Cloud Foundry coalesces around Kubernetes

In a normal year, the Cloud Foundry project would be hosting its annual European Summit in Dublin this week. But this is 2020, so it’s a virtual event. This year, however, has been a bit of a transformative year for the open-source Platform-as-a-Service project — in more ways than one. With Cloud Foundry executive director Abby Kearns leaving earlier this year, the organizations’ former CTO Chip Childers stepped into the role. Maybe just as importantly, though, the project’s move to Kubernetes as its container orchestration tool of choice — and a renewed focus on the Cloud Foundry developer experience — is now starting to bear fruit.

“In April, I took over the job. I said: ‘Listen, our community has a new North Star. It’s to go take the Cloud Foundry developer experience and get that thing re-platformed onto Kubernetes . No more delay, no more diversity of thought here. It’s time to make the move,’ ” Childers said (with a chuckle). “And here we are. It’s October, we have our ecosystem aligned, we have major project releases that are fulfilling that vision. And we’ve got a community that’s very energized around it continuing the work of progressing this integration with a bunch of cloud-native projects.”

Developers who use Cloud Foundry, Childers argued, love it, but the project now has an opportunity to show a wider range of potential use that it can offer a smoother developer experience on top of virtually any Kubernetes cluster.

One of the projects that is working on making this happen — and which hit its 1.0 release today, is cf-for-k8s. Traditionally, getting up and running with Cloud Foundry was a heavy lift — and something that most companies left to third-party vendors to handle. This new project, which launched in April, allows developers to spin up a relatively light-weight Cloud Foundry distribution on top of a Kubernetes cluster — using projects like Istio and Fluentd, in addition to Kubernetes — and to do so within minutes.

“It comes along with the whole process of reimagining our architecture to pull in other projects a lot more aggressively and allows us to get to feature parity [with the classic VM-focused Cloud Foundry experience] using a lot more complementary open-source projects,” Childers said about the larger role of this project in the overall ecosystem. “That lets our community focus less on building the underlying plumbing and [spend] more time thinking about how to speed up innovation and the developer experience.”

This wouldn’t be open source if there wasn’t another project that does something quite similar — at least at first glance. That’s KubeCF, which hit its 2.5 launch today. This is an open-source distribution of the Cloud Foundry Application Runtime that, as Childers explained, is meant for production use and that was originally meant to provide existing users a bridge onto the Kubernetes bandwagon. Over time, these two projects will likely merge. “Everyone’s collaborating on what this shared vision looks like. They’re just, they’re just two different distributions that handle the different use cases today,” Childers explained.

After six months in his new position, Childers noted that he’s seeing a lot of energy in the community right now. The job is hard, he said, when there’s unhealthy disagreement, but right now, what he’s seeing is “a beautiful harmony of agreement.”

Egnyte introduces new features to help deal with security/governance during pandemic

The pandemic has put stress on companies dealing with a workforce that is mostly — and sometimes suddenly — working from home. That has led to rising needs for security and governance tooling, something that Egnyte is looking to meet with new features aimed at helping companies cope with file management during the pandemic.

Egnyte is an enterprise file storage and sharing (EFSS) company, though it has added security services and other tools over the years.

“It’s no surprise that there’s been a rapid shift to remote work, which has I believe led to mass adoption of multiple applications running on multiple clouds, and tied to that has been a nonlinear reaction of exponential growth in data security and governance concerns,” Vineet Jain, co-founder and CEO at Egnyte, explained.

There’s a lot of data at stake.

Egnyte’s announcements today are in part a reaction to the changes that COVID has brought, a mix of net-new features and capabilities that were on its road map, but accelerated to meet the needs of the changing technology landscape.

What’s new?

The company is introducing a new feature called Smart Cache to make sure that content (wherever it lives) that an individual user accesses most will be ready whenever they need it.

“Smart Cache uses machine learning to predict the content most likely to be accessed at any given site, so administrators don’t have to anticipate usage patterns. The elegance of the solution lies in that it is invisible to the end users,” Jain said. The end result of this capability could be lower storage and bandwidth costs, because the system can make this content available in an automated way only when it’s needed.

