Enterprise software is hot — who would have thought?

Posted by on 22 August, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Once considered the most boring of topics, enterprise software is now getting infused with such energy that it is arguably the hottest space in tech.

It’s been a long time coming. And it is the developers, software engineers and veteran technologists with deep experience building at-scale technologies who are energizing enterprise software. They have learned to build resilient and secure applications with open-source components through continuous delivery practices that align technical requirements with customer needs. And now they are developing application architectures and tools for at-scale development and management for enterprises to make the same transformation.

“Enterprise had become a dirty word, but there’s a resurgence going on and Enterprise doesn’t just mean big and slow anymore,” said JD Trask, co-founder of Raygun enterprise monitoring software. “I view the modern enterprise as one that expects their software to be as good as consumer software. Fast. Easy to use. Delivers value.”

The shift to scale out computing and the rise of the container ecosystem, driven largely by startups, is disrupting the entire stack, notes Andrew Randall, vice president of business development at Kinvolk.

In advance of TechCrunch’s first enterprise-focused event, TC Sessions: Enterprise, The New Stack examined the commonalities between the numerous enterprise-focused companies who sponsor us. Their experiences help illustrate the forces at play behind the creation of the modern enterprise tech stack. In every case, the founders and CTOs recognize the need for speed and agility, with the ultimate goal of producing software that’s uniquely in line with customer needs.

We’ll explore these topics in more depth at The New Stack pancake breakfast and podcast recording at TC Sessions: Enterprise. Starting at 7:45 a.m. on Sept. 5, we’ll be serving breakfast and hosting a panel discussion on “The People and Technology You Need to Build a Modern Enterprise,” with Sid Sijbrandij, founder and CEO, GitLab, and Frederic Lardinois, enterprise writer and editor, TechCrunch, among others. Questions from the audience are encouraged and rewarded, with a raffle prize awarded at the end.

Traditional virtual machine infrastructure was originally designed to help manage server sprawl for systems-of-record software — not to scale out across a fabric of distributed nodes. The disruptors transforming the historical technology stack view the application, not the hardware, as the main focus of attention. Companies in The New Stack’s sponsor network provide examples of the shift toward software that they aim to inspire in their enterprise customers. Portworx provides persistent state for containers; NS1 offers a DNS platform that orchestrates the delivery internet and enterprise applications; Lightbend combines the scalability and resilience of microservices architecture with the real-time value of streaming data.

“Application development and delivery have changed. Organizations across all industry verticals are looking to leverage new technologies, vendors and topologies in search of better performance, reliability and time to market,” said Kris Beevers, CEO of NS1. “For many, this means embracing the benefits of agile development in multicloud environments or building edge networks to drive maximum velocity.”

Enterprise software startups are delivering that value, while they embody the practices that help them deliver it.

The secrets to speed, agility and customer focus

Speed matters, but only if the end result aligns with customer needs. Faster time to market is often cited as the main driver behind digital transformation in the enterprise. But speed must also be matched by agility and the ability to adapt to customer needs. That means embracing continuous delivery, which Martin Fowler describes as the process that allows for the ability to put software into production at any time, with the workflows and the pipeline to support it.

Continuous delivery (CD) makes it possible to develop software that can adapt quickly, meet customer demands and provide a level of satisfaction with benefits that enhance the value of the business and the overall brand. CD has become a major category in cloud-native technologies, with companies such as CircleCI, CloudBees, Harness and Semaphore all finding their own ways to approach the problems enterprises face as they often struggle with the shift.

“The best-equipped enterprises are those [that] realize that the speed and quality of their software output are integral to their bottom line,” Rob Zuber, CTO of CircleCI, said.

Speed is also in large part why monitoring and observability have held their value and continue to be part of the larger dimension of at-scale application development, delivery and management. Better data collection and analysis, assisted by machine learning and artificial intelligence, allow companies to quickly troubleshoot and respond to customer needs with reduced downtime and tight DevOps feedback loops. Companies in our sponsor network that fit in this space include Raygun for error detection; Humio, which provides observability capabilities; InfluxData with its time-series data platform for monitoring; Epsagon, the monitoring platform for serverless architectures and Tricentis for software testing.

“Customer focus has always been a priority, but the ability to deliver an exceptional experience will now make or break a “modern enterprise,” said Wolfgang Platz, founder of Tricentis, which makes automated software testing tools. “It’s absolutely essential that you’re highly responsive to the user base, constantly engaging with them to add greater value. This close and constant collaboration has always been central to longevity, but now it’s a matter of survival.”

