VMware announces intent to buy Avi Networks, startup that raised $115M

VMware has been trying to reinvent itself from a company that helps you build and manage virtual machines in your data center to one that helps you manage your virtual machines wherever they live, whether that’s on prem or the public cloud. Today, the company announced it was buying Avi Networks, a six-year-old startup that helps companies balance application delivery in the cloud or on prem in an acquisition that sounds like a pretty good match. The companies did not reveal the purchase price.

Avi claims to be the modern alternative to load balancing appliances designed for another age when applications didn’t change much and lived on prem in the company data center. As companies move more workloads to public clouds like AWS, Azure and Google Cloud Platform, Avi is providing a more modern load-balancing tool, that not only balances software resource requirements based on location or need, but also tracks the data behind these requirements.

Diagram: Avi Networks

VMware has been trying to find ways to help companies manage their infrastructure, whether it is in the cloud or on prem, in a consistent way, and Avi is another step in helping them do that on the monitoring and load-balancing side of things, at least.

Tom Gillis, senior vice president and general manager for the networking and security business unit at VMware sees, this acquisition as fitting nicely into that vision. “This acquisition will further advance our Virtual Cloud Network vision, where a software-defined distributed network architecture spans all infrastructure and ties all pieces together with the automation and programmability found in the public cloud. Combining Avi Networks with VMware NSX will further enable organizations to respond to new opportunities and threats, create new business models, and deliver services to all applications and data, wherever they are located,” Gillis explained in a statement.

In a blog post,  Avi’s co-founders expressed a similar sentiment, seeing a company where it would fit well moving forward. “The decision to join forces with VMware represents a perfect alignment of vision, products, technology, go-to-market, and culture. We will continue to deliver on our mission to help our customers modernize application services by accelerating multi-cloud deployments with automation and self-service,” they wrote. Whether that’s the case, time will tell.

Among Avi’s customers, which will now become part of VMware, are Deutsche Bank, Telegraph Media Group, Hulu and Cisco. The company was founded in 2012 and raised $115 million, according to Crunchbase data. Investors included Greylock, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Menlo Ventures, among others.

Simpo raises $4.5M Seed to help install software faster and more efficiently

Simpo is a startup with a simple idea. It wants to help project managers at large companies get software into the hands of its employee users faster. Today, the company announced a $4.5 million seed investment.

The round was led by Redpoint Ventures with participation from Janvest, UpWest, Seedcamp, Elad Gil and other unnamed investors.

The idea behind Simpo is to offer a no-code platform for distributing software and educating end users on how to use it. Any friction in this process can reduce adoption and Simpo created a platform for project managers without a lot of technical know-how to set up software distribution workflows with the goal of driving greater adoption.

There is an element of Robotics Process Automation (RPA) here too, by letting project manager build logical workflows, and then as users interact with the software, it can learn and offer next steps to help further drive usage. This approach really attracted Satish Dharmaraj, managing partner at lead investor Redpoint Ventures.

“Simpo is really exciting [to me] because it has solved so much of the software adoption problem in a sophisticated, yet incredibly simple way. Robotic process automation is a transformative force, and now product managers are able to harness its power for the first time. As software continues to dominate the enterprise, Simpo is a critical piece in driving adoption and informing how and what products will be built,” Dharmaraj said in a statement.

The company counts Walmart, DuPont and Jet as customers.

GitHub hires former Bitnami co-founder Erica Brescia as COO

It’s been just over a year since Microsoft bought GitHub for $7.5 billion, but the company has grown in that time, and today it announced that it has hired former Bitnami COO and cofounder, Erica Brescia to be its COO.

Brescia handled COO duties at Bitnami from its founding in 2011 until it was sold to VMware last month. In a case of good timing, GitHub was looking to fill its COO role and after speaking to CEO Nat Friedman, she believed it was going to be a good fit. The GitHub mission to provide a place for developers to contribute to various projects fits in well with what she was doing at Bitnami, which provided a way to deliver software to developers in the form of packages such as containers or Kubernetes Helm charts.