Another new feature is email scanning and governance. As Jain points out, email is often a company’s largest data store, but it’s also a conduit for phishing attacks and malware. So Egnyte is introducing an email governance tool that keeps an eye on this content, scanning it for known malware and ransomware and blocking files from being put into distribution when it identifies something that could be harmful.

As companies move more files around it’s important that security and governance policies travel with the document, so that policies can be enforced on the file wherever it goes. This was true before COVID-19, but has only become more true as more folks work from home.

Finally, Egnyte is using machine learning for auto-classification of documents to apply policies to documents without humans having to touch them. By identifying the document type automatically, whether it has personally identifying information or it’s a budget or planning document, Egnyte can help customers auto-classify and apply policies about viewing and sharing to protect sensitive materials.

Egnyte is reacting to the market needs as it makes changes to the platform. While the pandemic has pushed this along, these are features that companies with documents spread out across various locations can benefit from regardless of the times.

The company is over $100 million ARR today, and grew 22% in the first half of 2020. Whether the company can accelerate that growth rate in H2 2020 is not yet clear. Regardless, Egnyte is a budding IPO candidate for 2021 if market conditions hold.

Atlassian Smarts adds machine learning layer across the company’s platform of services

Atlassian has been offering collaboration tools, often favored by developers and IT for some time with such stalwarts as Jira for help desk tickets, Confluence to organize your work and BitBucket to organize your development deliverables, but what it lacked was machine learning layer across the platform to help users work smarter within and across the applications in the Atlassian family.

That changed today, when Atlassian announced it has been building that machine learning layer called Atlassian Smarts, and is releasing several tools that take advantage of it. It’s worth noting that unlike Salesforce, which calls its intelligence layer Einstein or Adobe, which calls its Sensei; Atlassian chose to forgo the cutesy marketing terms and just let the technology stand on its own.

Shihab Hamid, the founder of the Smarts and Machine Learning Team at Atlassian, who has been with the company 14 years, says that they avoided a marketing name by design. “I think one of the things that we’re trying to focus on is actually the user experience and so rather than packaging or branding the technology, we’re really about optimizing teamwork,” Hamid told TechCrunch.

Hamid says that the goal of the machine learning layer is to remove the complexity involved with organizing people and information across the platform.

“Simple tasks like finding the right person or the right document becomes a challenge, or at least they slow down productivity and take time away from the creative high-value work that everyone wants to be doing, and teamwork itself is super messy and collaboration is complicated. These are human challenges that don’t really have one right solution,” he said.

He says that Atlassian has decided to solve these problems using machine learning with the goal of speeding up repetitive, time-intensive tasks. Much like Adobe or Salesforce, Atlassian has built this underlying layer of machine smarts, for lack of a better term, that can be distributed across their platform to deliver this kind of machine learning-based functionality wherever it makes sense for the particular product or service.

“We’ve invested in building this functionality directly into the Atlassian platform to bring together IT and development teams to unify work, so the Atlassian flagship products like JIRA and Confluence sit on top of this common platform and benefit from that common functionality across products. And so the idea is if we can build that common predictive capability at the platform layer we can actually proliferate smarts and benefit from the data that we gather across our products,” Hamid said.

The first pieces fit into this vision. For starters, Atlassian is offering a smart search tool that helps users find content across Atlassian tools faster by understanding who you are and how you work. “So by knowing where users work and what they work on, we’re able to proactively provide access to the right documents and accelerate work,” he said.

The second piece is more about collaboration and building teams with the best personnel for a given task. A new tool called predictive user mentions helps Jira and Confluence users find the right people for the job.

“What we’ve done with the Atlassian platform is actually baked in that intelligence, because we know what you work on and who you collaborate with, so we can predict who should be involved and brought into the conversation,” Hamid explained.

Finally, the company announced a tool specifically for Jira users, which bundles together similar sets of help requests and that should lead to faster resolution over doing them manually one at a time.

“We’re soon launching a feature in JIRA Service Desk that allows users to cluster similar tickets together, and operate on them to accelerate IT workflows, and this is done in the background using ML techniques to calculate the similarity of tickets, based on the summary and description, and so on.”

