Google Cloud lands Lufthansa Group and Sabre as new customers

Google’s strategy for bringing new customers to its cloud is to focus on the enterprise and specific verticals like healthcare, energy, financial service and retail, among others. Its healthcare efforts recently experienced a bit of a setback, with Epic now telling its customers that it is not moving forward with its plans to support Google Cloud, but in return, Google now got to announce two new customers in the travel business: Lufthansa Group, the world’s largest airline group by revenue, and Sabre, a company that provides backend services to airlines, hotels and travel aggregators.

For Sabre, Google Cloud is now the preferred cloud provider. Like a lot of companies in the travel (and especially the airline) industry, Sabre runs plenty of legacy systems and is currently in the process of modernizing its infrastructure. To do so, it has now entered a 10-year strategic partnership with Google “to improve operational agility while developing new services and creating a new marketplace for its airline,  hospitality and travel agency customers.” The promise, here, too, is that these new technologies will allow the company to offer new travel tools for its customers.

When you hear about airline systems going down, it’s often Sabre’s fault, so just being able to avoid that would already bring a lot of value to its customers.

“At Google we build tools to help others, so a big part of our mission is helping other companies realize theirs. We’re so glad that Sabre has chosen to work with us to further their mission of building the future of travel,” said Google CEO Sundar Pichai . “Travelers seek convenience, choice and value. Our capabilities in AI and cloud computing will help Sabre deliver more of what consumers want.”

The same holds true for Google’s deal with Lufthansa Group, which includes German flag carrier Lufthansa itself, but also subsidiaries like Austrian, Swiss, Eurowings and Brussels Airlines, as well as a number of technical and logistics companies that provide services to various airlines.

“By combining Google Cloud’s technology with Lufthansa Group’s operational expertise, we are driving the digitization of our operation even further,” said Dr. Detlef Kayser, member of the executive board of the Lufthansa Group. “This will enable us to identify possible flight irregularities even earlier and implement countermeasures at an early stage.”

Lufthansa Group has selected Google as a strategic partner to “optimized its operations performance.” A team from Google will work directly with Lufthansa to bring this project to life. The idea here is to use Google Cloud to build tools that help the company run its operations as smoothly as possible and to provide recommendations when things go awry due to bad weather, airspace congestion or a strike (which seems to happen rather regularly at Lufthansa these days).

Delta recently launched a similar platform to help its employees.

Canonical’s Anbox Cloud puts Android in the cloud

Canonical, the company behind the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution, today announced the launch of Anbox Cloud, a new platform that allows enterprises to run Android in the cloud.

On Anbox Cloud, Android becomes the guest operating system that runs containerized applications. This opens up a range of use cases, ranging from bespoke enterprise apps to cloud gaming solutions.

The result is similar to what Google does with Android apps on Chrome OS, though the implementation is quite different and is based on the LXD container manager, as well as a number of Canonical projects like Juju and MAAS for provisioning the containers and automating the deployment. “LXD containers are lightweight, resulting in at least twice the container density compared to Android emulation in virtual machines – depending on streaming quality and/or workload complexity,” the company points out in its announcements.

Anbox itself, it’s worth noting, is an open-source project that came out of Canonical and the wider Ubuntu ecosystem. Launched by Canonical engineer Simon Fels in 2017, Anbox runs the full Android system in a container, which in turn allows you to run Android application on any Linux-based platform.

What’s the point of all of this? Canonical argues that it allows enterprises to offload mobile workloads to the cloud and then stream those applications to their employees’ mobile devices. But Canonical is also betting on 5G to enable more use cases, less because of the available bandwidth but more because of the low latencies it enables.

“Driven by emerging 5G networks and edge computing, millions of users will benefit from access to ultra-rich, on-demand Android applications on a platform of their choice,” said Stephan Fabel, director of Product at Canonical, in today’s announcement. “Enterprises are now empowered to deliver high performance, high density computing to any device remotely, with reduced power consumption and in an economical manner.”

Outside of the enterprise, one of the use cases that Canonical seems to be focusing on is gaming and game streaming. A server in the cloud is generally more powerful than a smartphone, after all, though that gap is closing.

Canonical also cites app testing as another use case, given that the platform would allow developers to test apps on thousands of Android devices in parallel. Most developers, though, prefer to test their apps in real — not emulated — devices, given the fragmentation of the Android ecosystem.

