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SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is now in Florida to prep for its first flight with astronauts onboard

22:53 | 14 February

SpaceX has moved its Crew Dragon commercial astronaut spacecraft to Florida, the site from which it’ll launch in likely just two to three months’ time if all goes to plan. The Crew Dragon capsule is now going to undergo final testing and checkouts in Florida before its departure from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where it’ll launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board.

Behnken and Hurley will be taking a trip to the International Space Station (ISS) courtesy of the Crew Dragon, as part of a demonstration mission codenamed ‘Demo-2’ by SpaceX and NASA that will serve as a key step in the ultimate verification of the spacecraft for regular service carrying people to and from the ISS. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is one of two spacecraft that aim to achieve this operational status for NASA, alongside the Boeing Starliner CST-100 crew vehicle which is undergoing development and testing.

Boeing’s spacecraft has recently encountered some issues that could extend its testing timeline and set back its goals of performing its first flights with astronauts on board. The Starliner encountered two potentially serious software issues during an uncrewed demonstration mission that took place in December, and now NASA and the company are determining corrective action, including safety reviews of Boeing and its software development and testing processes.

Meanwhile, SpaceX performed an in-flight abort test in January, the last major demonstration it needed to do before moving on to the crewed demo mission. That test was by all accounts a success, showing how the Crew Dragon would separate and distance itself from the launch craft in case of an unexpected error, in order to safeguard the astronauts on board.

SpaceX has been sharing details of its preparation for this final planned demo before operational commercial crew flights, tweeting earlier this week about its spacecraft undergoing ultrasonic testing. Currently, the Demo-2 mission is tentatively set for May 2, though that date is said to be flexible and could be moved up or pushed to later, depending on mission needs and remaining preparation progress.

 


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Datometry snares $17M Series B to help move data and applications to the cloud

18:37 | 13 February

Moving data to the cloud from an on-prem data warehouse like Teradata is a hard problem to solve, especially if you’ve built custom applications that are based on the data. Datometry, a San Francisco startup, has developed a solution to solve that issue, and today it announced a $17 million Series B investment.

WRVI Capital led the round with participation from existing investors including Amarjit Gill, Dell Technologies Capital, Redline Capital and Acorn Pacific. The company has raised a total of $28 million, according to Crunchbase data.

The startup is helping move data and applications — lock, stock and barrel — to the cloud. For starters, it’s focusing on Teradata data warehouses and applications built on top of that because it’s a popular enterprise offering, says Mike Waas CEO and co-founder at the company.

“Pretty much all major enterprises are struggling right now with getting their data into the cloud. At Datometry, we built a software platform that lets them take their existing applications and move them over to new cloud technology as is, and operate with cloud databases without having to change any SQL or APIs,” Waas told TechCrunch.

Today, without Datometry, customers would have to hire expensive systems integrators and take months or years rewriting their applications, but Datometry says it has found a way to move the applications to the cloud, reducing the time to migrate from years to weeks or months, by using virtualization.

The company starts by building a new schema for the cloud platform. It supports all the major players including Amazon, Microsoft and Google. It then runs the applications through a virtual database running the schema and connects the old application with a cloud data warehouse like Amazon Redshift.

Waas sees virtualization as the key here as it enables his customers to run the applications just as they always have on prem, but in a more modern context. “Personally I believe that it’s time for virtualization to disrupt the database stack just the way it has disrupted pretty much everything else in the datacenter,” he said.

From there, they can start developing more modern applications in the cloud, but he says that his company can get them to the cloud faster and cheaper than was possible before, and without disrupting their operations in any major way.

Waas founded the company in 2013 and it took several years to build the solution. This is a hard problem to solve, and he was ahead of the curve in terms of trying to move this type of data. As his solution came online in the last 18 months, it turned out to be good timing as companies were looking suddenly for ways to move data and applications to the cloud.

He says he has been able to build a client base of 40 customers with 30 employees because the cloud service providers are helping with sales and walking them into clients, more than they can handle right now as a small startup.

The plan moving forward is to use some of the money from this round to build a partner network with systems integrators to help with implementation, so that they can concentrate on developing the product and supporting other data repositories in the future.

