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Accenture cloud tool aims to shorten decision cycle

Accenture has rolled out a tool that the company said will help customers navigate complex cloud computing options and let them simulate deployments before committing to an architecture.

The IT services firm will offer the tool, called myNav, as part of a larger consulting agreement with its customers. The myNav process starts with a discovery phase, which scans the customer’s existing infrastructure and recommends a cloud deployment approach, whether private, public, hybrid or multi-cloud. Accenture’s AI engine then churns through the company’s repository of previous cloud projects to recommend a specific enterprise architecture and cloud offering. Next, the Accenture cloud tool simulates the recommended design, allowing the client to determine its suitability.

“There’s an over-abundance of choice when the client chooses to … take applications, data and infrastructure into the cloud,” said Kishore Durg, Accenture’s cloud lead and growth and strategy lead for technology services. “The choices cause them to ponder, ‘What is the right choice?’ This [tool] will help increase their confidence in going to the cloud.”

Accenture isn’t unique among consultancies in marketing services to aid customers’ cloud adoption. But industry watchers pointed to myNav’s simulation feature as a point of differentiation.

There are many companies that offer cloud service discovery, assessment and design services for a fee, said Stephen Elliot, an analyst with IDC. “But I don’t know of any other firm that will run a simulation,” he added.

Yugal Joshi, a vice president with Everest Group, cited myNav’s cloud architecture simulator as an intriguing feature. “Going forward, I expect it to further cover custom bespoke applications in addition to COTS [commercial off-the-shelf] platforms,” he said.

Joshi, who leads Everest Group’s digital, cloud and application services research practices, said most mature IT service providers have developed some type of platform to ease clients’ journey to the cloud. “The difference lies in the vision behind the IP, the quality of the IP, articulation and the business value it can provide to clients,” he noted.

Accenture cloud simulation’s potential benefits

Elliot said myNav’s simulation is interesting because it could help customers understand the outcome of a project in advance and whether that outcome will meet their expectations.

Despite cloud being around for quite some time now, it is still not a done deal.
Yugal Joshivice president, Everest Group

This could help Accenture close deals faster while fostering more productive conversations with IT buyers, Elliot said. “In any case, customers will have to trust that the underlying information and models are correct, and that the outcomes in the solution can be trusted,” he said.

Customers, meanwhile, could benefit from faster cloud rollouts.

“Where Accenture myNav is focusing is leveraging the expertise Accenture has gathered over many cloud engagements,” Joshi said. “This can potentially shorten the decision-making, business-casing and the eventual cloud migration for clients.”

Customers can get to the results faster, rather than spend weeks or, potentially, months in assessment and roadmap exercises, he said. Whether the Accenture cloud platform delivers the anticipated results, however, will only become evident when successful client adoption case studies are available, he cautioned.

Durg said cloud assessments can take eight to 12 weeks, depending on the scale of the project. The migration phase could span two months and require 80 or more people. The simulation aspect of myNav, he noted, lets clients visualize the deployment “before a single person is put on a project.”

Help wanted

Accenture’s myNav tool arrives at a time when the cloud matured — the public cloud is more than a decade old — but not completely. The multiplicity of cloud technologies introduces uncertainty and sparks enterprise conversations around skill sets and adoption approaches.

“Despite cloud being around for quite some time now, it is still not a done deal,” Joshi said. “Clients need lot of hand-holding and comfort before they can migrate to, and then leverage, cloud as an operating platform [rather] than an alternative hosting model.”

Elliot added, “The market is at a point where every cloud deployment is almost a snowflake. It’s the organizational, skills and process discussions that slow projects down.”

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Avaya revenue slump expected to continue in 2020

Avaya shares closed down 5% Wednesday after the company failed to hit its financial targets for the fourth fiscal quarter and predicted that revenue would likely decline again in 2020.

Avaya brought in $723 million in the three months ended Sept. 30, despite projecting revenues between $735 million and $755 million. The quarter capped a year of disappointing returns, with the company generating just under $2.89 billion after initially telling investors it would sell between $3.01 billion and $3.12 billion worth of products and services.

Avaya attributed its underperformance in the fourth quarter in large part to a delay in executing a 10-year $400 million deal to sell phone systems and contact center software to the Social Security Administration. A competing vendor has challenged the contract, sparking a procurement review that Avaya expects will further delay revenues at least through the current quarter.

Meanwhile, the Avaya revenue slump is projected to continue in fiscal 2020, which began Oct. 1, with the company forecasting receipts of $2.81 billion to $2.89 billion. But analysts credit Avaya for at least significantly slowing the rate of its revenue decline in the two years since emerging from bankruptcy in late 2017.

