Snowflake, the cloud data warehouse, announced a partnership with Microsoft today to expand their offering to the Azure cloud. The new product is still in Preview for now.
Given that Snowflake CEO Bob Muglia worked at Microsoft for more than 20 years, it’s certainly not surprising that Microsoft is the company’s second partner after working with only Amazon since its inception. But Muglia says it was really about seeing customer demand in the marketplace more than any nostalgia or connections at Microsoft. In fact, he says the company is on boarding one to two new Azure customers a day right now.
The plan is to open up a private preview today, then become generally available some time in the fall when they work out all of the kinks involved with porting their service to another provider.
The partnership didn’t happen overnight. It’s been developing for over a year and that’s because Muglia says Azure isn’t quite as mature as Amazon in some ways and it required some engineering cooperation to make it all work.
“We had to work with Microsoft on some of the things that we needed to make [our product] work [on their platform], particularly around the way we work with with Azure Blob Storage that we really had to do a little differently on Azure. So there are changes we needed to make internally in our product to make it work,” he explained.
Overall though the two company’s engineers have worked together to solve those issues and Muglia says that when the Azure version becomes generally available in the Fall, it should basically be the same product they offer on Amazon, although there are still some features they are trying to make work on in the Preview. “Our goal is to have literally the same product on Azure as on Amazon, and we are very confident we’ll get there with Microsoft,” he said.
For Snowflake of course, it represents a substantial market expansion because now they can sell to companies working on Azure and Amazon and that has opened up a whole new pipeline of customers. Azure is the number two cloud provider behind Amazon.
The interesting aspect of all this is that Amazon and Microsoft compete in the cloud of course, but Snowflake is also competing with each cloud provider too with their own product. Yet this kind of partnership has become standard in the cloud. You have to work across platforms, then compete where it makes sense.
“Almost all of the relationships that we have in the industry, we have some element of competition with them, and so this is a normal mode of operation,” he said.
Broadcom, the massive semiconductor supplier you may remember from its failed attempt to acquire Qualcomm, today announced that it has reached a definitive agreement with CA Technologies, a major IT management software and solutions provider. The price of the acquisition is $18.9 billion in cash. CA’s shareholders will receive $44.50 per share, a 20 percent premium over the closing price of the company’s stock today.
It’s a bit of a surprise to see chip manufacturer Broadcom acquire a major software and services company. “This transaction represents an important building block as we create one of the world’s leading infrastructure technology companies,” Broadcom CEO and president Hock Tan explains in today’s announcement. “With its sizeable installed base of customers, CA is uniquely positioned across the growing and fragmented infrastructure software market, and its mainframe and enterprise software franchises will add to our portfolio of mission critical technology businesses. We intend to continue to strengthen these franchises to meet the growing demand for infrastructure software solutions.”
This comment doesn’t exactly explain the rationale behind today’s acquisition, but Broadcom is clearly trying to diversify its offerings. Earlier this year, the company walked away from its proposed hostile takeover of Qualcomm after the Trump administration blocked it. At the time, Broadcom was willing to pay $117 billion for Qualcomm, which would have greatly extended the company’s semiconductor business. Today’s move sees Broadcom enter a completely new business.
The company expects the acquisition to close in the fourth quarter of 2018. It’s unlikely that Broadcom will face any major headwind from Washington this time around.
Valimail, a company that focuses on preventing fake and fraudulent emails from reaching your inbox, today announced that it is extending its anti-impersonation platform with a couple of new features that will make it even harder for hackers to pretend they are somebody they are not.
While Valimail’s original focus was mostly on ensuring that your outgoing email was trustworthy, the new solution, dubbed Valimail Defend, centers around two types of attacks that use fake incoming emails: those that come from lookalike domains (think tech-crunch.com) and those that rely on “friendly-from spoofing,” where attackers manage to make the incoming email address look like it’s from a legitimate user, often within your company.
“We’ve built our cloud-first anti-impersonation solution to be completely automated from the ground up, and the data is clear: We have the highest rate of effectiveness in protecting our customers’ domains from impersonation,” said Valimail CEO and co-founder Alexander García-Tobar. “Valimail Defend is the latest step in the evolution of our deep industry expertise, giving enterprises and government organizations the most advanced protection against email impersonation.”