Anbox Cloud can run in the public cloud, though Canonical is specifically partnering with edge computing specialist Packet to host it on the edge or on-premise. Silicon partners for the project are Ampere and Intel .

Placer.ai, a location data analytics startup, raises $12 million Series A

Placer.ai, a startup that analyzes location and foot traffic analytics for retailers and other businesses, announced today that it has closed a $12 million Series A. The round was led by JBV Capital, with participation from investors including Aleph, Reciprocal Ventures and OCA Ventures.

The funding will be used on research and development of new features and to expand Placer.ai’s operation in the United States.

Launched in 2016, Placer.ai’s SaaS platform gives its clients real-time data that helps them make decisions like where to rent or buy properties, when to hold sales and promotions and how to manage assets.

Placer.ai analyzes foot traffic and also creates consumer profiles to help clients make marketing and ad spending decisions. It does this by collecting geolocation and proximity data from devices that are enabled to share that information. Placer.ai’s co-founder and CEO Noam Ben-Zvi says the company protects privacy and follows regulation by displaying aggregated, anonymous data and does not collect personally identifiable data. It also does not sell advertising or raw data.

The company currently serves clients in the retail (including large shopping centers), commercial real estate and hospitality verticals, including JLL, Regency, SRS, Brixmor, Verizon* and Caesars Entertainment.

“Up until now, we’ve been heavily focused on the commercial real estate sector, but this has very organically led us into retail, hospitality, municipalities and even [consumer packaged goods],” Ben-Zvi told TechCrunch in an email. “This presents us with a massive market, so we’re just focused on building out the types of features that will directly address the different needs of our core audience.”

He adds that lack of data has hurt retail businesses with major offline operations, but that “by effectively addressing this gap, we’re helping drive more sustainable growth or larger players or minimizing the risk for smaller companies to drive expansion plans that are strategically aggressive.”

Others startups in the same space include Dor, Aislelabs, RetailNext, ShopperTrak and Density. Ben-Zvi says Placer.ai wants to differentiate by providing more types of real-time data analysis.

While there are a lot of companies touching the location analytics space, we’re in a unique situation as the only company providing these deep and actionable insights for any location in the country in a real-time platform with a wide array of functionality,” he said.

*Disclosure: Verizon Media is the parent company of TechCrunch.

LumApps raises $70M Series C led by Goldman Sachs

LumApps, the cloud-based social intranet for the enterprise, has closed $70 million in Series C funding. Leading the round is Goldman Sachs Growth, with participation from Bpifrance via its Growth Fund Large Venture.

Others participating include Idinvest Partners, Iris Capital, and Famille C (the family office of Courtin-Clarins). The round brings the total raised by the French company to around $100 million.

Founded in Paris back in 2012, before launching today’s proposition in 2015, LumApps has developed what it describes as a “social intranet” for enterprises to enable employees to better informed, connect and collaborate. The SaaS integrates with other enterprise software such as G Suite, Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft SharePoint, to centralize access to corporate content, business applications and social features under a single platform. The central premise is to help companies “break down silos” and streamline internal communication.

LumApps customers include Airbus, Veolia, Valeo, Air Liquide, Colgate-Palmolive, The Economist, Schibsted, EA, Logitech, Toto, and Japan Airlines, and the company claims to have achieved year-on-year revenue growth of 100%.

“Our dream was to enable access to useful information in one click, from one place and for everyone,” LumApps founder and CEO Sébastien Ricard told TechCrunch when the company raised its Series B early last year. “We wanted to build a solution that bridged [an] intranet and social network, with the latest new technologies. A place that users will love.”

Since then, LumApps has added several new offices and has seven worldwide: Lyon, Paris, London, New York, Austin, San Francisco, and Tokyo. Armed with additional funding, the company will continue adding significant headcount, hiring across engineering, product, sales and marketing. There are also plans to expand to Canada, more of Asia Pacific, and Germany.

“We’re actually looking at hiring 200 people minimum,” Ricard tells me. “We’re growing fast and have ambitious plans to take the product to new heights, including fulfilling our vision of making LumApps a personal assistant powered by AI. This will require a significant investment in top engineering/AI talent globally”.

