservice architecture and a system of Smart Contracts — hosted on a cloud service of the customer’s choosing (the likes of Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services and IBM Cloud are supported) — with touted benefits including increased flexible and more scalable infrastructure, as well as reduced running costs vs maintaining legacy technology.

Commenting on the funding in a statement, Paul Taylor, CEO and founder of Thought Machine said: “We are delighted to have earned the support of our new and existing investors as we continue to move the world’s leading banks into the cloud. We set out to eradicate legacy technology from the industry and ensure that all banks deployed on Vault can succeed and deliver on their ambitions. These new funds will accelerate the delivery of Vault into banks around the world who wish to implement their future vision of financial services.”

In another supporting statement, Hans Morris, managing partner at Nyca Partners, added: “Thought Machine is the leading technology among the new generation of cloud native core platforms, and as a result it has become the top choice for tier one banks looking to upgrade their core architecture. These institutions tell us that Thought Machine’s engineering approach is unrivalled; Vault is highly configurable, flexible, scalable, and specifically designed for the complex environment and requirements of tier one banks. Investing in Thought Machine is an investment in the future of banking and we are very energized to be working with them as they build a new standard for core banking technology.”

TechCrunch+ roundup: Why your title matters, part-time CFOs, Sequoia’s new model

Startup culture is informal, which is why some workers end up with job titles like “customer delight manager” or “product whisperer.”

That might work inside mature companies, but early-stage founders who are presenting themselves to investors must be more specific.

In an interview with Natasha Mascarenhas, B2B stealth startup founder Akshaya Dinesh recounted the time her team was rejected by an accelerator because they hadn’t yet picked a CEO.


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“We said something like, ‘We’re very early and we’re both technical so we’re kind of doing everything together,’ but if we had to choose it would be X,” said Dinesh.

Making sure each contributor has a clearly defined title gives potential investors a better understanding of the team and its abilities — and it will also help avoid future legal disputes.

But like it or not, it also means some founders will receive a larger slice of the pie than others.

“As we’ve learned through loud legal disputes and quieter signs, titles matter,” writes Natasha, who also interviewed several investors and legal experts. “Perhaps even more than the name of your startup does.”

In observance of the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., we won’t be publishing on Thursday, November 25 and Friday, November 26.

Thanks very much for reading!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch+
@yourprotagonist

5 must-have board slides for SaaS sales and revenue leaders

Hand putting wooden five stars on table

Image Credits: Aramyan (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Before he became a partner at Battery Ventures, Bill Binch was chief revenue officer at Pendo, a product analytics app.

In his former role, he was responsible for providing his company’s board with quarterly updates on growth and revenue.

“As a wise mentor once told me, no one ever gets a promotion from a board meeting, but people sure do get fired afterward,” he writes in an article about the five slides sales and revenue teams must get right:

  • Headline reel.
  • Detailed, five-quarter view.
  • Segments, geographies and verticals.
  • Pipeline.
  • Sales team health.

Data collection isn’t the problem: It’s what companies are doing with it

Rear view of young man walking towards detour on red background

Image Credits: Klaus Vedfelt (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Instead of raking in user data as a general practice, companies should aggregate information to optimize product development and create a superior customer experience, writes Maxim Kharchenko, director of fintech products at Rakuten Viber.

In a detailed TechCrunch+ post, Kharchenko uses examples to explain how companies can set up data fabrics, AI and decision intelligence frameworks to build a data-driven business without sacrificing user trust.

3 ways fractional CFOs can fast-track a startup’s success

red balloon with man helping people cross chasm

Image Credits: wildpixel (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Bringing a CFO aboard is not a high priority at most early-stage startups.

It isn’t a critical role until the company reaches product-market fit, and the best ones are expensive to recruit and retain.

Hiring a part-time CFO may be a better option, particularly for companies that are shaping up their finances before seeking new funding, advises Ranga Bodla, head of industry marketing for Oracle NetSuite.

“With no sign that the flow of capital will ease in the near future, bringing in a fractional CFO could be a well-timed strategic move for startups with ambitious growth plans,” he writes.

What happened to Paytm’s IPO valuation?

In India, nearly every store has a placard with a Paytm QR code customers can use to pay for nearly anything.

Given its ubiquity, there was boundless optimism ahead of the fintech’s IPO last week. However, the stock tanked the next day and fell further this week.

It appears the public didn’t like the IPO price too much, Alex Wilhelm writes. Despite a growing merchant base and strong rise in GMV, it appears Paytm “is struggling to pull enough revenue from its work to cover the cost of doing business.”

In Amazon scuffle, Visa’s loss could be Affirm’s gain

Online shopping concept. Credit card and laptop computer on blue background 3D Rendering, 3D Illustration

Image Credits: Ilija Erceg (opens in a new window) / Getty Images (Image has been modified)

Interchange fees can be costly for e-commerce retailers in more than one way — costly payment methods like credit cards lead to customers making fewer transactions and abandoning shopping carts.

And Amazon’s recent decision to stop accepting Visa cards on its U.K. site is evidence of just how much those costs can matter, writes Ryan Lawler.

A host of e-commerce platforms are increasingly moving to alternatives like buy now, pay later as customers tend to buy more often when given no-interest or interest-free payment alternatives, and providers like Affirm and Afterpay are poised to reap the benefits of this shift, Ryan writes.

“We’re likely to see more BNPL partnerships and adoption as retailers seek to grow their top-line sales, reach new customers and move beyond credit cards as a primary payment method.”

What open source-based startups can learn from Confluent’s success story

3D illustration of many arrows changing way to converge toward objective on kraft paper. Confluence background.

Image Credits: Olivier Le Moal / Getty Images

Founders are often told to perfect one product and only shift focus after they’ve either succeeded or failed at it.

But Confluent simultaneously built a cloud product while still figuring out its on-premise service business, writes enterprise reporter Ron Miller.

“The challenge for us was that we had a software offering with very large customers with lots of demands, and we had to [build] a cloud offering across all the different clouds while still servicing that [existing] customer base,” Confluent CEO and co-founder Jay Kreps told Ron.

“Growing the existing business and building something new are both pretty hard problems, so that was the big challenge for us.”

Kreps and Ron also spoke about how the dual focus paid off to help Confluent become a $22-billion publicly listed company, its early days, and why founders should trust their instincts.

As Sequoia changes its model, other permanent-capital VCs weigh in

Sequoia Capital announced in October that it would create a new structure that rolled up all of its investments into a single fund.

“Our industry is still beholden to a rigid 10-year fund cycle pioneered in the 1970s,” wrote partner Roelof Botha in a blog post.

The move to a more permanent, Registered Investment Adviser model is meant to counter that, several U.K.-based VC investors told Anna Heim and Alex Wilhelm.

“It takes a fund like Sequoia with the strength of their LP relationships to even consider this kind of option,” Molten Ventures partner Vinoth Jayakumar said.

With his first re:Invent looming, what will AWS’s new boss bring to the table?

It’s that magical time of year. No, I’m not talking about the upcoming holiday season. Instead, it’s time for AWS’s annual customer extravaganza re:Invent, which starts next week. The conference is always a newsy event with tons of new features and products being announced. It’s also a time for AWS to pull together the press, customers, partners and other interested parties to party in Vegas. This year it has a new twist.

Besides the gathering returning to Vegas after a year as virtual event due to the pandemic, this year’s event will mark the first re:Invent with new CEO Adam Selipsky at the helm.

Selipsky came over from Tableau earlier this year after Jeff Bezos announced he was moving into the executive chairman role, and former AWS CEO Andy Jassy moved up to replace Bezos as Amazon CEO.

With the executive musical chairs shuffle settled, Selipsky will deliver the main keynote, and he’ll have big shoes to fill. Jassy had an uncanny ability to keep his company’s vast product catalogue inside his head and talk about how all of the pieces connected to one another seemingly extemporaneously. Pulling off a similar feat would not be easy.

But Selipsky brings his own personal strengths to the table as Jassy pointed out in the email he sent to employees announcing that the former Tableau exec would be his successor:

“Adam brings strong judgment, customer obsession, team building, demand generation, and CEO experience to an already very strong AWS leadership team. And, having been in such a senior role at AWS for 11 years, he knows our culture and business well.”

That is all true, and the division he is now running remains firmly in command of the market, but there have been signals that in spite of that success, that Selipsky could be ready to put his own stamp on AWS and maybe begin to tweak how they do business.

For example, he told Bloomberg last week that he intends to take a page from Microsoft and Google’s cloud playbook and start to create industry-specific solutions. Under Jassy’s rule, they avoided this strategy, preferring a more generalized approach, letting partners deal with the specifics.

Perhaps his short time as part of Salesforce when Tableau was acquired, which likes the industry-driven solutions approach, convinced Selipsky that this would be a good way for AWS to go as well. But beyond that, he has not revealed if he intends to change things under his command. Maybe he will next week, or perhaps he sees something that isn’t broken and doesn’t need fixing.

When asked what advice they would give to Selipsky, a couple of industry watchers had quick responses.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says the first thing he would advise Selipsky to do is reduce the growing set of products into a simpler, less comprehensive catalogue. “CTOs avoid [solutions that have] to rely on the ingenuity of developers instead of a platform offering with version numbers and road maps from AWS connecting the dots for them,” he said.

Secondly he would suggest becoming more enterprise friendly by taking a page from how Google and Microsoft (and even IBM and Oracle) about how these companies approach cloud sales to larger companies. He would suggest possibly hiring experienced enterprise executives as Google has done, particularly with CEO Thomas Kurian, who came from Oracle in 2018 or Robert Enselin, who came on board from SAP in 2019 as president of global cloud operations.

Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy has a couple of different recommendations, proposing they move up the stack and start developing more SaaS applications to compete with Google, Microsoft and Adobe, among others. Further, he wants to see them move into hybrid more where their competitors are trying to take the lead.

All that said, the division is immensely successful. In the most recent quarterly report, the company reported $16.1 billion in revenue, but Selipsky himself told Bloomberg’s Emily Chang in an interview last week that you he knows he can not simply rest on his laurels and count on that success continuing with such formidable competitors chasing his company.

“It’s really important to continue to act as if we’re insurgents and not to start to act like incumbents,” Selipsky told Chang.

Regardless, at re:Invent, he will have his first turn as the face of AWS, delivering the main keynote, and while he is reporting to Jassy, he is his own person and will emphasize what he sees as important to continue growing the lucrative division. We will see next week if that involves any significant changes or not.

With his first re:Invent looming, what will AWS’s new boss bring to the table?

It’s that magical time of year. No, I’m not talking about the upcoming holiday season. Instead, it’s time for AWS’s annual customer extravaganza re:Invent, which starts next week. The conference is always a newsy event with tons of new features and products being announced. It’s also a time for AWS to pull together the press, customers, partners and other interested parties to party in Vegas. This year it has a new twist.

Besides the gathering returning to Vegas after a year as virtual event due to the pandemic, this year’s event will mark the first re:Invent with new CEO Adam Selipsky at the helm.

Selipsky came over from Tableau earlier this year after Jeff Bezos announced he was moving into the executive chairman role, and former AWS CEO Andy Jassy moved up to replace Bezos as Amazon CEO.

With the executive musical chairs shuffle settled, Selipsky will deliver the main keynote, and he’ll have big shoes to fill. Jassy had an uncanny ability to keep his company’s vast product catalogue inside his head and talk about how all of the pieces connected to one another seemingly extemporaneously. Pulling off a similar feat would not be easy.

But Selipsky brings his own personal strengths to the table as Jassy pointed out in the email he sent to employees announcing that the former Tableau exec would be his successor:

“Adam brings strong judgment, customer obsession, team building, demand generation, and CEO experience to an already very strong AWS leadership team. And, having been in such a senior role at AWS for 11 years, he knows our culture and business well.”

That is all true, and the division he is now running remains firmly in command of the market, but there have been signals that in spite of that success, that Selipsky could be ready to put his own stamp on AWS and maybe begin to tweak how they do business.

For example, he told Bloomberg last week that he intends to take a page from Microsoft and Google’s cloud playbook and start to create industry-specific solutions. Under Jassy’s rule, they avoided this strategy, preferring a more generalized approach, letting partners deal with the specifics.

Perhaps his short time as part of Salesforce when Tableau was acquired, which likes the industry-driven solutions approach, convinced Selipsky that this would be a good way for AWS to go as well. But beyond that, he has not revealed if he intends to change things under his command. Maybe he will next week, or perhaps he sees something that isn’t broken and doesn’t need fixing.

When asked what advice they would give to Selipsky, a couple of industry watchers had quick responses.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says the first thing he would advise Selipsky to do is reduce the growing set of products into a simpler, less comprehensive catalogue. “CTOs avoid [solutions that have] to rely on the ingenuity of developers instead of a platform offering with version numbers and road maps from AWS connecting the dots for them,” he said.

Secondly he would suggest becoming more enterprise friendly by taking a page from how Google and Microsoft (and even IBM and Oracle) about how these companies approach cloud sales to larger companies. He would suggest possibly hiring experienced enterprise executives as Google has done, particularly with CEO Thomas Kurian, who came from Oracle in 2018 or Robert Enselin, who came on board from SAP in 2019 as president of global cloud operations.

Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy has a couple of different recommendations, proposing they move up the stack and start developing more SaaS applications to compete with Google, Microsoft and Adobe, among others. Further, he wants to see them move into hybrid more where their competitors are trying to take the lead.

All that said, the division is immensely successful. In the most recent quarterly report, the company reported $16.1 billion in revenue, but Selipsky himself told Bloomberg’s Emily Chang in an interview last week that you he knows he can not simply rest on his laurels and count on that success continuing with such formidable competitors chasing his company.

“It’s really important to continue to act as if we’re insurgents and not to start to act like incumbents,” Selipsky told Chang.

Regardless, at re:Invent, he will have his first turn as the face of AWS, delivering the main keynote, and while he is reporting to Jassy, he is his own person and will emphasize what he sees as important to continue growing the lucrative division. We will see next week if that involves any significant changes or not.

StepZen’s API management vision begins to take shape with free GraphQL tools

StepZen stepped onto the scene at the end of last year with an $8 million seed round and a vision for unifying APIs. Today that vision came into clearer focus as the company announced two new free GraphQL tools to help simplify API management.

StepZen CEO and co-founder Anant Jhingran sees the graph as part of what he calls “a fundamental transformation that’s taking place in how applications communicate with the back end.” As companies use increasing numbers of APIs to build software and connect systems, StepZen wants the graph to be at the center of API management where it handles all of the various connections and dependencies between these APIs.

There is inherent complexity involved in crossing multiple applications to pull together all of the information about something that has interconnections. As an example, a company may want to pull all of the information about a customer together, but it lives in multiple systems. How do you see the connections between customer information, interaction data and previous orders. One of those comes from the CRM, one from marketing and customer service tools and one from an order management system.

What StepZen wants to do is simplify the act of making those connections. “The fundamental thing is that while there are individual sub-elements, the use cases really connect the dots because that’s where the real power of the business [lies],” Jhingran explained.

To help with that, the company is releasing two free tools today. The first is GraphQL Studio, which helps companies create a map or flow that shows the connections between the various APIs your company uses, whether internal private ones or the public SaaS variety.

“So it is not the case that developers only deal with private API’s. It’s not the case that developers only deal with SaaS API’s. And what we want to do is to enable both sides of the story, and our GraphQL Studio is really starting from ‘here are your pre-finished API’s’ that you’re going to kind of pick and choose and then add your own secret sauce,” he said.

The second piece is GraphQL Federation, a tool that can take the various graphs inside an organization and can consolidate them into a single graph of graphs that lets companies see how the various pieces fit together. Being able to federate these small graphs has been a real challenge that StepZen wants to solve with this tool.

“Fundamentally, the idea is that in a team of teams, there’s no one graph, and therefore when you look at how applications consume data, they’ve got to connect across multiple graphs and get to a unified graph. And that’s what GraphQL Federation does,” he said.

He says that the company is offering both tools for free as a starting point for developers to build connections between various APIs, and as they move into more complex use cases, they can sign up for StepZen.

“Once people start using the tools, some of them will say, ‘we need to kind of modify it a bit, or we need to add our own private data,’ and that’s where we want people to sign up for StepZen, but we want people to succeed on this without even signing up.”

Suborbital raises $1.6M for its WebAssembly platform

Suborbital, the company behind the open source Atmo WebAssembly-centric project for building scalable server applications, today announced that it has raised a $1.6 million seed round led by Amplify Partners. A number of angel investors, including Jason Warner (former CTO of GitHub), Sri Viswanath (CTO of Atlassian), Tyler McMullen (CTO of Fastly), Jonathan Beri (founder of Golioth), Vijay Gill (SVP of engineering at RapidAPI) and Mac Reddin (founder of Commsor), also joined this round.

In addition, the company also today announced the public beta launch of Suborbital Compute. At first glance, this may seem like somewhat of an odd product. As SaaS services look to make their products extensible beyond basic drag-and-drop integrations, they need tools that allow developers to write these extensions inside of their products. But these user functions open up a lot of security issues, too. With Suborbital Compute, SaaS developers can give their end-users the ability to write their own functions and extend their products, with the sandboxing properties of WebAssembly — the basis of Atmos and Suborbital’s other open source tools — providing many of the guardrails.

But that’s just the start. Suborbital is nothing if not an ambitious project. Its mission, CEO and founder Connor Hicks told me, is to “the way we as an industry think about and deploy compute.” Hicks previously worked on the 1Password platform team, where he worked on tools like the 1Password command-line interface and its enterprise products, eventually leading the company’s R&D efforts around its enterprise products. But on the side, he started dabbling in building a distributed functions-as-a-service system, first based on Docker, which proved to be too slow, and then, eventually, around WebAssemly. That turned out to be more complicated than he expected, in large part because he had to write all of the glue code to make this work — but about two years ago, things started to click into place.

“I started going down this path a little more seriously, started spending more time on it, and what came out of it was this scheduler for WebAssembly functions, which today is our Reactr project,” Hicks explained. While Reactr is a Go library, people started getting interested in seeing what a pure WebAssembly service would look like, which became the Atmo project that is now at the core of Suborbital’s efforts.

“The grand experiment with Atmo was, ‘hey, let’s see if we can take a declarative description of a web server application and figure out how to run it without the user needing to do any boilerplate,” Hicks explained. “So we could take this declarative description — and a bunch of functions — compile the WebAssembly and we could figure out how to build this web service and make it run, and make it secure, and make it fast automatically, and the user didn’t have to worry about any of the plumbing.”

With Atmo, Suborbital is betting on server-side WebAssembly to allow developers to write code in a language like Rust, Swift or AssemblyScript, which is then compiled to WebAssembly and deployed and managed by Atmo and run in a sandboxed environment. At the core of Atmo is a scheduler that runs the WebAssembly modules and promises to do so with near-native performance.

Over time, Hicks believes, this approach could challenge the role of containers for deploying many applications, especially at the edge. “We think that WebAssembly on bare metal is going to pretty much replace the need for containers in these small, resource-constrained edge environments,” Hicks said.

But why then launch with such a niche product? Something like an “Atmo Pro” may seem like the more logical choice, but Hicks argues that it is still too early for that. Because the idea is still very new, the market wouldn’t have been there for a service like that.

“It doesn’t have the widespread adoption that you would need to make money off of a hosted Atmo service,” Hicks said.”After realizing that I couldn’t just make money selling a pro version of Atmo — or a hosted version of Atmo — I went back and I asked, ‘hey, what could we actually build that people would want to pay money for and actually build a business around?'”

Hicks tells me that the team, which currently consists of four people, has already started to ramp up its efforts around partnerships, but next year, it plans to really scale up its infrastructure and operations capabilities.