Cisco to acquire silicon photonics chip maker Luxtera for $660 million

As networks get put under increasing pressure from ever-growing amounts of data, network equipment manufacturers are facing huge challenges to increase data transmissions speeds over further distances. As a premiere networking equipment company, Cisco wants to be prepared to meet that demand. Today, it opened up its checkbook and announced its intent to acquire Luxtera for $660 million.

Luxtera, which was founded in 2001 and raised over $130 million, will give Cisco a photonic solution for that data networking problem. Rob Salvagno, head of Cisco’s M&A and venture investment team sees a company that can help modernize Cisco’s networking equipment.

“That’s why today we announced our intent to acquire Luxtera, Inc., a privately-held semiconductor company that uses silicon photonics technology to build integrated optics capabilities for webscale and enterprise data centers, service provider market segments, and other customers. Luxtera’s technology, design and manufacturing innovation significantly improves performance and scale while lowering costs,” he wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

Photonics uses light to move large amounts of data at higher speeds over increased distances via fiber optic cable. Cisco sees this as a way to future-proof customer networking requirements, while keeping them on Cisco equipment. “The combination of Cisco’s and Luxtera’s capabilities in 100GbE/400GbE optics, silicon and process technology will enable customers to build future-proof networks optimized for performance, reliability and cost,” Salvagno wrote.

While Cisco has been acquiring its share of high-profile software properties in recent years including AppDyanmics for $3.7 billion in 2017 and Jasper Technologies for $1.4 billion in 2016, it also acquired Israeli chip designer Leaba Semiconductor for $320 million in 2016 for its advanced chip making capability.

Today’s announcement would seem to build on that earlier purchase as Cisco tries to modernize its hardware offerings to meet increasingly stringent demands inside large-scale data centers.

The acquisition is subject to the typical regulatory scrutiny, but Cisco expects it to close in its fiscal year 2019 Q3. It reported its Q1 2019 earnings in November.

Trello acquires Butler to add power of automation

Trello, the organizational tool owned by Atlassian, announced an acquisition of its very own this morning when it bought Butler, an plug-in for an undisclosed amount.

What Butler brings to Trello is the power of automation, stringing together a bunch of commands to make something complex happen automatically. As Trello’s Michael Pryor pointed out in a blog post announcing the acquisition, we are used to tools like IFTTT, Zapier and Apple Shortcuts, and this will bring a similar type of functionality directly into Trello.

Screenshot: Trello

“Over the years, teams have discovered that by automating processes on Trello boards with the Butler Power-Up, they could spend more time on important tasks and be more productive. Butler helps teams codify business rules and processes, taking something that might take ten steps to accomplish and automating it into one click.” Pryor wrote.

This means that Trello can be more than a static organizational tool. Instead, it can move into the realm of light-weight business process automation. For example, this could allow you to move an item from your To Do board to your Doing board automatically based on dates, or to share tasks with appropriate teams as a project moves through its lifecycle, saving a bunch of manual steps that tend to add up.

The company indicated that it will be incorporating the Alfred’s capabilities directly into Trello in the coming months. It will make it available to all level of users including the free tier, but they promise more advanced functionality for Business and Enterprise customers when the integration is complete. Pryor also suggested that more automation could be coming to Trello. “Butler is Trello’s first step down this road, enabling every user to automate pieces of their Trello workflow to save time, stay organized and get more done.”

Atlassian bought Trello in 2017 for $425 million, but this acquisition indicates it is functioning quasi-independently as part of the Atlassian family.

Here’s what caused yesterday’s O2 and SoftBank outages

It appears that most mobile carriers, including O2 and SoftBank, have recovered from yesterday’s cell phone network outage that was triggered by a shutdown of Ericsson equipment running on their networks. That shutdown appears to have been triggered by expired software certificates on the equipment itself.

While Ericsson acknowledged in their press release yesterday that expired certificates were at the root of the problem, you may be wondering why this would cause a shutdown. It turns out that it’s likely due to a fail-safe system in place, says Tim Callan, senior fellow at Sectigo (formerly Comodo CA), a U.S. certificate-issuing authority. Callan has 15 years of experience in the industry.