Asked to elaborate on what machine learning and AI could bring to a social intranet, Ricard says the vision is to make LumApps a personal assistant for all communications and workflows in the enterprise.

“We see a future where this personal assistant can make predictive suggestions based on historical data and actions. Applying AI to prompt authors with suggested content, flagging important items that demand attention, and auto-archiving old content, are a few examples. Managing the massive troves of content and data companies have today is critical”.

Ricard also sees AI playing a big role in data security. “Employees have a high-degree of control with regard to data sharing and AI can help manage what employees can share in the workplace. This is more long-term but it’s where we’re headed,” he says.

“In the short-term, we’re making investments in automating as many workflows as possible with the goal of reducing or eliminating administrative tasks that keep employees from more productive tasks, including team collaboration and knowledge sharing”.

Meanwhile, LumApps says it may also use part of the Series C for M&A activity. “We’re growing fast and we’re looking at different areas for expansion opportunities,” Ricard says. “This includes retail and manufacturing and some business functions like HR, marketing and communications. We don’t have concrete plans to acquire any companies at the moment but we are keeping our options open as acquiring best-in-breed technologies often makes more sense from a business perspective than building it yourself”.

Corporate relocation startup Shyft raises $15M

Shyft is announcing it has raised $15 million in Series A funding to make the moving process less painful — specifically in the situations where your employer is paying for the move.

Other startups are looking to offer concierge-type services for regular moving — I used a service called Moved last year and liked it. But Shyft co-founder and CEO Alex Alpert (who’s spent years in the moving business) told me there are no direct competitors focused on corporate relocation.

“Even at the highest levels, the process is totally jacked up,” Alpert said. “We saw an opportunity to partner with corporations and relocation management companies to build a customized, tech-driven experience with more choices, more flexibility and to be able to navigate the quoting process seamlessly.”

So when a company that uses Shyft decides to relocate you — whether you’re a new hire or just transferring to a new office — you should get an email prompting you to download the Shyft app, where you can chat with a “move coach” who guides you through the process.

You’ll also be able to catalog the items you want to move over a video call and get estimates from movers. And you’ll receive moving-related offers from companies like Airbnb, Wag, Common, Sonder and Home Chef.

And as Alpert noted, Shyft also partners with more traditional relocation companies like Graebel, rather than treating them as competitors.

Shyft screenshot

The company was originally called Crater and focused on building technology for creating accurate moving estimates via video. It changed its name and its business model back in 2018 (Alpert acknowledged, “It wasn’t a very popular pitch in the beginning: ‘Hey, we’re building estimation software for moving companies.’ “), but the technology remains a crucial differentiator.

“Our technology is within 95% accurate at identifying volume and weight of the move,” he said. “When moving companies know the information is reliable, they can bid very aggressively.”

As a result, Alpert said the employer benefits not just from having happier employees, but lower moving costs.

The new funding, meanwhile, was led by Inovia Capital, with participation from Blumberg Capital and FJ Labs.

“There’s a total misalignment between transactional relocation services and the many logistical, social, and lifestyle needs that come with moving to a new city,” Inovia partner Todd Simpson said in a statement. “As businesses shift towards more distributed workforces and talent becomes accustomed to personalized experiences, the demand for a curated moving offering will continue to grow.”

Thundra announces $4M Series A to secure and troubleshoot serverless workloads

Thundra, an early-stage serverless tooling startup, announced a $4 million Series A today led by Battery Ventures. The company spun out from Opsgenie after it was sold to Atlassian for $295 million in 2018.

York IE, Scale X Ventures and Opsgenie founder Berkay Mollamustafaoglu also participated in the round. Battery’s Neeraj Agarwal is joining the company’s board under the terms of the agreement.

The startup also announced that it had recently hired Ken Cheney as CEO, with technical founder Serkan Ozal becoming CTO.

Originally, Thundra helped run the serverless platform at Opsgenie. As a commercial company, it helps monitor, debug and secure serverless workloads on AWS Lambda. These three tasks could easily be separate tools, but Cheney says it makes sense to include them all because they are all related in some way.

“We bring all that together and provide an end-to-end view of what’s happening inside the application, and this is what really makes Thundra unique. We can actually provide a high-level distributed view of that constantly changing application that shows all of the components of that application, and how they are interrelated and how they’re performing. It can also troubleshoot down to the local service, as well as go down into the runtime code to see where the problems are occurring and let you know very quickly,” Cheney explained.