Company executives said 2020 would be a transformational year for Avaya as it finally introduces a unified communications as a service (UCaaS) offering in partnership with RingCentral. The product will plug a gap in the vendor’s portfolio, which cloud-based competitors had exploited to steal the longtime customers of Avaya’s on-premises gear.

But Avaya is poised to face a significant challenge in a few years, said Steve Blood, analyst at Gartner. Many large enterprises aren’t ready to replace on-premises communications gear because they spent a lot of money on it. But, eventually, that calculation will change.

In the meantime, Avaya is selling maintenance and other services to those customers. The company has highlighted the growth of its software and services segment, which now represents 83% of total revenue, up from 71% in fiscal 2015.

“Avaya will talk about that as having loyal customers,” Blood said. “We will look at that differently. We don’t think they are so much loyal as they need a stop-gap to hold off while they build their strategy with other providers.”

Avaya’s answer to that impending problem has been to invest in a single-tenant cloud product called ReadyNow. It gives each customer a separate instance of the software on servers in an Avaya data center. The architecture allows for a higher level of security and customization than would be possible in a multi-tenant cloud. Avaya said its large enterprise customers prefer that approach.

Partnerships have emerged as another critical aspect of Avaya’s cloud strategy. Avaya is now relying on vendors like RingCentral and Afiniti to deliver innovative products and features. Just last week, Avaya announced it would partner with Google to bring a suite of AI capabilities to contact center customers in 2020.

Avaya plans to begin reporting to investors the percentage of revenue attributable to cloud, partnerships and emerging technologies combined. As of last quarter, that figure stood at 15%, but Avaya expects it will reach 30% once the RingCentral partnership ramps up.

The cloud alone accounted for 11% of revenue in fiscal 2019. That’s up from 10% last fiscal year but below the company’s original estimate of 12% to 14%. Avaya has sold nearly 4 million licenses for cloud telephony and contact center software, up from 3.5 million at the end of fiscal 2018.

Meanwhile, Avaya is retooling its executive team. On Tuesday, Avaya announced that its top cloud executive, Gaurav Passi, was no longer with the company.

Anthony Bartolo will become chief product officer overseeing on premises and cloud portfolio next month. He is currently a top executive at Tata Communications, a networking and communications service provider, and previously spent four years with Avaya.

As part of the shuffle, Chris McGugan, currently senior vice president of solutions and technology, will become CTO.

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SAP partner program strives for long-term relationship with customers

The SAP partner program has undergone a transformation that the company believes makes it more relevant for today’s business and technology environment.

Partners have played a significant role in building the SAP ecosystem by reselling SAP products, providing strategic consulting, system design, application integration and other services. In the on-premises world, partners’ main focus was on selling and implementing SAP systems. However, as SAP’s product portfolio has broadened and the cloud has become critical to SAP’s future, the role of the SAP partner program is shifting away from sales to “customer success.”

SAP still wants its partners to sell SAP products, but in the cloud-centric world, it is pushing them to also build successful applications for customers and to continue that relationship long after an implementation. The new partner model is needed to drive the intelligent enterprise, which SAP defines as an organization that uses next-generation technology to transform processes and business models.

In this Q&A, Karl Fahrbach, SAP chief partner officer, discusses the recent changes in the SAP partner program and its priorities going forward. In March, SAP’s board of directors appointed Fahrbach as SAP’s first chief partner officer, a role designed to formalize SAP’s intentions to be a partner-focused company.

Why has the SAP partner program changed its focus from sales and implementation to ‘customer success?’

Karl Fahrbach: The main model for the partners was implementation, but things have changed a lot in the past 10 years at SAP. We have acquired many companies and have a different vision. We don’t just have one ERP product, we now have the intelligent enterprise with ERP at the core, and we have line-of-business solutions that we run on top of the SAP Cloud Platform.

Karl FahrbachKarl Fahrbach

All of this means that the opportunities for partners have changed. A study we did with IDC said the partner economy will double in the next five years from $100 billion to $200 billion because SAP offers a much bigger portfolio now … but we questioned if our partner program was ready to support that growth and change. So we have created a new, next generation partnering initiative that focuses on making sure that our partners have better access to innovation, a better experience and better economics to be profitable in this new reality.

What does the next generation partner initiative do differently than previous initiatives?

Fahrbach: We still have the PartnerEdge program, where we put the partners in boxes — SIs [systems integrators], VARs [value-added resellers], ISVs [independent software vendors] or startups. But in this new next generation evolution, we’re moving away from putting partners in boxes and looking more at the value that the partner adds to the customer. The new initiative looks at the customer lifecycle and the value that the partner adds in each of those steps. Before, we looked at partners from a sales cycle perspective, which helped us to sell and helped us implement what we sold, but then it stopped. Now in the cloud, the most relevant [key performance indicator] that we have is looking at customer success. 

