Amazon, reeling from recent regulatory hurdles, pumps $404M into its India business

Following months-long intense regulatory setback in India, Amazon is moving back to spending big bucks to grow its business in the world’s second largest internet market.

Amazon has infused Rs 2,999 crores ($404 million) in its India business, according to a regulatory filing published this week. Amazon periodically deploys cash to its business in India, the most recent infusion being around $315 million from its international arm six months ago.

The big spendings in India is the latest signs of how crucial the country has become for Amazon, where it entered exactly six years ago and has spent more than $5.5 billion. The bet has largely worked for Amazon, which rivals Flipkart, that was snatched by Walmart for $16 billion last year.

The fight between the two companies for the tentpole position in India’s e-commerce market took a dark turn late last year, when the government announced new policies to mandate how these two companies source goods for their marketplaces. The local law prohibits Flipkart and Amazon to stock and sell their own inventories, so their wholesale units purchase goods in bulk and sell them to resellers.

To circumvent this, the two companies had bought stakes in a number of companies that sell a range of products on their platforms. The new law, which came into effect on February 1, closed that loophole. As a result, hundreds of thousands of products disappeared from both the shopping sites overnight, according to some estimates.

Barclays claimed in a report last year, seen by TechCrunch, that Amazon was quickly closing in on the lead that Flipkart has in the e-commerce space in India.

In its six years in India, Amazon has sprawled its tentacles in many businesses other than e-commerce, including payments that recently started offering flight tickets, cloud services, video and music streaming services, and in-house products that include a lineup of handsets that it worked closely to build and sell.

Even for a heavily-funded company like Amazon, India has emerged as a very competitive market in recent years. In addition to Flipkart getting the backing of global retail giant Walmart, startups such as BigBasket, Grofers, Swiggy, and Dunzo are quickly changing the way millions of Indians shop. And they have successfully courted major backers with deep pockets, too.

And then there is the ever lingering Reliance Industries, the biggest industrial house in India owned by Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in the country. Earlier this year, Ambani said that Reliance Retail, the largest retailer in India will join forces with Reliance Jio, a telecom operator that has disrupted the local market, to create an e-commerce platform.

Google’s Cloud outage is resolved, but it reveals the holes in cloud computing’s atmosphere

Five hours after Google publicly announced that it was working to resolve an outage in its Cloud computing network that had taken out a large chunk of Google services as well as Shopify, Snap, Discord and other popular apps, the problem seems to be resolved.

The outage hit everything from the ability to control the temperature in people’s homes and apartments through Google’s Nest to shopping on any service powered by Shopify, to Snapchat and Discord’s social networks.

“The network congestion issue in eastern USA, affecting Google Cloud, G Suite, and YouTube has been resolved for all affected users as of 4:00pm US/Pacific,” the company said in a statement.

“We will conduct an internal investigation of this issue and make appropriate improvements to our systems to help prevent or minimize future recurrence. We will provide a detailed report of this incident once we have completed our internal investigation. This detailed report will contain information regarding SLA credits.”

Even though the networking issue has been resolved, the fact that problems with Google’s cloud services could cause outages for several of the world’s most popular applications underscores how thin cloud coverage can be for modern computing architectures.

Most companies have put their entire backend in the hands of one company and while the benefits outweigh the risks most of the time, it’s worthwhile to at least think about contingency planning.

Modern cloud architectures have slashed the cost of creating new technology businesses, but it also means that companies are typically dependent on one service for their ability to operate.

As the world becomes more networked (especially as internet-enabled devices become more prevalent in the home), it’s going to be more important for companies to have a back-up plan in place in case these services go down.

In short, it’s fine to have a dependency — like storage or computing in the cloud — just as long as companies have a way to account for their dependents.

AWS wants a bigger share of Asia following Hong Kong launch

Amazon’s cloud computing unit is making further inroads into Asia after it opened a data center in Hong Kong this week, adding to the seven existing locations where it currently operates across the Asia Pacific and China.

The new entry will likely give the American giant some leg up in its regional battle with Alibaba’s cloud service, which, according to a new Gartner report, was the biggest cloud infrastructure provider in the Asia Pacific last year. But that won’t be the case with all countries, notably China where the cards are often stacked against foreign players.

Amazon Web Services has been operating in China for quite some time, albeit through rough and roundabout routes. A set of cyber laws enacted by Beijing in mid-2017 required foreign companies to store data locally and outsource their hardware parts to Chinese partners. In response, AWS teamed up with two separate local providers based out of Beijing and the hinterland province of Ningxia to run its cloud service while it provides the necessary “technology, guidance and expertise” to the allies. In practice, AWS’s China users are subject to terms and conditions set by its domestic partners.

With two data hubs, AWS managed to carve out a 6 percent share in China’s market for public cloud as an infrastructure service in the first half of 2018, according to research company IDC. Alibaba enjoyed a significant lead with a whopping 43 percent share, exceeding the sum of second to ninth-ranked players.

One main appeal of Alibaba Cloud, as well as many other Chinese offerings, is affordability. “Whether it’s price or service, AWS is at a real disadvantage in China,” Lin Rong, who runs a website called 91Yun that reviews cloud services and runs a forum for cloud computing, told TechCrunch.

In the meantime, an increasing number of Chinese companies are looking to host their servers in neighboring countries for global deployment as they take their apps, mobile games and other internet services overseas. Hong Kong is one popular hosting destination for export businesses, but even on the opposite end of the border, Alibaba has been a prime choice for many Chinese enterprises.

Just like on the mainland, Alibaba Cloud’s Hong Kong service is cheaper than its international rivals; it also delivers lower latency to mainland users than AWS, Lin observes, thanks to its tie-ups with China’s top three network providers.

At the very least, AWS’s foray into Hong Kong will heighten competition among cloud services targeting locally based companies. There are few places in the world where competition in cloud is as fierce, suggested Keith Yau, founder of Bootdev, a cloud-based platform for running websites.

“Hong Kong now has all the big cloud companies — Azure, AWS and Alibaba Cloud — as well as Google Cloud Platform, which is very unusual for any city in the world,” he told TechCrunch.

Hong Kong as a hub for international trade and financial services, alongside the government’s recent push to attract more tech-focused companies, means a substantial demand for data storing and processing power. Amazon, being “best in tech among all cloud services,” suggested Cyrus Wong, a data scientist at Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education, will likely win some share away from existing players.

“Hong Kong is globally recognized as a leading financial tech hub and one of the top places where startups build their businesses, so we’ve had many customers asking us for an AWS Region in Hong Kong so they can build their businesses on the world’s leading cloud with the broadest and deepest feature set,” read a statement from Peter DeSantis, vice president of global infrastructure and customer support for AWS.

According to the Gartner report, AWS currently ranks second to Alibaba Cloud across the Asia Pacific. Its share declined 0.2 percent to 11 percent in 2018, while Alibaba Cloud added 4.7 percent to bring its slice to nearly 19.6 percent.

AWS wants a bigger share of Asia following Hong Kong launch

Amazon’s cloud computing unit is making further inroads into Asia after it opened a data center in Hong Kong this week, adding to the seven existing locations where it currently operates across the Asia Pacific and China.

The new entry will likely give the American giant some leg up in its regional battle with Alibaba’s cloud service, which, according to a new Gartner report, was the biggest cloud infrastructure provider in the Asia Pacific last year. But that won’t be the case with all countries, notably China where the cards are often stacked against foreign players.

Amazon Web Services has been operating in China for quite some time, albeit through rough and roundabout routes. A set of cyber laws enacted by Beijing in mid-2017 required foreign companies to store data locally and outsource their hardware parts to Chinese partners. In response, AWS teamed up with two separate local providers based out of Beijing and the hinterland province of Ningxia to run its cloud service while it provides the necessary “technology, guidance and expertise” to the allies. In practice, AWS’s China users are subject to terms and conditions set by its domestic partners.

With two data hubs, AWS managed to carve out a 6 percent share in China’s market for public cloud as an infrastructure service in the first half of 2018, according to research company IDC. Alibaba enjoyed a significant lead with a whopping 43 percent share, exceeding the sum of second to ninth-ranked players.

One main appeal of Alibaba Cloud, as well as many other Chinese offerings, is affordability. “Whether it’s price or service, AWS is at a real disadvantage in China,” Lin Rong, who runs a website called 91Yun that reviews cloud services and runs a forum for cloud computing, told TechCrunch.

In the meantime, an increasing number of Chinese companies are looking to host their servers in neighboring countries for global deployment as they take their apps, mobile games and other internet services overseas. Hong Kong is one popular hosting destination for export businesses, but even on the opposite end of the border, Alibaba has been a prime choice for many Chinese enterprises.

Just like on the mainland, Alibaba Cloud’s Hong Kong service is cheaper than its international rivals; it also delivers lower latency to mainland users than AWS, Lin observes, thanks to its tie-ups with China’s top three network providers.

At the very least, AWS’s foray into Hong Kong will heighten competition among cloud services targeting locally based companies. There are few places in the world where competition in cloud is as fierce, suggested Keith Yau, founder of Bootdev, a cloud-based platform for running websites.

“Hong Kong now has all the big cloud companies — Azure, AWS and Alibaba Cloud — as well as Google Cloud Platform, which is very unusual for any city in the world,” he told TechCrunch.

Hong Kong as a hub for international trade and financial services, alongside the government’s recent push to attract more tech-focused companies, means a substantial demand for data storing and processing power. Amazon, being “best in tech among all cloud services,” suggested Cyrus Wong, a data scientist at Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education, will likely win some share away from existing players.

“Hong Kong is globally recognized as a leading financial tech hub and one of the top places where startups build their businesses, so we’ve had many customers asking us for an AWS Region in Hong Kong so they can build their businesses on the world’s leading cloud with the broadest and deepest feature set,” read a statement from Peter DeSantis, vice president of global infrastructure and customer support for AWS.

According to the Gartner report, AWS currently ranks second to Alibaba Cloud across the Asia Pacific. Its share declined 0.2 percent to 11 percent in 2018, while Alibaba Cloud added 4.7 percent to bring its slice to nearly 19.6 percent.

On balance, the cloud has been a huge boon to startups

Today’s startups have a distinct advantage when it comes to launching a company because of the public cloud. You don’t have to build infrastructure or worry about what happens when you scale too quickly. The cloud vendors take care of all that for you.

But last month when Pinterest announced its IPO, the company’s cloud spend raised eyebrows. You see, the company is spending $750 million a year on cloud services, more specifically to AWS. When your business is primarily focused on photos and video, and needs to scale at a regular basis, that bill is going to be high.

That price tag prompted Erica Joy, a Microsoft engineer to publish this Tweet and start a little internal debate here at TechCrunch. Startups, after all, have a dog in this fight, and it’s worth exploring if the cloud is helping feed the startup ecosystem, or sending your bills soaring as they have with Pinterest.

For starters, it’s worth pointing out that Ms. Joy works for Microsoft, which just happens to be a primary competitor of Amazon’s in the cloud business. Regardless of her personal feelings on the matter, I’m sure Microsoft would be more than happy to take over that $750 million bill from Amazon. It’s a nice chunk of business, but all that aside, do startups benefit from having access to cloud vendors?

Google’s managed hybrid cloud platform is now in beta

Last July, at its Cloud Next conference, Google announced the Cloud Services Platform, its first real foray into bringing its own cloud services into the enterprise data center as a managed service. Today, the Cloud Services Platform (CSP) is launching into beta.

It’s important to note that the CSP isn’t — at least for the time being — Google’s way of bringing all of its cloud-based developer services to the on-premises data center. In other words, this is a very different project from something like Microsoft’s Azure Stack. Instead, the focus is on the Google Kubernetes Engine, which allows enterprises to then run their applications in both their own data centers and on virtually any cloud platform that supports containers.As Google Cloud engineering director Chen Goldberg told me, the idea here it to help enterprises innovate and modernize. “Clearly, everybody is very excited about cloud computing, on-demand compute and managed services, but customers have recognized that the move is not that easy,” she said and noted that the vast majority of enterprises are adopting a hybrid approach. And while containers are obviously still a very new technology, she feels good about this bet on the technology because most enterprises are already adopting containers and Kubernetes — and they are doing so at exactly the same time as they are adopting cloud and especially hybrid clouds.

It’s important to note that CSP is a managed platform. Google handles all of the heavy lifting like upgrades and security patches. And for enterprises that need an easy way to install some of the most popular applications, the platform also supports Kubernetes applications from the GCP Marketplace.

As for the tech itself, Goldberg stressed that this isn’t just about Kubernetes. The service also uses Istio, for example, the increasingly popular service mesh that makes it easier for enterprises to secure and control the flow of traffic and API calls between its applications.

With today’s release, Google is also launching its new CSP Config Management tool to help users create multi-cluster policies and set up and enforce access controls, resource quotas and more. CSP also integrates with Google’s Stackdriver Monitoring service and continuous delivery platforms.

“On-prem is not easy,” Goldberg said, and given that this is the first time the company is really supporting software in a data center that is not its own, that’s probably an understatement. But Google also decided that it didn’t want to force users into a specific set of hardware specifications like Azure Stack does, for example. Instead, CSP sits on top of VMware’s vSphere server virtualization platform, which most enterprises already use in their data centers anyway. That surely simplifies things, given that this is a very well-understood platform.

As rocket companies proliferate, new enabling tech emerges as the next wave in the space race

Blue Origin, Rocket Lab, Relativity Space, Slingshot Aeropsace, SpaceX and Virgin Orbit have raised billions of dollars to create new vehicles to launch payloads into space, but as the private space industry develops in the U.S. investors are beginning to back enabling technologies boost the next wave of innovation.

Whether it’s satellite manufacturers, new propulsion systems for satellites, antennae for data transmission or actually building out the networks themselves, the new space race will be building the next generation of services that the increasing access to space provides.

Last year, investors put at least $2.3 billion into companies angling for their own corner of outer space.

By 2040, Morgan Stanley estimates that the space economy to be worth more than $1 trillion in 2040 — as well as for SpaceX to double, or even quintuple, its valuation — “are significantly tied to the developments related to satellite broadband.”

For the moment, the next wave is still focused on terrestrial applications.

Already, landmark deals are being signed to provide new space-based internet networking services like the agreement between the startup company Astranis and Pacific Dataport to provide high-speed, lower-cost broadband services to Alaska.

With only around $14 million in financing, Astranis has managed to sign its first deal to provide high speed internet to Alaskans by 2020, while OneWeb (which has raised over $1.7 billion) expects its networks to come online by 2022. SpaceX will launch the first Starlink satellites this year, with service coming online in the following years.

Astranis’ decision to work directly with a single customer rather than deploying a massive network points to the fact that companies can start generating real revenues relatively quickly — without the need for global ambitions off the bat.

Indeed, some space investors note that there are significant questions that remain unanswered for both SpaceX and OneWeb .

In a blog post earlier this month, Josephine Millward, the head of research at London-based space investment firm Seraphim Capital wrote:

After years of development, OneWeb and SpaceX will begin to deploy their Low Earth Orbit (LEO) mega-constellations in 2019, albeit their full constellation targets will take several more years. Both are planning global coverage to provide internet broadband to the billions of unconnected. Crucially both still need to define their “go-to-market” strategy and solve the ground segment element of their proposition ahead of commercial roll-out.

Astranis’ satellite-based service is expected to triple the amount of capacity that’s available to Alaskans for internet services and, with a price tag worth tens of millions of dollars, represents the largest contract signed by an early stage startup in the space business to date.

