CIOs are dead tired of dumb tech. Pulse has $6.5M to help them help each other

The technology that runs our companies these days is staggering in its complexity. We have moved from a monolith to a microservices world, from boxes to SaaS, and while that has added agility to the enterprise, it has come at the cost of a metric f-ton of services and software platforms required by every team in the building.

CIOs need a place to commiserate — and get better recommendations on what tech works well and what should be placed in the proverbial recycle bin. Meanwhile, salespeople and investors want to hear these decision-makers’ views on emerging products to identify rich veins to invest in.

At the core of Pulse is a community of vetted CIOs and other tech procurers, currently numbering more than 15,000. On top of this core group of users, Pulse has built a series of products to help exploit their collective wisdom, including several new products the company is announcing today.

In addition to new product launches, the company is announcing a $6.5 million Series A round from AV8 Ventures, which is exclusively backed by mega-insurer Allianz Group and launched last year with a debut $170 million fund. This round closed in December according to the company, and brings the startup’s total funding to $10.5 million.

Pulse’s existing product offerings assist product marketers and investment researchers who want to get a “pulse” on the marketplace for tech products by polling CIOs and testing out language around new features and initiatives.

“As an example, Microsoft will come to us and say, ‘Hey, we want to test our messaging and positioning before we sort of blow it up as a campaign. We’d like to do that very quickly through your community.’ And then we facilitate that through a series of questions through surveys and get back the insights to them very quickly,” co-founder and CEO Mayank Mehta explained.

“We think about this as truly becoming a Bloomberg terminal for marketers and investors,” he said. Researchers “can use this as a great way to get a real-time pulse on their buyers and understand how the market is moving, so they can make appropriate investments and ship strategies in real time.”

He said that the company worked with 50 customers last year and delivered some 150 reports. As for the CIOs themselves, “The community is open so long as you are a director level or above,” Mehta said.

In addition to this product for investors and market researchers, the company is also announcing the launch of Product IQ today, which takes the needs of a particular CIO user into account to offer them “personalized” product recommendations for their companies. Those recommendations are surfaced from the continuous data that CIOs are adding into the system through polls and opinion surveys.

“We’re trying to imagine and rethink how decision-making is done for technology executives, especially in a world like this where teams are changing so dramatically,” Mehta said.

Crowdsourced research platforms in the tech industry have become a popular area for VC investment in recent years. StackShare, which raised $5.2 million from e.Ventures, has focused on helping engineers learn from other engineers about the tech they have chosen for their infrastructure. Meanwhile, startups like Wonder and NewtonX, which raised $12 million from Two Sigma Ventures, have focused less on technical solutions and instead answer business questions such as market sizing or competitive landscape.

Pulse was founded in 2017 and is based in San Francisco, and previously raised a seed from True Ventures according to Crunchbase.

Collibra nabs another $112.5M at a $2.3B valuation for its big data management platform

GDPR and other data protection and privacy regulations — as well as a significant (and growing) number of data breaches and exposées of companies’ privacy policies — have put a spotlight on not just on the vast troves of data that businesses and other organizations hold on us, but also how they handle it. Today, one of the companies helping them cope with that data trove in a better and legal way is announcing a huge round of funding to continue that work. Collibra, which provides tools to manage, warehouse, store and analyse data troves, is today announcing that it has raised $112.5 million in funding, at a post-money valuation of $2.3 billion.

The funding — a Series F from the looks of it — represents a big bump for the startup, which last year raised $100 million at a valuation of just over $1 billion. This latest round was co-led by ICONIQ Capital, Index Ventures, and Durable Capital Partners LIP, with previous investors CapitalG (Google’s growth fund), Battery Ventures, and Dawn Capital also participating.

Collibra, originally a spin-out from Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, Belgium, today works with some 450 enterprises and other large organizations — customers include Adobe, Verizon (which owns TechCrunch), insurers AXA, and a number of healthcare providers. Its products cover a range of services focused around company data, including tools to help customers comply with local data protection policies, store it securely, and to run analytics and more.

These are all tools that have long had a place in enterprise big data IT, but have become increasingly more used and in-demand both as data policies have expanded, and as the prospects of what can be discovered through big data analytics have become more advanced. With that growth, many companies have realised that they are not in a position to use and store their data in the best possible way, and that is where companies like Collibra step in.

“Most large organizations are in data chaos,” Felix Van de Maele, co-founder and CEO, previously told us. “We help them understand what data they have, where they store it and [understand] whether they are allowed to use it.”

As you would expect with a big IT trend, Collibra is not the only company chasing this opportunity. Competitors include Informatica, IBM, Talend, Egnyte, among a number of others, but the market position of Collibra, and its advanced technology, is what has continued to impress investors.