Will the next generation partner initiative help smaller partners that are often the leaders in innovation?

Fahrbach: If you look at yesterday’s program, the best partner was the one that sold the most. Now we want to look not only at the quantity of the business, but the quality. One big change in the new partner program is that it will benefit the smaller firms. If you have a small boutique partner that does a fantastic job helping customers with fast adoption of SAP products, we want to reward it accordingly, even if it’s not selling the products. In the past, this partner was maybe not as relevant for us because it wasn’t selling, but now we’re looking at different metrics.

How are you tracking these new metrics?

Fahrbach: We’ve changed the way that we get feedback from partners, and we’ve also established a partner advisory council, with everyone from the big SIs to small boutique partners. We’re working on ways to provide a better partner experience and better access to innovation technologies.

Why did the SAP board create the role of chief partner officer, which is fairly unique in the software industry?

Fahrbach: The board considered the partner business as something that was going to be the innovation driver for SAP. If you look at SAP in the last 10 years, we have developed many innovative products. But when you look at the speed of innovation, we need to do something different to keep up with this pace without adding more developers. So we decided the key driver for innovation will be to work with partners. The board realized this and decided that we need to double down on the partner focus in the ecosystem. So they created the role of chief partner officer. It sends a very strong message to the market that we are a partner-led company, and we want the partners to be successful.

Will this new partner model continue given the changes in the SAP board and executive leadership this year?

Fahrbach: Yes, this will continue and the board is committed to the partner business. Both of the co-CEOs, Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein, really care about the partner business and want to make sure that the partners contribute even more to the SAP business. Adaire Fox-Martin [head of SAP global customer operations], who I report to on the board, runs the partner business and the customer business, and she really cares as well about the partner business. Even though there have been changes, we see more commitment in the board for the partner business. It’s good to change the mindset and that’s something that needs to happen as well in SAP. Ten years ago we were direct, and would leverage the partners to implement systems or serve markets that were new for us or we couldn’t really touch, like the SME segment. Now the partner business is where the partner will be always involved in creating value for the customer. That’s the mindset that we’re trying to shift to.

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Docker Enterprise spun off to Mirantis, company restructures

In a startling turn of events, Docker as the industry knows it is no more.

Mirantis, a privately held company based in Campbell, Calif., acquired the Docker Enterprise business from Docker Inc., including Docker employees, Docker Enterprise partnerships and some 750 Docker Enterprise customer accounts. The IP acquired in the deal for an undisclosed sum, announced today, includes Docker Engine – Enterprise, Docker Trusted Registry, Docker Universal Control Plane and Docker CLI.

“This is the end of Docker as we knew it, and it’s a stunning end,” said Jay Lyman, an analyst at 451 Research. The industry as a whole had been skeptical of Docker’s business strategy for years, particularly in the last six months as the company went quiet. The company underwent a major restructuring in the wake of the Mirantis deal today, naming longtime COO Scott Johnston as CEO. Johnston replaces Robert Bearden, who served just six months as the company’s chief executive.

“This validates a lot of the questions and uncertainty that have been surrounding Docker,” Lyman said. “We certainly had good reasons for asking the questions that we were.”

While not the end for Docker Enterprise, it appears to be the end for Docker’s Swarm orchestrator, which Mirantis will support for another two years. The primary focus will be on Kubernetes, Mirantis CEO Adrian Ionel wrote in a company blog post.

This is the end of Docker as we knew it, and it’s a stunning end.
Jay LymanAnalyst, 451 Research

Docker Enterprise customers are already being directed to Mirantis for support, though Docker account managers and points of contact remain the same for now, as they transition over to Mirantis. Going forward, Mirantis will incorporate Docker Kubernetes into its Kubernetes as a Service offering, which analysts believe will give it a fresh toehold in public and hybrid cloud container orchestration.

However, it’s a market already crowded with vendors. Competitors include big names such as Google, which offers hybrid Kubernetes services with Anthos, and IBM-Red Hat, which so far has dominated the enterprise market for on-premises and hybrid Kubernetes management with more than 1000 customers.

A surprising exit for Docker Inc.

While the value of the deal remains unknown, it’s unlikely that Mirantis, which numbers 400 employees and is best known for its on-premises OpenStack and Kubernetes-as-a-service business, could afford a blockbuster sum equivalent to the hundreds of millions of dollars in funding Docker Inc. received since it launched Docker Engine 1.0 in 2014.