He says that this enables developers to get this very detailed view of their serverless application that otherwise wouldn’t be possible, helping them concentrate less on the nuts and bolts of the infrastructure, the reason they went serverless in the first place, and more on writing code.

Serverless trace map in Thundra. Screenshot: Thundra

Thundra is able to do all of this in a serverless world, where there isn’t a fixed server and resources are ephemeral, making it difficult to identity and fix problems. It does this by installing an agent at the Lambda (AWS’ serverless offering) level on AWS, or at runtime on the container at the library level, he said.

Battery’s Neeraj Agarwal says having invested in Opsgenie, he knew the engineering team and was confident in the team’s ability to take it from internal tool to more broadly applicable product.

“I think it has to do with the quality of the engineering team that built Opsgenie. These guys are very microservices-oriented, very product-oriented, so they’re very quick at iterating and developing products. Even though this was an internal tool I think of it as very much productized, and their ability to now sell it to the broader market is very exciting,” he said.

The company offers a free version, then tiered pricing based on usage, storage and data retention. The current product is a cloud service, but it plans to add an on-prem version in the near future.

IBM snaps out of its revenue doldrums, breaking a five-quarter losing streak in Q4

International Business Machines is living a case study of a large, established company vying to transform. Over the last decade, the technology elder has struggled to move into areas like cloud and AI. IBM has leaned on a combination of its own R&D abilities and deep pockets to push into modern markets, but has struggled to turn them into revenue growth.

At one point, Big Blue posted 22 sequential quarters of falling revenue, a mind-boggling testament to how hard it can be to turn around a juggernaut. More recently, IBM shrank for another five consecutive quarters, a streak it broke with yesterday’s news that it had beat analyst expectations. 

The quarter brought modest, but welcome revenue growth. Perhaps more importantly, the company’s top line expansion was co-led by the old IBM mainframe business and its newest champion, Red Hat.

IBM can be happy for the positive financial news, for now at least, but it needs to repeat the result. The challenge it faces moving forward will include finding a way to continue revenue growth while modernizing its product line and ensuring that its huge Red Hat purchase continues to perform.

ServiceNow acquires Loom Systems to expand AIOps coverage

ServiceNow announced today that it has acquired Loom Systems, an Israeli startup that specializes in AIOps. The companies did not reveal the purchase price.

IT operations collects tons of data across a number of monitoring and logging tools, way too much for any team of humans to keep up with. That’s why there are startups like Loom turning to AI to help sort through it. It can find issues and patterns in the data that would be challenging or impossible for humans to find. Applying AI to operations data in this manner has become known as AIOps in industry parlance.

ServiceNow is first and foremost a company trying to digitize the service process, however that manifests itself. IT service operations is a big part of that. Companies can monitor their systems, wait until a problem happens and then try to track down the cause and fix it — or, they can use the power of artificial intelligence to find potential dangers to the system health and neutralize them before they become major problems. That’s what an AIOps product like Loom’s can bring to the table.

Jeff Hausman, vice president and general manager of IT Operations Management at ServiceNow, sees Loom’s strengths merging with ServiceNow’s existing tooling to help keep IT systems running. “We will leverage Loom Systems’ log analytics capabilities to help customers analyze data, automate remediation and reduce L1 incidents,” he told TechCrunch.

Loom co-founder and CEO Gabby Menachem not surprisingly sees a similar value proposition. “By joining forces, we have the unique opportunity to bring together our AI innovations and ServiceNow’s AIOps capabilities to help customers prevent and fix IT issues before they become problems,” he said in a statement.

Loom has raised $16 million since it launched in 2015, according to PitchBook data. Its most recent round for $10 million was in November 2019. Today’s deal is expected to close by the end of this quarter.

Google Cloud gets a Secret Manager

Google Cloud today announced Secret Manager, a new tool that helps its users securely store their API keys, passwords, certificates and other data. With this, Google Cloud is giving its users a single tool to manage this kind of data and a centralized source of truth, something that even sophisticated enterprise organizations often lack.

“Many applications require credentials to connect to a database, API keys to invoke a service, or certificates for authentication,” Google developer advocate Seth Vargo and product manager Matt Driscoll wrote in today’s announcement. “Managing and securing access to these secrets is often complicated by secret sprawl, poor visibility, or lack of integrations.”

