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Main article: Cloud

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Salesforce grabs Vlocity for $1.33B, a startup with $1B valuation

03:06 | 26 February

It’s been a big news day for Salesforce . It announced that Co-CEO Keith Block would be stepping down, and that it had acquired Vlocity for $1.33 billion in an all-cash deal.

It’s no coincidence that Salesforce targeted this startup. It’s a firm that builds five industry-specific CRMs on top of Salesforce — communications and media, insurance and financial services, health, energy and utilities and government and nonprofits — and Salesforce Ventures was also an investor. This would appear to have been a deal waiting to happen.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials says Salesforce saw this as an important target to keep building the business. “Salesforce has been beefing up their abilities to provide industry specific solutions by cultivating strategic ISV partnerships with companies like Vlocity and Veeva (which is focused on life sciences). But this move signals the importance of making these industry capabilities even more a part of the platform offerings,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research also liked the deal for Salesforce. “It’s a great deal. Vlocity gives them the industries platform they need. More importantly, it keeps Google from buying them and [could generate] $10 billion in additional industries revenue growth over next 4 years,” he said.

Vlocity had raised about $163 million on a valuation of around a $1 billion as of its most recent round, a $60 million Series C last March. If $1.33 billion seems a little light, given what Vlocity is providing the company, Wang says it’s because Vlocity needed Salesforce more than the other way around.

“Vlocity on its own doesn’t have as big a future without Salesforce. They have to be together. So Salesforce doesn’t need to buy them. They could keep building out, but it’s better for them to buy them now,” Wang said.

In a blog post on the Vlocity website, founder and CEO David Schmaier put a positive spin on the deal, as you would expect. “Upon the close of the transaction, Vlocity — this wonderful company that we, as a team, have created, built, and grown into a transformational solution for six of the most important industries in the enterprise — will become part of Salesforce,” he wrote.

Per usual, the deal would be predicated on regulatory approval and close some time during Salesforce’s second quarter in fiscal 2021.

 


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CircleCI-AWS GovCloud partnership aims to bring modern development to U.S. government

17:36 | 25 February

Much like private businesses, the United States government is in the process of moving workloads to the cloud, and facing a similar set of challenges. Today, CircleCI, the continuous delivery developer service, announced a partnership with AWS GovCloud to help federal government entities using AWS’s government platform to modernize their applications development workflows.

“What this means is that it allows us to run our server offering, which is our on-prem offering, and our government customers can run that on dedicated pure cloud resource [on AWS GovCloud],” CircleCI CEO Jim Rose told TechCrunch.

GovCloud is a dedicated, single tenant cloud platform that lets government entities build FedRAMP-compliant secure cloud solutions (other cloud vendors have similar offerings). FedRAMP is a set of government cloud security standards any cloud vendor has to meet to work with the federal government

CircleCI builds modern continuous delivery/continuous integration (CI/CD) pipelines for development teams pushing changes to the application in a rapid change cycle.

“What GovCloud allows us to do is now provide that same level of security and service for government customers that wanted us to do so in an on prem environment in a dedicated single tenant environment [in the cloud],” Rose explained.

While there are a number of steps involved in building cloud applications, Rose said they are sticking to their core strength around building continuous delivery pipelines. As he says, if you have a legacy mainframe application that changes once every year or two, using CircleCI wouldn’t make sense, but as you begin to modernize, that’s where his company could help.

“[CircleCi comes into play] when you get into more modern cloud applications that are changing in some cases hundreds of times a day, and the sources of change for those applications is getting really diverse and managing that is becoming more complex,” Rose said.

This partnership could involve working directly with an agency, as it has done with the Small Business Administration (SBA), or it might involve a systems integrator, or even AWS, inviting them to be part of a larger RFP.

Rose says he realizes that working with the government can sometimes be controversial. Companies from Chef to Salesforce to Google, have run afoul with employees, who don’t want to work with certain agencies like DoD or ICE. He says his company has tended to focus on areas where agencies are looking to improve citizen interactions, and steered away from other areas.

“From our perspective, given that we’re not super involved in a lot of those areas, but we want to get in front of it, both commercially, as well as on the government side, and determine what falls within the fence line and what’s outside of it,” he said.

 


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VC firm Oxx says SaaS startups should avoid high-risk growth models

02:47 | 25 February

Oxx, a European venture capital firm co-founded by Richard Anton and Mikael Johnsson, this month announced the closing of its debut fund of $133 million to back “Europe’s most promising SaaS companies” at Series A and beyond.