“I thought Docker would find a bigger buyer — I’m not sure Mirantis has the resources or name to do a very large deal,” said Gary Chen, an analyst at IDC.

Analysts were also surprised that Docker split off Docker Enterprise rather than being acquired as a whole, though it’s possible a second deal for Docker’s remaining Docker Hub and Docker Desktop IP could follow.

“It could be another buyer only wanted that part of the business, but Docker put so much into Docker Enterprise for quite a while — this is a complete turnaround,” Chen said.

Docker Enterprise hit scalability, reliability snags for some

As Docker looked to differentiate its Kubernetes implementation within Docker Enterprise last year, one customer who used the Swarm orchestrator for some workloads hoped that Kubernetes support would alleviate scalability and stability concerns. Mitchell International, an auto insurance software company in San Diego, said it suffered a two-hour internal service outage when a Swarm master failed and a quorum algorithm to elect a new master node also did not work. This outage prompted Mitchell to move Linux containers to Amazon EKS, but members of its IT team hoped Docker Enterprise with Kubernetes support would replace swarm for Windows containers.

However, about a month ago, a senior architect at a large insurance company on the East Coast told SearchITOperations he’d experienced similar issues in his deployment, including the software’s Kubernetes integration.

This company’s environment is comprised of thousands of containers and hundreds of host nodes, and according to the architect, the Docker Enterprise networking implementation can become unstable at that scale. He traced this to its use of the Raft Consensus Algorithm, an open source utility which maintains consistency in distributed systems, and how it stores data in the open source RethinkDB, which can become corrupt when it processes high volumes of data, and out of sync with third-party overlay networks in the environment.

“The Docker implementation gives you the native Kubernetes APIs, but we do have concerns with how some of the core networking with their Universal Control Plane is implemented,” the architect said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to speak for his company in the press. “This is challenging at scale, and that carries forward into Kubernetes.”

The insurance company has been able to address this by running a greater number of relatively small Docker Enterprise clusters, but wasn’t satisfied with that as a long-term approach, and has begun to evaluate different Kubernetes distros from vendors such as Rancher and VMware to replace Docker Enterprise.

The senior architect was briefed on Mirantis’ managed service plans prior to the acquisition this week, and said his company will still move away from Docker Enterprise next year.

“We talked to Mirantis’ leadership team before [the acquisition] became public, but we don’t see a managed service as a strategic piece for us,” he said in an interview today. “I’m sure some customers will continue to ride out [the transition], but we’re not looking for a vendor to come in and manage our platform.”

Mirantis CEO pledges support, tech stability for customers

Docker reps said last year that it has many customers using Docker Enterprise with Windows and Swarm who had not run into the issue, in response to Mitchell International’s report of a problem. A company spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment about the more recent customer report of issues with Kubernetes last month.

Mirantis CEO Ionel said he hasn’t yet dug into that level of detail on the product, but that his company’s tech team will take the lead on Kubernetes product development going forward.

“Mirantis will contribute our Kubernetes expertise, including around scalability, robustness, ease of management and operation to the platform,” he said in an interview with SearchITOperations today. “That’s part of the unique value that we bring — the [Docker] brand will remain [Universal Control Plane], since that’s what customers are used to, but the technology underneath the hood is going to get an upgrade.”

At least for the foreseeable future, most Docker Enterprise customers will probably wait and see how the platform changes under Mirantis before they make a decision, consultants said.

“I know of only one Docker Enterprise customer, and I am sure they will stay on the platform, as it supports their production environment, until they see what Mirantis provides going forward,” said Chris Riley, DevOps delivery director at Cprime Inc., an Agile software development consulting firm in San Mateo, Calif.

Most enterprises have yet to deploy full container platforms in production, but most of his enterprise clients are either focused on OpenShift for its hybrid cloud support or using a managed Kubernetes service from a public cloud provider, Riley said.

Docker intends to refocus its efforts around Docker Desktop, but that product won’t be of interest to the insurance company’s senior architect and his team, who have developed their own process for moving apps from the developer desktop into the CI/CD pipeline.

In fact, the senior architect said he’d become frustrated by the company’s apparent focus on Docker Desktop over the last 18 months, while some Docker Enterprise customers waited for features such as blue-green container cluster upgrades, which Docker shipped in Docker Enterprise 3.0 in July.

“We’d been asking for ease of upgrade features for two years — it’s been a big pain point for us, to the point where we developed our own [software] to address it,” he said. “They finally started to get there [with version 3.0], but it’s a little too late for us.”

Mirantis’ Ionel said the company plans to include seamless upgrades as a major feature of its managed service offering. Other areas of focus will be centralized management of a fleet of Kubernetes clusters rather than just one, and self-service features for development teams.

