Microsoft delves deeper into IoT with Express Logic acquisition

Microsoft has never been shy about being acquisitive, and today it announced it’s buying Express Logic, a San Diego company that has developed a real-time operating system (RTOS) aimed at controlling the growing number of IoT devices in the world.

The companies did not share the purchase price.

Express Logic is not some wide-eyed, pie-in-the-sky startup. It has been around for 23 years building (in its own words), “industrial-grade RTOS and middleware software solutions for embedded and IoT developers.” The company boasts some 6.2 billion (yes, billion) devices running its systems. That number did not escape Sam George, director of Azure IoT at Microsoft, but as he wrote in a blog post announcing the deal, there is a reason for this popularity.

“This widespread popularity is driven by demand for technology to support resource constrained environments, especially those that require safety and security,” George wrote.

Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research, says that market share also gives Microsoft instant platform credibility. “This is a key acquisition for Microsoft: on the strategy side Microsoft is showing it is serious with investing heavily into IoT, and on the product side it’s a key step to get into the operating system code of the popular RTOS,” Mueller told TechCrunch.

The beauty of Express Logic’s approach is that it can work in low-power and low resource environments and offers a proven solution for a range or products. “Manufacturers building products across a range of categories — from low capacity sensors like lightbulbs and temperature gauges to air conditioners, medical devices and network appliances  –leverage the size, safety and security benefits of Express Logic solutions to achieve faster time to market,” George wrote.

Writing in a blog post to his customers announcing the deal, Express Logic CEO William E. Lamie, expressed optimism that the company can grow even further as part of the Microsoft family. “Effective immediately, our ThreadX RTOS and supporting software technology, as well as our talented engineering staff join Microsoft. This complements Microsoft’s existing premier security offering in the microcontroller space,” he wrote.

Microsoft is getting an established company with a proven product that can help it scale its Azure IoT business. The acquisition is part of a $5 billion investment in IoT the company announced last April that includes a number of Azure pieces such as Azure Sphere, Azure Digital Twins, Azure IoT Edge, Azure Maps and Azure IoT Central.

“With this acquisition, we will unlock access to billions of new connected endpoints, grow the number of devices that can seamlessly connect to Azure and enable new intelligent capabilities. Express Logic’s ThreadX RTOS joins Microsoft’s growing support for IoT devices and is complementary with Azure Sphere, our premier security offering in the microcontroller space,” George wrote.

Y Combinator grad, Fuzzbuzz lands $2.7M seed round to deliver fuzzing as service

Fuzzbuzz, a graduate of the most recent Y Combinator class, got the kind of news every early-stage startup wants to hear when it landed a $2.7 million seed round to help deliver a special class of automated software testing known as fuzzing in the form of a cloud service.

Fuel Capital led the round. Homebrew and Susa Ventures also participated along with various angel investors including Docker co-founder Solomon Hykes, Mesosphere co-founder Florian Leibert and Looker co-founder Ben Porterfield.

What Fuzzbuzz does specifically is automate fuzzing at scale, says co-founder and CEO Andrei Serban. “It’s a type of automated software testing that can perform thousands of tests per second,” he explained. Fuzzbuzz, is also taking advantage of artificial intelligence and machine learning underpinnings to use feedback from the results to generate new tests automatically, so that it should get smarter as it goes along.

The goal is to cover as much of the code as possible, much faster and more efficiently than human testers ever could, and find vulnerabilities and bugs. It’s the kind of testing every company generating code would obviously want to do, but the problem is that up until now the process has been expensive and required highly specialized security engineers to undertake. Companies like Google and Facebook are able to hire these kinds of people to build fuzzing solutions, but for the most part, it’s been out of reach for your average company.

Serban says his co-founder, Everest Munro-Zeisberger, worked on the Google Chrome fuzzing team, which has surfaced more than 15,000 bugs using this technique. He wanted to put this type of testing in reach of anyone.

“Today, anyone can start fuzzing on Fuzzbuzz in less than 20 minutes. We hook directly into GitHub and your CI/CD pipeline, categorize and de-duplicate each bug found, and then notify you through tools like Slack and Jira. Using the Fuzzbuzz CLI, developers can then test and fix the bug locally before pushing their code back up to GitHub,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the funding.

It’s still early days, and the startup is working with some initial customers. The funding should help the three founders, Serban, Munro-Zesberger and Sabera Hussain; to hire more engineers and bring a more complete solution to market. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but if it succeeds in creating a fuzzing service, it could mean delivering code with fewer bugs and that would be good for everyone.