New GitHub COO Erica Brescia

She sees that experience of building a company, of digging in and taking on whatever roles the situation required, translating well as she takes over as COO at a company that is growing as quickly as GitHub. “I was really shocked to see how quickly GitHub is still growing, and I think bringing that kind of founder mentality, understanding where the challenges are and working with a team to come up with solutions, is something that’s going to translate really well and help the company to successfully scale,” Brescia told TechCrunch.

She admits that it’s going to be a different kind of challenge working with a company she didn’t help build, but she sees a lot of similarities that will help her as she moves into this new position. Right after selling a company, she obviously didn’t have to take a job right away, but this one was particularly compelling to her, too much so to leave on the table.

“I think there were a number of different directions that I could have gone coming out of Bitnami, and GitHub was really exciting to me because of the scale of the opportunity and the fact that it’s so focused on developers and helping developers around the world, both open source and enterprise, collaborate on the software that really powers the world moving forward,” she said.

She says as COO at a growing company, it will fall on her to find more efficient ways to run things as the company continues to scale. “When you have a company that’s growing that quickly, there are inevitably things that probably could be done more efficiently at the scale, and so one of the first things that I plan on spending time in on is just understanding from the team is where the pain points are, and what can we do to help the organization run like a more well oiled machine.”

With Tableau and Mulesoft, Salesforce gains full view of enterprise data

Back in the 2010 timeframe, it was common to say that content was king, but after watching Google buy Looker for $2.6 billion last week and Salesforce nab Tableau for $15.7 billion this morning, it’s clear that data has ascended to the throne in a business context.

We have been hearing about Big Data for years, but we’ve probably reached a point in 2019 where the data onslaught is really having an impact on business. If you can find the key data nuggets in the big data pile, it can clearly be a competitive advantage, and companies like Google and Salesforce are pulling out their checkbooks to make sure they are in a position to help you out.

While Google, as a cloud infrastructure vendor, is trying to help companies on its platform and across the cloud understand and visualize all that data, Salesforce as a SaaS vendor might have a different reason — one that might surprise you — given that Salesforce was born in the cloud. But perhaps it recognizes something fundamental. If it truly wants to own the enterprise, it has to have a hybrid story, and with Mulesoft and Tableau, that’s precisely what it has — and why it was willing to spend around $23 billion to get it.

Making connections

Certainly, Salesforce chairman Marc Benioff has no trouble seeing the connections between his two big purchases over the last year. He sees the combination of Mulesoft connecting to the data sources and Tableau providing a way to visualize as a “beautiful thing.”

Vectra lands $100M Series E investment for AI-driven network security

Vectra, a seven-year old company that helps customers detect intrusions at the network level, whether in the cloud or on premises, announced a $100 million Series E funding round today led by TCV. Existing investors including Khosla Ventures and Accel also participated in the round, which brings the total raised to over $200 million, according to the company.

As company CEO Hitesh Sheth explained, there are two primary types of intrusion detection. The first is end point detection and the second is his company’s area of coverage, network detection and response or NDR.  He says that by adding a layer of artificial intelligence, it improves the overall results.

“One of the keys to our success has been applying AI to network traffic, the networking side of NDR, to look for the signal in the noise. And we can do this across the entire infrastructure, from the data center to the cloud all the way into end user traffic including IoT,” he explained.

He said that as companies move their data to the cloud, they are looking for ways to ensure the security of their most valuable data assets, and he says his company’s NDR solution can provide that. In fact, securing the cloud side of the equation is one of the primary investment focuses for this round.

Tim McAdam from lead investor TVC, says that the AI piece is a real differentiator for Vectra and one that attracted his firm to invest in the company. He said that while he realized that AI is an overused term these days, after talking to 30 customers he heard over and over again that Vectra’s AI-driven solution was a differentiator over competing products. “All of them have decided to standardize on the Vectra Cognito because to a person, they spoke of the efficacy and the reduction of their threat vectors as a result of standardizing on Vectra,” McAdam told TechCrunch.