All of this was made possible by the company’s previous shift  from mostly on-premises to the cloud and the flexibility that gave them to build new tooling that crosses the entire platform.

Today’s announcements are just the start of what Atlassian hopes will be a slew of new machine learning-fueled features being added to the platform in the coming months and years.

Should you replace your developer portal with a hybrid integration platform?

The concept of a developer portal is to provide the necessary technical information to configure and manage the communication between an API and both internal and external systems. Originally, it was not thought of as a business-generating tool for companies that adopt them. Rather, it was an interface between APIs, SDKs and other digital tools and their administrators.

However, over time, many developer portal elements have caused friction for partners and resulted in higher costs for the company providing the data through APIs.

An alternative option to replace a developer portal is a Hybrid Integration Platform (HIP), a simple system connection solution that has the potential to generate more business through pairing ecosystems directly, efficiently and at a lower cost.

Fixing potential developer portal problems

The leading cause of friction within a developer portal is the amount of time it takes to create and support it. Quite often, an integration is delayed because the company providing the API is stuck waiting for support from the people they are working with.

To fulfill the demand for consumers in different stages of maturity, companies providing APIs later realized they needed to provide more data, new business cases and different mappings and transformations.

Once the portal and APIs adapt to the system, three key factors are necessary to provide a good user experience in the developer portal:

  1. Complete and easy-to-use documentation.
  2. Actionable and effective solution options.
  3. Quick response time.

Frequently, isolated and disconnected business challenges complicate developer portal implementations. To avoid such challenges, you should address these questions before the implementation process takes place:

  1. How can you ensure the business will benefit from the connection with partners, suppliers and customers?
  2. Is it possible to become more efficient, have lower integration costs and improve implementation and adoption times for technological solutions?
  3. How is innovation unlocked when previously unavailable data and services are made internally available?

When approaching a systems integration, it’s essential to develop a solution that considers business results first, before simplifying or removing any technical issues. Fixing predicted issues before they become problems only wastes time and takes the focus off the goal of making your business more efficient and profitable. Yet, many times we see the opposite happen — businesses tend to spend too much time fixing problems before they even occur.

Twilio’s $3.2B Segment acquisition is about helping developers build data-fueled apps

The pandemic has forced businesses to change the way they interact with customers. Whether it’s how they deliver goods and services, or how they communicate, there is one common denominator, and that’s that everything is being forced to be digitally driven much faster.

To some extent, that’s what drove Twilio to acquire Segment for $3.2 billion today. (We wrote about the deal over the weekend. Forbes broke the story last Friday night.) When you get down to it, the two companies fit together well, and expand the platform by giving Twilio customers access to valuable customer data. Chee Chew, Twilio’s chief product officer, says while it may feel like the company is pivoting in the direction of customer experience, they don’t necessarily see it that way.

“A lot of people have thought about us as a communications company, but we think of ourselves as a customer engagement company. We really think about how we help businesses communicate more effectively with their customers,” Chew told TechCrunch.

Laurie McCabe, co-founder and partner at SMB Group, sees the move related to the pandemic and the need companies have to serve customers in a more fully digital way. “More customers are realizing that delivering a great customer experience is key to survive through the pandemic, and thriving as the economy recovers — and are willing to spend to do this even in uncertain times,” McCabe said.

Certainly Chew recognized that Segment gives them something they were lacking by providing developers with direct access to customer data, and that could lead to some interesting applications.

“The data capabilities that Segment has are providing a full view of the customer. It really layers across everything we do. I think of it as a horizontal add across the channels and extending beyond. So I think it really helps us advance in a different sort of way […] towards getting the holistic view of the customer and enabling our customers to build intelligence services on top,” he said.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials, sees Segment helping to provide a powerful data-fueled developer experience. “This move allows Twilio to impact the data-insight-interaction-experience transformation process by removing friction from developers using their platform,” Leary explained. In other words, it gives developers that ability that Chew alluded to, to use data to build more varied applications using Twilio APIs.

Paul Greenberg, author of CRM at the Speed of Light, and founder and principal analyst at 56 Group, agrees, saying, “Segment gives Twilio the ability to use customer data in what is already a powerful unified communications platform and hub. And since it is, in effect, APIs for both, the flexibility [for developers] is enormous,” he said.

That may be so, but Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, says the company has to be seeing that the pure communication parts of the platform like SMS are becoming increasingly commoditized, and this deal, along with the SendGrid acquisition in 2018, gives Twilio a place to expand its platform into a much more lucrative data space.

“Twilio needs more growth path and it looks like its strategy is moving up the stack, at least with the acquisition of Segment. Data movement and data residence compliance is a huge headache for enterprises when they build their next generation applications,” Mueller said.

As Chew said, early on the problems were related to building SMS messages into applications and that was the problem that Twilio was trying to solve because that’s what developers needed at the time, but as it moves forward, it wants to provide a more unified customer communications experience, and Segment should help advance that capability in a big way for them.

Yotascale raises a $13M Series B to help companies track and manage their cloud spends

These days when you found a startup, you don’t go out and buy a rack of servers. And you don’t build an in-house datacenter team. Instead, you farm out your infrastructure needs to the major cloud platforms, namely Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.

That’s all well and good, but over time any startup’s cloud setup will become more complex, varied and perhaps multi-provider. Throw in microservices and one can wind up with a big muddle, and an even bigger bill. That’s the problem that Yotascale wants to attack.

And there’s money backing the startup’s progress, including $13 million in new capital. The round, a Series B, was led by Aydin Senkut at Felicis with participation from other capital pools, including Engineering Capital, Pelion Ventures and Crosslink Capital. Yotascale has now raised $25 million in total.

The funding event caught my eye, as I’ve heard startup CEOs discuss their public cloud spends in somewhat bitter terms; it’s hard for most startups to change infrastructure direction after they get off the ground, which means that as they grow, so too does their outflow of dollars to the major tech companies. The same megacaps that might turn around and compete with the very same startups that are pumping up their revenues and margins.

So spending less on AWS or Azure would be nice for startups. Yotascale wants to be the helper for lots of companies to better understand and attribute that spend the correct part of their platform or service, perhaps lowering aggregate spend at the same time.

Let’s talk about how Yotascale got to where it is today.

The startup’s CEO, Asim Razzaq, talked TechCrunch through his company’s history, which didn’t get started until after he had wrapped up tenure at both another startup, and PayPal.

When he set out to found Yotascale, Razzaq didn’t fire up a deck, raise capital and then get right to building. Instead, he first went out to do customer discovery work. That effort led him to the perspective that current solutions aimed at understanding cloud spend were insufficient and led to data being used against infrastructure teams in arguments for lower spend when it wasn’t a good idea (cutting backup expenses, for example).

During that time he also determined who Yotascale’s target customer is, namely the head of platform engineering at a company.

The startup self-funded for a while, with Razzaq telling TechCrunch that he wanted to be completely sure that he had conviction concerning the project before moving ahead.

After starting to work on Yotascale in mid 2015, the company raised some capital in 2016. It set out to solve the spend attribution problem that companies with public cloud contracts deal with — including having to contend with modern architecture and its related issues — while earning the trust of engineers, according to Razzaq.

From its period of customer discovery to working on product market fit after raising funds from Engineering Capital, Yotascale raised a Series A in mid-2018. Why? Because, Razzaq, told TechCrunch, as ones gains conviction, one must scale their team. And thus more capital was required.

During our chat with the CEO, it was notable how sequential his company-building process has proven. From talking to potential customers, to working to understand who his buyer is, to waiting on scaling the startup’s go-to-market efforts until he was confident in product-market fit, Yotascale seems to follow the inverse of the “raise lots and spend fast and try to win right away” model that became quite popular during the unicorn era.

How did Yotascale know when it found product market fit? According to its CEO, when companies started pulling the startup into their operations and not the other way around.

Yotascale reported 4x year-over-year annual recurring revenue (ARR) growth at some point this year, though Razzaq was diffident about sharing specifics concerning the metric.

Sticking to the theme of reasonableness and caution, when asked about why his Series B is modest in size, Razzaq said that he was not interested in raising big rounds, and that $13 million is an amount of money that can move his company forward. What’s coming from the company? Yotascale wants to add support for Azure and Google Cloud in addition to its AWS work of today, to pick an example.

(You can find other hints that Yotascale is perhaps more mature than its peers at its current age. For example, in 2018 the company hired a new chief revenue officer, even putting out a release on the matter.)

That’s enough on this particular round. What will prove interesting is how far Yotascale can push its ARR up by the end of Q3 2021. And if it raises again before then.

Twilio is buying customer data startup Segment for between $3B and $4B

Sources have told TechCrunch that Twilio intends to acquire customer data startup Segment for between $3 and $4 billion. Forbes broke the story on Friday night, reporting a price tag of $3.2 billion.

We have heard from a couple of industry sources that the deal is in the works and could be announced as early as Monday.

Twilio and Segment are both API companies. That means they create an easy way for developers to tap into a specific type of functionality without writing a lot of code. As I wrote in a 2017 article on Segment, it provides a set of APIs to pull together customer data from a variety of sources:

Segment has made a name for itself by providing a set of APIs that enable it to gather data about a customer from a variety of sources like your CRM tool, customer service application and website and pull that all together into a single view of the customer, something that is the goal of every company in the customer information business.

While Twilio’s main focus since it launched in 2008 has been on making it easy to embed communications functionality into any app, it signaled a switch in direction when it released the Flex customer service API in March 2018. Later that same year, it bought SendGrid, an email marketing API company for $2 billion.

Twilio’s market cap as of Friday was an impressive $45 billion. You could see how it can afford to flex its financial muscles to combine Twilio’s core API mission, especially Flex, with the ability to pull customer data with Segment and create customized email or ads with SendGrid.

This could enable Twilio to expand beyond pure core communications capabilities and it could come at the cost of around $5 billion for the two companies, a good deal for what could turn out to be a substantial business as more and more companies look for ways to understand and communicate with their customers in more relevant ways across multiple channels.

As Semil Shah from early stage VC firm Haystack wrote in the company blog yesterday, Segment saw a different way to gather customer data, and Twilio was wise to swoop in and buy it.

Segment’s belief was that a traditional CRM wasn’t robust enough for the enterprise to properly manage its pipe. Segment entered to provide customer data infrastructure to offer a more unified experience. Now under the Twilio umbrella, Segment can continue to build key integrations (like they have for Twilio data), which is being used globally inside Fortune 500 companies already.

Segment was founded in 2011 and raised over $283 million, according to Crunchbase data. Its most recent raise was $175 million in April on a $1.5 billion valuation.

Twilio stock closed at $306.24 per share on Friday up $2.39%.

Segment declined to comment on this story. We also sent a request for comment to Twilio, but hadn’t heard back by the time we published.  If that changes, we will update the story.

How Roblox completely transformed its tech stack

Picture yourself in the role of CIO at Roblox in 2017.

At that point, the gaming platform and publishing system that launched in 2005 was growing fast, but its underlying technology was aging, consisting of a single data center in Chicago and a bunch of third-party partners, including AWS, all running bare metal (nonvirtualized) servers. At a time when users have precious little patience for outages, your uptime was just two nines, or less than 99% (five nines is considered optimal).

Unbelievably, Roblox was popular in spite of this, but the company’s leadership knew it couldn’t continue with performance like that, especially as it was rapidly gaining in popularity. The company needed to call in the technology cavalry, which is essentially what it did when it hired Dan Williams in 2017.

Williams has a history of solving these kinds of intractable infrastructure issues, with a background that includes a gig at Facebook between 2007 and 2011, where he worked on the technology to help the young social network scale to millions of users. Later, he worked at Dropbox, where he helped build a new internal network, leading the company’s move away from AWS, a major undertaking involving moving more than 500 petabytes of data.

When Roblox approached him in mid-2017, he jumped at the chance to take on another major infrastructure challenge. While they are still in the midst of the transition to a new modern tech stack today, we sat down with Williams to learn how he put the company on the road to a cloud-native, microservices-focused system with its own network of worldwide edge data centers.

Scoping the problem

Blissfully expands from SaaS management into wider IT services aimed at midmarket

When Blissfully launched in 2016, it was focused on helping companies understand their SaaS usage inside their organizations, but over time the company has seen that there is a wider need, especially in midmarket companies, and today it announced it was expanding into broader IT management.

Company co-founder and CEO Ariel Diaz says that the startup began helping to track SaaS usage, eventually expanding into employee onboarding and exiting, and today they are expanding into a broader set of IT services.

“Our vision when starting a company was really that IT is being redefined in the age of SaaS. So step one was to help with everything around managing SaaS. And step two is what does that mean in terms of the broader IT management vision,” Diaz told TechCrunch.

Blissfully believed that SaaS was going to take a bigger and bigger part of IT in terms of mindshare, spend and how you manage it, and they turned out to be right. Now, they felt the time is right to expand their original idea to encompass more of the IT management function.

That has resulted in a newly expanded platform they are releasing today that not only includes the earlier SaaS management components that it’s been providing all along, but also four other new categories.

For starters they are offering IT asset management. “We are now offering the ability to track not just SaaS applications, but all your IT assets including hardware devices and traditional software,” Diaz said.

Next, they are including help desk management and ticketing capabilities to handle requests that fall outside of their SaaS management workflows. In addition, they are adding role-based access control to allow different people access to various IT management services, which is increasingly essential during the pandemic as people are being forced to troubleshoot and manage various IT issues from home. Finally, the startup is opening up its APIs so that IT can tap into that and build customized functionality or workflows on top of the Blissfully platform.

Diaz believes that the company has reached a point of maturity when it comes to SaaS management, and they saw a need in the midmarket to provide these additional IT services that larger organizations tend to get from a company like ServiceNow.

The new services will be available starting today from Blissfully.

As IBM spins out legacy infrastructure management biz, CEO goes all in on the cloud

When IBM announced this morning that it was spinning out its legacy infrastructure services business, it was a clear signal that new CEO Arvand Krishna, who took the reins in April, was ready to fully commit his company to the cloud.

The move was a continuation of the strategy the company began to put in place when it bought Red Hat in 2018 for the princely sum of $34 billion. That purchase signaled a shift to a hybrid-cloud vision, where some of your infrastructure lives on-premises and some in the cloud — with Red Hat helping to manage it all.

Even as IBM moved deeper into the hybrid cloud strategy, Krishna saw the financial results like everyone else and recognized the need to focus more keenly on that approach. In its most recent earnings report overall IBM revenue was $18.1 billion, down 5.4% compared to the year-ago period. But if you broke out just IBM’s cloud and Red Hat revenue, you saw some more promising results: cloud revenue was up 30 percent to $6.3 billion, while Red Hat-derived revenue was up 17%.

Even more, cloud revenue for the trailing 12 months was $23.5 billion, up 20%.

You don’t need to be a financial genius to see where the company is headed. Krishna clearly saw that it was time to start moving on from the legacy side of IBM’s business, even if there would be some short-term pain involved in doing so. So the executive put his resources into (as they say) where the puck is going. Today’s news is a continuation of that effort.

The managed infrastructure services segment of IBM is a substantial business in its own right, but Krishna was promoted to CEO to clean house, taking over from Ginni Rometti to make hard decisions like this.

While its cloud business is growing, Synergy Research data has IBM public cloud market share mired in single digits with perhaps 4 or 5%. In fact, Alibaba has passed its market share, though both are small compared to the market leaders Amazon, Microsoft and Google.

Like Oracle, another legacy company trying to shift more to the cloud infrastructure business, IBM has a ways to go in its cloud evolution.

As with Oracle, IBM has been chasing the market leaders — Google at 9%, Microsoft 18% and AWS with 33% share of public cloud revenue (according to Synergy) — for years now without much change in its market share. What’s more, IBM competes directly with Microsoft and Google, which are also going after that hybrid cloud business with more success.

While IBM’s cloud revenue is growing, its market share needle is stuck and Krishna understands the need to focus. So, rather than continue to pour resources into the legacy side of IBM’s business, he has decided to spin out that part of the company, allowing more attention for the favored child, the hybrid cloud business.

It’s a sound strategy on paper, but it remains to be seen if it will have a material impact on IBM’s growth profile in the long run. He is betting that it will, but then what choice does he have?