DevOps is a bit overplayed, but it still is the mainstay workflow for cloud-native technologies and critical to achieving engineering speed and agility in a decoupled, cloud-native architecture. However, DevOps is also undergoing its own transformation, buoyed by the increasing automation and transparency allowed through the rise of declarative infrastructure, microservices and serverless technologies. This is cloud-native DevOps. Not a tool or a new methodology, but an evolution of the longstanding practices that further align developers and operations teams — but now also expanding to include security teams (DevSecOps), business teams (BizDevOps) and networking (NetDevOps).

“We are in this constant feedback loop with our customers where, while helping them in their digital transformation journey, we learn a lot and we apply these learnings for our own digital transformation journey,” Francois Dechery, chief strategy officer and co-founder of CloudBees, said. “It includes finding the right balance between developer freedom and risk management. It requires the creation of what we call a continuous everything culture.”

Leveraging open-source components is also core in achieving speed for engineering. Open-source use allows engineering teams to focus on building code that creates or supports the core business value. Startups in this space include Tidelift and open-source security companies such as Capsule8. Organizations in our sponsor portfolio that play roles in the development of at-scale technologies include The Linux Foundation, the Cloud Native Computing Foundation and the Cloud Foundry Foundation.

“Modern enterprises … think critically about what they should be building themselves and what they should be sourcing from somewhere else,” said Chip Childers, CTO of Cloud Foundry Foundation . “Talented engineers are one of the most valuable assets a company can apply to being competitive, and ensuring they have the freedom to focus on differentiation is super important.”

You need great engineering talent, giving them the ability to build secure and reliable systems at scale while also the trust in providing direct access to hardware as a differentiator.

Is the enterprise really ready?

The bleeding edge can bleed too much for the likings of enterprise customers, said James Ford, an analyst and consultant.

“It’s tempting to live by mantras like ‘wow the customer,’ ‘never do what customers want (instead build innovative solutions that solve their need),’ ‘reduce to the max,’ … and many more,” said Bernd Greifeneder, CTO and co-founder of Dynatrace . “But at the end of the day, the point is that technology is here to help with smart answers … so it’s important to marry technical expertise with enterprise customer need, and vice versa.”

How the enterprise adopts new ways of working will affect how startups ultimately fare. The container hype has cooled a bit and technologists have more solid viewpoints about how to build out architecture.

One notable trend to watch: The role of cloud services through projects such as Firecracker. AWS Lambda is built on Firecracker, the open-source virtualization technology, built originally at Amazon Web Services . Firecracker serves as a way to get the speed and density that comes with containers and the hardware isolation and security capabilities that virtualization offers. Startups such as Weaveworks have developed a platform on Firecracker. OpenStack’s Kata containers also use Firecracker.

“Firecracker makes it easier for the enterprise to have secure code,” Ford said. It reduces the surface security issues. “With its minimal footprint, the user has control. It means less features that are misconfigured, which is a major security vulnerability.”

Enterprise startups are hot. How they succeed will determine how well they may provide a uniqueness in the face of the ever-consuming cloud services and at-scale startups that inevitably launch their own services. The answer may be in the middle with purpose-built architectures that use open-source components such as Firecracker to provide the capabilities of containers and the hardware isolation that comes with virtualization.

Hope to see you at TC Sessions: Enterprise. Get there early. We’ll be serving pancakes to start the day. As we like to say, “Come have a short stack with The New Stack!”

Posted Under: Tech News
Remediant lands $15M Series A to disrupt privileged access security

Posted by on 22 August, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Remediant, a startup that helps companies secure privileged access in a modern context, announced a $15 million Series A today led by Dell Technologies Capital and ForgePoint Capital.

Remediant’s co-founders, Paul Lanzi and Tim Keeler, worked in biotech for years and saw a problem first-hand with the way companies secured privileged access. It was granted to certain individuals in the organization carte blanche, and they believed if you could limit access, it would make the space more secure and less vulnerable to hackers.

Lanzi says they started the company with two core concepts. “The first concept is the ability to assess or detect all of the places where privileged accounts exist and what systems they have access to. The second concept is to strip away all of the privileged access from all of those accounts and grant it back on a just-in-time basis,” Lanzi explained.