The new service will become available in Q3 and will complement the company’s existing solutions under its Valimail Enforce brand, which provides services like email authentication for outgoing messages through DMARC enforcement and a number of other techniques.
Since a large number of security breaches rely on spoofed emails, preventing those kinds of scams is now something that many a company’s chief information security officer is looking at. Often, these scams can be prevented with some basic rule-based approaches, but Valimail argues that its machine learning-driven approach is significantly more effective.
Current Valimail customers include the likes of Splunk, City National Bank and Yelp. “Valimail’s automated approach has proven to be both effective and efficient, as it’s saved us countless employee hours compared with other approaches and got us to enforcement effortlessly,” said Vivek Raman, the director of engineering at Yelp. “We are excited about this next generation of automated anti-impersonation technology from Valimail, which will give us the full end-to-end solution.”
Kairos, the face recognition technology used for brand marketing, has announced the acquisition of EmotionReader.
EmotionReader is a Limerick, Ireland-based startup that uses algorithms to analyze facial expressions around video content. The startup allows brands and marketers to measure viewers emotional response to video, analyze viewer response via an analytics dashboard, and make different decisions around media spend based on viewer response.
The acquisition makes sense considering that Kairos core business is focused on facial identification for enterprise clients. Knowing who someone is, paired with how they feel about your content, is a powerful tool for brands and marketers.
The idea for Kairos started when founder Brian Brackeen was making HR time-clocking systems for Apple. People were cheating the system, so he decided to implement facial recognition to ensure that employees were actually clocking in and out when they said they were.
That premise spun out into Kairos, and Brackeen soon realized that facial identification as a service was much more powerful than any niche time clocking service.
But Brackeen is very cautious with the technology Kairos has built.
While Kairos aims to make facial recognition technology (and all the powerful insights that come with it) accessible and available to all businesses, Brackeen has been very clear about the fact that Kairos isn’t interested in selling this technology to government agencies.
Brackeen recently contributed a post right here on TechCrunch outlining the various reasons why governments aren’t ready for this type of technology. Alongside the outstanding invasion of personal privacy, there are also serious issues around bias against people of color.
From the post:
There is no place in America for facial recognition that supports false arrests and murder. In a social climate wracked with protests and angst around disproportionate prison populations and police misconduct, engaging software that is clearly not ready for civil use in law enforcement activities does not serve citizens, and will only lead to further unrest.
As part of the deal, EmotionReader CTO Dr. Stephen Moore will run Kairos’ new Singapore-based R&D center, allowing for upcoming APAC expansion.
Kairos has raised approximately $8 million from investors New World Angels, Kapor Capital, 500 Startups, Backstage Capital, Morgan Stanley, Caerus Ventures, and Florida Institute.
Most of us never really stop to think about how the software and services we use on a daily basis are created. We just know it’s there when we want to access it, and it works most of the time. But companies don’t just appear and expand randomly, they need a well defined process and methodology to keep innovating or they won’t be around very long.
Box has been around since 2005 and grown into a company on a run rate of over $500 million. Along the way, it transformed from a consumer focus to one concentrating on enterprise content management and expanded the platform from one that mostly offered online storage and file sharing to one that offers a range of content management services in the cloud.
I recently sat down with Chief Product and Chief Strategy Officer Jeetu Patel . A big part of Patel’s job is to keep the company’s development teams on track and focused on new features that could enhance the Box platform, attract new customers and increase revenue.
Before you solve a problem, you need the right group of people working on it. Patel says building a team has a few primary principles to help guide the product and team development. It starts with rules and rubrics to develop innovative solutions and help them focus on where to invest their resources in terms of money and people.
When it comes to innovating, you have to structure your teams in such a way that you can react to changing requirements in the marketplace, and in today’s tech world, being agile is more important than ever. “You have to configure your innovation engine from a team, motivation and talent recruiting perspective so that you’ve actually got the right structure in place to provide enough speed and autonomy to the team so that they’re unencumbered and able to execute quickly,” Patel explained
Finally, you need to have a good grip on the customer and the market. That involves constantly assessing market requirements and looking at building products and features that respond to a need, yet that aren’t dated when you launch them.
