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Huawei launches AI-backed database to target enterprise customers

China’s Huawei is making a serious foray into the enterprise business market after it unveiled a new database management product on Wednesday, putting it in direct competition with entrenched vendors like IBM, Oracle and Microsoft.

The Shenzhen-based company, best known for making smartphones and telecom equipment, claims its newly minted database uses artificial intelligence capabilities to improve tuning performance, a process that traditionally involves human administrators, by over 60 percent.

Called the GaussDB, the database works both locally as well as on public and private clouds. When running on Huawei’s own cloud, GaussDB provides data warehouse services for customers across the board, from the financial, logistics, education to automotive industries.

The database launch was first reported by The Information on Tuesday citing sources saying it is designed by the company’s secretive database research group called Gauss and will initially focus on the Chinese market.

The announcement comes at a time when Huawei’s core telecom business is drawing scrutiny in the West over the company’s alleged ties to the Chinese government. That segment accounted for 40.8 percent of Huawei’s total revenues in 2018, according to financial details released by the privately-held firm.

Huawei’s consumer unit, which is driven by its fast-growing smartphone and device sales, made up almost a half of the company’s annual revenues. Enterprise businesses made up less than a quarter of earnings, but Huawei’s new push into database management is set to add new fuel to the segment.

Meanwhile, at Oracle, more than 900 employees, most of whom worked for its 1,600-staff research and development center in China, were recently let go amid a major company restructuring, multiple media outlets reported earlier this month.

Data provided to TechCrunch by Boss Zhipin offers clues to the layoff: The Chinese recruiting platform has recently seen a surge in newly registered users who work at Oracle China. But the door is still open for new candidates as the American giant is currently recruiting for more than 100 positions through Boss, including many related to cloud computing.

Twilio’s contact center products just got more analytical with Ytica acquisition

Twilio, a company best known for supplying a communications APIs for developers has a product called Twilio Flex for building sophisticated customer service applications on top of Twilio’s APIs. Today, it announced it was acquiring Ytica (pronounced Why-tica) to provide an operational and analytical layer on top of the customer service solution.

The companies would not discuss the purchase price, but Twilio indicated it does not expect the acquisition to have a material impact on its “results, operations or financial condition.” In other words, it probably didn’t cost much.

Ytica, which is based in Prague, has actually been a partner with Twilio for some time, so coming together in this fashion really made a lot of sense, especially as Twilio has been developing Flex.

Twilio Flex is an app platform for contact centers, which offers a full stack of applications and allows users to deliver customer support over multiple channels, Al Cook, general manager of Twilio Flex explained. “Flex deploys like SaaS, but because it’s built on top of APIs, you can reach in and change how Flex works,” he said. That is very appealing, especially for larger operations looking for a flexible, cloud-based solution without the baggage of on-prem legacy products.

What the product was lacking, however, was a native way to manage customer service representatives from within the application, and understand through analytics and dashboards, how well or poorly the team was doing. Having that ability to measure the effectiveness of the team becomes even more critical the larger the group becomes, and Cook indicated some Flex users are managing enormous groups with 10,000-20,000 employees.

Ytica provides a way to measure the performance of customer service staff, allowing management to monitor and intervene and coach when necessary. “It made so much sense to join together as one team. They have huge experience in the contact center, and a similar philosophy to build something customizable and programmable in the cloud,” Cook said.

While Ytica works with other vendors beyond Twilio, CEO Simon Vostrý says that they will continue to support those customers, even as they join the Twilio family. “We can run Flex and can continue to run this separately. We have customers running on other SaaS platforms, and we will continue to support them,” he said.

The company will remain in Prague and become a Twilio satellite office. All 14 employees are expected to join the Twilio team and Cook says plans are already in the works to expand the Prague team.