If you’re thinking that could get in the way of people who need access to do their jobs, as former IT admins, they considered that. Remediant is based a Zero Trust model where you have to prove you have the right to access the privileged area. But they do provide a reasonable baseline amount of time for users who need it within the confines of continuously enforcing access.

“Continuous enforcement is part of what we do, so by default we grant you four hours of access when you need that access, and then after that four hours, even if you forget to come back and end your session, we will automatically revoke that access. In that way all of the systems that are protected by SecureOne (the company’s flagship product) are held in this Zero Trust state where no one has access to them on a day-to-day basis,” Lanzi said.

Remediant SecureONE Dashboard

Remediant SecureONE Dashboard. Screenshot: Remediant

The company has bootstrapped until now, and has actually been profitable, something that’s unusual for a startup at this stage of development, but Lanzi says they decided to take an investment in order to shift gears and concentrate on growth and product expansion.

Deepak Jeevankumar, managing director at investor Dell Technologies Capital says it’s not easy for security startups to rise above the noise, but he saw something in Remediant’s founders. “Tim, and Paul came from the practitioners viewpoint. They knew the actual problems that people face in terms of privileged access. So they had a very strong empathy towards the customer’s problem because they lived through it,” Jeevankumar told TechCrunch.

He added that the privileged access market hasn’t really been updated in two decades. “It’s a market ripe for disruption. They are combining the just-in-time philosophy with the Zero Trust philosophy, and are bringing that to the crown jewel of administrative access,” he said.

The company’s tools are installed on the customer’s infrastructure, either on-prem or in the cloud. They don’t have a pure cloud product at the moment, but they have plans for a SaaS version down the road to help small and medium sized businesses solve the privileged access problem.

Lanzi says they are also looking to expand the product line in other ways with this investment. “The basic philosophies that underpin our technology are broadly applicable. We want to start applying our technology in those other areas as well. So as we think toward a future that looks more like cloud and more like DevOps, we want to be able to add more of those features to our products,” he said.

Posted Under: Tech News
NASA’s new HPE-built supercomputer will prepare for landing Artemis astronauts on the Moon

Posted by on 22 August, 2019

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NASA and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) have teamed up to build a new supercomputer, which will serve NASA’s Ames Research Center in California and develop models and simulations of the landing process for Artemis Moon missions.

The new supercomputer is called ‘Aitken,’ named after American astronomer Robert Grant Aitken, and it can run simulations at up to 3.69 petaFLOPs of theoretical performance power. Aitken is custom-designed by HPE and NASA to work with the Ames modular data centre, which is a project it undertook starting in 2017 to massively reduce the amount of water and energy used in cooling its supercomputing hardware.

Aitken employs second generation Intel Xeon processors, Mellanox InfiniBand high-speed networking, and has 221 TB of memory on board for storage. It’s the result of four years of collaboration between NASA and HPE, and it will model different methods of entry, descent and landing for Moon-destined Artemis spacecraft, running simulations to determine possible outcomes and help determine the best, safest approach.

This isn’t the only collaboration between HPE and NASA: The enterprise computer maker built a new kind of supercomputer able to withstand the rigors of space for the agency, and sent it up to the ISS in 2017 for preparatory testing ahead of potential use on longer missions, including Mars. The two partners then opened that supercomputer for use in third-party experiments last year.

HPE also announced earlier this year that it was buying supercomputer company Cray for $1.3 billion. Cray is another long-time partner of NASA’s supercomputing efforts, dating back to the space agency’s establishment of a dedicated computational modelling division and the establishing of its Central Computing Facility at Ames Research Center.

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Splunk acquires cloud monitoring service SignalFx for $1.05B

Posted by on 21 August, 2019

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Splunk, the publicly traded data processing and analytics company, today announced that it has acquired SignalFx for a total price of about $1.05 billion. Approximately 60 percent of this will be in cash and 40 percent in Splunk common stock. The companies expect the acquisition to close in the second half of 2020.

SignalFx, which emerged from stealth in 2015, provides real-time cloud monitoring solutions, predictive analytics and more. Upon close, Splunk argues, this acquisition will allow it to become a leader in “in observability and APM for organizations at every stage of their cloud journey, from cloud-native apps to homegrown on-premises applications.”

Indeed, the acquisition will likely make Splunk a far stronger player in the cloud space as it expands its support for cloud-native applications and the modern infrastructures and architectures those rely on.