He indicated that while he didn’t have specific information on this outage, it would be consistent with industry best practices to shut down the system when encountering expired certificates “We don’t have specific visibility into the Ericsson systems in question, but a typical application would require valid certificates to be in place in order to keep operating. That is to protect against breach by some kind of agent that is maliciously inserted into the network,” Callan told TechCrunch.

In fact, Callan said that in 2009 a breach at Heartland Payments was directly related to such a problem. “2009’s massive data breach of Heartland Payment Systems occurred because the network in question did NOT have such a requirement. Today it’s common practice to use certificates to avoid that same vulnerability,” he explained.

Ericsson would not get into specifics about what caused the problem.”Ericsson takes full responsibility for this technical failure. The problem has been identified and resolved. After a complete analysis Ericsson will take measures to prevent such a failure from happening again.”

Among those affected yesterday were millions of O2 customers in Great Britain and SoftBank customers in Japan. SoftBank issued an apology in the form of a press release on the company website. “We deeply apologize to our customers for all inconveniences it caused. We will strive to take all measures to prevent the same network outage.”

As for O2, they also apologized this morning after restoring service, tweeting:

Pivotal announces new serverless framework

Pivotal has always been about making open-source tools for enterprise developers, but surprisingly, up until now, the arsenal has lacked a serverless component. That changed today with the alpha launch of Pivotal Function Service.

Pivotal Function Service is a Kubernetes-based, multi-cloud function service. It’s part of the broader Pivotal vision of offering you a single platform for all your workloads on any cloud,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the new service.

What’s interesting about Pivotal’s flavor of serverless, besides the fact that it’s based on open source, is that it has been designed to work both on-prem and in the cloud in a cloud native fashion, hence the Kubernetes-based aspect of it. This is unusual to say the least.

The idea up until now has been that the large-scale cloud providers like Amazon, Google and Microsoft could dial up whatever infrastructure your functions require, then dial them down when you’re finished without you ever having to think about the underlying infrastructure. The cloud provider deals with whatever compute, storage and memory you need to run the function, and no more.

Pivotal wants to take that same idea and make it available in the cloud across any cloud service. It also wants to make it available on-prem, which may seem curious at first, but Pivotal’s Onsi Fakhouri says customers want that same abilities both on-prem and in the cloud. “One of the key values that you often hear about serverless is that it will run down to zero and there is less utilization, but at the same time there are customers who want to explore and embrace the serverless programming paradigm on-prem,” Fakhouri said. Of course, then it is up to IT to ensure that there are sufficient resources to meet the demands of the serverless programs.

The new package includes several key components for developers, including an environment for building, deploying and managing your functions, a native eventing ability that provides a way to build rich event triggers to call whatever functionality you require and the ability to do this within a Kubernetes-based environment. This is particularly important as companies embrace a hybrid use case to manage the events across on-prem and cloud in a seamless way.

One of the advantages of Pivotal’s approach is that Pivotal can work on any cloud as an open product. This is in contrast to the cloud providers like Amazon, Google and Microsoft, which provide similar services that run exclusively on their clouds. Pivotal is not the first to build an open-source Function as a Service, but they are attempting to package it in a way that makes it easier to use.

Serverless doesn’t actually mean there are no underlying servers. Instead, it means that developers don’t have to point to any servers because the cloud provider takes care of whatever infrastructure is required. In an on-prem scenario, IT has to make those resources available.

Ericsson software problem has been causing widespread cell phone outages

A problem with the software in Ericsson equipment is causing outages across the world, including O2 users in Great Britain and SoftBank users in Japan, according to a report in the Financial Times earlier today.

Ericsson took blame for the outage in a press release. It apparently involves faulty software on certain Ericsson equipment used on the affected company’s mobile networks. While Ericsson indicated it involved multiple countries, it appeared to try to minimize the impact by stating it involved “network disturbances for a limited number of customers.” The FT report indicated that it was actually affecting millions of mobile customers worldwide.