 


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Radar, a location data startup, says its “big bet” is on putting privacy first

17:00 | 12 February

Pick any app on your phone, and there’s a greater than average chance that it’s tracking your location right now.

Sometimes they don’t even tell you. Your location can be continually collected and uploaded, then monetized by advertisers and other data tracking firms. These companies also sell the data to the government — no warrants needed. And even if you’re app-less, your phone company knows where you are at any given time, and for the longest time sold that data to anyone who wanted it.

Location data is some of the most personal information we have — yet few think much about it. Our location reveals where we go, when, and often why. It can be used to know our favorite places and our routines, and also who we talk to. And yet it’s spilling out of our phones ever second of every day to private companies, subject to little regulation or oversight, building up precise maps of our lives. Headlines sparked anger and pushed lawmakers into taking action. And consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their tracked activity thanks to phone makers, like Apple, alerting users to background location tracking. Foursquare, one of the biggest location data companies, even called on Congress to do more to regulate the sale of location data.

But location data is not going anywhere. It’s a convenience that’s just too convenient, and it’s an industry that’s growing from strength to strength. The location data market was valued at $10 billion last year, with it set to balloon in size by more than two-fold by 2027.

There is appetite for change, Radar, a location data startup based in New York, promised in a recent blog post that it will “not sell any data we collect, and we do not share location data across customers.”

It’s a promise that Radar chief executive Nick Patrick said he’s willing to bet the company on.

“We want to be that location layer that unlocks the next generation of experiences but we also want to do it in a privacy conscious way,” Patrick told TechCrunch. “That’s our big bet.”

Developers integrate Radar into their apps. Those app makers can create location geofences around their businesses, like any Walmart or Burger King. When a user enters that location, the app knows to serve relevant notifications or alerts, making it functionally just like any other location data provider.

But that’s where Patrick says Radar deviates.

“We want to be the most privacy-first player,” Patrick said. Radar bills itself as a location data software-as-a-service company, rather than an ad tech company like its immediate rivals. That may sound like a marketing point — it is — but it’s also an important distinction, Patrick says, because it changes how the company makes its money. Instead of monetizing the collected data, Radar prices its platform based on the number of monthly active users that use the apps with Radar inside.

“We’re not going to package that up into an audience segment and sell it on an ad exchange,” he said. “We’re not going to pull all of the data together from all the different devices that we’re installed on and do foot traffic analytics or attribution.”

But that trust doesn’t come easy, nor should it. Some of the most popular apps have lost the trust of their users through privacy-invasive privacy practices, like collecting locations from users without their knowledge or permission, by scanning nearby Bluetooth beacons or Wi-Fi networks to infer where a person is.

We were curious and ran some of the apps through a network traffic analyzer to see what was going on under the hood, like Joann, GasBuddy, Draft King and others. We found that Radar only activated when location permissions were granted on the device — something apps have tried to get around in the past. The apps we checked instantly sent our precise location data back to Radar — which was to be expected — along with the device type, software version, and little else. The data collected by Radar is significantly less than what other comparable apps share with their developers, but still allows integrations with third-party platforms to make use of that location data. Via, a popular ride-sharing app, uses a person’s location, collected by Radar, to deliver notifications and promotions to users at airports and other places of interest.

The company boasts its technology is used in apps on more than 100 million device installs.

“We see a ton of opportunity around enabling folks to build location, but we also see that the space has been mishandled,” said Patrick. “We think the location space in need of a technical leader but also an ethical leader that can enable the stuff in a privacy conscious way.”

It was a convincing pitch for Radar’s investors, which just injected $20 million into its Series B fundraise, led by Accel, a substantial step up from its $8 million Series A round. Patrick said the round will help the company build out the platform further. One feature on Radar’s to-do list was to allow the platform to take advantage of on-device processing, “no user event data ever touches Radar’s servers,” he aid Patrick. The raise will help the company expand its physical footprint on the west coast by opening an office in San Francisco. Its home base in New York will also expand, he said, increasing the company’s headcount from its current two-dozen employees.

“Radar stands apart due to its focus on infrastructure rather than ad tech,” said Vas Natarajan, a partner at Accel, who also took a seat on Radar’s board.

Two Sigma Ventures, Heavybit, Prime Set, and Bedrock Capital participated in the round.

Patrick said his pitch is also working for apps and developers, which recognize that their users are becoming more aware of privacy issues. He’s seen companies, some of which he now calls customers, that are increasingly looking for more privacy-focused partners and vendors, not least to bolster their own respective reputations.

It’s healthy to be skeptical. Given the past year, it’s hard to have any faith in any location data company, let alone embrace one. And yet it’s a compelling pitch for the app community that only through years of misdeeds and a steady stream of critical headlines is being forced to repair its image.

But a company’s words are only as strong as its actions, and only time will tell if they hold up.

 


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Develop a serious cybersecurity strategic plan that incorporates CCM

22:52 | 10 February

Robert R. Ackerman Jr. Contributor
Robert R. Ackerman Jr. is the founder and managing director of AllegisCyber, a venture capital firm specializing in cybersecurity, and the co-founder and executive at DataTribe, a cybersecurity startup foundry which focuses on launching startups based on cyber domain expertise from the intelligence community and national laboratories.

It’s a new year and corporate concerns about cybersecurity risk are high. Which means top executives at Fortune 500 companies will do what they always do — spend big on security technology. Global cybersecurity spending is on a path to exceed $1 trillion cumulatively over the five-year period from 2017 to 2021.

But increasing budgets each year with little strategic forethought is a corporate failing. Further, the lack of proactive monitoring of cyber risk profile almost ensures gaps and vulnerabilities that will be exploited by hackers.

Corporations that don’t formulate a thorough cybersecurity plan and monitor its implementation will encounter more breaches and increasingly become mired in scuttled M&A opportunities. Market research firm Gartner says that 60% of organizations engaging in M&A activity are already weighing a target’s cybersecurity track record, posture and strategy as a key factor in their due diligence. A company that has been hacked is a less attractive acquisition target — hardly a minor point, given that M&A activity globally, led by the U.S., has set records in recent years and is widely expected to maintain or exceed this level going forward.

The most highly publicized example of an M&A-related cybersecurity headache was Verizon’s discovery of a prior data breach at Yahoo a couple of years ago, after formulating an acquisition agreement. The discovery almost killed the deal and ultimately resulted in a $350 million reduction in Verizon’s purchase price.

Enterprises must step up to the plate once and for all and develop meaningful metrics to assess the quality of their cybersecurity protection and monitor its completeness and effectiveness. And the best way to do this is to begin taking steps to incorporate continuous controls monitoring (CCM).

 


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NASA taps startup Axiom Space for the first habitable commercial module for the Space Station

01:58 | 28 January

NASA has selected Houston-based Axiom Space, a startup founded in 2016, to build the first commercial habitat module for the International Space Station (ISS). This module will be used as a destination for future commercial spaceflight missions, potentially housing experiments, technology development and more performed by commercial space travellers taking rides up to the ISS via human-rated spacecraft like the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner, once those start regular operational service.

Axiom Space was founded in 2016, and is led by co-founder and CEO Michael T. Suffredini, who previously acted as program manager for the ISS at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The company boasts a lot of ex-NASA talent on its small team, and eventually it plans to make its in-space modules the basis of its own private space station, after first attaching them to the ISS while it’s still operating. NASA has extended the planned service life of the ISS, but the plan of the agency’s current leadership is to eventually encourage private orbital labs and commercial facilities as an ultimate replacement.

In 2018, Axiom teamed up with designer Philippe Starck (yes, the same one who famously designed a luxury yacht for Apple founder Steve Jobs) to provide a look at what their future space station modules might look like, including crew quarters with interactive displays and a cupola that provides a breathtaking view of Earth and surrounding space.

This ISS module may not be a full-fledged private space station, but it is a step in NASA’s goal of further commercializing the existing space station and ultimately paving the way for more commercial activity in low-Earth orbit. Axiom’s mandate also includes providing “at least one habitable commercial module,” with the implication being that it might be awarded extensions to build more in future. Next up for the new partners is negotiating terms and price for a contract for the module, which will also include timeline for delivery.

 


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This Week in Apps: Apple antitrust issues come to Congress, subscription apps boom, Tencent takes on TikTok

19:04 | 25 January

Welcome back to ThisWeek in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever with a record 204 billion downloads in 2019 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s recently released “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, there was a ton of app news. We’re digging into the latest with Apple’s antitrust issues, Tencent’s plan to leverage WeChat to fend off the TikTok threat, AppsFlyer’s massive new round, the booming subscription economy, Disney’s mobile game studio sale, Pokémon GO’s boost to tourism, Match Group’s latest investment and much more. And did you see the app that lets you use your phone from within a paper envelope? Or the new AR social network? It’s Weird App Week, apparently.

Headlines

 


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Google Cloud gets a Secret Manager

23:35 | 22 January

Google Cloud today announced Secret Manager, a new tool that helps its users securely store their API keys, passwords, certificates and other data. With this, Google Cloud is giving its users a single tool to manage this kind of data and a centralized source of truth, something that even sophisticated enterprise organizations often lack.

“Many applications require credentials to connect to a database, API keys to invoke a service, or certificates for authentication,” Google developer advocate Sath Vargo and product manager Matt Driscoll not in today’s announcement. “Managing and securing access to these secrets is often complicated by secret sprawl, poor visibility, or lack of integrations.”

With Berglas, Google already offered an open-source command-line tool for managing secrets. Secret Manager and Berglas will play well together and users will be able to move their secrets from the open-source tool into Secret Manager and use Berglas to create and access secrets from the cloud-based tool as well.

With KMS, Google also offers a fully managed key management system (as do Google Cloud’s competitors). The two tools are very much complementary. As Google notes, KMS does not actually store the secrets — it encrypts the secrets you store elsewhere. The secret Manager provides a way to easily store (and manage) these secrets in Google Cloud.

Secret Manager includes the necessary tools for managing secret versions and audit logging, for example. Secrets in Secret Manager are also project-based global resources, the company stresses, while competing tools often feature manage secrets on a regional basis.

The new tool is now in beta and available to all Google Cloud customers.

 


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Thundra announces $4M Series A to secure and troubleshoot serverless workloads

16:00 | 22 January

Thundra, an early stage serverless tooling startup, announced a $4 million Series A today led by Battery Ventures. The company spun out from OpsGenie after it was sold to Atlassian for $295 million in 2018.

York IE, Scale X Ventures and Opsgenie founder Berkay Mollamustafaoglu also participated in the round. Battery’s Neeraj Agarwal is joining the company’s board under the terms of the agreement.

The startup also announced that it had recently hired Ken Cheney as CEO with technical founder Serkan Ozal becoming CTO.

Originally, Thundra helped run the serverless platform at OpsGenie. As a commercial company, it helps monitor, debug and secure serverless workloads on AWS Lambda. These three tasks could easily be separate tools, but Cheney says it makes sense to include them all because they are all related in some way.

“We bring all that together and provide an end-to-end view of what’s happening inside the application, and this is what really makes Thundra unique. We can actually provide a high-level distributed view of that constantly-changing application that shows all of the components of that application, and how they are interrelated and how they’re performing. It can also troubleshoot down to the local service, as well as go down into the runtime code to see where the problems are occurring and let you know very quickly,” Cheney explained.

He says that this enables developers to get this very detailed view of their serverless application that otherwise wouldn’t be possible, helping them concentrate less on the nuts and bolts of the infrastructure, the reason they went serverless in the first place, and more on writing code.

Serverless trace map in Thundra. Screenshot: Thundra

Thundra is able to do all of this in a serverless world, where there isn’t a fixed server and resources are ephemeral, making it difficult to identity and fix problems. It does this by installing an agent at the Lambda (AWS’ serverless offering) level on AWS, or at runtime on the container at the library level,” he said.

Battery’s Neeraj Agarwal says having invested in OpsGenie, he knew the engineering team and was confident in the team’s ability to take it from internal tool to more broadly applicable product.

“I think it has to do with the quality of the engineering team that built OpsGenie. These guys are very microservices oriented, very product oriented, so they’re very quick at iterating and developing products. Even though this was an internal tool I think of it as very much productized, and their ability to now sell it to the broader market is very exciting,” he said.

The company offers a free version, then tiered pricing based on usage, storage and data retention. The current product is a cloud service, but it plans to add an on prem version in the near future.