But networking services aren’t the only space-based applications that will gain additional traction in 2019. Using satellite imagery for data analysis, already a big pitch from companies like Satellogic and Planet — and newer companies like Capella Space and Iceye — is an industry that will come into its own, according to Seraphim Capital’s Chief Executive Mark Boggett. Meanwhile, companies like Cloud Constellation are pitching satellite-based data storage as inherently safer than their earthbound cloud computing counterparts.

“These satellite networks are now in place and they’re gathering massive amounts of data,”  says Boggett. “What we’re going to start seeing is companies start using this data.”

Boggett says stay tuned for big fundraising rounds across the board, not only in the satellite networks themselves, but in the services that enable them to refine their data collection techniques and increase the efficiency and power of their transmission capabilities.

These would be what Boggett calls “downlinking” companies and companies that manage satellite mobility in space. Startups like Kymeta, Bridgesat, Ansur, RBC Signals and the Japanese startup Infostellar are all focused on downlinking — taking data from satellites and transmitting it to receivers on earth so the information can be used effectively, or optimizing data collection and transmissions in space.

It’s a market that’s attracted the attention of one of the largest tech companies in the world — Amazon . Viewing the data collection business as an extension of its cloud services, late last year Amazon partnered with Lockheed Martin to announce a base station as a service business called Amazon Base Station (no one accused them of being branding geniuses).

“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,” said Amazon Web Services’ chief executive, Andy Jassy, at the time of the new service’s launch.

Propulsion technologies for satellites once they’re in space are another potential area for increased investment in 2019, according to investors.

Companies like Momentus, which raised $8.3 million in November; Tesseract, a European startup developing propulsion technologies; and Phase Four, the El Segundo, Calif.-based developer of a plasma-based propulsion system, are all bringing products to market.

Phase Four, which is in the middle of raising a new round right now, has actually inked its first supply deals with Capella Space and Tyvak, a division of the startup Terran Orbital, for its thrusters.

“It is an infrastructure arms race to get things efficiently built and deployed into space,” says M. Umair Siddiqui, the chief technology officer at Phase Four. “Now the next companies are racing to own who can manufacture the hardware that is going to generate the revenue in space.”

 

Forget Watson, the Red Hat acquisition may be the thing that saves IBM

With its latest $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat, IBM may have found something more elementary than “Watson” to save its flagging business.

Though the acquisition of Red Hat  is by no means a guaranteed victory for the Armonk, N.Y.-based computing company that has had more downs than ups over the five years, it seems to be a better bet for “Big Blue” than an artificial intelligence program that was always more hype than reality.

Indeed, commentators are already noting that this may be a case where IBM finally hangs up the Watson hat and returns to the enterprise software and services business that has always been its core competency (albeit one that has been weighted far more heavily on consulting services — to the detriment of the company’s business).

Watson, the business division focused on artificial intelligence whose public claims were always more marketing than actually market-driven, has not performed as well as IBM had hoped and investors were losing their patience.

Critics — including analysts at the investment bank Jefferies (as early as one year ago) — were skeptical of Watson’s ability to deliver IBM from its business woes.

As we wrote at the time:

Jefferies pulls from an audit of a partnership between IBM Watson and MD Anderson as a case study for IBM’s broader problems scaling Watson. MD Anderson cut its ties with IBM after wasting $60 million on a Watson project that was ultimately deemed, “not ready for human investigational or clinical use.”

The MD Anderson nightmare doesn’t stand on its own. I regularly hear from startup founders in the AI space that their own financial services and biotech clients have had similar experiences working with IBM.

The narrative isn’t the product of any single malfunction, but rather the result of overhyped marketing, deficiencies in operating with deep learning and GPUs and intensive data preparation demands.

That’s not the only trouble IBM has had with Watson’s healthcare results. Earlier this year, the online medical journal Stat reported that Watson was giving clinicians recommendations for cancer treatments that were “unsafe and incorrect” — based on the training data it had received from the company’s own engineers and doctors at Sloan-Kettering who were working with the technology.