Regardless, the company said that an initial analysis attributed the problem to an expired software certificate on the affected equipment. Börje Ekholm, Ericsson president and CEO, said they were working to restore the service as soon as possible, which probably isn’t soon enough for people who don’t have a working cell phone at the moment.

“The faulty software that has caused these issues is being decommissioned and we apologize not only to our customers but also to their customers. We work hard to ensure that our customers can limit the impact and restore their services as soon as possible,” Ekholm said in a statement.

While the press release went on to say they are working to restore the service throughout the day, as of publishing this article, the O2 outage maps still showed problems in the London area and throughout Great Britain.

The AT&T and Verizon outage pages are also currently showing outages in the U.S. We reached out to Ericsson by phone and email to confirm if this was part of their software problems, but had not heard back by the time we published. If we do, we will update this story.

(Note that Verizon owns this publication.)

Looker snags $103 million investment on $1.6 billion valuation

Looker has been helping customers visualize and understand their data for seven years now and today it got a big reward, a $103 million Series E investment on a $1.6 billion valuation.

The round was led by Premji Invest with new investment from Cross Creek Advisors and participation from the company’s existing investors. With today’s investment Looker has raised $280.5 million, according the company.

In spite of the large valuation, Looker CEO Frank Bien really wasn’t in the mood to focus on that particular number, which he said was arbitrary, based on the economic conditions at the time of the funding round. He said having an executive team old enough to remember the dot-com bubble from the late 1990s and the crash of 2008, keeps them grounded when it comes to those kinds of figures

Instead, he preferred to concentrate on other numbers. He reported that the company has 1600 customers now and just crossed the $100 million revenue run rate, a significant milestone for any enterprise SaaS company. What’s more, Bien reports revenue is still growing 70 percent year over year, so there’s plenty of room to keep this going.

He said he took such a large round because there was interest and he believed that it was prudent to take the investment as they move deeper into enterprise markets. “To grow effectively into enterprise customers, you have to build more product, and you have to hire sales teams that take longer to activate. So you look to grow into that, and that’s what we’re going to use this financing for,” Bien told TechCrunch.

He said it’s highly likely that this is the last private fund-raising the company will undertake as it heads toward an IPO at some point in the future. “We would absolutely view this as our last round unless something drastic changed,” Bien told TechCrunch.

For now, he’s looking to build a mature company that is ready for the public markets whenever the time is right. That involves building internal processes of a public company even if they’re not there yet. “You create that maturity either way, and I think that’s what we’re doing. So when those markets look okay, you could look at that as another funding source,” he explained.

The company currently has around 600 employees. Bien indicated that they added 200 this year alone and expect to add additional headcount in 2019 as the business continues to grow and they can take advantage of this substantial cash infusion.

AWS wants to rule the world

AWS, once a nice little side hustle for Amazon’s eCommerce business, has grown over the years into a behemoth that’s on a $27 billion run rate, one that’s still growing at around 45 percent a year. That’s a highly successful business by any measure, but as I listened to AWS executives last week at their AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, I didn’t hear a group that was content to sit still and let the growth speak for itself. Instead, I heard one that wants to dominate every area of enterprise computing.

Whether it was hardware like the new Inferentia chip and Outposts, the new on-prem servers or blockchain and a base station service for satellites, if AWS saw an opportunity they were not ceding an inch to anyone.

Last year, AWS announced an astonishing 1400 new features, and word was that they are on pace to exceed that this year. They get a lot of credit for not resting on their laurels and continuing to innovate like a much smaller company, even as they own gobs of marketshare.

The feature inflation probably can’t go on forever, but for now at least they show no signs of slowing down, as the announcements came at a furious pace once again. While they will tell you that every decision they make is about meeting customer needs, it’s clear that some of these announcements were also about answering competitive pressure.

Going after competitors harder

In the past, AWS kept criticism of competitors to a minimum maybe giving a little jab to Oracle, but this year they seemed to ratchet it up. In their keynotes, AWS CEO Andy Jassy and Amazon CTO Werner Vogels continually flogged Oracle, a competitor in the database market, but hardly a major threat as a cloud company right now.