Start with the customer
Patel says that when all is said and done, the company wants to help its customers by filling a hole in the product set. From a central company philosophy perspective, it begins with the customer. That might sound like pandering on its face, but he says if you keep that goal in mind it really acts as an anchor to the entire process.
“From a core philosophy that we keep in mind, you have to actually make sure that you get everyone really oriented in the company to say you always start from a customer problem and work backwards. But picking the right problem to solve is 90 percent of the battle,” he said.
Solve hard problems
Patel strongly believes that the quality of the problem is directly proportional to the outcome of the project. Part of that is solving a real customer pain point, but it’s also about challenging your engineers. You can be successfully solving the low-hanging fruit problems most of the time, but then you don’t necessarily attract the highest quality engineering talent.
“If you think about really hard problems that have a lot of mission and purpose around them, you can actually attract the best team,” he said.
That means looking for a problem where you can add a lot of value. “The problem that you choose to spend your time solving should be one where you are uniquely positioned to create a 10 x value proposition compared to what might exist in the market today,” Patel explained. If it doesn’t reach that threshold, he believes that there’s no motivation for the customer to change, and it’s not really worth going after.
Build small teams
Once you identify that big problem, you need to form a team to start attacking it. Patel recommends keeping the teams manageable, and he believes in the Amazon approach of the two-pizza team, a group of 8-10 people who can operate on..well…two pizzas. If the teams get too large, he says it becomes difficult to coordinate and too much time gets wasted on logistics instead of innovation.
“Having very defined local missions, having [small] teams carrying out those local missions, and making sure that those team sizes don’t get too large so that they can stay very agile, is a pretty important kind of core operating principle of how we build products,” Patel said.
That becomes even more important as the company scales. The trick is to configure the organization in such a way so that as you grow, you end up with many smaller teams instead of a few bigger ones, and in that way you can better pinpoint team missions.
Developing a Box product
Patel sees four key areas when it comes to finally building that new product at Box. First of all, it needs to be enterprise grade and all that entails — secure, reliable, scalable, fault tolerant and so forth.
That’s Job One, but what generally has differentiated Box in the content management market has been its ease of use. He sees that as removing as much friction as you can from a software-driven business process.
Next, you try to make those processes intelligent and that means understanding the purpose of the content. Patel says that could involve having better search, better surfacing of content and automated trigger events that move that content through a workflow inside a company.
Finally, they look at how it fits inside a workflow because content doesn’t live in a vacuum inside an enterprise. It generally has a defined purposed and the content management system should make it easy to integrate that content into the broader context of its purpose.
Once you have those small teams set up with their missions in place, you have to establish rules and metrics that allow them to work quickly, but still have a set of milestones they have to meet to prove they are on a worthwhile project for the company. You don’t want to be throwing good money after a bad project.
For Patel and Box that involves a set of of metrics that tell you at all times, whether the team is succeeding or failing. Seems simple enough, but it takes a lot of work from a management perspective to define missions and goals and then track them on a regular basis.
He says that involves three elements: “There are three things that we think about including what’s the plan for what you’re going to build, what’s the strategy around what you’re going to build, and then what’s the level of coordination that each one of us have on whether or not what we’re building is, in fact, going to be successful.”
In the end, this is an iterative process, one that keeps evolving as the company grows and develops and as they learn from each project and each team. “We’re constantly looking at the processes and saying, what are the things that need to be adjusted,” Patel said.
SolarWinds, the company behind tools like Pingdom, Papertrail, Loggly and a number of other IT management tools, today announced it has acquired Trusted Metrics, a company that helps businesses monitor incoming threats to their networks and servers. This move follows SolarWinds’ acquisition of Loggly earlier this year. Among other things, Loggly also provides a number of security tools for enterprises.
Today’s acquisition of Trusted Metrics is clearly part of the company’s strategy to build out its security portfolio, and SolarWinds is actually rolling Trusted Metrics into a new security product called SolarWinds Threat Monitor. Like Trusted Metrics, SolarWinds Threat Monitor helps businesses protect their networks by automatically detecting suspicious activity and malware.