Cogito scores $37M as AI-driven sentiment analysis biz grows

Cogito announced a $37 million Series C investment today led by Goldman Sachs Growth Equity. Previous investors Salesforce Ventures and OpenView also chipped in. Mark Midle of Goldman Sachs’ Merchant Banking Division, has joined Cogito’s Board of Directors

The company has raised over $64 million since it emerged from the MIT Human Dynamics Lab back in 2007 trying to use the artificial intelligence technology available at the time to understand sentiment and apply it in a business context.

While it took some time for the technology to catch up with the vision, and find the right use case, company CEO and founder Joshua Feast says today they are helping customer service representatives understand the sentiment and emotional context of the person on the line and give them behavioral cues on how to proceed.

“We sell software to very large software, premium brands with many thousands of people in contact centers. The purpose of our solution is to help provide a really wonderful service experience in moments of truth,” he explained. Anyone who deals with a large company’s customer service has likely felt there is sometimes a disconnect between the person on the phone and their ability to understand your predicament and solve your problem.

Cogito in action giving customer service reps real-time feedback.

He says using his company’s solution, which analyzes the contents of the call in real time, and provides relevant feedback, the goal is to not just complete the service call, but to leave the customer feeling good about the brand and the experience. Certainly a bad experience can have the opposite effect.

He wants to use technology to make the experience a more human interaction and he recognizes that as an organization grows, layers of business process make it harder for the customer service representative to convey that humanity. Feast believes that technology has helped create this problem and it can help solve it too.

While the company is not talking about valuation or specific revenue at this point, Feast reports that revenue has grown 3X over the last year. Among their customers are Humana and Metlife, two large insurance companies, each with thousands of customer service agents.

Cogito is based in downtown Boston with 117 employees at last count, and of course they hope to use the money to add on to that number and help scale this vision further.

“This is about scaling our organization to meet client’s needs. It’s also about deepening what we do. In a lot of ways, we are only scratching the surface [of the underlying technology] in terms of how we can use AI to support emotional connections and help organizations be more human,” Feast said.

Amazon starts shipping its $249 DeepLens AI camera for developers

Back at its re:Invent conference in November, AWS announced its $249 DeepLens, a camera that’s specifically geared toward developers who want to build and prototype vision-centric machine learning models. The company started taking pre-orders for DeepLens a few months ago, but now the camera is actually shipping to developers.

Ahead of today’s launch, I had a chance to attend a workshop in Seattle with DeepLens senior product manager Jyothi Nookula and Amazon’s VP for AI Swami Sivasubramanian to get some hands-on time with the hardware and the software services that make it tick.

DeepLens is essentially a small Ubuntu- and Intel Atom-based computer with a built-in camera that’s powerful enough to easily run and evaluate visual machine learning models. In total, DeepLens offers about 106 GFLOPS of performance.

The hardware has all of the usual I/O ports (think Micro HDMI, USB 2.0, Audio out, etc.) to let you create prototype applications, no matter whether those are simple toy apps that send you an alert when the camera detects a bear in your backyard or an industrial application that keeps an eye on a conveyor belt in your factory. The 4 megapixel camera isn’t going to win any prizes, but it’s perfectly adequate for most use cases. Unsurprisingly, DeepLens is deeply integrated with the rest of AWS’s services. Those include the AWS IoT service Greengrass, which you use to deploy models to DeepLens, for example, but also SageMaker, Amazon’s newest tool for building machine learning models.

These integrations are also what makes getting started with the camera pretty easy. Indeed, if all you want to do is run one of the pre-built samples that AWS provides, it shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes to set up your DeepLens and deploy one of these models to the camera. Those project templates include an object detection model that can distinguish between 20 objects (though it had some issues with toy dogs, as you can see in the image above), a style transfer example to render the camera image in the style of van Gogh, a face detection model and a model that can distinguish between cats and dogs and one that can recognize about 30 different actions (like playing guitar, for example). The DeepLens team is also adding a model for tracking head poses. Oh, and there’s also a hot dog detection model.

But that’s obviously just the beginning. As the DeepLens team stressed during our workshop, even developers who have never worked with machine learning can take the existing templates and easily extend them. In part, that’s due to the fact that a DeepLens project consists of two parts: the model and a Lambda function that runs instances of the model and lets you perform actions based on the model’s output. And with SageMaker, AWS now offers a tool that also makes it easy to build models without having to manage the underlying infrastructure.

You could do a lot of the development on the DeepLens hardware itself, given that it is essentially a small computer, though you’re probably better off using a more powerful machine and then deploying to DeepLens using the AWS Console. If you really wanted to, you could use DeepLens as a low-powered desktop machine as it comes with Ubuntu 16.04 pre-installed.

For developers who know their way around machine learning frameworks, DeepLens makes it easy to import models from virtually all the popular tools, including Caffe, TensorFlow, MXNet and others. It’s worth noting that the AWS team also built a model optimizer for MXNet models that allows them to run more efficiently on the DeepLens device.

So why did AWS build DeepLens? “The whole rationale behind DeepLens came from a simple question that we asked ourselves: How do we put machine learning in the hands of every developer,” Sivasubramanian said. “To that end, we brainstormed a number of ideas and the most promising idea was actually that developers love to build solutions as hands-on fashion on devices.” And why did AWS decide to build its own hardware instead of simply working with a partner? “We had a specific customer experience in mind and wanted to make sure that the end-to-end experience is really easy,” he said. “So instead of telling somebody to go download this toolkit and then go buy this toolkit from Amazon and then wire all of these together. […] So you have to do like 20 different things, which typically takes two or three days and then you have to put the entire infrastructure together. It takes too long for somebody who’s excited about learning deep learning and building something fun.”

So if you want to get started with deep learning and build some hands-on projects, DeepLens is now available on Amazon. At $249, it’s not cheap, but if you are already using AWS — and maybe even use Lambda already — it’s probably the easiest way to get started with building these kind of machine learning-powered applications.

Pivotal CEO talks IPO and balancing life in Dell family of companies

Pivotal has kind of a strange role for a company. On one hand its part of the EMC federation companies that Dell acquired in 2016 for a cool $67 billion, but it’s also an independently operated entity within that broader Dell family of companies — and that has to be a fine line to walk.

Whatever the challenges, the company went public yesterday and joined VMware as a  separately traded company within Dell. CEO Rob Mee says the company took the step of IPOing because it wanted additional capital.

“I think we can definitely use the capital to invest in marketing and R&D. The wider technology ecosystem is moving quickly. It does take additional investment to keep up,” Mee told TechCrunch just a few hours after his company rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

As for that relationship of being a Dell company, he said that Michael Dell let him know early on after the EMC acquisition that he understood the company’s position. “From the time Dell acquired EMC, Michael was clear with me: You run the company. I’m just here to help. Dell is our largest shareholder, but we run independently. There have been opportunities to test that [since the acquisition] and it has held true,” Mee said.

Mee says that independence is essential because Pivotal has to remain technology-agnostic and it can’t favor Dell products and services over that mission. “It’s necessary because our core product is a cloud-agnostic platform. Our core value proposition is independence from any provider — and Dell and VMware are infrastructure providers,” he said.

That said, Mee also can play both sides because he can build products and services that do align with Dell and VMware offerings. “Certainly the companies inside the Dell family are customers of ours. Michael Dell has encouraged the IT group to adopt our methods and they are doing so,” he said. They have also started working more closely with VMware, announcing a container partnership last year.

Photo: Ron Miller

Overall though he sees his company’s mission in much broader terms, doing nothing less than helping the world’s largest companies transform their organizations. “Our mission is to transform how the world builds software. We are focused on the largest organizations in the world. What is a tailwind for us is that the reality is these large companies are at a tipping point of adopting how they digitize and develop software for strategic advantage,” Mee said.

The stock closed up 5 percent last night, but Mee says this isn’t about a single day. “We do very much focus on the long term. We have been executing to a quarterly cadence and have behaved like a public company inside Pivotal [even before the IPO]. We know how to do that while keeping an eye on the long term,” he said.