They went right for Oracle’s market though with a new on prem system called Outposts, which allows AWS customers to operate on prem and in the cloud using a single AWS control panel or one from VMware if customers prefer. That is the kind of cloud vision that Larry Ellison might have put forth, but Jassy didn’t necessarily see it as going after Oracle or anyone else. “I don’t see Outposts as a shot across the bow of anyone. If you look at what we are doing, it’s very much informed by customers,” he told reporters at a press conference last week.

AWS CEO Andy Jassy at a press conference at AWS Re:Invent last week.

Yet AWS didn’t reserve its criticism just for Oracle. It also took aim at Microsoft, taking jabs at Microsoft SQL Server, and also announcing Amazon FSx for Windows File Server, a tool specifically designed to move Microsoft files to the AWS cloud.

Google wasn’t spared either when launching Inferentia and Elastic Inference, which put Google on notice that AWS wasn’t going to yield the AI market to Google’s TPU infrastructure. All of these tools and much more were about more than answering customer demand, they were about putting the competition on notice in every aspect of enterprise computing.

Upward growth trajectory

The cloud market is continuing to grow at a dramatic pace, and as market leader, AWS has been able to take advantage of its market dominance to this point. Jassy, echoing Google’s Diane Greene and Oracle’s Larry Ellison, says the industry as a whole is still really early in terms of cloud adoption, which means there is still plenty of marketshare left to capture.

“I think we’re just in the early stages of enterprise and public sector adoption in the US. Outside the US I would say we are 12-36 months behind. So there are a lot of mainstream enterprises that are just now starting to plan their approach to the cloud,” Jassy said.

Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy says that AWS has been using its market position to keep expanding into different areas. “AWS has the scale right now to do many things others cannot, particularly lesser players like Google Cloud Platform and Oracle Cloud. They are trying to make a point with the thousands of new products and features they bring out. This serves as a disincentive longer-term for other players, and I believe will result in a shakeout,” he told TechCrunch.

As for the frenetic pace of innovation, Moorhead believes it can’t go on forever. “To me, the question is, when do we reach a point where 95% of the needs are met, and the innovation rate isn’t required. Every market, literally every market, reaches a point where this happens, so it’s not a matter of if but when,” he said.

Certainly areas like the AWS Ground Station announcement, showed that AWS was willing to expand beyond the conventional confines of enterprise computing and into outer space to help companies process satellite data. This ability to think beyond traditional uses of cloud computing resources shows a level of creativity that suggests there could be other untapped markets for AWS that we haven’t yet imagined.

As AWS moves into more areas of the enterprise computing stack, whether on premises or in the cloud, they are showing their desire to dominate every aspect of the enterprise computing world. Last week they demonstrated that there is no area that they are willing to surrender to anyone.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

New AWS tool helps customers understand best cloud practices

Since 2015, AWS has had a team of solution architects working with customers to make sure they are using AWS services in a way that meets best practices around a set of defined criteria. Today, the company announced a new Well Architected tool that helps customers do this themselves in an automated way without the help of a human consultant.

As Amazon CTO Werner Vogels said in his keynote address at AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas, it’s hard to scale a human team inside the company to meet the needs of thousands of customers, especially when so many want to be sure they are complying with these best practices. He indicated that they even brought on a network of certified partners to help, but it still has not been enough to meet demand.

In typical AWS fashion, they decided to create a service to help customers measure how well they are doing in terms of operations, security, reliability, cost optimization and performance efficiency. Customers can run this tool against the AWS services they are using and get a full report of how they measure up against these five factors.

“I think of it as a way to make sure that you are using the cloud right, and that you are using it well,” Jeff Barr wrote in a blog post introducing the new service.

Instead of working with a human to analyze your systems, you answer a series of questions and then generate a report based on those answers. When the process is complete you generate a pdf report with all the recommendations for your particular situation.