 


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Snyk snags $150M investment as its valuation surpasses $1B

16:16 | 21 January

Snyk, the company that wants to help developers secure their code in a modern context, announced a $150 million investment today. The company indicated the investment brings the company valuation to over $1 billion (although it did not share the exact figure).

Today’s round was led by Stripes, a New York City investment firm with Coatue, Tiger Global, BoldStart,Trend Forward, Amity and Salesforce Ventures also participating. The company reports it has now raised over $250 million.

The idea behind Snyk is to fit security firmly in the development process. Rather than offloading it to a separate team, something that can slow down a continuous development environment, Snyk builds in security as part of the code commit.

The company offers an open source tool helps developers find open source vulnerabilities when they commit their code to GitHub, Bitbucket, GitLab or any CI/CD tool. It has built up a community of over 400,000 developers with this approach.

Snyk makes money with a container security product, and by making the underlying vulnerability database they use in the open source product available to companies as a commercial product.

CEO Peter McKay, who came on board last year as the company was making a move to expand into the enterprise, says the open source product drives the revenue-producing products and helped attract this kind of investment. “Getting to [today’s] funding round was the momentum in the open source model from the community to freemium to [land] and expand — and that’s where we are today,” he told TechCrunch.

He said that the company wasn’t looking for this money, but investors came knocking and gave them a good offer, based on Snyk’s growing market momentum. “Investors said we want to take advantage of the market, and we want to make sure you can invest the way you want to invest and take advantage of what we all believe is this very large opportunity,” McKay said.

In fact, the company has been raising money at a rapid rate since it came out of the gate in 2016 with a $3 million seed round. A $7 million Series A and $22 million Series B followed in 2018 with a $70 million Series C last fall.

The company reports over 4X revenue growth in 2019 (without giving exact revenue figures), and some major customer wins including the likes of Google, Intuit, Nordstrom and Salesforce. It’s worth noting that Salesforce thought enough of the company that it also invested in this round through its Salesforce Ventures investment arm.

 


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Here is the first stable release of Microsoft’s new Edge browser

20:00 | 15 January

Right on schedule, Microsoft today released the first stable version of its new Chromium-based Edge browser, just over a year after it first announced that it would stop developing its own browser engine and go with what has, for better or worse, become the industry standard.

You can now download the stable version for Windows 7, 8 and 10, as well as macOS, directly. If you are on Windows 10, you can also wait for the automatic update to kick in, but that may take a while.

Since all of the development has happened in the open, with various pre-release channels, there are no surprises in this release. Some of the most interesting forward-looking features like Collections, Microsoft’s new take on bookmarking, are still only available in the more experimental pre-release channels. That will quickly change, though, since Edge is now on a six-week release cycle.

As I’ve said throughout the development cycle, Edge is a competent Chrome challenger and I have no hesitations to recommend it to anybody who is looking for a browser alternative. It’s still missing a few features, most importantly the ability to sync your browser history and extensions between devices. I’ve never found that to be much of a roadblock to using Edge as my main browser, but your mileage may vary.

Like all modern browsers, Edge features various options for protecting you from online trackers, support for extensions (both from the Chrome Web Store and Microsoft’s own extension repository), reader mode, the ability to switch profiles and pretty much everything else you would expect.

What it doesn’t have yet is a killer feature or something that really makes it stand out from the rest. While Microsoft seems quite excited about Collections, I admit that it’s not something I’ve found all that useful for my own workflow. But the team now has a stable platform in place to start innovating on, so we’ll likely see a stronger focus on new features going forward.

With Firefox going through its own renaissance, the Edge team may have trouble convincing people that they should switch back to a Microsoft browser, no matter how good it is. For most users, switching browsers isn’t a casual thing, after all.

Either way, if you were hesitant to try out the new Edge, now it the time to give it a shot. The easiest way to do so is to download the update directly. If you’re on Windows 10, the new Edge will replace the old Edge over time through the usual Windows OS update channel, but Microsoft is making this a very gradual rollout that it expects to last several months (and once it’s installed, it will update independently, outside of the Windows Update system).

Enterprise users get a choice for how and when they want to make the move, of course, which Microsoft detailed here and here.

 


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