“When we look at the rapidly changing IT security landscape, the proliferation of mass-marketed malware and the non-discriminatory approach of cybercriminals, we believe that real-time threat monitoring and management shouldn’t be a luxury, but an affordable option for everyone,” said SolarWinds CEO Kevin Thompson in today’s announcement. “The acquisition of Trusted Metrics will allow us to offer a new product in the SolarWinds mold—powerful, easy to use, scalable—that is designed to give businesses the ability to more easily protect IT environments and business operations.”
SolarWinds did not disclose the financial details of the transaction. Trusted Metrics was founded in 2010; although it received some seed funding, it never raised any additional funding rounds after that.
Box announced today that it has acquired Butter.ai, a startup that helps customers search for content intelligently in the cloud. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the Butter.AI team will be joining Box.
Butter.AI was started by two ex-Evernote employees, Jack Hirsch and Adam Walz. The company was partly funded by Evernote founder and former CEO Phil Libin’s Turtle Studios. The latter is a firm established with a mission to use machine learning to solve real business problems like finding the right document wherever it is.
Box has been adding intelligence to its platform for some time, and this acquisition brings the Butter.AI team on board and gives them more machine learning and artificial intelligence known-how while helping to enhance search inside of the Box product.
“The team from Butter.ai will help Box to bring more intelligence to our Search capabilities, enabling Box’s 85,000 customers to more easily navigate through their unstructured information — making searching for files in Box more contextualized, predictive and personalized,” Box’s Jeetu Patel wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.
That means taking into account the context of the search and delivering documents that make sense given your role and how you work. For instance, are if you are a salesperson and you search for a contract, you probably want a sales contract and not a one for a freelancer or business partnership.
For Butter, the chance to have access to all those customers was too good to pass up. “We started Butter.ai to build the best way to find documents at work. As it turns out, Box has 85,000 customers who all need instant access to their content. Joining Box means we get to build on our original mission faster and at a massive scale,” company CEO and co-founder Jack Hirsch said.
The company launched in September, 2017, and up until now it has acted as a search assistant inside Slack you can call upon to search for documents and find them wherever they live in the cloud. The company will be winding down that product as it becomes part of the Box team.
As is often the case in these deals, the two companies have been working closely together and it made sense for Box to bring the Butter.AI team into the fold where it can put its technology to bear on the Box platform.
“After launching in September 2017 our customers were loud and clear about wanting us to integrate with Box and we quickly delivered. Since then, our relationship with Box has deepened and now we get to build on our vision for a MUCH larger audience as part of the Box team,” the founders wrote in a Medium post announcing the deal.
The company raised $3.3 million over two seed rounds. Investors included Slack and General Catalyst.
Slack’s search functions are getting another little quality-of-life update today with the introduction of filters, which aims to make search a little more granular to find the right answers.
The company also says searches are going to be more personalized. All of this is an attempt to get to the right files or conversations quickly as Slack — a simple collection of group chats and channels that can get out of hand very fast — something a little more palatable. As companies get bigger and bigger, the sheer amount of information that ends up in it will grow faster and faster. That means that the right information will generally be more difficult to access, and if Slack is going to stick to its roots as a simple internal communications product, it’s going to have to lean on improvements under the hood and small changes in front of users. The company says search is now 70 percent faster on the back end.
Users in Slack will now be able to filter search results by channels and also the kinds of results they are looking for, like files. You can go a little more granular than that, but that’s the general gist of it, as Slack tries to limit the changes to what’s happening in front of users. Slack threads, for example, were in development for more than a year before the company finally rolled out the long-awaited feature. (Whether that feature successfully changed things for the better is still not known.)
Slack now has around 8 million daily active users, with 3 million paid users, and is still clearly pretty popular with smaller companies that are looking for something simpler than the more robust — and complex — communications tools on the market. But there are startups trying to pick away at other parts of the employee communications channels, like Slite, which aims to be a simpler notes tool in the same vein as Slack but for different parts of the employee experience. And there are other larger companies looking to tap the demand for these kinds of simpler tools, like Atlassian’s Stride and Microsoft’s Teams.