The company was founded in 2012 and currently has 240. That is expected to double in the year to 18 months with this funding.

Google continues to preach multi-cloud approach with Looker acquisition

When Google announced it was buying Looker yesterday morning for $2.6 billion, you couldn’t blame some of the company’s 1,600 customers if they worried a bit if Looker would continue its multi-cloud approach. But Google Cloud chief Thomas Kurian made clear the company will continue to support an open approach to its latest purchase when it joins the fold later this year.

It’s consistent with the messaging from Google Next, the company’s cloud conference in April. It was looking to portray itself as the more open cloud. It was going to be friendlier to open-source projects, running them directly on Google Cloud. It was going to provide a way to manage your workloads wherever they live, with Anthos.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, says that in a multi-cloud world, Looker represented one of the best choices, and that could be why Google went after it. “Looker’s strengths include its centralized data-modeling and governance, which promotes consistency and reuse. It runs on top of modern cloud databases including Google BigQuery, AWS Redshift and Snowflake,” Wang told TechCrunch. He added, “They wanted to acquire a tool that is as easy to use as Microsoft Power BI and as deep as Tableau.”

Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, also sees this deal as part of a consistent multi-cloud message from Google. “I do think it is in alignment with its latest strategy outlined at Google Next. It has talked about rich analytics tools that could pull data from disparate sources,” he said.

Kurian pushing the multi-cloud message

Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian, who took over from Diane Greene at the end of last year, was careful to emphasize the company’s commitment to multi-cloud and multi-database support in comments to media and analysts yesterday. “We first want to reiterate, we’re very committed to maintaining local support for other clouds, as well as to serve data from multiple databases because customers want a single analytics foundation for their organization, and they want to be able to in the analytics foundation, look at data from multiple data sources. So we’re very committed to that,” Kurian said yesterday.

From a broader customer perspective, Kurian sees Looker providing customers with a single way to access and visualize data. “One of the things that is challenging for organizations in operationalizing business intelligence, that we feel that Looker has done really well, is it gives you a single place to model your data, define your data definitions — like what’s revenue, who’s a gold customer or how many servers tickets are open — and allows you then to blend data across individual data silos, so that as an organization, you’re working off a consistent set of metrics,” Kurian explained.

In a blog post announcing the deal, Looker CEO Frank Bien sought to ease concerns that the company might move away from the multi-cloud, multi-database support. “For customers and partners, it’s important to know that today’s announcement solidifies ours as well as Google Cloud’s commitment to multi-cloud. Looker customers can expect continuing support of all cloud databases like Amazon Redshift, Azure SQL, Snowflake, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, Teradata and more,” Bien wrote in the post.

No antitrust concerns

Kurian also emphasized that this deal shouldn’t attract the attention of antitrust regulators, who have been sniffing around the big tech companies like Google/Alphabet, Apple and Amazon as of late. “We’re not buying any data along with this transaction. So it does not introduce any concentration risk in terms of concentrating data. Secondly, there are a large number of analytic tools in the market. So by just acquiring Looker, we’re not further concentrating the market in any sense. And lastly, all the other cloud players also have their own analytic tools. So it represents a further strengthening of our competitive position relative to the other players in the market,” he explained. Not to mention its pledge to uphold the multi-cloud and multi-database support, which should show it is not doing this strictly to benefit Google or to draw customers specifically to GCP.

Just this week, the company announced a partnership with Snowflake, the cloud data warehouse startup that has raised almost a billion dollars, to run on Google Cloud Platform. It already runs AWS and Microsoft Azure. In fact, Wang suggested that Snowflake could be next on Google’s radar as it tries to build a multi-cloud soup-to-nuts analytics offering.