Mirantis will acquire all of Docker’s customer support and customer success team employees, as well as the systems they use to support Docker Enterprise shops and all historical customer support data, Ionel said.

“Nothing there has changed,” he said. “They are still doing today what they were doing yesterday.”

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Veeam cloud backup sells back N2WS, adding AWS and Azure products

Veeam Software has sold an AWS data protection company it acquired two years ago and will launch Azure- and AWS-focused backup products as part of its own “unified cloud platform.”

About 10 months after Veeam’s acquisition of N2WS, the U.S. government requested “information regarding the transaction,” said Ratmir Timashev, co-founder and executive vice president of Veeam. He declined to provide details on the information request.

“After some discussions with the government in the first half of 2019, Veeam voluntarily made the decision to sell [N2WS] back to its original founders,” Timashev said. “And we decided to focus on building our own unified cloud platform, using our internal [research and development] resources.”

Veeam cloud backup, N2WS move forward, separately

The sale back to N2WS CEO Ohad Kritz and CTO Uri Wolloch closed in the third quarter of 2019. Veeam is not releasing terms of the sale, but Timashev called it “relatively small.”

Veeam bought N2WS and its cloud-native, enterprise backup and recovery for AWS data for $42.5 million at the end of 2017. About eight months earlier, Veeam disclosed it had invested in N2WS. Veeam, a data protection and management vendor with international headquarters in Switzerland and U.S. headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, is also no longer an investor in N2WS.

Ratmir TimashevRatmir Timashev

Timashev said he could not give much more detail about why the government’s information request led to the major step of selling back N2WS. He declined to comment on a report that the U.S. government’s interest was piqued because it is an N2WS customer and Timashev and Veeam Co-Founder Andrei Baronov are Russian. Baronov is also Veeam’s CEO.

“We feel that developing a unified cloud solution, not just AWS [backup], but that is closely integrated with our platform, was the best,” Timashev said.

The acquisition of N2WS showed that Veeam understands the importance of native backup technology for public cloud environments, said Archana Venkatraman, research manager at IDC.

“Veeam voluntarily sold the business following discussions with U.S. government, so it was a sensible move given the federal complexities,” Venkatraman wrote in an email.

N2WS had operated as a stand-alone business under Veeam, which representatives from both companies said makes the split easier for customers.

The majority of customers who bought the Veeam-owned N2WS were looking for a point product to back up AWS, Timashev said.

“People who were using our software at the time were protecting their current data center and the purchaser of the N2WS solution was someone who was standing up infrastructure in the cloud,” said Danny Allan, vice president of product strategy at Veeam.

Ezra Charm, vice president of marketing at N2WS, said he can’t comment on what happened on the Veeam side, but noted “the issues were not N2WS issues.” The split was “amicable,” he said.

“It was really awesome being in the Veeam world,” Charm said, citing a larger marketing budget as one positive. “But the best is yet to come.”

Charm stressed that IT is still in the beginning stages of the cloud movement, as many workloads that could be in the cloud are not there yet.

“N2WS is well positioned to grow and make a difference,” Charm said.

Venkatraman said N2WS is prominent in the AWS Marketplace.

“As an independent company, it will continue growing as demand for cloud data protection continues to grow,” she wrote.

Charm acknowledged that “some of this is a little scary.” While it’s still figuring out the new budget, N2WS is a financially stable company with thousands of customers, Charm said.

N2WS has about 50 employees, including 30 in Israel at its research and development center and 20 in West Palm Beach, Fla., at its sales and marketing headquarters. The company did not let go of any employees as a result of the sale, Charm said.

Backup for AWS, Azure provides important protection

Following the sale, Veeam cloud backup will launch two new products. Veeam Backup for AWS and Veeam Backup for Microsoft Azure will be available as stand-alone point products or integrated with Veeam’s platform.

The cloud-native Azure backup will be available at the Microsoft Ignite conference next week in a technology preview. It’s slated to be generally available early next year.

The point product offering Azure to Azure backup is much cheaper than the version integrated with the Veeam platform, Timashev said.

Veeam Backup for Microsoft Azure — both free and paid versions — will be available for deployment through the Azure Marketplace for cloud-first companies, Allan said. In addition, Veeam Backup & Replication users can extend their protection to Azure-native instances.

The product also features file-level recovery of native snapshots and Veeam backups, as well as the ability to restore to an on-premises data center or any other Veeam-supported environment, Allan said.

The similar Veeam Backup for AWS will be available by the end of 2019.

“That’s why we were talking about the unified cloud platform,” Timashev said. “So, immediately, it’s integrated in our cloud platform as well as available as a [point product].”