With Berglas, Google already offered an open-source command-line tool for managing secrets. Secret Manager and Berglas will play well together and users will be able to move their secrets from the open-source tool into Secret Manager and use Berglas to create and access secrets from the cloud-based tool as well.

With KMS, Google also offers a fully managed key management system (as do Google Cloud’s competitors). The two tools are very much complementary. As Google notes, KMS does not actually store the secrets — it encrypts the secrets you store elsewhere. Secret Manager provides a way to easily store (and manage) these secrets in Google Cloud.

Secret Manager includes the necessary tools for managing secret versions and audit logging, for example. Secrets in Secret Manager are also project-based global resources, the company stresses, while competing tools often manage secrets on a regional basis.

The new tool is now in beta and available to all Google Cloud customers.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in Cybersecurity – Week 4

Image of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly in CyberSecurity

The Good

US politics is deeply divided, but at least both sides of the aisle agree on one thing: cybercrime needs to be tackled in an urgent and coordinated fashion. So it’s good news that on Jan 17th, Congress proposed the bipartisan “Cybersecurity State Coordinator Act of 2020” bill. If passed, it would allow for the appointment of 50 employees (one for each state) to join CISA, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Each employee would function as a cybersecurity state coordinator, allowing them to facilitate between federal and non-federal agencies in various capacities such as providing federal cyber-security risk advice, being a principle point of contact during cyber incidents, and acting as a strategic facilitator. Key responsibilities would include helping organizations to plan for and manage the development of cybersecurity infrastructure, promote sharing of threat intel, promote federal cyber resources to non-federal entities as well as supporting training, exercises, and remediation efforts related to cybersecurity risks and incidents.

The bill is a step in the right direction. Instead of hitting agencies with another “stick” in the form of more regulation and penalties for failing to secure data and services, this is more of a “carrot” – offering much-needed practical help to state and local governments, schools, hospitals and other organizations that are currently struggling to keep up with the cyber onslaught.

image of Cybersecurity State Coordinator Act

The Bad

All data breaches are bad, but to paraphrase Tolstoy, “Each data breach is miserable in its own way”. But then there are some data breaches that eclipse anything else we know. Such a data breach was made public this week, by none other than Microsoft.

In a blog post, the OS maker said that an internal customer support database that was storing anonymized user analytics was accidentally exposed online without proper protections between December 5th and 31st. The result was the exposure of 14 years’ of customer support logs, containing 250 million records, with information such as email addresses, IP addresses, and support case details. Microsoft said that most of the records didn’t contain any personal user information. The misconfigured servers were exposed to the internet for 25 days before being identified and closed. The researchers who found the servers said that the data could be valuable to tech support scammers, in particular those that pretend to be Microsoft support representatives. Microsoft did act promptly and fixed things within two days of notification. However, this incident highlights that even extremely-proficient organizations still struggle with cloud configuration and security.

image of Bob Diachenko tweet

The Ugly

The big ugly story this week involves Amazon, but in this case the online retail giant, or more accurately its founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, is the victim rather than the perpetrator. The UK’s Guardian newspaper learned that Bezos’ iPhone was apparently hacked in May 2018 via malware hidden in an mp4 file that was sent to Bezos in a WhatsApp message. And what has really caused an ugly cyberstorm around this story is that the message was allegedly sent to Bezos by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

image of tweet jeff bezos

While the Saudi embassy has naturally denied the claims, calling the accusations ‘absurd’, the researchers who conducted the analysis on the Amazon CEO’s iPhone said it was “highly probable” that the malware had come from an infected video file sent from the account of the crown prince. Within hours of the malware infection, large amounts of personal data from Bezos’ phone were exfiltrated, presumably uploaded to servers controlled by the malware authors.

As for the motive for such a highly personal attack, speculation revolves around the fact that Bezos also owns the Washington Post. Saudi Arabia has long been disgruntled at stories in the Post critical of the country’s human rights record, and there are suggestions it may have hoped to use the stolen data to gain leverage for more favorable press coverage. The Post was, of course, also the employer of the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. There’s plenty more intrigue to this story, we’re sure, and we’d all definitely like to know more about the malware used in the attack. In the meantime, be careful who you chat with and beware unsolicited mp4 files!


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