“Durable Capital Partners invests in innovative companies that have significant potential to shape growing industries and build larger companies,” said Henry Ellenbogen, founder and chief investment officer for Durable Capital Partners LP, in a statement (Ellenbogen is formerly an investment manager a T. Rowe Price, and this is his first investment in Collibra under Durable). “We believe Collibra is a leader in the Data Intelligence category, a space that could have a tremendous impact on global business operations and a space that we expect will continue to grow as data becomes an increasingly critical asset.”

“We have a high degree of conviction in Collibra and the importance of the company’s mission to help organizations benefit from their data,” added Matt Jacobson, general partner at ICONIQ Capital and Collibra board member, in his own statement. “There is an increasing urgency for enterprises to harness their data for strategic business decisions. Collibra empowers organizations to use their data to make critical business decisions, especially in uncertain business environments.”

Zoom freezes feature development to fix security and privacy issues

Zoom has been widely criticized over the past couple of weeks for terrible security, a poorly designed screensharing feature, misleading dark pattern, fake end-to-end-encryption claims and an incomplete privacy policy. Despite that, the video conferencing service has attracted a ton of new users thanks to the coronavirus lockdowns around the world — the company reached 200 million daily active users last month.

Zoom, an enterprise product designed for boring corporate meetings, has become a mainstream product with all the risks that it involves.

That’s why the company’s CEO Eric S. Yuan has written a lengthy blog post to address some of the concerns around Zoom. He starts by sharing some metrics. Zoom has been used by 90,000 schools around 20 countries. Daily meetings participants jumped from 10 million in December to 200 million in March.

But some companies are starting to reconsider using Zoom for video conferences. For instance, SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket company, has banned its employees from using the service.

For the next 90 days, Zoom is enacting a feature freeze, which means that the company isn’t going to ship any new feature until it is done fixing the current feature set. Zoom will also work with third-party experts and prepare a transparency report.

“For the past several weeks, supporting this influx of users has been a tremendous undertaking and our sole focus,” Yuan writes. “However, we recognize that we have fallen short of the community’s – and our own – privacy and security expectations. For that, I am deeply sorry, and I want to share what we are doing about it.”

As expected, Yuan says that mainstream adoption has led to unforeseen issues. “We did not design the product with the foresight that, in a matter of weeks, every person in the world would suddenly be working, studying, and socializing from home. We now have a much broader set of users who are utilizing our product in a myriad of unexpected ways, presenting us with challenges we did not anticipate when the platform was conceived,” he writes.

In addition to keeping up with the massive influx of customer support requests, Zoom has already shipped a few updates to solve some issues. The company released a new version of its iOS app to remove Facebook’s SDK as the company’s privacy policy never said that you consent to sharing data with Facebook. The company updated its privacy policy as well.

Zoom removed the attendee attention tracker feature, a controversial feature that lets hosts see if the Zoom window is currently in focus. The company has also shipped security updates after Patrick Wardle uncovered vulnerabilities.

Zoom wrote a dedicated K-12 privacy policy and changed some default settings for schools (waiting rooms are on by default, only teachers can share content, etc.).

The company is far from done. Don’t forget that it claimed that calls are end-to-end encrypted even though they’re not at all. More importantly, the fact that Zoom is fixing issues as quickly as it can isn’t enough. Something is wrong at Zoom — there’s a corporate culture issue that leads to all those missteps. It’ll take much longer than 90 days.

A former chaos engineer offers 5 tips for handling online disasters remotely

I recently had a scheduled video conference call with a Fortune 100 company.

Everything on my end was ready to go; my presentation was prepared and well-practiced. I was set to talk to 30 business leaders who were ready to learn more about how they could become more resilient to major outages.

Unfortunately, their side hadn’t set up the proper permissions in Zoom to add new people to a trusted domain, so I wasn’t able to share my slides. We scrambled to find a workaround at the last minute while the assembled VPs and CTOs sat around waiting. I ended up emailing my presentation to their coordinator, calling in from my mobile and verbally indicating to the coordinator when the next slide needed to be brought up. Needless to say, it wasted a lot of time and wasn’t the most effective way to present.

At the end of the meeting, I said pointedly that if there was one thing they should walk away with, it’s that they had a vital need to run an online fire drill with their engineering team as soon as possible. Because if a team is used to working together in an office — with access to tools and proper permissions in place — it can be quite a shock to find out in the middle of a major outage that they can’t respond quickly and adequately. Issues like these can turn a brief outage into one that lasts for hours.

Quick context about me: I carried a pager for a decade at Amazon and Netflix, and what I can tell you is that when either of these services went down, a lot of people were unhappy. There were many nights where I had to spring out of bed at 2 a.m., rub the sleep from my eyes and work with my team to quickly identify the problem. I can also tell you that working remotely makes the entire process more complicated if teams are not accustomed to it.

There are many articles about best practices aimed at a general audience, but engineering teams have specific challenges as the ones responsible for keeping online services up and running. And while leading tech companies already have sophisticated IT teams and operations in place, what about financial institutions and hospitals and other industries where IT is a tool, but not a primary focus? It’s often the small things that can make all the difference when working remotely; things that seem obvious in the moment, but may have been overlooked.

So here are some tips for managing incidents remotely:

There were many nights where I had to spring out of bed at 2 a.m., rub the sleep from my eyes and work with my team to quickly identify the problem… working remotely makes the entire process more complicated if teams are not accustomed to it.

Okta launches Lifecycle Management Workflows to make building identity-centric processes easy

Okta, the popular identity and access management service, today used its annual (and now virtual) user conference to launch Lifecycle Management Workflows, a new tool that helps IT teams build and manage IFTTT-like automated processes with the help of an easy to use graphical interface.

The new service is an extension of Okta’s existing automation tools. But the key here is that IT teams and developers can now easily build complex identity-centric workflows across a wide range of applications. With this, these teams can easily automate an onboarding process where setting up a new Okta account also immediately kicks off processes on third-party services like Box, Salesforce, ServiceNow and Slack to set up accounts there. The same goes for offboarding workflows and username creation. A lot of companies still do this manually, which is not just a hassle but also error-prone.

“Adopting more technology is incredibly beneficial for enterprises today, but complexity is a significant side effect of a changing technology ecosystem and workforce. There is no better example of the potential challenges it can create than with lifecycle management,” said Diya Jolly, Chief Product Officer at Okta. “Okta’s vision of enabling any organization to use any technology goes deeper than just access; it’s about improving how organizations use technology. Okta Lifecycle Management Workflows improves the efficiency and security of enterprises through its simple user experience and broad applicability, keeping organizations secure, and efficient without requiring the complexity of writing code.”

Okta, of course, had lifecycle management features before, but now it is also putting its acquisition of Azuqua to work and using that company’s graphical interface and technology for making it easier to create these automation processes. And while the focus right now is on processes like provisioning and de-provisioning accounts, the long-term plan is to expand Workflows with support for more identity processes.

As Okta also stresses, administrators can also manage very granular access across the supported third-party tools like assigning territories in Salesforce or access to specific group channels in Slack, for example. For temporary employees, admins can also set up automatic de-provisioning workflows that revoke access to some tools but maybe leave access to payroll services open for a while longer. There are also built-in tools for automatically managing conflicts when two people have the same name.

“Millions of people rely on Slack every day to make their working lives simpler, more pleasant, and more productive,” said Tamar Yehoshua, Chief Product Officer at Slack, one of the early adopters of this service. “Okta Lifecycle Management Workflows has significantly increased efficiency for us by automating the provisioning and de-provisioning of users from applications in our environment, without us ever having to write a line of code.”

This new feature is part of Okta’s new Platform Services, which the company also debuted today and which currently consists of core technologies like the Okta Identity Engine, Directories Integrations, Insights, Workflow and Devices. The core idea behind Platform Services is to give Okta users the flexibility to manage their unique identity use cases but also to give Okta itself a platform to innovate on. One other new product that sits on top of the platform is Okta Fastpass, for example, which allows for passwordless authentication on any device.

Xerox drops $34B HP take-over bid amid COVID-19 uncertainty

Xerox announced today that it would be dropping its hostile takeover bid of HP. The drama began last fall with a flurry of increasingly angry letters between the two companies, and confrontational actions from Xerox including an attempt to take over the HP board that had rejected its takeover overtures.

All that came crashing to the ground today when Xerox officially announced it was backing down  amid worldwide economic uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company also indicated it was dropping its bid to take over the board.

“The current global health crisis and resulting macroeconomic and market turmoil caused by COVID-19 have created an environment that is not conducive to Xerox continuing to pursue an acquisition of HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) (“HP”). Accordingly, we are withdrawing our tender offer to acquire HP and will no longer seek to nominate our slate of highly qualified candidates to HP’s Board of Directors,” the company said in a statement.

As for HP, it said it was strong financially and would continue to drive shareholder value, regardless of the outcome.

“We remain firmly committed to driving value for HP shareholders. HP is a strong company with market leading positions across Personal Systems, Print, and 3D Printing & Digital Manufacturing. We have a healthy cash position and balance sheet that enable us to navigate unanticipated challenges such as the global pandemic now before us, while preserving strategic optionality for the future,” the company said in a prepared statement.

The bid never made a lot of sense. Xerox is a much smaller company with a market cap of around $4 billion compared with HP with a market cap of almost $25 billion. It was truly a case of the canary trying to eat the cat.

Yet Xerox continued to insist today, even while admitting defeat, that it would have been better to combine the two companies, something HP never felt was realistic. HP questioned the ability of Xerox to come up with such a large sum of money, and if it did if it were financially stable enough to pull off a deal like this.

Yet even as recently as last month, Xerox increased the bid from $22 to $24 per share in an effort to entice shareholders to bite. It had previously threatened to bypass the board and go directly to shareholders before attempting to replace the board altogether.

HP didn’t like the hostility inherent in the bid or any of the subsequent moves Xerox made to try and force a deal. Last month, HP offered its investors billions in give-backs in an effort to convince them to reject the Xerox bid. As it turned out, the drama simply fizzled out in the middle of a worldwide crisis.

Palo Alto Networks to acquire CloudGenix for $420M

Palo Alto Networks announced today that it has an agreement in place to acquire CloudGenix for $420 million.

CloudGenix delivers a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) that helps customers stay secure by setting policies to enforce compliance with company security protocols across distributed locations. This is especially useful for companies with a lot of branch offices or a generally distributed workforce, something just about everyone is dealing with at the moment as we find millions suddenly working from home.

Nikesh Arora, chairman and CEO at Palo Alto Networks, says that this acquisition should contribute to Palo Alto’s “secure access service edge,” or SASE solutions, as it is known in industry parlance.

“As the enterprise becomes more distributed, customers want agile solutions that just work, and that applies to both security and networking. Upon the close of the transaction, the combined platform will provide customers with a complete SASE offering that is best-in-class, easy to deploy, cloud-managed, and delivered as a service,” Arora said in a statement.

CloudGenix was founded 2013 by Kumar Ramachandran, Mani Ramasamy and Venkataraman Anand, all of whom will be joining the company as part of the deal. It has 250 customers across a variety of verticals. The company has raised almost $100 million, according to PitchBook data.

Palo Alto Networks has been on an acquisitive streak. Going back to February 2019, this represents the 6th company it has acquired to the tune of over $1.6 billion overall.

The acquisition is expected to close in the fourth quarter, subject to customary regulatory approvals.

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 L.A., 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 is likely to look into, given the cost and complexity of rolling out a system like this.

 

Amid shift to remote work, application performance monitoring is IT’s big moment

In recent weeks, millions have started working from home, putting unheard-of pressure on services like video conferencing, online learning, food delivery and e-commerce platforms. While some verticals have seen a marked reduction in traffic, others are being asked to scale to new heights.

Services that were previously nice to have are now necessities, but how do organizations track pressure points that can add up to a critical failure? There is actually a whole class of software to help in this regard.

Monitoring tools like Datadog, New Relic and Elastic are designed to help companies understand what’s happening inside their key systems and warn them when things may be going sideways. That’s absolutely essential as these services are being asked to handle unprecedented levels of activity.

At a time when performance is critical, application performance monitoring (APM) tools are helping companies stay up and running. They also help track root causes should the worst case happen and they go down, with the goal of getting going again as quickly as possible.

We spoke to a few monitoring vendor CEOs to understand better how they are helping customers navigate this demand and keep systems up and running when we need them most.

IT’s big moment

Xage adds full-stack data protection to blockchain security platform

Xage, a startup that has been taking an unusual path to secure legacy companies like oil and gas and utilities with help from the blockchain, announced a new data protection service today.

Xage CEO Duncan Greatwood, says that up until this point, the company has concentrated on protecting customers at the machine layer, but today’s announcement involves protecting data as it travels between parties, which is more of a classic blockchain security scenario.

“We are moving beyond the protection of machines with greater focus on the protection of data. And this announcement around Dynamic Data Security that we’re delivering today is really a data protection layer that spans multiple dimensions. So it spans from the physical machine layer right up to business transaction,” Greatwood explained.

He says that what separates his company from competitors is the ability to have that protection up and down the stack. “We can guarantee the authenticity, integrity and the confidentiality of data, as it’s produced at the machine, and we can maintain that all the way to [delivery to the various parties],” he said.

Greatwood says that this solution is designed to help protect data, even in highly complex data sharing scenarios, using the blockchain as the trust mechanism. Imagine a supply chain scenario in which the parties are sharing data, but each participant only needs to see the piece of data they need to complete their part of the transaction and no more. To do this, Xage has the concept of security fabric, which acts as a layer of protection across the platform.

“What Xage is doing is to use this kind of security outsource approach we bring to authenticity, integrity and confidentiality, and then using the fabric to replicate all of that security metadata across the extent of the fabric, which may very well cover multiple locations and multiple participants,” he said.

This approach enables customers to have confidence in the providence and integrity of the data they are seeing. “We’re able to allow all of the participants to define a set of security policies that gives them control of their own data, but it also allows them to share very flexibly with the rest of the participants in the ecosystem, and to have confidence in that data, up to and including the point where they’ll pay each other money, based on the integrity of the data.”

The new solution is available today. It has been in testing with three beta customers, which included an oil and gas customer, a utility and a smart city scenario.

Xage was founded in 2016 and has raised just over $16 million, according to PitchBook data.