After some discussions with the government in the first half of 2019, Veeam voluntarily made the decision to sell [N2WS] back to its original founders. And we decided to focus on building our own unified cloud platform.
Ratmir TimashevCo-founder and executive vice president, Veeam

Veeam and N2WS go from the same company to competitors in AWS backup.

“While both will serve the cloud-native AWS backup market, Veeam’s goal has always been broader and that is to deliver data management for all of our customers’ data — across clouds and on-premises data centers,” Allan said.

N2WS’ most recent product version, Backup & Recovery 2.7, added Amazon S3 Infrequent Access support and intelligent tiering. The 3.0 edition scheduled for general availability in January will feature more integration into other S3 storage tiers.

N2WS’ connection to the AWS community, transparent pricing and flexibility in allowing customers to cancel anytime help it stand out, Charm said. Competition is the sign of a “healthy market opportunity,” he said, and reinforces N2WS’ message that workloads hosted with public cloud providers need protection.

“N2WS has been focused on solving the challenge of protecting data and workloads in the public cloud since 2013,” Charm said. “It is great to see that all the major backup providers — not just Veeam — are starting to take this seriously.”

IDC research found that more than 80% of new application deployments will include cloud. A backup platform that features support for hybrid and multi-cloud environments is a top need, especially for large enterprises, and will help Veeam attract those customers, according to Venkatraman.

“But cloud focus is a top priority for its main competitors, too, and success will be driven by differentiation — in pricing, in user experience and successful unification, and in channel/go-to-market transformation,” she wrote.

Office 365 backup, NAS support and more

The Veeam cloud backup portfolio is also updating its Office 365 protection, the fastest growing product in the history of the company. While Veeam Backup for Microsoft Office 365 previously offered on-premises backup, version 4 will back up directly to the cloud to either Azure or AWS. Veeam had only been addressing half of the market needs, Timashev said.

Veeam Backup for Microsoft Office 365, which covers Exchange, SharePoint and OneDrive, will also add object storage support, including AWS S3, Azure Blob, IBM Cloud and S3-compatible providers. Version 4 will be available as a public beta on Monday with general availability expected by the end of 2019.

Further along in the roadmap, version 10 of the Veeam Availability Suite is scheduled to be available for service providers in December and the general public in January. The top feature is enhanced NAS backup, which incorporates changed file tracking, the ability to “protect from anywhere to anywhere” and snapshot support, Allan said.

The product has been in private beta since the summer.

“It’s been tested very extensively by our partners and our customers, so we are pretty confident that we are getting very close,” Timashev said.

IDC research showed that unstructured data is growing faster than structured data and organizations need enterprise-grade backup for this environment that houses sensitive data, according to Venkatraman.

“[Veeam’s offering] is a wait and watch, but there is a lot of demand for NAS backup among enterprises,” she wrote.

Veeam is also “always looking for acquisitions,” Timashev said, in areas such as cloud data management and migration, data optimization and cloud optimization.

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John Deere’s software and AI journey

SAN FRANCISCO — John Deere, the brand name of Deere & Company, brings to mind green tractors in a golden field. It elicits thoughts of the earth, of planting and growing, of hard labor. Yet, for this classic American corporation, those thoughts are only part of the picture.

John Deere has manufactured and sold agricultural machinery and equipment for more than 180 years. It’s one of the biggest farm machinery manufacturers in the world. Over the last few years the multibillion-dollar company has made a significant progress on its AI journey, to develop AI-driven technology and embed it into its machines.

Not necessarily new

But developing and using advanced technologies isn’t new to John Deere, said Julian Sanchez, director of precision agriculture at John Deere, in an interview at the AI Summit conference Sept. 26.

For some 25 years, the company has put GPS capabilities into its tractors and other machines, enabling farmers to track their work. John Deere has also built  self-driving machines for more than two decades.

In the last decade, John Deere technology teams have worked to embed intelligent capabilities such as computer vision and machine learning into its machines.

“We’re a company that has very, very quickly reinvented itself from a hardware manufacturer to a developer” of software and AI, Sanchez said.

Despite the company’s long history of developing machinery and technology, making that major push to create advanced software didn’t happen quickly.

It really started with recognizing that we are rapidly becoming a software company.
Julian SanchezDirector of precision agriculture, John Deere

“It really started with recognizing that we are rapidly becoming a software company” more than a decade ago, Sanchez said. John Deere began recruiting heavily, looking for talent from universities and research programs.

To advance its AI journey, company focused heavily on developing software teams and creating a software culture.