Regardless, with Looker the company has a data analytics tool to complement its data processing tools, and together the two companies should provide a fairly comprehensive data solution. If they truly keep it multi-cloud, that should keep current customers happy, especially those who work with tools outside of the Google Cloud ecosystem or simply want to maintain their flexibility.

Manifold’s Marketplace as a Service puts app marketplaces in reach of any developer

Manifold, a startup known for providing all of the tools developers need in a single marketplace, has decided to make its core product available as a service, so that other companies can build a catalog of related services without a fuss.

Everyone wants to be a platform these days, but creating the infrastructure to offer a set of related services often might not be worth the effort. Beyond developing the actual catalog of services, it requires skills like collecting money and distributing revenue. Most companies don’t have the skill set or resources to set all of that up, and Manifold decided to use its expertise to help out.

Jevon MacDonald, co-founder and CEO, says they set out to build a complete management solution when they released their initial product last year. “The way we do that is by bringing things like billing, a single transaction for a developer, account management, teams and all the sort of things you have to do every time you use a cloud-based service or API.”

They felt the next logical step was to help their customers do something similar within their own ecosystems. “Now we’re here to talk about a Marketplace as a Service, which brings that power to these developer ecosystems directly by integrating with their existing products and platforms to make all the services the developers love to use available no matter where they run the code,” MacDonald explained.

He says that today, companies are really struggling to create marketplaces themselves, and this gives them the ability to do that in a fairly straightforward fashion. “There’s a lot more companies attempting to launch marketplaces, and what we’re hearing from customers is that they’re going back to the drawing board on a lot of these fundamental pieces every time, and this is our bread and butter.”

Manifold’s plan is to make that capability available as an out-of-the-box service to allow anyone who wants to launch a marketplace to do it. The company launched in 2016 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and has raised more than $13 million (18.5 million Canadian).

Aion Network introduces first blockchain virtual machine for Java developers

Aion Network, a non-profit dedicated to creating tools to promote blockchain technologies, announced a new virtual machine today that’s built on top of the popular Java Virtual Machine. Its ultimate goal is increasing the popularity of blockchain with developers.

Aion CEO Matthew Spoke says one of the barriers to more widespread blockchain adoption has been a lack of tooling for developers in a common language like Java. The company believed if they could build a virtual machine specifically for blockchain on top of the Java Virtual Machine (JVM), which has been in use for years, it could help promote more extensive use of blockchain.

Today, it’s announcing the Aion Virtual Machine (AVM), a virtual machine that sits on top of the JVM. AVM makes it possible for developers to use their familiar toolset while building in the blockchain bits like smart contracts in the AVM without having to alter the JVM at all.

“We didn’t want to modify the JVM. We wanted to build some sort of supplementary software layer that can interact with the JVM. Blockchains have a set of unique criteria. They need to be deterministic; the computing needs to happen across the distributed network of nodes; and the JVM was never designed with this in mind,” Spoke explained.

Aion set out to build a virtual machine for blockchain without reinventing the wheel. It recognized that Java remains one of the most popular programming languages around, and it didn’t want to mess with that. In fact, it wanted to take advantage of the popularity by building a kind of blockchain interpreter that would sit on top of the JVM without getting in the way of it.

“Rather than trying to convince people of the merits of a new system, can we just get the system they’re already familiar with on top of the blockchain? So we started engineering towards that solution. And we’ve been working on that since for about a year at this point, leading up to our release this week to prove that we can solve that problem,” Spoke told TechCrunch.

Up to this point, Aion has been focusing on the crypto community, but the company felt to really push the blockchain beyond the realm of the true believers, it needed to come up with a way for developers who weren’t immersed in this to take advantage of it.

“Our big focus now is how do we take this message of building blockchain apps and take it into a more traditional software industry audience. Instead of trying to compete for the attention of crypto developers, we want the blockchain to become almost a micro service layer to what normal software developers are solving on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

The company is hoping that by providing this way to access blockchain services, it can help popularize blockchain concepts with developers who might not otherwise have been familiar with them. It’s but one attempt to bring blockchain to more business-oriented use cases, but the company has given this a lot of thought and believes it will help them evangelize this approach with a wider audience of developers moving forward.