Launched in 2017 and headquartered in London and Stockholm, Oxx pitches itself as one of only a few European funds focused solely on SaaS, and says it will invest broadly across software applications and infrastructure, highlighting five key themes: “data convergence & refinery,” “future of work,” “financial services infrastructure,” “user empowerment” and “sustainable business.”

However, its standout USP is that the firm says it wants to be a more patient form of capital than investors who have a rigid Silicon Valley SaaS mindset, which, it says, often places growth ahead of building long-lasting businesses.

I caught up with Oxx’s co-founders to dig deeper into their thinking, both with regards to the firm’s remit and investment thesis, and to learn more about the pair’s criticism of the prevailing venture capital model they say often pushes SaaS companies to prioritize “grow at all costs.”

TechCrunch: Oxx is described as a B2B software investor investing in SaaS companies across Europe from Series A and beyond. Can you be more specific regarding the size of check you write and the types of companies, geographies, technologies and business models you are focusing on?

Richard Anton: We will lead funding rounds anywhere in the range $5-20 million in SaaS companies. Some themes we’re especially excited about include data convergence and the refining and usage of data (think applications of machine learning, for example), the future of work, financial services infrastructure, end-user empowerment and sustainable business.

 


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Mirantis co-founder launches FreedomFi to bring private LTE networks to enterprises

02:22 | 25 February

Boris Renski, the co-founder of Mirantis, one of the earliest and best-funded players in the OpenStack space a few years ago (which then mostly pivoted to Kubernetes and DevOps), has left his role as CMO to focus his efforts on a new startup: FreedomFi. The new company brings together open-source hardware and software to give enterprises a new way to leverage the newly opened 3.5 GHz band for private LTE and — later — 5G IoT deployments.

“There is a very broad opportunity for any enterprise building IoT solutions, which completely changes the dynamic of the whole market,” Renski told me when I asked him why he was leaving Mirantis. “This makes the whole space very interesting and fast-evolving. I felt that my background in open source and my existing understanding of the open-source landscape and the LTE space […] is an extremely compelling opportunity to dive into headfirst.”

Renski told me that a lot of the work the company is doing is still in its early stages, but the company recently hit a milestone when it used its prototype stack to send messages across its private network over a distance of around 2.7 miles.

Mirantis itself worked on bringing Magma, a Facebook-developed open-source tool for powering some of the features needed for building access networks, into production. FreedomFi is also working with the OpenAirInterface consortium, which aims to create an ecosystem for open-source software and hardware development around wireless innovation. Most, if not all, of the technology the company will develop over time will also be open source, as well.

Renski, of course, gets to leverage his existing connections in the enterprise and telco industry with this new venture, but he also told me that he plans to leverage the Mirantis playbook as he builds out the company.

“At Mirantis, our journey was that we started with basically offering end-to-end open-source cloud buildouts to a variety of enterprises back when OpenStack was essentially the only open-source cloud project out there,” he explained. “And we spent a whole bunch of time doing that, engaging with customers, getting customer revenue, learning where the bottlenecks are — and then kind of gradually evolving into more of a leveraged business model with a subscription offering around OpenStack and then MCP and now Kubernetes, Docker, etc. But the key was to be very kind of customer-centric, go get some customer wins first, give customers a services-centric offering that gets them to the result, and then figure out where the leveraged business model opportunities are.”

Currently, enterprises that want to attempt to build their own private LTE networks — and are willing to spend millions on it — have to go to the large telecom providers. Those companies, though, aren’t necessarily interested in working on these relatively small deployments (or at least “small” by the standards of a telco).

Renski and his team started the project about two months ago and for now, it remains self-funded. But the company already has five pilots lined up, including one with a company that produces large-scale events and another with a large real estate owner, and with some of the tech falling in place, Renski seems optimistic that this is a project worth focusing on. There are still some hurdles to overcome and Renski tells me the team is learning new things every day. The hardware, for example, remains hard to source and the software stack remains in flux. “We’re probably at least six months away from having solved all of the technology and business-related problems pertaining to delivering this kind of end-to-end private LTE network,” he said.

 


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A boom, a bust, a reckoning, a race: four takes on today’s startup market

19:22 | 24 February

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today let’s try to figure out where the startup and private markets stand, as there are a few different takes out there that I can’t reconcile. Our efforts to better understand how young companies are faring comes, of course, in the shadow of the impending $7 billion Intuit-Credit Karma deal — the second, multi-billion dollar fintech exit so far in 2020.