For example, John Deere maintains an internal list of which languages employees can speak, Sanchez said. They began adding programming languages to that list and hiring large numbers of software developers at a time.

Marrying hardware with software

 It was difficult to merge the equipment with the software, Sanchez said.

“We’ve been working very hard the last decade to marry those two,” he said.

On the hardware side, the company rolled out significant changes to its machinery about once a year. Yet, with software, changes can be introduced much faster, sometimes as often as weekly. Putting out significant key updates to bring new features to older pieces of hardware wasn’t easy, Sanchez said.

Still, he added, the last two model years of harvesting combine machines have received significant feature updates, adding new capabilities, without having to change any hardware.

The work appears to have paid off. A number of John Deere machinery can automatically perform farming actions with little to no real-time human input. For example, Sanchez said, the company makes harvesters armed with video cameras.

With computer vision and machine learning, the harvesters can analyze the quality of the grain as its harvested, and make adjustments to prevent damage, providing farmers with a consistent grain quality.

The farmers

The company’s farmer customers tend to adapt quickly to any new software, Sanchez said.

“Farmers have actually always been to a large extent early adopters of technology,” he said.

Farming is challenging, he added, and farmers move quickly to use technology that will make their lives easier or help cut costs.

John Deere tries to ensure its technology is “walk up easy,” as Sanchez called it.

“For the average farmer, we want the majority of functions for a vehicle or technology easily learnable if not in minutes then in hours,” he said.

In 2017, the agricultural company opened a technology office, John Deere Labs, in San Francisco, focused on furthering its AI journey and developing machine learning and AI-driven technologies. The office has been operating since then.

The AI Summit was held Sept. 25 to 26 at the Palace of Fine Arts.

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OpenText’s Mark Barrenechea talks Google, AI, future of CMS

Since he took the helm as CEO of OpenText in 2012, Mark Barrenechea ushered the company through arguably the biggest change in content management technology’s history: On-premises applications migrated to the cloud, which in turn were broken down into content services.

His company, based in Waterloo, Ontario, serves customers all along the digital transformation spectrum. Some still use paper-based workflows and ingest enterprise content into applications hosted on premises. Others are all-cloud, and automate processes with the latest AI and machine learning tech. 

Barrenechea, who took on the added role of CTO in 2016, discussed where content management is going and how AI is changing everything about the technology, workflows and even the definition of content itself.

OpenText started in 1991 and has gone through many chapters in its history. How would you describe the current chapter?

Mark Barrenechea: We started out as a search company, evolved into a content management company in our second phase, and since have evolved into enterprise information management. [EIM] is a very wide, horizontal platform to manage, deliver, secure and exchange unstructured data.

OpenText CEO Mark Barrenechea and Google's Kevin Ichhpurani
The Google-OpenText partnership is deeper than with other cloud providers, OpenText CEO Mark Barrenechea said, pictured here with Google’s Kevin Ichhpurani discussing the companies’ joint plans during last July’s OpenText Enterprise World keynote.

Over the decades, OpenText acquired many companies. In the last few years, Dell EMC’s Documentum and Guidance Software stand out. How would you describe OpenText’s acquisition philosophy?

Barrenechea: We’re not a ‘public private equity firm.’ We’re a strategic acquirer, building a software platform for information management. Through that lens, we are going to remain an acquirer, remain a consolidator. [An acquisition] has to be a strategic fit in our EIM market. It also has to fill a green space for us, whether it be some functionality, industry or geography that can accelerate our time to market. It also has to meet our financial discipline around value, return on investment capital, payback and integration into the tech stack.

How has AI changed content management and content services over the last few years?

We’re going to support all the clouds, but we’re going deeper with Google in order to add capabilities to the OpenText platform.
Mark BarrenecheaCEO, OpenText

Barrenechea: Maybe this comes with time — we’ll see if it’s wisdom — but I’ve been in software more than 30 years, and I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go. B2B2C tech, dot-com, big data. AI is real because it’s the natural next extension to extreme automation. Once you automate a corporate process, and you automate it for a long time, and, if your data’s really good, you want to go into that data and learn as much as you can to create a better process, company or business model.

AI [can do that], but it’s also going to take time. I’m in a lot of discussions where we tried to go get this insight or outcome, but the process wasn’t quite complete yet. Or the data wasn’t quite right. Those are the battle fronts right now. I’ve seen a lot of progress in getting the process and data right and now AI and machine learning is producing very actionable insights, whether that’s into talent all the way through to field service preventive maintenance to cash collections. It’s also intersecting with GDPR and privacy as to what can be shared.   

OpenText introduced its own Magellan AI two years ago, but you’re also partnering with Google for AI services. To outsiders, it kind of looks like you’re competing with yourself.