Salesforce is buying MapAnything, a startup that raised over $84 million

Salesforce announced today it’s buying another company built on its platform. This time it’s MapAnything, which as the name implies, helps companies build location-based workflows, something that could come in handy for sales or service calls.

The companies did not reveal the selling price, and Salesforce didn’t have anything to add beyond a brief press release announcing the deal.

“The addition of MapAnything to Salesforce will help the world’s leading brands accurately plan: how many people they need, where to put them, how to make them as productive as possible, how to track what’s being done in real time and what they can learn to improve going forward,” Salesforce wrote in the statement announcing the deal.

It was a logical acquisition on many levels. In addition to being built on the Salesforce platform, the product was sold through the Salesforce AppExchange, and over the years MapAnything has been a Salesforce SI Partner, an ISV Premier Partner, according the company.

“Salesforce’s pending acquisition of MapAnything comes at a critical time for brands. Customer Experience is rapidly overtaking price as the leading reason companies win in the market. Leading companies like MillerCoors, Michelin, Unilever, Synchrony Financial and Mohawk Industries have all seen how location-enabled field sales and service professionals can focus on the right activities against the right customers, improving their productivity, and allowing them to provide value in every interaction,” company co-founder and CEO John Stewart wrote in a blog post announcing the deal.

MapAnything boasts 1900 customers in total, and that is likely to grow substantially once it officially becomes part of the Salesforce family later this year.

MapAnything was founded in 2009, so it’s been around long enough to raise over $84 million, according to Crunchbase. Last year, we covered the company’s $33.1 million Series B round, which was led by Columbus Nova.

At the time of the funding CEO John Stewart told me that his company’s products present location data more logically on a map instead of in a table. ‘“Our Core product helps users (most often field-based sales or service workers) visualize their data on a map, interact with it to drive productivity, and then use geolocation services like our mobile app or complex routing to determine the right cadence to meet them,” Stewart told me last year.

It raised an additional $42.5 million last November. Investors included General Motors Ventures and (unsurprisingly) Salesforce Ventures.

Techstars celebrates 10 years in Boston and over $1B in graduate funding

Techstars - Boston is celebrating its tenth anniversary today. Over the years, it has helped contribute to the Boston startup ecosystem, graduating 155 startups over that time, some of which have gone onto successful exits, while raising over $1 billion in funding.

Among those, the biggest is PillPack, the online pharmacy that Amazon acquired last year for almost a $1 billion, while Kinvey, a mobile backend startup, sold for $49 million in 2017 to Progress Software.

Other successful grads from the Boston program include Localytics, a mobile analytics platform, which has raised almost $70 million; Snyack, a security startup, which has raised over $60 million; and Placester, an online real estate ad company which has raised over $100 million.

Clement Cazalot, Techstars-Boston managing director, says he got his start in Boston as a startup founder 8 years ago when Techstars invited him to bring his French company, docTrackr.com, to Boston. That company was eventually sold to Intralinks in 2014 for $10 million, and Cazalot went onto become managing director of Techstars in 2017.

He says the ten-year anniversary was a good time to look back at the contributions the organization has made to the Boston startup ecosystem. Techstars-Boston only accepts a single cohort each year consisting of 10 companies. “With the accelerator piece, our goal is to become co-founder of these companies. In every program, we only invest in and help just 10 companies once a year in order to be able to go extremely deep with all of them. And we truly are co-founders, not just for the three months of the program, but throughout the entire lifecycle of the company,” he explained.

Sravish Sridhar, founder and CEO of Kinvey, and a graduate of the 2011 Techstars cohort, says the experience contributed to him building a successful company. “In my own journey as founder of Kinvey, Techstars helped me accelerate Kinvey through its vast and valuable mentor network, right up to our successful exit,” he said.

As companies graduate, not unlike Y Combinator, it helps build up a network of startup founders, who can in turn help the next generations of startups. Early on, when there was no network. Cazalot explained that the company was able to find local Boston tech companies to step up and help the fledgling incubator.

Even today, it reaches out to the broader Boston tech community to expand its network with successful companies like Avid Technology, Constant Contact, HubSpot, iRobot, and RunKeeper helping out, according to the company.

Techstars is more than its Boston location with a presence in 150 countries. Among its most successful 50 graduates across the program are SendGrid, sold to Twilio last year for $3 billion, DigitalOcean and SalesLoft. Boston boasts 11 places in the company’s Top 50.

Google Cloud makes some strong moves to differentiate itself from AWS and Microsoft

Google Cloud held its annual customer conference, Google Cloud Next, this week in San Francisco. It had a couple of purposes. For starters it could introduce customers to new CEO Thomas Kurian for the first time since his hiring at the end of last year. And secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it could demonstrate that it could offer a value proposition that is distinct from AWS and Microsoft.

Kurian’s predecessor, Diane Greene, was fond of saying that it was still early days for the cloud market, and she’s still right, but while the pie has continued to grow substantially, Google’s share of the market has stayed stubbornly in single digits. It needed to use this week’s conference as at least a springboard to showcase its strengths .

Its lack of commercial cloud market clout has always been a bit of a puzzler. This is Google after all. It runs Google Search and YouTube and Google Maps and Google Docs. These are massive services that rarely go down. You would think being able to run these massive services would translate into massive commercial success, but so far it hasn’t.

Missing ingredients

Even though Greene brought her own considerable enterprise cred to GCP, having been a co-founder at VMware, the company that really made the cloud possible by popularizing the virtual machine, she wasn’t able to significantly change the company’s commercial cloud fortunes.

In a conversation with TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois, Kurian talked about missing ingredients like having people to talk to (or maybe a throat to choke). “A number of customers told us ‘we just need more people from you to help us.’ So that’s what we’ll do,” Kurian told Lardinois.

But of course, it’s never one thing when it comes to a market as complex as cloud infrastructure. Sure, you can add more bodies in customer support or sales, or more aggressively pursue high value enterprise customers, or whatever Kurain has identified as holes in GCP’s approach up until now, but it still requires a compelling story and Google took a big step toward having the ingredients for a new story this week.

Changing position

Google is trying to position itself in the same way as any cloud vendor going after AWS. They are selling themselves as the hybrid cloud company that can help with your digital transformation. It’s a common strategy, but Google did more than throw out the usual talking points this week. It walked the walk too.

For starters, it introduced Anthos, a single tool to manage your workloads wherever they live, even in a rival cloud. This is a big deal, and if it works as described it does give that new beefed-up sales team at Google Cloud a stronger story to tell around integration. As my colleague, Frederic Lardinois described it:

So with Anthos, Google will offer a single managed service that will let you manage and deploy workloads across clouds, all without having to worry about the different environments and APIs. That’s a big deal and one that clearly delineates Google’s approach from its competitors’. This is Google, after all, managing your applications for you on AWS and Azure, he wrote

AWS hasn’t made made many friends in the open source community of late and Google reiterated that it was going to be the platform that is friendly to open source projects. To that end, it announced a number of major partnerships.

Finally, the company took a serious look at verticals, trying to put together packages of Google Cloud services designed specifically for a given vertical. As an example, it put together a package for retailers that included special services to help keep you up and running during peak demand, tools to suggest if you like this, you might be interested in these items, contact center AI and other tools specifically geared toward the retail market. You can expect the company will be doing more of this to make the platform more attractive to a given market space.

Photo: Michael Short/Bloomberg via Getty Images

All of this and more, way too much to summarize in one article, was exactly what Google Cloud needed to do this week. Now comes the hard part. They have come up with some good ideas and they have to go out and sell it.

Nobody has ever denied that Google lacked good technology. That has always been an inherently obvious strength, but it has struggled to translate that into substantial market share. That is Kurian’s challenge. As Greene used to say, in baseball terms, it’s still early innings. And it really still is, but the game is starting to move along, and Kurian needs to get the team moving in the right direction if it expects to be competitive.

Armis nabs $65M Series C as IoT security biz grows in leaps and bounds

Armis is helping companies protect IoT devices on the network without using an agent, and it’s apparently a problem that is resonating with the market, as the startup reports 700 percent growth in the last year. That caught the attention of investors, who awarded them with a $65 million Series C investment to help keep accelerating that growth.

Sequoia Capital led the round with help from new investors Insight Venture Partners and Intermountain Ventures. Returning investors Bain Capital Ventures, Red Dot Capital Partners and Tenaya Capital also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $112 million, according to the company.

The company is solving a hard problem around device management on a network. If you have devices where you cannot apply an agent to track them, how do you manage them? Nadir Izrael, company co-founder and CTO, says you have to do it very carefully because even scanning for ports could be too much for older devices and they could shut down. Instead, he says that Armis takes a passive approach to security, watching and learning and understanding what normal device behavior looks like — a kind of behavioral fingerprinting.

“We observe what devices do on the network. We look at their behavior, and we figure out from that everything we need to know,” Izreal told TechCrunch. He adds, “Armis in a nutshell is a giant device behavior crowdsourcing engine. Basically, every client of Armis is constantly learning how devices behave. And those statistical models, those machine learning models, they get merged into master models.”

Whatever they are doing, they seem to have hit upon a security pain point. They announced a $30 million Series B almost exactly a year ago, and they went back for more because they were growing quickly and needed the capital to hire people to keep up.

That kind of growth is a challenge for any startup. The company expects to double its 125 person work force before the end of the year, but the company is working to put systems in place to incorporate those new people and service all of those new customers.

The company plans to hire more people in sales and marketing, of course, but they will concentrate on customer support and building out partnership programs to get some help from systems integrators, ISVs and MSPs, who can do some of the customer hand-holding for them.

Apigee jumps on hybrid bandwagon with new API for hybrid environments

This year at Google Cloud Next, the theme is all about supporting hybrid environments, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Apigee, the API company it bought in 2016 for $265 million, is also getting into the act. Today, Apigee announced the beta of Apigee Hybrid, a new product designed for hybrid environments.

Amit Zavery, who recently joined Google Cloud after many years at Oracle, and Nandan Sridhar, describe the new product in a joint blog post as “a new deployment option for the Apigee API management platform that lets you host your runtime anywhere—in your data center or the public cloud of your choice.”

As with Anthos, the company’s approach to hybrid management announced earlier today, the idea is to have a single way to manage your APIs no matter where you choose to run them.

“With Apigee hybrid, you get a single, full-featured API management solution across all your environments, while giving you control over your APIs and the data they expose and ensuring a unified strategy across all APIs in your enterprise,” Zavery and Sridhar wrote in the blog post announcing the new approach.

The announcement is part of an overall strategy by the company to support a customer’s approach to computing across a range of environments, often referred to as hybrid cloud. In the Cloud Native world, the idea is to present a single fabric to manage your deployments, regardless of location.

This appears to be an extension of that idea, which makes sense, given that Google was the first company to develop and open-source Kubernetes, which is at the forefront of containerization and Cloud Native computing. While this isn’t pure Cloud Native computing, it is keeping true to its ethos and it fits in the scope of Google Cloud’s approach to computing in general, especially as it is being defined at this year’s conference.

Accenture announces intent to buy French cloud consulting firm

As Google Cloud Next opened today in San Francisco, Accenture announced its intent to acquire Cirruseo, a French cloud consulting firm that specializes in Google Cloud intelligence services. The companies did not share the terms of the deal.

Accenture says that Cirruseo’s strength and deep experience in Google’s cloud-based artificial intelligence solutions should help as Accenture expands its own AI practice. Google TensorFlow and other intelligence solutions are a popular approach to AI and machine learning, and the purchase should help give Accenture a leg up in this area, especially in the French market.

“The addition of Cirruseo would be a significant step forward in our growth strategy in France, bringing a strong team of Google Cloud specialists to Accenture,” Olivier Girard, Accenture’s geographic unit managing director for France and Benelux said in a statement.

With the acquisition, should it pass French regulatory muster, the company would add a team of 100 specialists trained in Google Cloud and G Suite to the an existing team of 2600 Google specialists worldwide.

The company sees this as a way to enhance its artificial intelligence and machine learning expertise in general, while giving it a much strong market placement in France in particular and the EU in general.

As the company stated there are some hurdles before the deal becomes official. “The acquisition requires prior consultation with the relevant works councils and would be subject to customary closing conditions,” Accenture indicated in a statement. Should all that come to pass, then Cirruseo will become part of Accenture.

Slack integration with Office 365 one more step toward total enterprise integration

Slack’s goal of integrating enterprise tools in the chat interface has been a major differentiator from the giant companies it’s competing with like Microsoft and Facebook. Last year, it bought Astro, specifically with the goal of integrating enterprise productivity tools inside Slack, and today it announced new integrations with Microsoft OneDrive and Outlook.

Specifically, Slack is integrating calendar, files and calls and bringing in integrations with other services including Box, Dropbox and Zoom.

Andy Pflaum, director of project management at Slack, came over in the Astro deal and he says one of the primary goals of the acquisition was to help build connections like this to Microsoft and Google productivity tools.