AWS’s container service gets support for Kubernetes

 AWS today announced its long-awaited support for the Kubernetes container orchestration system on top of its Elastic Container Service (ECS). Kubernetes has, of course, become something of a de facto standard for container orchestration. It already had the backing of Google (which incubated it), as well as Microsoft and virtually every other major cloud player. So AWS is relatively late to… Read More

Thailand’s Kasikorn Bank backs cloud accounting startup in first deal for $30M fund

 Thailand’s banks have stepped up to chase the startup dream over the past year. Following on from SCB’s Digital Ventures, which has backed blockchain startup Ripple among others, Kasikorn Bank (KBank) has made the first investment from its $30 million fund — a $1.15 million round for Bangkok-based FlowAccount. KBank announced its Beacon fund this summer. It has made… Read More

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Microsoft acquires container platform Deis

 Microsoft today announced that it has acquired Deis, the company behind some of the most popular tools for building and managing applications on top of the Google-incubated Kubernetes container orchestration service. The companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition. While Microsoft’s Azure Container Service is agnostic and supports all the major container orchestration… Read More

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Cloud Foundry launches its developer certification program

a foundry for clouds Cloud Foundry, a massive open source project that allows enterprises to host their own platform-as-a-service for running cloud applications in their own data center or in a public cloud, today announced the launch of its “Cloud Foundry Certified Developer” program. The Cloud Foundry Foundation calls this “the world’s largest cloud-native developer certification… Read More

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The great enterprise chat race

Track sprinters lined up at starting The competitive deck appears nearly stacked against the startup, and it seems that every other month a new product launches from a major tech company that’s billed in the tech press as the next “Slack Killer.” What Slack does isn’t actually all that original as startup ideas go. It merely provides an environment for teams to share information inside a chat client. Yet… Read More

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Watch day 2 of Google Cloud Next developer conference live right here

 Yesterday was just the beginning of Google’s Cloud Next conference. The company talked about the vision for Google Cloud. Today will be all about product announcements that are going to make your life easier as a developer. At 9 AM PT/12 PM ET/5 PM GMT, you’ll be able to watch Google introduce all those new features live. Today, you can expect to see Urs Hölzle, Prabhakar Raghavan… Read More

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Watch day 2 of Google Cloud Next developer conference live right here

 Yesterday was just the beginning of Google’s Cloud Next conference. The company talked about the vision for Google Cloud. Today will be all about product announcements that are going to make your life easier as a developer. At 9 AM PT/12 PM ET/5 PM GMT, you’ll be able to watch Google introduce all those new features live. Today, you can expect to see Urs Hölzle, Prabhakar Raghavan… Read More

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Endor emerges from MIT research with unique predictive analytics tech

Hands around finance data inside of crystal ball Endor, a stealth Israeli predictive analytics company, has its roots in some interesting research on human behavior conducted at MIT’s legendary Media Lab. The company has developed a predictive analytics cloud service based on a concept called ‘Social Physics‘, which purports to simplify big data analysis. The thinking is that people tend to behave in predictable ways,… Read More

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IBM adds new API to quantum computing cloud service

IBM Quantum Computer IBM announced today that it was updating its Quantum Experience cloud with a new API that it hopes will increase the abilities of researchers and other interested parties to build more sophisticated applications with its experimental quantum computing system.
Last May, IBM opened up its 5 qubit computer in its NY state labs to the public in the form of a cloud service. The hope was that by… Read More

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AWS cloudsplains what happend to S3 storage on Monday

Person watching light column in cloud of blocks AWS took a lot of heat when the its S3 storage component went down for several hours on Monday, and rightly so, but today they published a post-mortem explained exactly what happened complete with technical details and how they plan to prevent a similar event from occurring again in the future. At the core of the problem was unsurprisingly human error. Some poor engineer, we’ll call… Read More

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A year after Jasper acquisition Cisco expands the platform

cisco Just over a year ago Cisco bought Jasper Technologies for $1.4 billion, and with that transaction, created the company’s IoT cloud business. This week, Cisco is making a series of announcements at Mobile World Congress related to expanding the platform. When a startup like Jasper gets acquired by a big company like Cisco, the standard line of reasoning goes something like this:… Read More

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Open Garden makes its offline mesh networking tech available to third-party developers

mesh-phones_3 Open Garden, the company behind the FireChat offline messenger, is now the mesh networking tech behind its apps available for all developers. The company today announced the launch of its MeshKit SDK, which enables developers to easily integrate peer-to-peer connectivity into their apps, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The classic use case for this is chat apps, but it also works… Read More

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WTF is cloud computing?

Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch After more than a decade of being in the popular tech lexicon, people kind of get the idea of “the cloud,” but most probably only understand a bit of it. That’s because the cloud isn’t a single concrete thing so much as a concept that encompasses many technologies. Understanding those pieces and how they intertwine is the secret to fully grasping the ideas behind it. Read More

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Salesforce acquires Sequence to build out its UX design services

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-01-31-39 Salesforce has made another acquisition that underscores how the CRM and cloud software giant is looking to sell more services to its customers that complement the software they are already buying. It has acquired Sequence, a user experience design agency based out of San Francisco and New York that works with brands like Best Buy, Peets, Apple, Google and many more. The news was announced… Read More

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Google Cloud takes aim at Microsoft customers with new Windows VMs

disrupt_sf16_diane_greene-3758 Google announced several new products today aimed at luring IT pros who are using Windows in their data centers to the Google Cloud Platform. With that in mind, Google introduced support for Microsoft SQL Server Enterprise and Windows Server Core on the Cloud Platform. In addition, the company announced support for SQL Server Always-On Availability Group for customers who are concerned about… Read More

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Google Cloud takes aim at Microsoft customers with new Windows VMs

disrupt_sf16_diane_greene-3758 Google announced several new products today aimed at luring IT pros who are using Windows in their data centers to the Google Cloud Platform. With that in mind, Google introduced support for Microsoft SQL Server Enterprise and Windows Server Core on the Cloud Platform. In addition, the company announced support for SQL Server Always-On Availability Group for customers who are concerned about… Read More

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More than 3M businesses now pay for Google’s G Suite

google-shop13 During today’s earnings call, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced a new milestone for the adoption of Google’s G Suite productivity tools. “G Suite achieved a significant new customer milestone last quarter,” he said. “More than 3 million paying businesses are now using G Suite to collaborate smartly and securely in the cloud.” The last time Google announced… Read More

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MOOC enrollment drops at HarvardX and MITx after free certifications disappear

education_home_canvas An internal study of the massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered by Harvard and MIT shows a serious decline in the number of students choosing to enroll and certify via these internet-accessible classrooms. 2016 only saw around half the participants as the previous year — likely due to the programs’ discontinuance of free certification. Read More

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Google’s Cloud Platform gets a new key management service

Keys for the Key Maker Google is launching a new key management service for its Cloud Platform today that will help enterprises — especially in regulated industries like healthcare and banking — to create, use, rotate and destroy their encryption keys in the cloud. The aptly named Google Cloud Key Management Service (Cloud KMS) is now available as a beta in select countries. Enterprises have… Read More

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All-flash storage startup Kaminario snares $75 million investment

kaminariok2_array_system_withfront_hero_0124 Kaminario, the all-flash storage vendor based near Boston, announced an oversubscribed $75 million round today. The investment was led by private equity firm, Waterwood Group. Sequoia Capital, Pitango Venture Capital, Lazarus, Silicon Valley Bank and Globespan Capital Partners also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $218 million, according to the company. CEO… Read More

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FinancialForce selects former Salesforce and Heroku exec to be new CEO

FinancialForce at Dreamforce in October, 2016 FinancialForce, a cloud ERP solution built on the Salesforce platform, announced today that Tod Nielsen, an experienced executive from a Who’s Who of tech companies, will become the company’s new CEO. Nielsen replaces Jeremy Roche, who founded the company and has run it since its inception in 2009. Roche will remain on the board of directors, and have a yet-to-be-defined role… Read More

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