All of these woes were reflected in the company’s latest earnings call where it reported falling revenues primarily from the Cognitive Solutions business, which includes Watson’s artificial intelligence and supercomputing services. Though IBM chief financial officer pointed to “mid-to-high” single digit growth from Watson’s health business in the quarter, transaction processing software business fell by 8% and the company’s suite of hosted software services is basically an afterthought for business gravitating to Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon for cloud services.

To be sure, Watson is only one of the segments that IBM had been hoping to tap for its future growth; and while it was a huge investment area for the company, the company always had its eyes partly fixed on the cloud computing environment as it looked for areas of growth.

It’s this area of cloud computing where IBM hopes that Red Hat can help it gain ground.

“The acquisition of Red Hat is a game-changer. It changes everything about the cloud market,” said Ginni Rometty, IBM Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, in a statement announcing the acquisition. “IBM will become the world’s number-one hybrid cloud provider, offering companies the only open cloud solution that will unlock the full value of the cloud for their businesses.”

The acquisition also puts an incredible amount of marketing power behind Red Hat’s various open source services business — giving all of those IBM project managers and consultants new projects to pitch and maybe juicing open source software adoption a bit more aggressively in the enterprise.

As Red Hat chief executive Jim Whitehurst told TheStreet in September, “The big secular driver of Linux is that big data workloads run on Linux. AI workloads run on Linux. DevOps and those platforms, almost exclusively Linux,” he said. “So much of the net new workloads that are being built have an affinity for Linux.”

 

Microsoft’s $7.5BN GitHub buy gets green-lit by EU regulators

Microsoft’s planned acquisition of Git-based code sharing and collaboration service, GitHub, has been given an unconditional greenlight from European Union regulators.

The software giant announced its intention to bag GitHub back in June, saying it would shell out $7.5 billion in stock to do so. At the time it also pledged: “GitHub will retain its developer-first ethos and will operate independently to provide an open platform for all developers in all industries.”

The European Commission approved the plan today, saying its assessment had concluded there would be no adverse impact on competition in the relevant markets, owing to the combined entity continuing to face “significant competition”.

In particular, it said it looked at whether Microsoft would have the ability and incentive to further integrate its own devops tools and cloud services with GitHub while limiting integration with third party tools and services.

The Commission decided Microsoft would have no incentive to undermine the GitHub’s openness — saying any attempt to do so would reduce its value for developers, who the Commission judged as willing and able to switch to other platforms.

Microsoft has previously said it expects the acquisition to close before the end of the year.

ServiceNow to acquire FriendlyData for its natural language search technology

Enterprise cloud service management company ServiceNow announced today that it will acquire FriendlyData and integrate the startup’s natural language search technology into apps on its Now platform. Founded in 2016, FriendlyData’s natural language query (NLQ) technology enables enterprise customers to build search tools that allow users to ask technical questions even if they don’t know the right jargon.

FriendlyData’s NLQ tech figures out what they are trying to say and then answers with text responses or easy-to-understand data visualizations. ServiceNow said it will integrate FriendlyData’s tech into the Now Platform, which includes apps for IT, human resources, security operations, and customer service management. It will also be available in products for developers and ServiceNow’s partners.

In a statement, Pat Casey, senior vice president of development and operations at ServiceNow, said “ServiceNow is bringing NLQ capabilities to the Now Platform, enabling companies to ask technical questions in plain English and receive direct answers. With this technical enhancement, our goal is to allow anyone to easily make data driven decisions, increasing productivity and driving businesses forward faster.”

The acquisition of FriendlyData is the latest in ServiceNow’s initiative to reduce the friction of support requests within organizations with AI-based tools. For example, it launched a chatbot-building tools called Virtual Agent in May, which enables companies to create custom chatbots for services like Slack or Microsoft Teams to automatically handle routine inquiries such as equipment requests. It also announced the acquisition of Parlo, a chatbot startup, around the same time.