“When we joined Slack, it was to build out the interoperability between Slack and Microsoft’s products, particularly Office and Office 365 products, and the comparable products from from Google, G Suite. We focused on deep integration with mail and calendar in Slack, as well as bringing in files and calls in from Microsoft, Google and other leading providers like Zoom, Box and Dropbox,” Pflaum, who was co-founder and CEO at Astro, told TechCrunch.

For starters, the company is announcing deep integration with Outlook that enables users to get and respond to invitations in Slack. You can also join a meeting with a click directly from Slack, whether that’s Zoom, WebEx or Skype for Business. What’s more, when you’re in a meeting your status will update automatically in Slack, saving users from manually doing this (or more likely forgetting to and getting a flurry of Slack questions in the middle of a meeting).

Another integration lets you share emails directly into Slack. Instead of copying and pasting or forwarding the email to a large group, you can click a Slack button in the Outlook interface share it as a direct message, with a group or to your personal Slack channel.

File sharing is not being left behind here either, whether from Microsoft, Box or Dropbox; users will be able to share files inside of Slack easily. Finally, users will be able to view full Office document previews inside of Slack, another step in avoiding tasking switching to get work done.

Screenshot: Slack

Mike Gotta, an analyst at Gartner who has been following the collaboration space for many years, says the integration has done a good job of preserving the user experience, while allowing for a seamless connection between email, calendar and files. He says that this could give them an edge in the highly competitive collaboration market, and more importantly allow users to maintain context.

“The collaboration market is highly fragmented with many vendors adding “just a little” collaboration to products designed for specific purposes. Buyers can find that this type of collaboration in context to the flow of work is more impactful than switching to a generalized tool that lacks situational awareness of the task at hand. Knowledge-based work often involves process and project related applications so the more we can handle transitions across tools the more productive the user experience becomes. More importantly there’s less context fragmentation for the individual and team,” Gotta told TechCrunch.

These updates are about staying one step ahead of the competition, and being able to run Microsoft tools inside of Slack gives customers another reason to stick with (or to buy) Slack instead of Microsoft’s competing product, Teams.

All of this new functionality is designed to work in both mobile and desktop versions of the product and is available today.

Fleetsmith lands $30M Series B to grow Apple device management platform

Fleetsmith launched in 2016 with a mission to manage Apple devices in the cloud. It simplified an IT activity that had previously been complex with help from Apple’s Device Enrollment Program. Over the last year, the startup has beefed up its offering considerably, and today it announced a $30 million Series B round led by Menlo Ventures.

Tiger Global Management, Upfront Ventures and Harrison Metal also participated. Under the terms of the deal Naomi Pilosof Ionita, a partner at Menlo will join the company board. Her colleague Matt Murphy will become a board observer. With today’s announcement, the startup has now raised over $40 million, according to data supplied by the company.

Company co-founder and CEO Zack Blum says the original mission was about solving a pain point he and his co-founders were feeling around finding a modern approach to managing Apple devices. “From a customer perspective, they can ship devices directly to their employees. The employee unwraps it, connects to WiFi and the device is enrolled automatically in Fleetsmith,” Blum explained.

He says that this automated approach, combined with the product’s security and intelligence capabilities means that IT doesn’t have to worry about devices being registered and up-to-date, regardless of where an employee happens to be in the world.

It has moved from solving that problem for SMBs to having a broader mission for companies of all sizes, especially those with distributed work forces, who can benefit from enrolling in this automated fashion from anywhere. Once enrolled, companies can push security updates to all of the company’s employees and force updates if desired (or at least send strong reminders to avoid updating in the middle of a client meeting).

Over the last year, the company developed a dashboard for IT to monitor all of the devices under its management, including providing an overall health score with any potential problems it has found. For example, there may be a number of MacBook Pros without disk encryption enabled.

The dashboard ties into the identity management component of Office 365 and G Suite.  IT can import the employee directory into the dashboard from either tool, and employees can sign into Fleetmsith with either set of credentials, providing a quick way to manage all of employees in an organization.

Screenshot: Fleetsmith

Fleetsmith has also set up a partner program with Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to expand its reach further. MSPs manage IT for SMBs and building a relationship with these types of companies can help it expand much more quickly.

The approach seems to be working as the company has 30 employees and 1500 customers. With the new cash in pocket, it intends to hire more people and continue building out the product’s capabilities, while expanding beyond the US to markets overseas.