Image: AWS

While it’s doubtful that such an approach can be as comprehensive as a conversation between client and consultant, it is a starting point to at least get you on the road to thinking about such things, and as a free service, you have little to lose by at least trying the tool and seeing what it tells you.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

AWS announces a slew of new Lambda features

AWS launched Lambda in 2015 and with it helped popularize serverless computing. You simply write code (event triggers) and AWS deals with whatever compute, memory and storage you need to make that work. Today at AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas, the company announced several new features to make it more developer friendly, while acknowledging that even while serverless reduced complexity, it still requires more sophisticated tools as it matures

It’s called serverless because you don’t have to worry about the underlying servers. The cloud vendors take care of all that for you, serving whatever resources you need to run your event and no more. It means you no longer have to worry about coding for all your infrastructure and you only pay for the computing you need at any given moment to make the application work.

The way AWS works is that it tends to release something, then builds more functionality on top of a base service as it sees increasing requirements as customers use it. As Amazon CTO Werner Vogels pointed out in his keynote on Thursday, developers debate about tools and everyone has their own idea of what tools they bring to the task every day.

For starters, they decided to please the language folks introducing support for new languages. Those developers who use Ruby can now use Ruby Support for AWS Lambda. “Now it’s possible to write Lambda functions as idiomatic Ruby code, and run them on AWS. The AWS SDK for Ruby is included in the Lambda execution environment by default,” Chris Munns from AWS wrote in a blog post introducing the new language support.

If C++ is your thing, AWS announced C++ Lambda Runtime. If neither of those match your programming language tastes, AWS opened it up for just about any language with the new Lambda Runtime API, which Danilo Poccia from AWS described in a blog post as “a simple interface to use any programming language, or a specific language version, for developing your functions.”

AWS didn’t want to stop with languages though. They also recognize that even though Lambda (and serverless in general) is designed to remove a level of complexity for developers, that doesn’t mean that all serverless applications consist of simple event triggers. As developers build more sophisticated serverless apps, they have to bring in system components and compose multiple pieces together, as Vogels explained in his keynote today.

To address this requirement, the company introduced Lambda Layers, which they describe as “a way to centrally manage code and data that is shared across multiple functions.” This could be custom code used by multiple functions or a way to share code used to simplify business logic.

As Lambda matures, developer requirements grow and these announcements and others are part of trying to meet those needs.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

AWS launches a base station for satellites as a service

Today at AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas, AWS announced a new service for satellite providers with the launch of AWS Ground Station, the first fully managed ground station as a service.

With this new service, AWS will provide ground antennas through their existing network of worldwide availability zones, as well as data processing services to simplify the entire data retrieval and processing process for satellite companies, or for others who consume the satellite data.

Satellite operators need to get data down from the satellite, process it and then make it available for developers to use in applications. In that regard, it’s not that much different from any IoT device. It just so happens that these are flying around in space.

AWS CEO Andy Jassy pointed out that they hadn’t really considered a service like this until they had customers asking for it. “Customers said that we have so much data in space with so many applications that want to use that data. Why don’t you make it easier,” Jassy said. He said they thought about that and figured they could put their vast worldwide network to bear on the problem.

Prior to this service, companies had to build these base stations themselves to get the data down from the satellites as they passed over the base stations on earth wherever those base stations happened to be. It required that providers buy land and build the hardware, then deal with the data themselves. By offering this as a managed service, it greatly simplifies every aspect of the workflow.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, says the service will help put the satellite data into the hands of developers faster. “To rule real-world application use cases you need to make maps and real-time spatial data available in an easy-to-consume, real-time and affordable way,” Mueller told TechCrunch. This is precisely the type of data you can get from satellites.

The value proposition of any cloud service has always been about reducing the resource allocation required by a company to achieve a goal. With AWS Ground Station, AWS handles every aspect of the satellite data retrieval and processing operation for the company, greatly reducing the cost and complexity associated with it.

AWS claims it can save up to 80 percent by using an on-demand model over ownership. They are starting with two ground stations today as they launch the service, but plan to expand it to 12 by the middle of next year.

Customers and partners involved in the Ground Station preview included Lockheed Martin, Open Cosmos, HawkEye360 and DigitalGlobe, among others.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage