Category Archives: Tech News

New Uber feature uses machine learning to sort business and personal rides

Posted by on 13 August, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Uber announced a new program today called Profile Recommendations that takes advantage of machine intelligence to reduce user error when switching between personal and business accounts.

It’s not unusual for a person to have both types of accounts. When you’re out and about, it’s easy to forget to switch between them when appropriate. Uber wants to help by recommending the correct one.

“Using machine learning, Uber can predict which profile and corresponding payment method an employee should be using, and make the appropriate recommendation,” Ronnie Gurion, GM and Global Head of Uber for Business wrote in a blog post announcing the new feature.

Uber has been analyzing a dizzying amount of trip data for so long, it can now (mostly) understand the purpose of a given trip based on the details of your request. While it’s certainly not perfect because it’s not always obvious what the purpose is, Uber believes it can determine the correct intention 80 percent of the time. For that remaining 20 percent, when it doesn’t get it right, Uber is hoping to simplify corrections too.

Photo: Uber

Business users can now also assign trip reviewers — managers or other employees who understand the employee’s usage patterns, and can flag questionable rides. Instead of starting an email thread or complicated bureaucratic process to resolve an issue, the employee can now see these flagged rides and resolve them right in the app. “This new feature not only saves the employee’s and administrator’s time, but it also cuts down on delays associated with closing out reports,” Gurion wrote in the blog post announcement.

Uber also announced that it’s supporting a slew of new expense reporting software to simplify integration with these systems. They currently have integrations with Certify, Chrome River, Concur and Expensify. They will be adding support for Expensya, Happay, Rydoo, Zeno by Serko and Zoho Expense starting in September.

All of this should help business account holders deal with Uber expenses more efficiently, while integrating with many of the leading expense programs to move data smoothly from Uber to a company’s regular record-keeping systems.

Microsoft stands up Azure Stack for government as JEDI contract looms

Posted by on 13 August, 2018

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Microsoft announced today that it’s released Azure Stack for Azure Government at a time when it’s battling rivals at Amazon and other cloud companies for the massive winner-take-all $10 billion Pentagon cloud contract known as JEDI.

Azure Stack provides customers with a similar set of cloud services that they would get in the public cloud, but inside the cozy confines of the customer data center. For Azure cloud customers who are looking to manage across public and private environments, often referred to as a hybrid approach, it gives a common look and feel across both public and private.

“As a cornerstone of Microsoft’s hybrid cloud approach, consistency means government customers get the same infrastructure and services with Azure Stack as they do with Azure — the same APIs, DevOps tools, portal, and more,”Natalia Mackevicius, Program Director, Microsoft Azure Stack wrote in a blog post announcing the new program.

In addition, the company announced it had passed a third-party FedRamp certification. FedRamp is a government program that provides a standardized way for government procurement officials to assess cloud security.

“Azure Stack for Azure Government directly addresses many other significant challenges our top federal government customers face. This includes tough regulatory, connectivity and latency requirements,” Mackevicius, wrote in a blog post announcement.

While this product is geared for any government customer, this news could certainly be appealing to the Pentagon, which is looking for one vendor to rule them in its latest mega cloud RFP. While Microsoft wouldn’t comment on JEDI specifically because it’s in the midst of answering that RFP, the timing can’t be a coincidence.

Microsoft, along with other competitors including Oracle and IBM, have been complaining bitterly that the one-vendor contract process unfairly favors Amazon. These companies have recommended that the Pentagon go with a multi-vendor approach to prevent lock-in and take advantage of innovation across sellers. The complaints so far has fallen on deaf ears at the Pentagon.

Regardless, Microsoft is still battling hard for the massive contract and today’s release certainly bolsters their approach as they continue to fight to win the JEDI deal — and other government business.

Blind loyalty

Posted by on 11 August, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

There is a secret behind every open office in Silicon Valley — and it isn’t the drain on productivity.

Tech companies have been the vanguards for pushing corporate culture forward toward “radical transparency.” Mark Zuckerberg works in a fully transparent four-walled glass office surrounded by the rest of Facebook. Valve got rid of managers and titles so everyone can be their own boss. Startup founders host weekly town halls, Friday all-hands, and AMAs. Companies go to painstaking lengths to signal that they trust their employees – to show that this is your company.

But while your company might adopt an open floor plan and give out free snacks so you can feel closer to your coworkers, they likely don’t want you knowing how much they make, who is affected by the impending layoffs, or whether executives are making the right decisions.

The open office has never been more closed, and tech companies are no different than old corporate America in their authoritarian approach to controlling how their employees should think about issues that matter in the workplace. In fact, it may even be more insidious because it’s tucked away behind the veneer of a cheerful, open office.

This is what makes social network Blind so fascinating. Raw and unfiltered, Blind is the antithesis to HR’s utopic vision of a manageable and orderly corporate culture. Instead, it operates outside the walled gardens of IT with no rules and no official corporate supervision.

With Blind, users are completely anonymous, but are required to submit a verified work email to join a company channel. Inside, they are able to freely ask, discuss, prod, and complain without fear of retribution or judgment.

In short, it’s HR’s worst nightmare, and it’s wildly successful.

Building a compelling social product

Blind’s engagement numbers are staggering. It has over 2 million users, including 43K at Microsoft, 28K at Amazon, and 10K at Google. In South Korea, half of all employees at companies over 200 people are active monthly. The typical monthly active user logs in three to four times per day and spends 35 minutes using the app. At the height of the Susan Fowler scandal, Uber employees were spending almost 3 hours a day on Blind. All that, and the entire company is 38 people.

At the heart of Blind’s magic is something universal to every person who has ever been employed — the duality between our personal selves and our “work” selves, and the human drive to be both intimate and in control of our relationships. There is no place more difficult to navigate this duality than the workplace, where we want to feel loved and understood, but also respected.

Hierarchy, politics, and negative career impacts burden conversations about difficult topics, and so Blind tears these barriers down one employee at a time, affording a space for uninhibited dialogue. More importantly, Blind succeeds as a resource for questions not only company-related, but also around career, family, and life decisions.

Blind is in many ways an evolution of a long lineage of ideas in social networking. It’s unique achievement is the recombination of these different ideas to create a platform that is both a safe space for free and open conversation (via anonymity), along with a vetted, contextually relevant community (via workplace email authentication).

Let’s walk though each of these categories to understand Blind’s success.

Lack of Context (Anonymous + Individual/Personal) – Companies like Yik Yak, Secret, and Whisper pioneered the anonymous social network on the consumer side. However, they were beleaguered by cyberbullying, and served more as a digital exhaust pipe for teenage angst and trolling. Perhaps the most successful semi-anonymous social network today is Reddit, where legions of loyal community members cover every topic imaginable. However, what all of these anonymous communities lack is the critical element of shared context and circumstance.

Put another way, your fellow community members on Reddit may share your interest in ice fishing, but they likely will not understand who you are. As Blind cofounder Kyum Kim puts it, “it’s hard for someone to complain on Reddit about feeling poor while making $200K a year without fear of backlash, but on Blind, your coworkers are in the same income bracket, and likely similar education levels, neighborhoods, etc. They can empathize with your situation.” On Blind, there is a single community (your workplace) that spans multiple topics, and there’s a baseline, tacit understanding of each other’s life circumstances, allowing for deeper conversations.

Self-Promoting (Non-Anonymous + Individual/Personal) – LinkedIn and Quora are useful professional platforms, but because individuals and brands are the stars of these platforms, posturing and self-promotion can be quite frequent. When you ask a question on Quora, you are submitting your inquiry to a body of self-proclaimed experts. While many responses can be genuine, the ultimate currency that drives the platform is credibility and brand building, which inhibit authentic and vulnerable conversations from occurring.

Self-Censored (Non-Anonymous + Employee/Work) – On the enterprise side, Yammer, Jive, and recently Slack have attempted to upgrade the creaky company intranet into the enterprise social network. While these tools might make it easier to connect to your coworkers, the conversations happening on these platforms are no different than before – ultimately, these tools are designed to get work done, not for questioning, debating, or reflecting on how work should be. Conversations about sensitive subjects (e.g. how to deal with a bad manager) are unlikely to happen on a non-anonymous, corporate-sanctioned platform where that same bad manager might well be watching.

Finally, we have Blind. The platform strikes a balance between the freedom of anonymity and the context of a shared workplace. The result is a forum for surprisingly rich, relevant, and authentic conversations. While company channels are accessible only to insiders, a look at Blind’s public site (where you still need a verified work email, but you can chat with anyone outside your company) reveals a flavor for the types of conversations that are possible. An engineer at Amazon recently posted about how to deal with a mid-life crisis, with 42 responses of encouragement and advice. Another employee moving from India has a wife suffering from depression and is seeking help navigating the US healthcare system.

It turns out that where we work is a good proxy for who we are, and our coworkers have been an untapped community of wisdom.

Trust and safety

Catalin205 via Getty Images

Blind is by no means perfect. Like all online platforms and particularly anonymous ones, it invites its share of trolls. One look at the “Relationships” section on Blind’s public site and you’ll find questions about how to deal with one-night stands with coworkers and a poll asking guys how many girls they’ve slept with before marriage. While these questions could certainly have come from a genuine place, they are easy fodder for trolls, and the ensuing conversations can be alienating and provide an unnecessary megaphone for toxic bro culture.

Blind acknowledges that these issues exist, but claim that they happen less frequently inside company channels. Because users authenticate with their work emails, cofounders Sunguk and Kim believe that Blind users feel a greater sense of responsibility to each other because they are engaging a real community with shared context and goals.

The vast terrain of cyberspace might suffer from the tragedy of the commons and moral hazard, but within your workplace channel on Blind, your digital community maps onto a physical community – even though you are anonymous. This is evidenced by the successful self-policing on the platform, where 0.5% of all posts have been removed (higher than average for a social media platform), and all of these originated from user-generated flags.

A More Perfect Union

Blind’s success illuminates a reality that is often overlooked: corporations aren’t naturally democratic or transparent. While there are platforms to discuss our roles as individual working professionals (e.g. LinkedIn), there are very few places to gather and organize as employees of companies to collectively bargain for a better workplace.

This is by design. HR, the supposed watchdog of employee wellness, is neither elected nor truly representative, as they must balance the competing goals of being a third party resource for employees while also protecting the company against its employees.

Companies will always be incentivized to maintain an asymmetry of information. Friday all-hands and town halls are heavily scripted by companies. Rarely do we see anyone describing a healthy, transparent culture as a place where employees are freely conversing amongst themselves.

For companies with something to hide, the idea of a public square where conversations happen freely should be alarming. Blind has already been at the center of exposing two major scandals (e.g. the “nut rage” incident by a Korean Air executive and the news that Lyft was spying on its users.)

Blind picks up where labor unions left off and where HR has failed — to serve as a safeguard against corporate overreach, and to provide a protected space for employees to collaborate around solutions to improve the workplace.

A truly open office

For companies, Blind’s rise shouldn’t be seen as bad news. Blind can be a rich source of insight where HR software falls short. While employee engagement surveys have become popular in HR circles (and a crop of well-funded HR tech companies have consequently flooded the market), these practices suffer from the same issues of hosting a town hall. The company decides on the questions asked and interprets the answers given. With Blind, for the first time, HR and executives will have a pulse on employee sentiment that is both real-time and authentic. As Moon puts it, “no company is perfect, and if it was, Blind would not need to exist.”

In short, Blind understands more about your employees than anything in your HR stack.

Where does Blind go from here? Moon and Kyum believe they’re just getting started. Today, Blind is only available in the U.S. and South Korea, and it has been focused on tech companies. Their push into more traditional industries is showing some early signs of success with Johnson & Johnson, Dow Chemical, Barclays, and the US Navy coming online recently. There is still work to do in cleaning up different communities to ensure that conversations are inclusive and not alienating. And of course, Blind has to find a path to becoming a sustainable, revenue-generating company without compromising its integrity with users.

But one can only imagine the potential for Blind if it continues on its path upwards — the anonymous social network that understands who you are, the pulse survey that is authentic and real-time, and the first truly safe and open office made for employees, by employees.

Dropbox announces COO Dennis Woodside is leaving as its second quarterly check-in with Wall Street once again outperforms

Posted by on 9 August, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Back when Dennis Woodside joined Dropbox as its chief operating officer more than four years ago, the company was trying to justify the $10 billion valuation it had hit in its rapid rise as a Web 2.0 darling. Now, Dropbox is a public company with a nearly $14 billion valuation, and it once again showed Wall Street that it’s able to beat expectations with a now more robust enterprise business alongside its consumer roots.

Dropbox’s second quarter results came in ahead of Wall Street’s expectations on both the earnings and revenue front. The company also announced that Dennis Woodside, who has been the chief operating officer for more than four years, will be leaving the company. Woodside joined at a time at Dropbox when it was starting to figure out its enterprise business, which it was able to grow and transform into a strong case for Wall Street that it could finally be a successful publicly-traded company. The IPO was indeed successful, with the company’s shares soaring more than 40% in its debut, so it makes sense that Woodside has essentially accomplished his job by getting it into a business ready for Wall Street.

The stock exploded in extended trading by rising more than 7%, though even prior to the market close and the company reporting its earnings, the stock had risen as much as 10%. Following that spike, things have leveled off a bit, with it up around 2%. Dropbox is one of a number of SaaS companies that have gone public in recent months, including DocuSign, that have seen considerable success. While Dropbox has managed to make its case with a strong enterprise business, the company was born with consumer roots and has tried to carry over that simplicity with the enterprise products it rolls out, like its collaboration tool Dropbox Paper.

Here’s a quick rundown of the numbers:

  • Q2 Revenue: Up 27% year-over-year to $339.2 million, compared to estimates of $331 million in revenue
  • Q2 GAAP Gross Margin: 73.6%, as compared to 65.4% in the same period last year
  • Q2 adjusted earnings: 11 cents per share compared, compared to estimates of 7 cents per share
  • Paid users: 11.9 million paying users, up from 9.9 million in the same quarter last year
  • ARPU: $116.66, compared to $111.19 same quarter last year

So, not only is Dropbox able to show that it can continue to grow that revenue, the actual value of its users is also going up. That’s important, because Dropbox has to show that it can continue to acquire higher-value customers — meaning it’s gradually moving up the Fortune 100 chain and getting larger and more established companies on board that can offer it bigger and bigger contracts. It also gives it the room to make larger strategic moves, like migrating onto its own architecture late last year, which in the long run could turn out to drastically improve the margins on its business.

The company is still looking to make significant moves in the form of new hires, including recently announcing that it has a new VP of product and VP of product marketing, Adam Nash and Naman Khan. Dropbox’s new team under CEO Drew Houston are tasked with continuing the company’s path to cracking into larger enterprises, which can give it a much more predictable and robust business alongside the average consumers that pay to host their files online and access them from pretty much anywhere.

Dropbox had its first quarterly earnings check-in and slid past the expectations that Wall Street had, though its GAAP gross margin slipped a little bit and may have offered a slight negative signal for the company. But since then, Dropbox’s stock hasn’t had any major missteps, giving it more credibility on the public markets — and more resources to attract and retain talent with compensation packages linked to that stock.

Blissfully grabs $3.5 million seed investment to help companies get their SaaS in gear

Posted by on 9 August, 2018

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Blissfully, a New York City startup that helps companies understand their SaaS usage inside their organizations, announced it has received a $3.5 million seed round.

The investment was led by by Hummer Winblad Venture Partners. Hubspot, Founder Collective, and several unnamed pre-seed investors also participated. They got a $1.5 million pre-seed investment, bringing the total so far to $5 million, according the company.

Company co-founder and CEO Ariel Diaz says Blissfully actually helped him and his co-founder solve a problem they were having tracking the SaaS usage at their previous startups. Like many companies, they were using spreadsheets to track this information and they found it was untenable as the company grew beyond 30 or 40 people. They figured there had to be a better way, so they built one.

Their product is much more than simply a database of the SaaS products in use inside an organization. It can integrate with existing company systems like single sign-on tools such as Okta and OneLogIn, financial reporting systems and G Suite login information. “We are trying to automate as much of the data collection as possible to discover what you’re using, who’s using it and how much you are spending,” he said.

Screenshot: Blissfully (cropped)

Their scans often turn up products customers thought they had canceled or those that IT had asked employees to stop using. More than finding Shadow IT, the product also gives insight to overall SaaS spend, which many companies have trouble getting a grip on. They can find most usage with a scan. Some data such as customized contract information may have to be manually entered into the system, he says.

Hubspot CEO Brian Halligan, whose company is one of the investors in this round, sees a growing need for this kind of tool. “The widespread growth of SaaS across companies of all sizes is a leading indicator of the market need for Blissfully. As business’ investments in SaaS increase, they lose visibility into issues ranging from spending to security,” Halligan said in a statement.

The company offers a freemium and pay model and is available in the G Suite Marketplace. If you go for the free version, you can scan your systems for SaaS usage, but if you want to do more complex integrations with company systems, you have to pay. They currently have 10 employees and 500 customers with a mix of paying and free.

One interesting aspect of the Blissfully tool is that it is built entirely using Serverless architecture on AWS Lambda.

Prometheus monitoring tool joins Kubernetes as CNCF’s latest “graduated” project

Posted by on 9 August, 2018

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The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) may not be a household name, but it houses some important open source projects including Kubernetes, the fast-growing container orchestration tool. Today, CNCF announced that the Prometheus monitoring and alerting tool had joined Kubernetes as the second “graduated” project in the organization’s history.

The announcement was made at PromCon, the project’s dedicated conference being held in Munich this week. According to Chris Aniszczyk, CTO and COO at CNCF, a graduated project reflects the overall maturity where it has reached a tipping point in terms of diversity of contribution, community and adoption.

For Prometheus that means 20 active maintainers, more than 1,000 contributors and more than 13,000 commits. Its contributors include the likes of DigitalOcean, Weaveworks, ShowMax and Uber.

CNCF projects start in the sandbox, move onto incubation and finally to graduation. To achieve graduation level, they need to adopt the CNCF Code of Conduct, have passed an independent security audit and defined a community governance structure. Finally it needs to show an “ongoing commitment to code quality and security best practices,” according to the organization.

Aniszczyk says the tool consists of a time series database combined with a query language that lets developers search for issues or anomalies in their system and get analytics back based on their queries. Not surprisingly, it is especially well suited to containers.

Like Kubernetes, the project that became Prometheus has its roots inside Google. Google was one of the first companies to work with containers and developed Borg (the Kubernetes predecessor) and Borgmon (the Prometheus predecessor). While Borg’s job was to manage container orchestration, Borgmon’s job was to monitor the process and give engineers feedback and insight into what was happening to the containers as they moved through their lifecycle.

While its roots go back to Borgmon, Prometheus as we know it today was developed by a couple of former Google engineers at SoundCloud in 2012. It joined Kubernetes as the second CNCF project in May 2016, and appropriately is the second graduate.

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation’s role in all of this to help promote cloud native computing, the notion that you can manage your infrastructure wherever it lives in a common way, greatly reducing the complexity of managing on-prem and cloud resources. It is part of the Linux Foundation and boasts some of the biggest names in tech as members.

IBM teams with Maersk on new blockchain shipping solution

Posted by on 9 August, 2018

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IBM and shipping giant Maersk having been working together for the last year developing a blockchain-based shipping solution called TradeLens. Today they moved the project from Beta into limited availability.

Marie Wieck, GM for IBM Blockchain says the product provides a way to digitize every step of the global trade workflow, transforming it into a real-time communication and visual data sharing tool.

TradeLens was developed jointly by the two companies with IBM providing the underlying blockchain technology and Maersk bringing the worldwide shipping expertise. It involves three components: the blockchain, which provides a mechanism for tracking goods from factory or field to delivery, APIs for others to build new applications on top of the platform these two companies have built, and a set of standards to facilitate data sharing among the different entities in the workflow such as customs, ports and shipping companies.

Wieck says the blockchain really changes how companies have traditionally tracked shipped goods. While many of the entities in the system have digitized the process, the data they have has been trapped in siloes and previous attempts at sharing like EDI have been limited. “The challenge is they tend to think of a linear flow and you really only have visibility one [level] up and one down in your value chain,” she said.

The blockchain provides a couple of obvious advantages over previous methods. For starters, she says it’s safer because data is distributed, making it much more secure with digital encryption built in. The greatest advantage though is the visibility it provides. Every participant can check any aspect of the flow in real time, or an auditor or other authority can easily track the entire process from start to finish by clicking on a block in the blockchain instead of requesting data from each entity manually.

While she says it won’t entirely prevent fraud, it does help reduce it by putting more eyeballs onto the process. “If you had fraudulent data at start, blockchain won’t help prevent that. What it does help with is that you have multiple people validating every data set and you get greater visibility when something doesn’t look right,” she said.

As for the APIs, she sees the system becoming a shipping information platform. Developers can build on top of that, taking advantage of the data in the system to build even greater efficiencies. The standards help pull it together and align with APIs, such as providing a standard Bill of Lading. They are starting by incorporating existing industry standards, but are also looking for gaps that slow things down to add new standard approaches that would benefit everyone in the system.

So far, the companies have 94 entities in 300 locations around the world using TradeLens including customs authorities, ports, cargo shippers and logistics companies. They are opening the program to limited availability today with the goal of a full launch by the end of this year.

Wieck ultimately sees TradeLens as a way to facilitate trade by building in trust, the end of goal of any blockchain product. “By virtue of already having an early adopter program, and having coverage of 300 trading locations around the world, it is a very good basis for the global exchange of information. And I personally think visibility creates trust, and that can help in a myriad of ways,” she said.

Dropbox hires a new VP of product and VP of product marketing

Posted by on 8 August, 2018

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After a largely successful IPO, Dropbox is adding another couple of hires today as it looks to continue its consumer-slash-enterprise growth playbook: bringing on a new VP of product in former CEO and president of Wealthfront Adam Nash; and a new VP of product marketing and global campaigns in Naman Khan.

Both have extensive from products that span multiple different verticals, with Nash previously working at LinkedIn and eBay and Khan spending time with Microsoft Office and Autodesk. The company went public earlier this year to a pretty successful IPO, though the stock hasn’t seen any dramatic fireworks, and has accumulated more than 500 million registered users in its decade-plus life. But it’s also gone through a kind of transition as it starts expanding into more enterprise-focused collaboration tools as it looks to woo businesses, which represent a substantial opportunity for growth for the company that started off as a dead-simple file-sharing service.

Previously an entrepreneur in residence for Greylock, Nash is now going to oversee a wide range of products that span consumer-focused file storage and sharing services all the way up to its Google Docs competitor Paper. Each of which has a kind of consumer-born aesthetic that’s targeting use cases within enterprises, whether that’s building tools to get documents into its service or to actually helping teams spec out products within a kind of continuous document like Paper. But as it focuses on simplicity, Dropbox has to take care not to end up feature-creeping its way out of what made it successful initially, so the final product decisions may be a bit different. Naman will also inherit that challenge of marketing a consumer-oriented product that’s targeting businesses.

As Dropbox looks to continue to mature as a public company, it has to ensure that it still brings on talent that understands where it’s going now as it tries to wrangle larger enterprise customers that have a complex set of needs beyond just the typical consumer. Going public certainly helps with that credibility a little bit, but it’s hires like these that will determine what kinds of products actually make it out the door and the messaging that goes with them — and whether larger enterprises will actually adopt them.

Oracle’s database service offerings could be its last best hope for cloud success

Posted by on 8 August, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Yesterday Oracle announced a new online transaction processing database service, finally bringing its key database technology into the cloud. The company, which has been around for over four decades made its mark selling databases to the biggest companies in the world, but as the world has changed, large enterprise customers have been moving increasingly to the cloud. These autonomous database products could mark Oracle’s best hope for cloud success.

The database giant, which has a market cap of over $194 billion and over $67 billion in cash on hand certainly has options no matter what happens with its cloud products. Yet if the future of enterprise computing is in the cloud, the company needs to find some sustained success there, and what better way to lure its existing customers than with its bread and butter database products.

Oracle has demonstrated a stronger commitment to the cloud in recent years after showing it much disdain for it. In fact, it announced it would be building 12 new regional data centers earlier this year alone, but it wasn’t always that way. Company founder and executive chairman Larry Ellison famously made fun of the cloud as “more fashion driven than women’s fashion.” Granted that was in 2008, but his company certainly came late to the party.

A different kind of selling

The cloud is not just a different way of delivering software, platform and infrastructure, it’s a different way of selling. While switching databases might not be an easy thing to do for most large companies, the cloud subscription payment model still offers a way out that licensing rarely did. As such, it requires more of a partnership between vendor and customer. After years of having a reputation of being aggressive with customers, it may be even harder for them to make this shift.

Salesforce exec Keith Block (who was promoted to Co-CEO just yesterday), worked at Oracle for 20 years before joining Salesforce in 2013. In an interview with TechCrunch in 2016, when asked specifically about the differences between Oracle and Salesforce, he contrasted the two company’s approaches and the challenges a company like Oracle, born and raised in the open prem world, faces as it shifts to the cloud. It takes more than a change in platform, he said.

“You also have to have the right business model and when you think about our business model, it is a ‘shared success model’. Basically, as you adopt the technology, it’s married to our payment schemes. So that’s very, very important because if the customer doesn’t win, we don’t win,” Block said at the time.

John Dinsdale, chief analyst and managing director at Synergy Research, a firm that keeps close watch on the cloud market, agrees that companies born on-prem face adjustments when moving to the cloud. “In order to survive and thrive in today’s cloud-oriented environment, any software company that grew up in the on-prem world needs to have powerful, cost-effective products that can be packaged and delivered flexibly – irrespective of whether that is via the cloud or via some form of enhanced on-prem solution,” he said.

Database as a Service or bust

All that said, if Oracle could adjust, it has the advantage of having a foothold inside the enterprise. It also claims a painless transition from on-prem Oracle database to its database cloud service, which if a company is considering moving to the cloud could be attractive. There is also the autonomous aspect of its cloud database offerings, which promises to be self-tuning, self-healing with automated maintenance and updates and very little downtime.

Carl Olofson, an analyst with IDC who covers the database market sees Oracle’s database service offerings as critical to its cloud aspirations, but expects business could move slowly here. “Certainly, this development (Oracle’s database offerings) looms large for those whose core systems run on Oracle Database, but there are other factors to consider, including any planned or active investment in SaaS on other cloud platforms, the overall future database strategy, the complexity of moving operations from the datacenter to the cloud, and so on. So, I expect actual movement here to be gradual.” he said.

Adam Ronthal, an analyst at Gartner sees the database service offerings as Oracle’s best chance for cloud success. “The Autonomous Data Warehouse and the Autonomous Transaction Processing offerings are really the first true cloud offerings from Oracle. They are designed and architected for cloud, and priced competitively. They are strategic and it is very important for Oracle to demonstrate success and value with these offerings as they build credibility and momentum for their cloud offerings,” he said.

The big question is can Oracle deliver in a cloud context using a more collaborative sales model, which is still not clear. While it showed some early success as it has transitioned to the cloud, it’s always easier easier to move from a small market share number to a bigger one, and the numbers (when they have given them) have flipped in the wrong direction in recent earnings reports.

As the stakes grow ever higher, Oracle is betting on what it’s known best all along, the databases that made the company. We’ll have to wait and see if that bet pays off or if Oracle’s days of database dominance are numbered as business looks to public cloud alternatives.

AI Chip startup Cerebras Systems picks up a former Intel top exec

Posted by on 8 August, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

While some of the largest technology companies in the world are racing to figure out the next generation of machine learning-focused chips that will support devices — whether that’s data centers or edge devices — there’s a whole class of startups that are racing to get there first.

That includes Cerebras Systems, one of the startups that has raised a significant amount of capital, which is looking to continue targeting next-generation machine learning operations with the hiring of Dhiraj Mallick as its Vice President of Engineering and Business Development. Prior to joining Cerebras, Mallick served as the VP of architecture and CTO of Intel’s data center group. That group generated more than $5.5 billion in the second quarter this year, up from nearly $4.4 billion in the second quarter of 2017, and has generated more than $10 billion in revenue in the first half of this year. Prior to Intel, Mallick spent time at AMD and SeaMicro.

That latter part is going to be a big part of the puzzle, as Google looks to lock in customers in its cloud platform with tools like the Tensor Processing Unit, the third generation of which was announced at Google I/O earlier this year. Data centers are able to handle some of the heavy lifting when it comes to training the models that handle machine learning processes like image recognition as they don’t necessarily have to worry about space (or partly heat, in the case of the TPU running with liquid cooling) constraints. Google is betting on that with the TPU, optimizing its hardware for its TensorFlow machine learning framework and trying to build a whole developer ecosystem that it can lock into its hardware with that and its new edge-focused TPU for inference.

Cerebras Systems is one of a class of startups that want to figure out what the next generation of machine hardware looks like, and most of them have raised tens of millions of dollars. It’s one of the startups that has been working on its technology for a considerable amount of time. Others include Mythic, SambaNova, Graphcore, and more than a dozen others that are all looking at different pieces of the machine learning ecosystem. But the end goal for all of them is to capture part of the machine learning process — whether that’s inference on the device or training in a server somewhere — and optimize a piece of hardware for just that.

And while Google looks to lock in developers into its TensorFlow ecosystem with the TPU, that there are a number of different frameworks for machine learning may actually open the door for some startups like the ones mentioned above. There are frameworks like PyTorch and Caffe2, and having a kind of third-party piece of equipment that works across a number of different developer frameworks may end up being attractive to some companies. Nvidia has been one of the largest beneficiaries here of the emergence of GPUs as a go-to piece of hardware for machine learning, but these startups all bet on room for a new piece of hardware that’s even better at those specialized operations.

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