So where are we today in the startup business cycle? We’ll summarize a few different perspectives on the question, and then come up with our best synthesis of the group.

If you observe the behavior of the venture class, it’s a full-speed-ahead market. This is contrasted by a summary of recent private-market tech stumbles compiled by New York Times’s

. Bolstering Griffith’s take are a set of long-running complaints by select tech leaders
of some of the private market’s most valuable companies.

But as Credit Karma looks set to exit at a huge valuation, it’s hard to tease out which perspective is the most correct. So let’s try to answer that for ourselves.

 


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Databricks makes bringing data into its ‘lakehouse’ easier

17:00 | 24 February

Databricks today announced that launch of its new Data Ingestion Network of partners and the launch of its Databricks Ingest service. The idea here is to make it easier for businesses to combine the best of data warehouses and data lakes into a single platform — a concept Databricks likes to call ‘lakehouse.’

At the core of the company’s lakehouse is Delta Lake, Databricks’ Linux Foundation-managed open-source project that brings a new storage layer to data lakes that helps users manage the lifecycle of their data and ensures data quality through schema enforcement, log records and more. Databricks users can now work with the first five partners in the Ingestion Network — Fivetran, Qlik, Infoworks, StreamSets, Syncsort — to automatically load their data into Delta Lake. To ingest data from these partners, Databricks customers don’t have to set up any triggers or schedules — instead, data automatically flows into Delta Lake.

“Until now, companies have been forced to split up their data into traditional structured data and big data, and use them separately for BI and ML use cases. This results in siloed data in data lakes and data warehouses, slow processing and partial results that are too delayed or too incomplete to be effectively utilized,” says Ali Ghodsi, co-founder and CEO of Databricks. “This is one of the many drivers behind the shift to a Lakehouse paradigm, which aspires to combine the reliability of data warehouses with the scale of data lakes to support every kind of use case. In order for this architecture to work well, it needs to be easy for every type of data to be pulled in. Databricks Ingest is an important step in making that possible.”

Databricks VP or Product Marketing Bharath Gowda also tells me that this will make it easier for businesses to perform analytics on their most recent data and hence be more responsive when new information comes in. He also noted that users will be able to better leverage their structured and unstructured data for building better machine learning models, as well as to perform more traditional analytics on all of their data instead of just a small slice that’s available in their data warehouse.

 

 


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Rallyhood exposed a decade of users’ private data

02:00 | 24 February

Rallyhood says it’s “private and secure.” But for some time, it wasn’t.

The social network designed to helping groups communicate and coordinate left one of its cloud storage buckets open and exposed. The bucket, hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS), was not protected with a password, allowing anyone who knew the easily-guessable web address access to a decade’s worth of user files.

Rallyhood boasts users from Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, and Komen, Habitat for Humanities, and YMCA factions. The company also hosts thousands of smaller groups, like local bands, sports teams, art clubs, and organizing committees. Many flocked to the site after Rallyhood said it would help migrate users from Yahoo Groups, after Verizon (which also owns TechCrunch) said it would shut down the discussion forum site last year.

The bucket contained group data as far back to 2011 up to and including last month. In total, the bucket contained 4.1 terabytes of uploaded files, representing millions of users’ files.

Some of the files we reviewed contained sensitive data, like shared password lists and contracts or other permission slips and agreements. The documents also included non-disclosure agreements and other files that were not intended to be public.

Where we could identify contact information of users whose information was exposed, TechCrunch reached out to verify the authenticity of the data.

A security researcher who goes by the handle Timeless found the exposed bucket and informed TechCrunch, so that the bucket and its files could be secured.

When reached, Rallyhood chief technology officer Chris Alderson initially claimed that the bucket was for “testing” and that all user data was stored “in a highly secured bucket,” but later admitted that during a migration project, “there was a brief period when permissions were mistakenly left open.”

It’s not known if Rallyhood plans to warn its users and customers of the security lapse. At the time of writing, Rallyhood has made no statement on its website or any of its social media profiles of the incident.

 


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DigitalOcean raises $100M in debt as it scales toward revenue of $300M, profitability

20:30 | 20 February

DigitalOcean, a cloud infrastructure provider targeting smaller business and younger companies, announced today that it has secured $100 million in new debt from a group of investors, bringing its 2016-era debt raise to a total of around $300 million. The company’s nearly $200 million debt raise in 2016 was preceded by an $83 million Series B in 2015.

TechCrunch spoke with DigitalOcean’s CEO Yancey Spruill (hired in 2019, along with a new, IPO-experienced CFO; the company added a new CMO earlier this year) to get under the skin of the new funding, and better understand the company’s revenue scale, its financial health and its future IPO plans.

The firm intends to use the new funds to invest in partnerships, boost product investment and grow what its CEO called an “early-stage” inside sales capacity.

For readers of our regular $100 million ARR club series, consider this something of a sister post. We’ll induct DigitalOcean later on. Today, let’s focus on the company’s momentum, and its choice of selecting debt over equity-derived fundraising.

Contextual growth

DigitalOcean is a large private company in revenue terms, with the former startup reporting an annualized run rate of $200 million in 2018 and $250 million toward the end of 2019. According to Spruill, all the company’s revenue is recurring, so we can treat those figures as effective annual recurring revenue (ARR) results.

Sticking to the financial realm, DigitalOcean told TechCrunch that it has a mid-20s percentage growth rate, and the company claims that its EBITDA (an adjusted profit metric) are in the low 20s. Citing a “strategy over the next several years to continue to focus very specifically on the SMB and developer communities,” Spruill told TechCrunch that DigitalOcean will scale to $1 billion in revenue in the next five years, and it will become free cash flow profitable (something the CEO also referred to, loosely, as profitability) in the next two.

All that and the company expects to reach a $300 million annualized run rate inside the first half of 2020. How has it done all of that without raising new capital since it put roughly $200 million in debt onto its book back in 2016? A good question. Let’s talk about DigitalOcean’s economics.

Economic efficiency

DigitalOcean has a pretty efficient go-to-market motion, which in human terms means that it can attract new customers at relatively low costs. It does this, per the CEO, by attracting millions of folks (around four million, he said) to its website each month. Those turn into tens of thousands of new customers.

Because DigitalOcean is a self-serve SaaS business, folks can show up and get started without hand-holding from sales. Sales cycles are expensive and slow. But, while allowing small companies to sign up on their own sounds attractive, companies that often lean on this acquisition method struggle with churn. So, I asked Spruill about that, specifically digging into customer churn via graduation, the pace at which customers that joined DigitalOcean as small companies left it for other players like Azure and AWS as they themselves grew (quote slightly condensed for readability):

Like any self-serve, early-stage, or SMB-focused business, [the] first three to four months is critical for [customers]. But when you look at our customer base over time — we look at every cohort of the eight year history of our company — all of our cohorts have grown each year, and our churn, which is what [your graduation rate] question is, do customers leave our platform, is de minimis after customers have been on our platform for a year or more.

So it doesn’t appear that churn is a catastrophe at DigitalOcean, which gives it what I’d call pretty attractive economics: Customers come in at relatively low customer acquisition costs, and with churn slipping very low after an initial quarter or so, the company can extract gross margin from those customers for quite some time. What does it do with that cash? It reinvests it. Here’s how Spruill explained that process:

The high retention rates of the customers and the strong revenue growth enable cash flow to support the growth and investment of the business and paying and supporting the debt. And when you think about the dilution, when you think about a business at our size and scale — the roughly $400 million of capital raised is probably the right proxy, if you look at our peers and our size and stage of company development — most of them the vast majority of the capital is equity. In our case, only a quarter of the capital, a little over quarter the capital is equity. So we’re going to use the cash flow leverage of the business to drive enormous returns to the equity in terms of not taking on that significant dilution, and still being able to grow the business in a in a responsible and exciting way.

The chorus sound effect you are hearing in the background are the company’s early-stage investors rejoicing at DigitalOcean not selling more shares to grow, concentrating the value-upside to existing shares. Shares that they own a lot of.

So let’s sum quickly: DigitalOcean is working to carve out an SMB and developer-focused cloud infra niche, keeping its economics in a good place by using low-CAC, self-serve revenue generation. The margins from that are paying for the company’s development, and its overall economics are good enough to allow it to leverage debt to invest in itself instead of equity. Overall, not what I expected to hear this morning, but that’s the fun part of news.

What’s in the future? Probably not an IPO any time soon. The company just raised more debt, money that it probably intends to use before debuting. The CEO told TechCrunch that “the IPO option for DigitalOcean is on the table,” going on to cite his company’s growth, growth rate, operating margins, “soon-to-be free cash flow margins” and scale as allowing the upstart “to have the conversation that this is a company that could go public.”

Next, adding DigitalOcean to the $100 million ARR club, and then I fancy a few more revenue milestones until an eventual S-1.

 


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A group of ex-NSA and Amazon engineers are building a ‘GitHub for data’

16:00 | 20 February

Six months ago or thereabouts, a group of engineers and developers with backgrounds from the National Security Agency, Google and Amazon Web Services had an idea.

Data is valuable for helping developers and engineers to build new features and better innovate. But that data is often highly sensitive and out of reach, kept under lock and key by red tape and compliance, which can take weeks to get approval. So, the engineers started Gretel, an early-stage startup that aims to help developers safely share and collaborate with sensitive data in real time.

It’s not as niche of a problem as you might think, said Alex Watson, one of the co-founders. Developers can face this problem at any company, he said. Often, developers don’t need full access to a bank of user data — they just need a portion or a sample to work with. In many cases, developers could suffice with data that looks like real user data.

“It starts with making data safe to share,” Watson said. “There’s all these really cool use cases that people have been able to do with data.” He said companies like GitHub, a widely used source code sharing platform, helped to make source code accessible and collaboration easy. “But there’s no GitHub equivalent for data,” he said.

And that’s how Watson and his co-founders, John Myers, Ali Golshan and Laszlo Bock came up with Gretel.

“We’re building right now software that enables developers to automatically check out an anonymized version of the data set,” said Watson. This so-called “synthetic data” is essentially artificial data that looks and works just like regular sensitive user data. Gretel uses machine learning to categorize the data — like names, addresses and other customer identifiers — and classify as many labels to the data as possible. Once that data is labeled, it can be applied access policies. Then, the platform applies differential privacy — a technique used to anonymize vast amounts of data — so that it’s no longer tied to customer information. “It’s an entirely fake data set that was generated by machine learning,” said Watson.

It’s a pitch that’s already gathering attention. The startup has raised $3.5 million in seed funding to get the platform off the ground, led by Greylock Partners, and with participation from Moonshots Capital, Village Global and several angel investors.

“At Google, we had to build our own tools to enable our developers to safely access data, because the tools that we needed didn’t exist,” said Sridhar Ramaswamy, a former Google executive, and now a partner at Greylock.

Gretel said it will charge customers based on consumption — a similar structure to how Amazon prices access to its cloud computing services.

“Right now, it’s very heads-down and building,” said Watson. The startup plans to ramp up its engagement with the developer community in the coming weeks, with an eye on making Gretel available in the next six months, he said.

 


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Thomas Kurian on his first year as Google Cloud CEO

00:15 | 20 February

“Yes.”

That was Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian’s simple answer when I asked if he thought he’d achieved what he set out to do in his first year.

A year ago, he took the helm of Google’s cloud operations — which includes G Suite — and set about giving the organization a sharpened focus by expanding on a strategy his predecessor Diane Greene first set during her tenure.

It’s no secret that Kurian, with his background at Oracle, immediately put the entire Google Cloud operation on a course to focus on enterprise customers, with an emphasis on a number of key verticals.

So it’s no surprise, then, that the first highlight Kurian cited is that Google Cloud expanded its feature lineup with important capabilities that were previously missing. “When we look at what we’ve done this last year, first is maturing our products,” he said. “We’ve opened up many markets for our products because we’ve matured the core capabilities in the product. We’ve added things like compliance requirements. We’ve added support for many enterprise things like SAP and VMware and Oracle and a number of enterprise solutions.” Thanks to this, he stressed, analyst firms like Gartner and Forrester now rank Google Cloud “neck-and-neck with the other two players that everybody compares us to.”

If Google Cloud’s previous record made anything clear, though, it’s that technical know-how and great features aren’t enough. One of the first actions Kurian took was to expand the company’s sales team to resemble an organization that looked a bit more like that of a traditional enterprise company. “We were able to specialize our sales teams by industry — added talent into the sales organization and scaled up the sales force very, very significantly — and I think you’re starting to see those results. Not only did we increase the number of people, but our productivity improved as well as the sales organization, so all of that was good.”

He also cited Google’s partner business as a reason for its overall growth. Partner influence revenue increased by about 200% in 2019, and its partners brought in 13 times more new customers in 2019 when compared to the previous year.

 


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