2019 08 21 1332

Ahead of the acquisition, SignalFx had raised a total of $178.5 million, according to Crunchbase, including a recent Series E round. Investors include General Catalyst, Tiger Global Management, Andreessen Horowitz and CRV. Its customers include the likes of AthenaHealth, Change.org, Kayak, NBCUniversal, and Yelp.

“Data fuels the modern business, and the acquisition of SignalFx squarely puts Splunk in position as a leader in monitoring and observability at massive scale,” said Doug Merritt, President and CEO, Splunk, in today’s announcement. “SignalFx will support our continued commitment to giving customers one platform that can monitor the entire enterprise application lifecycle. We are also incredibly impressed by the SignalFx team and leadership, whose expertise and professionalism are a strong addition to the Splunk family.”

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Box introduces Box Shield with increased security controls and threat protection

Posted by on 21 August, 2019

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Box has always had to balance the idea of sharing content broadly while protecting it as it moved through the world, but the more you share, the more likely something can go wrong, such as misconfigured shared links that surfaced earlier this year. In an effort to make the system more secure, the company announced Box Shield today in Beta, a set of tools to help employees sharing Box content better understand who they are sharing with, while helping the security team see when content is being misused.

Link sharing is a natural part of what companies do with Box, and as Chief Product- and Chief Strategy Officer Jeetu Patel says, you don’t want to change the way people use Box. Instead, he says it’s his job to make it easier to make it secure and that is the goal with today’s announcement.

“We’ve introduced Box Shield, which embeds these content controls and protects the content in a way that doesn’t compromise user experience, while ensuring safety for the administrator and the company, so their intellectual property is protected,” Patel explained.

He says this involves two components. The first is about raising user awareness and helping them understand what they’re sharing. In fact, sometimes companies use Box as a content management backend to distribute files like documentation on the internet on purpose. They want them to be indexed in Google. Other times, however, it’s through misuse of the file sharing component, and Box wants to fix that with this release by making it clear who they are sharing with and what that means.

They’ve updated the experience on the web and mobile products to make it much clearer through messaging and interface design what the sharing level they have chosen means. Of course, some users will ignore all these messages, so there is a second component to give administrators more control.

2. Box Shield Smart Access

Box Shield access controls. Photo: Box

This involves helping customers build guardrails into the product to prevent leakage of an entire category of documents that you would never want leaked like internal business plans, salary lists or financial documents, or even to granularly protect particular files or folders. “The second thing we’re trying to do is make sure that Box itself has some built-in security guardrails and boundary conditions that can help people reduce the risk around employee negligence or inadvertent disclosures, and then make sure that you have some very precision-based, granular security controls that can be applied to classifications that you’ve set on content,” he explained.

In addition, the company wants to help customers detect when employees are abusing content, perhaps sharing sensitive data like customers lists with a personal account, and flag these for the security team. This involves flagging anomalous downloads, suspicious sessions or unusual locations inside Box.

The tool can also work with existing security products already in place, so that whatever classification has been applied in Box travels with a file, and anomalies or misuse, can be captured by the company’s security apparatus before the file leaves the company’s boundaries.

While Patel acknowledges, there is no way to prevent user misuse or abuse in all cases, by implementing Box Shield, the company is attempting to provide customers with a set of tools to help them reduce the possibility of it going undetected. Box Shield is in private Beta today and will be released in the Fall.

Posted Under: Tech News
IBM is moving OpenPower Foundation to The Linux Foundation

Posted by on 20 August, 2019

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IBM makes the Power Series chips, and as part of that has open sourced some of the underlying technologies to encourage wider use of these chips. The open source pieces have been part of the OpenPower Foundation. Today, the company announced it was moving the foundation under The Linux Foundation, and while it was at it, announced it was open sourcing several other important bits.

Ken King, general manager for OpenPower at IBM, says that at this point in his organization’s evolution, they wanted to move it under the auspices of the Linux Foundation . “We are taking the OpenPower Foundation, and we are putting it as an entity or project underneath The Linux Foundation with the mindset that we are now bringing more of an open governance approach and open governance principles to the foundation,” King told TechCrunch.

But IBM didn’t stop there. It also announced that it was open sourcing some of the technical underpinnings of the Power Series chip to make it easier for developers and engineers to build on top of the technology. Perhaps most importantly, the company is open sourcing the Power Instruction Set Architecture (ISA). These are “the definitions developers use for ensuring hardware and software work together on Power,” the company explained.