Foursquare has just hired Liz Ritzcovan as Chief Revenue Officer.
Ritzcovan hails from BazaarVoice, where she also served as CRO. She previously held CRO positions at Sizmek and Parade Media Group, and before that, spent time at Yahoo, Time Inc, and Interbrand.
Though Foursquare has been around since 2009, things have changed a lot for the company. What started as a consumer-facing app to log and share location information has become a SaaS company focused on helping brands understand their customer’s real-world habits and convert those habits into meaningful transactions and experiences.
That started with the unbundling of the legacy Foursquare app into Foursquare (a Yelp competitor centered around recommendations) and Swarm (a social location check-in app). As of 2016, both apps have more than 50 million active users, which has in turn yielded the data necessary to create enterprise tools.
For example, Pinpoint by Foursquare (an ad product) has more than half of the Ad Age 100 as advertisers, and Attribution by Foursquare (a metric tracking product) has doubled its revenue in 2017. And that doesn’t include the Pilgrim SDK and Places API, which helped contribute to Foursquare’s 50 percent revenue growth year over year for the past three years.
Ritzcovan is aware that, despite the growth of e-commerce, 90 percent of consumer spending and memorable experiences happen in the real world. But getting clients, usually internet-facing companies, to understand that is her new great challenge.
Here’s what she had to say in her announcement blog post:
So what is my first priority as CRO? Client centricity. Foursquare needs to deepen our connection with our partners: explaining to business leaders why it’s critical to leverage more than a single Foursquare solution—be it ad campaigns with Pinpoint, measurement with Attribution, or location-based CRM and messaging with our Pilgrim SDK and Places API—by taking all of these parts together and connecting the dots. Foursquare is more and more about bundling technology licensing, mapping capabilities, and marketing optimization in a suite of solutions. It’s the reason I joined, to help lead the team into packaging these broad “solution sets” for leading organizations and brands.
While serverless computing isn’t new, it has reached an interesting place in its development. As developers begin to see the value of serverless architecture, a whole new startup ecosystem could begin to develop around it.
Serverless isn’t exactly serverless at all, but it does enable a developer to set event triggers and leave the infrastructure requirements completely to the cloud provider. The vendor delivers exactly the right amount of compute, storage and memory and the developer doesn’t even have to think about it (or code for it).
That sounds ideal on its face, but as with every new technology, for each solution there is a set of new problems and those issues tend to represent openings for enterprising entrepreneurs. That could mean big opportunities in the coming years for companies building security, tooling, libraries, APIs, monitoring and a whole host of tools serverless will likely require as it evolves.
Building layers of abstraction
In the beginning we had physical servers, but there was lots of wasted capacity. That led to the development of virtual machines, which enabled IT to take a single physical server and divide it into multiple virtual ones. While that was a huge breakthrough for its time, helped launch successful companies like VMware and paved the way for cloud computing, it was the only beginning.
Then came containers, which really began to take off with the development of Docker and Kubernetes, two open source platforms. Containers enable the developer to break down a large monolithic program into discrete pieces, which helps it run more efficiently. More recently, we’ve seen the rise of serverless or event-driven computing. In this case, the whole idea of infrastructure itself is being abstracted away.
Photo: shutterjack/Getty Images
While it’s not truly serverless, since you need underlying compute, storage and memory to run a program, it is removing the need for developers to worry about servers. Today, so much coding goes into connecting the program’s components to run on whatever hardware (virtual or otherwise) you have designated. With serverless, the cloud vendor handles all of that for the developer.
All of the major vendors have launched serverless products with AWS Lambda, Google Cloud Functions and Microsoft Azure Functions all offering a similar approach. But it has the potential to be more than just another way to code. It could eventually shift the way we think about programming and its relation to the underlying infrastructure altogether.
It’s important to understand that we aren’t quite there yet, and a lot of work still needs to happen for serverless to really take hold, but it has enormous potential to be a startup feeder system in coming years and it’s certainly caught the attention of investors looking for the next big thing.
Removing another barrier to entry
Tim Wagner, general manager for AWS Lambda, says the primary advantage of serverless computing is that it allows developers to strip away all of the challenges associated with managing servers. “So there is no provisioning, deploying patching or monitoring — all those details at the the server and operating system level go away,” he explained.
He says this allows developers to reduce the entire coding process to the function level. The programmer defines the event or function and the cloud provider figures out the exact amount of underlying infrastructure required to run it. Mind you, this can be as little as a single line of code.
Colin Anderson/Getty Images
Sarah Guo, a partner at Greylock Partners, who invests in early stage companies sees serverless computing as offering a way for developers to concentrate on just the code by leaving the infrastructure management to the provider. “If you look at one of the amazing things cloud computing platforms have done, it has just taken a lot of the expertise and cost that you need to build a scalable service and shifted it to [the cloud provider],” she said. Serverless takes that concept and shifts it even further by allowing developers to concentrate solely on the user’s needs without having to worry about what it takes to actually run the program.
Cloud computing company Digital Ocean recently surveyed over 4800 IT pros, of which 55 percent identified themselves as developers. When asked about serverless, nearly half of respondents reported they didn’t fully understand the serverless concept. On the other hand, they certainly recognized the importance of learning more about it with 81 percent reporting that they plan to do further research this year.
When asked if they had deployed a serverless application in the last year, not surprisingly about two-thirds reported they hadn’t. This was consistent across regions with India reporting a slightly higher rate of serverless adoption.
Graph: Digital Ocean
Of those using serverless, Digital Ocean found that AWS was by far the most popular service with 58 percent of respondents reporting Lambda was their chosen tool, followed by Google Cloud Functions with 23 percent and Microsoft Azure Functions further back at 10 percent.
Interestingly enough, one of the reasons that respondents reported a reluctance to begin adopting serverless was a lack of tooling. “One of the biggest challenges developers report when it comes to serverless is monitoring and debugging,” the report stated. That lack of visibility, however could also represent an opening for startups.
The thing about abstraction is that it simplifies operations on one level, but it also creates a new set of requirements, some expected and some that might surprise as a new way of programming scales. This lack of tooling could potentially hinder the development, but more often than not when necessity calls, it can stimulate the development of a new set of instrumentation.
This is certainly something that Guo recognizes as an investor. “I think there is a lot of promise as we improve a bunch of things around making it easier for developers to access serverless, while expanding the use cases, and concentrating on issues like visibility and security, which are all [issues] when you give more and more control of [the infrastructure] to someone else,” she said.
Photo: shylendrahoode/Getty Images
Ping Li, general partner at Accel also sees an opportunity here for investors. “I think the reality is that anytime there’s a kind of shift from a developer application perspective, there’s an opportunity to create a new set of tools or products that help you enable those platforms,” he said.
Li says the promise is there, but it won’t happen right away because there needs to be a critical mass of developers using serverless methodologies first. “I would say that we are definitely interested in serverless in that we believe it’s going to be a big part of how applications will be built in the future, but it’s still in its early stages,” Ping said.
S. Somasgear, managing director at Madrona Ventures says that even as serverless removes complexity, it creates a new set of issues, which in turn creates openings for startups. “It is complicated because we are trying to create this abstraction layer over the underlying infrastructure and telling the developers that you don’t need to worry about it. But that means, there are a lot of tools that have to exist in place — whether it is development tools, deployment tools, debugging tools or monitoring tools — that enable the developer to know certain things are happening when you’re operating in a serverless environment.
Having that visibility in a serverless world is a real challenge, but it is not the only opening here. There are also opportunities for trigger or function libraries or companies akin to Twilio or Stripe, which offer easy API access to a set of functionality without having a particular expertise like communications or payment gateways There could be similar analogous needs in the serverless world.
Companies are beginning to take advantage of serverless computing to find new ways of solving problems. Over time, we should begin to see more developer momentum toward this approach and more tools develop.
While it is early days, as Guo says, it’s not as though developers love running infrastructure. It’s just been a necessity. “I think will be very interesting. I just think we’re still very early in the ecosystem,” she said. Yet certainly the potential is there if the pieces fall into place and programmer momentum builds around this way of developing applications for it to really take off and for a startup ecosystem to follow.