Security stays hot as Imperva grabs Distil Networks

Last week 4 security companies changed hands. The shopping spree continued this week with CDN company Imperva, announcing it was buying bot mitigation startup Distil Networks. The companies did not share the acquisition price.

Imperva CTO Kunal Anand says his company had a narrow bot capability, but was looking to bring a more complete solution to the platform and Distil fit the bill nicely.

“When we looked at all of these different variables, and when we looked at the capabilities and the presence that they have in the market, the leadership with analysts, it felt like a no-brainer for us. And once we got to know the team, Rami, and all the folks at Distil, we thought it would be a great pairing to combine these companies,” he explained.

Distil Networks CEO and co-founder Rami Essaid says the paperwork to seal the deal was signed just yesterday and is expected to close in a month. He says he was finding it difficult to hold his own as a point solution in a market that increasingly valued a platform of services from a single vendor, so he went looking for a partner like Imperva.

“We were finding it harder and harder to compete as a point solution, outside of being a platform, so we started looking for a platform partner, that we could be a part of to continue our journey, and to continue to do what we do best without having to build an entire platform ourselves,” Essaid told TechCrunch.

The plan is to bring most of Distil’s employees on-board, while the long-term plan is to incorporate the Distil toolset into Imperva’s platform, Essaid says that all of his current customers will have the opportunity to become Imperva customers.

Distil was founded in 2011 and has raised almost $60 million. Imperva was sold last year to private equity firm, Thoma Bravo for $2.1 billion.

Zuora Central lets developers build connected workflows across services

Zuora has been known throughout its 12-year history as a company that helps manage subscription-based businesses. Today, at its Subscribed San Francisco customer conference, it announced that it’s adding a new twist to the platform with a new service called the Zuora Central developer platform.

The latest offering gives developers a workflow tool to build connections between systems that extend the given service using both Zuora’s service set and any external services that make sense. Tien Tzuo, founder and CEO at Zuora, sees this as a way for his customers to offer a set of integrated services that take advantage of the fact that these individual things are connected to the internet, whether that’s a car, an appliance, a garage door opener or a multi-million dollar medical device.

And this isn’t even necessarily about taking advantage of your smartphone, although it could include that. It’s about extending the device or service to automate a set of related tasks beyond the subscription service itself. “So you create a workflow diagram in Zuora Central, that’s going to convey all of the logic of this,” he said.

Zuora Central lets developers connect to both Zuora services and external services. Diagram: Zuora

As an example, Tzuo says imagine you are renting a car. You have reserved a Ford Focus, but when you get to the lot, you decide you want the Mustang convertible. You don’t have to pull out your phone. You simply walk up to the car and touch the handle. It understands who you are and begins to make a series of connections.There may be a call to unlock the car, a call to the music system to play your driving playlist on Spotify, a call to your car preferences that can set the seats and mirrors and so forth. All of this is possible because the car itself is connected to the internet.

Zuora workflow in action. Screenshot: Zuora

Under the hood, the workflow tool takes advantage of a number of different technologies to make all of this happen including a custom object model, an events and notifications system and a data query engine. All of these tools combine to let developers build these complex workflows and connect to a number of tasks, greatly enhancing the capabilities of the base Zuora platform.

As Tzuo sees it, it’s not unlike what happened when he was Chief Marketing Officer at Salesforce before starting Zuora when they launched Force.com and the AppExchange as a way to allow developers to extend the Salesforce product beyond its base capabilities.

Tzuo also sees this platform play as a logical move for any company that aspires to be a billion dollar revenue company. The company has a ways to go in that regard. In its most recent report at the end of May, it reported $64.1 million in revenue for the quarter. Whether this new capability will do for Zuora what extending the platform did for Salesforce remains to be seen, but this is certainly a big step for the company.