King sees open sourcing this technology as an important step for a number of reasons around licensing and governance. “The first thing is that we are taking the ability to be able to implement what we’re licensing, the ISA instruction set architecture, for others to be able to implement on top of that instruction set royalty free with patent rights,” he explained.

The company is also putting this under an open governance workgroup at the OpenPower Foundation. This matters to open source community members because it provides a layer of transparency that might otherwise be lacking. What that means in practice is that any changes will be subject to a majority vote, so long as the changes meet compatibility requirements, King said.

Jim Zemlin, executive director at the Linux Foundation, says that making all of this part of the Linux Foundation open source community could drive more innovation. “Instead of a very, very long cycle of building an application and working separately with hardware and chip designers, because all of this is open, you’re able to quickly build your application, prototype it with hardware folks, and then work with a service provider or a company like IBM to take it to market. So there’s not tons of layers in between the actual innovation and value captured by industry in that cycle,” Zemlin explained.

In addition, IBM made several other announcements around open sourcing other Power Chip technologies designed to help developers and engineers customize and control their implementations of Power chip technology. “IBM will also contribute multiple other technologies including a softcore implementation of the Power ISA, as well as reference designs for the architecture-agnostic Open Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface (OpenCAPI) and the Open Memory Interface (OMI). The OpenCAPI and OMI technologies help maximize memory bandwidth between processors and attached devices, critical to overcoming performance bottlenecks for emerging workloads like AI,” the company said in a statement.

The softcore implementation of the Power ISA, in particular, should give developers more control and even enable them to build their own instruction sets, Hugh Blemings, executive director of the OpenPower Foundation explained. “They can now actually try crafting their own instruction sets, and try out new ways of the accelerated data processes and so forth at a lower level than previously possible,” he said.

The company is announcing all of this today at the The Linux Foundation Open Source Summit and OpenPower Summit in San Diego.

Posted Under: Tech News
H2O.ai announces $72.5M Series D led by Goldman Sachs

Posted by on 20 August, 2019

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H2O.ai‘s mission is to democratize AI by providing a set of tools that frees companies from relying on teams of data scientists. Today it got a bushel of money to help. The company announced a $72.5 million Series D round led by Goldman Sachs and Ping An Global Voyager Fund.

Previous investors Wells Fargo, NVIDIA and Nexus Venture Partners also participated. Under the terms of the deal, Jade Mandel from Goldman Sachs will be joining the H2O.ai Board. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $147 million.

It’s worth noting that Goldman Sachs isn’t just an investor. It’s also a customer. Company CEO and co-founder Sri Ambati says the fact that customers, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs, have led the last two rounds is a validation for him and his company. “Customers have risen up from the ranks for two consecutive rounds for us. Last time the Series C was led by Wells Fargo where we were their platform of choice. Today’s round was led by Goldman Sachs, which has been a strong customer for us and strong supporters of our technology,” Ambati told TechCrunch.

The company’s main product, H2O Driverless AI, introduced in 2017, gets its name from the fact it provides a way for people who aren’t AI experts to still take advantage of AI without a team of data scientists. “Driverless AI is automatic machine learning, which brings the power of a world class data scientists in the hands of everyone. lt builds models automatically using machine learning algorithms of every kind,” Ambati explained.

They introduced a new recipe concept today, that provides all of the AI ingredients and instructions for building models for different business requirements. H2O.ai’s team of data scientists has created and open sourced 100 recipes for things like credit risk scoring, anomaly detection and property valuation.

The company has been growing since its Series C round in 2017 when it had 70 employees. Today it has 175 and has tripled the number of customers since the prior round, although Ambati didn’t discuss an exact number.  The company has its roots in open source and has 20,000 users of its open source products, according to Ambati.

He didn’t want to discuss valuation and wouldn’t say when the company might go public, saying it’s early days for AI and they are working hard to build a company for the long haul.

Posted Under: Tech News
Reputation.com nabs $30M more to help enterprises manage their profiles online

Posted by on 20 August, 2019

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In these days where endorsements from influential personalities online can make or break a product, a startup that’s built a business to help companies harness all the long-tail firepower they can muster to get their name out there in a good way has raised some funding to expand deeper into feedback and other experience territory. Reputation.com, which works with big enterprises in areas like automotive and healthcare to help improve their visibility online and provide more accurate reports to the businesses about how their brands are perceived by customers and others, has raised $30 million in equity financing, money that CEO Joe Fuca said the company will use to continue to expand its tech platform to source more feedback and to future-proof it for further global expansion.

The funding — led by Ascension Ventures, with participation also from new backers Akkadian Ventures, Industry Ventures and River City Ventures and returning investors Kleiner Perkins, August Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners, Heritage Group and Icon Ventures — is the second round Reputation.com has raised since its pivot away from services aimed at individuals. Fuca said the company’s valuation is tripling with this round, and while he wouldn’t go into the details from what I understand from sources (which is supported by data in PitchBook), it had been around $120-130 million in its last round, making it now valued at between $360-390 million now.

Part of the reason that the company’s valuation has tripled is because of its growth. The company doesn’t disclose many customer names (for possibly obvious reasons) but said that three of the top five automotive OEMs and as well as over 10,000 auto dealerships in the U.S. use it, with those numbers now also growing in Europe. Among healthcare providers, it now has 250 customers — including three of the top five — and in the world of property management, more than 100 companies are using Reputation.com. Other verticals that use the company include financial services, hospitality and retail services.

The company competes with other firms that provide services like SEO and other online profile profile management and sees the big challenge as trying to convince businesses that there is more to having a strong profile than just an NPS score (providers of which are also competitors). So, in addition to the metrics that are usually used to compile this figure (based on customer feedback surveys typically), Reputation.com uses unstructured data as well (for example sentiment analysis from social media) and applies algorithms to this to calculate a Reputation Score.

Reputation.com has been around actually since 2006, with its original concept being managing individuals’ online reputations — not exactly in the Klout or PR-management sense, but with a (now very prescient-sounding) intention of providing a way for people to better control their personal information online. Its original name was ReputationDefender and founded by Michael Fertik, it was a pioneer in what came to be called personal information management.

The company proposed an idea of a “vault” for your information, which could still be used and appropriated by so-called data brokers (which help feed the wider ad-tech and marketing tech machines that underpin a large part of the internet economy), but would be done with user consent and compensation.

The idea was hard to scale, however. “I think it was an addressable market issue,” said Fuca, who took over as CEO last year the company was reorienting itself to enterprise services (it sold off the consumer/individual business at the same time to a PE firm), with Fertik taking the role of executive chairman, among other projects. “Individuals seeking reputation defending is only certain market size.”

Not so in the world of enterprise, the area the startup (and I think you can call Reputation.com a startup, given its pivot and restructure and venture backing) has been focusing on exclusively for the better part of a year.

The company today integrates closely with Google — which is not only a major platform for disseminating information in the form of SEO management, but a data source as a repository of user reviews — but despite the fact that Google holds so many cards in the stack, Fuca (who had previously been an exec at DocuSign before coming to Reputation.com) said he doesn’t see it as a potential threat or competitor.

A recent survey from the company about reputation management for the automotive sector underscores just how big of a role Google does play:

Screenshot 2019 08 20 at 11.48.57“We don’t worry about google as competitor,” Fuca said. “It is super attracted to working with partners like us because we drive domain activity, and they love it when people like us explain to customers how to optimise on Google. For Google, it’s almsot like we are an optimization partner and so it helps their entire ecosystem, and so I don’t see them being a competitor or wanting to be.”

Nevertheless, the fact that the bulk of Reputation.com’s data sources are essentially secondary — that is publically available information that is already online and collected by others — will be driving some of the company’s next stage of development. The plan is to start to add in more of its own primary-source data gathering in the form of customer surveys and feedback forms. That will open the door too to more questions of how the company will handle privacy and personal data longer term.

“Ascension Ventures is excited to deepen its partnership with Reputation.com as it enters its next critical stage of growth,” said John Kuelper, Managing Director at Ascension Ventures, in a statement. “We’ve watched Reputation.com’s industry leading reputation management offering grow into an even more expansive CX platform. We’re seeing some of the world’s largest brands and service providers achieve terrific results by partnering with Reputation.com to analyze and take action on customer feedback — wherever it originates — at scale and in real-time. We’re excited to make this additional investment in Reputation.com as it continues to grow and expand its market leadership.”

Posted Under: Tech News
The five technical challenges Cerebras overcame in building the first trillion transistor chip

Posted by on 19 August, 2019

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Superlatives abound at Cerebras, the until-today stealthy next-generation silicon chip company looking to make training a deep learning model as quick as buying toothpaste from Amazon. Launching after almost three years of quiet development, Cerebras introduced its new chip today — and it is a doozy. The “Wafer Scale Engine” is 1.2 trillion transistors (the most ever), 46,225 square millimeters (the largest ever), and includes 18 gigabytes of on-chip memory (the most of any chip on the market today) and 400,000 processing cores (guess the superlative).

CS Wafer Keyboard Comparison

Cerebras’ Wafer Scale Engine is larger than a typical Mac keyboard (via Cerebras Systems)

It’s made a big splash here at Stanford University at the Hot Chips conference, one of the silicon industry’s big confabs for product introductions and roadmaps, with various levels of oohs and aahs among attendees. You can read more about the chip from Tiernan Ray at Fortune and read the white paper from Cerebras itself.

Superlatives aside though, the technical challenges that Cerebras had to overcome to reach this milestone I think is the more interesting story here. I sat down with founder and CEO Andrew Feldman this afternoon to discuss what his 173 engineers have been building quietly just down the street here these past few years with $112 million in venture capital funding from Benchmark and others.

Going big means nothing but challenges

First, a quick background on how the chips that power your phones and computers get made. Fabs like TSMC take standard-sized silicon wafers and divide them into individual chips by using light to etch the transistors into the chip. Wafers are circles and chips are squares, and so there is some basic geometry involved in subdividing that circle into a clear array of individual chips.

One big challenge in this lithography process is that errors can creep into the manufacturing process, requiring extensive testing to verify quality and forcing fabs to throw away poorly performing chips. The smaller and more compact the chip, the less likely any individual chip will be inoperative, and the higher the yield for the fab. Higher yield equals higher profits.

Cerebras throws out the idea of etching a bunch of individual chips onto a single wafer in lieu of just using the whole wafer itself as one gigantic chip. That allows all of those individual cores to connect with one another directly — vastly speeding up the critical feedback loops used in deep learning algorithms — but comes at the cost of huge manufacturing and design challenges to create and manage these chips.

CS Wafer Sean

Cerebras’ technical architecture and design was led by co-founder Sean Lie. Feldman and Lie worked together on a previous startup called SeaMicro, which sold to AMD in 2012 for $334 million. (Via Cerebras Systems)

The first challenge the team ran into according to Feldman was handling communication across the “scribe lines.” While Cerebras chip encompasses a full wafer, today’s lithography equipment still has to act like there are individual chips being etched into the silicon wafer. So the company had to invent new techniques to allow each of those individual chips to communicate with each other across the whole wafer. Working with TSMC, they not only invented new channels for communication, but also had to write new software to handle chips with trillion plus transistors.

The second challenge was yield. With a chip covering an entire silicon wafer, a single imperfection in the etching of that wafer could render the entire chip inoperative. This has been the block for decades on whole wafer technology: due to the laws of physics, it is essentially impossible to etch a trillion transistors with perfect accuracy repeatedly.

Cerebras approached the problem using redundancy by adding extra cores throughout the chip that would be used as backup in the event that an error appeared in that core’s neighborhood on the wafer. “You have to hold only 1%, 1.5% of these guys aside,” Feldman explained to me. Leaving extra cores allows the chip to essentially self-heal, routing around the lithography error and making a whole wafer silicon chip viable.

Entering uncharted territory in chip design

Those first two challenges — communicating across the scribe lines between chips and handling yield — have flummoxed chip designers studying whole wafer chips for decades. But they were known problems, and Feldman said that they were actually easier to solve that expected by re-approaching them using modern tools.

He likens the challenge though to climbing Mount Everest. “It’s like the first set of guys failed to climb Mount Everest, they said, ‘Shit, that first part is really hard.’ And then the next set came along and said ‘That shit was nothing. That last hundred yards, that’s a problem.’”

And indeed, the toughest challenges according to Feldman for Cerebras were the next three, since no other chip designer had gotten past the scribe line communication and yield challenges to actually find what happened next.

The third challenge Cerebras confronted was handling thermal expansion. Chips get extremely hot in operation, but different materials expand at different rates. That means the connectors tethering a chip to its motherboard also need to thermally expand at precisely the same rate lest cracks develop between the two.

Feldman said that “How do you get a connector that can withstand [that]? Nobody had ever done that before, [and so] we had to invent a material. So we have PhDs in material science, [and] we had to invent a material that could absorb some of that difference.”

Once a chip is manufactured, it needs to be tested and packaged for shipment to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who add the chips into the products used by end customers (whether data centers or consumer laptops). There is a challenge though: absolutely nothing on the market is designed to handle a whole-wafer chip.

CS Wafer Inspection

Cerebras designed its own testing and packaging system to handle its chip (Via Cerebras Systems)

“How on earth do you package it? Well, the answer is you invent a lot of shit. That is the truth. Nobody had a printed circuit board this size. Nobody had connectors. Nobody had a cold plate. Nobody had tools. Nobody had tools to align them. Nobody had tools to handle them. Nobody had any software to test,” Feldman explained. “And so we have designed this whole manufacturing flow, because nobody has ever done it.” Cerebras’ technology is much more than just the chip it sells — it also includes all of the associated machinery required to actually manufacture and package those chips.

Finally, all that processing power in one chip requires immense power and cooling. Cerebras’ chip uses 15 kilowatts of power to operate — a prodigious amount of power for an individual chip, although relatively comparable to a modern-sized AI cluster. All that power also needs to be cooled, and Cerebras had to design a new way to deliver both for such a large chip.

It essentially approached the problem by turning the chip on its side, in what Feldman called “using the Z-dimension.” The idea was that rather than trying to move power and cooling horizontally across the chip as is traditional, power and cooling are delivered vertically at all points across the chip, ensuring even and consistent access to both.

And so, those were the next three challenges — thermal expansion, packaging, and power/cooling — that the company has worked around-the-clock to deliver these past few years.

From theory to reality

Cerebras has a demo chip (I saw one, and yes, it is roughly the size of my head), and it has started to deliver prototypes to customers according to reports. The big challenge though as with all new chips is scaling production to meet customer demand.

For Cerebras, the situation is a bit unusual. Since it places so much computing power on one wafer, customers don’t necessarily need to buy dozens or hundreds of chips and stitch them together to create a compute cluster. Instead, they may only need a handful of Cerebras chips for their deep-learning needs. The company’s next major phase is to reach scale and ensure a steady delivery of its chips, which it packages as a whole system “appliance” that also includes its proprietary cooling technology.

Expect to hear more details of Cerebras technology in the coming months, particularly as the fight over the future of deep learning processing workflows continues to heat up.

Posted Under: Tech News
Join The New Stack for Pancake & Podcast with Q&A at TC Sessions: Enterprise

Posted by on 19 August, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Popular enterprise news and research site The New Stack is coming to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise on September 5 for a special Pancake & Podcast session with live Q&A, featuring, you guessed it, delicious pancakes and awesome panelists!

Here’s the “short stack” of what’s going to happen:

  • Pancake buffet opens at 7:45 am on Thursday, September 5 at TC Sessions: Enterprise
  • At 8:15 am the panel discussion/podcast kicks off; the topic, “The People and Technology You Need to Build a Modern Enterprise
  • After the discussion, the moderators will host a live audience Q&A session with the panelists
  • Once the Q&A is done, attendees will get the chance to win some amazing raffle prizes

You can only take part in this fun pancake-breakfast podcast if you register for a ticket to  TC Sessions: Enterprise. Use the code TNS30 to get 30% off the conference registration price!

Here’s the longer version of what’s going to happen:

At 8:15 a.m., The New Stack founder and publisher Alex Williams takes the stage as the moderator and host of the panel discussion. Our topic: “The People and Technology You Need to Build a Modern Enterprise.” We’ll start with intros of our panelists and then dive into the topic with Sid Sijbrandij, founder and CEO at GitLab, and Frederic Lardinois, enterprise reporter and editor at TechCrunch, as our initial panelists. More panelists to come!

Then it’s time for questions. Questions we could see getting asked (hint, hint): Who’s on your team? What makes a great technical team for the enterprise startup? What are the observations a journalist has about how the enterprise is changing? What about when the time comes for AI? Who will I need on my team?

And just before 9 a.m., we’ll pick a ticket out of the hat and announce our raffle winner. It’s the perfect way to start the day.

On a side note, the pancake breakfast discussion will be published as a podcast on The New Stack Analysts

But there’s only one way to get a prize and network with fellow attendees, and that’s by registering for TC Sessions: Enterprise and joining us for a short stack with The New Stack. Tickets are now $349, but you can save 30% with code TNS30.

Posted Under: Tech News
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