Barrenechea: One of the things we’ve learned is that you have to bring in many sources of data — and keep enriching the data — to get actionable insights. We’ve been bringing new features into Magellan, but we need to look at third-party data sources as well and have a factory to be able to cleanse and merge these different data sources.

But it can’t all be just OpenText data and an OpenText tool to provide insight. So, the partnership with Google provides different tools, different data in different languages, facial recognition going to metadata, speech to metadata, being able to translate and transcribe. For us, it’s about enriching OpenText tools, and Google helps us do that at scale with market-proven technology. It’s quite complementary.

Are you doing the same with AWS and Microsoft Azure partnerships, or is Google a favored partner, and how does it figure into the OpenText roadmap?

Barrenechea: We support all of them, as well as other clouds hosted by Rackspace and global service integrators. A customer can come along and deploy on their own, or we can provide a managed service. But there are features in Google Cloud that we’re going to go deeper in: G Suite, the desktop products, browser, clickstream, transcription and AI. We’re going to support all the clouds, but we’re going deeper with Google in order to add capabilities to the OpenText platform.

What technologies on the OpenText roadmap should customers and prospective customers watch in the near term?

Barrenechea: First, technologies that enable sustainability and responsibility: Enabling ethical supply chains; enabling the circular economy from recycle, reuse, replant; supporting efficacy — track and trace the minerals that make up products. We have a lot of activity in our products to enable this over our business network and content services. It’s a real area to watch.

Second, the volume of content is exploding; handling that with our content services and business network.

In the next three to five years, the center of our world will not be a document. The center of content services will move from a document to an ID. Being able to capture all the metadata and transactions around an ID, whether it’s a person, application or thing and making everything machine-readable — voice, transcripts, facial recognition, photos videos, PDF — is front and center, what we’re working on.

Editor’s Note: This Q&A was edited for clarity and brevity.

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Oracle applications development EVP on Fusion, SaaS and what’s ahead

SAN FRANCISCO — Oracle executive vice president Steve Miranda has worked at the company since 1992 and leads all application development at the vendor. He was there well before Oracle made its acquisition-driven push against application rival SAP in the mid-2000s, with the purchases of PeopleSoft and Siebel.

In 2007, Oracle put Miranda in charge of Fusion Applications, the next-generation software suite that took a superset of earlier application functionality, added a modern user experience and embedded analytics, and offered both on-premises and cloud deployments. Fusion Applications became generally available in 2011, and since then the Oracle has continued to flesh out its portfolio with acquisitions and in-house development.

Of the three main flavors of cloud computing, SaaS has been by far the most successful for Oracle applications, as it draws in previously on-premises workloads and attracts new customers. The competition remains fierce, with Oracle jockeying not only with longtime rival SAP but also the likes of Salesforce and Workday.

Miranda spoke to TechTarget at Oracle’s OpenWorld conference in a conversation that covered Fusion’s legacy, the success of SaaS deployments compared with on-premises ones, Oracle’s app acquisitions of late and the road ahead.

Software project cost overruns and outright failures have been an unfortunate staple of the on-premises world. The same hasn’t happened in SaaS. Part of this is because SaaS is vendor-managed from the start, but issues like change management and training are still risk factors in the cloud. Explain what’s happening from your perspective.

We have a reasonably good track record, even in the on-premises days. The noticeable difference I’ve seen [with cloud] is as follows:

In on-premise, because you had a set version, and because you knew you’re going to move for years, you started the implementation, but you had to have everything, because there wasn’t another version coming [soon].

Now, inevitably, that meant it took a while. And then what that meant is your business sometimes changed. New requirements came in. That meant you had to change configuration, or buy a third-party [product] or customize. That meant the implementation pushed out. But [initially], you had this sort of one-time cliff, where you had to go or no-go. Because you weren’t going to touch the system, forever more, because that was sort of the way it was. Or maybe you look at years later. It put a tremendous amount of pressure [on customers].

Steve Miranda, executive vice president of applications,Oracle
Steve Miranda, executive vice president of Oracle applicationsdevelopment, addresses attendees Oracle OpenWorld last week.

So what happened was, while companies tried to control scope, because there wasn’t a second phase, or the second phase was way out, it was really hard to control scope.

In SaaS, the biggest shift that I’ve seen from customers is that mentality is all different, given that they know, by the nature of the product we’ve built, they’re going to get regular updates. Their mindset is “OK, we’re going to take advantage of new features. We’re going to continue more continually change our development process or our business process.”

Do last-minute things pop up? Sure. Do project difficulties pop up? Sure. But [you need] the willingness to say, “You know what? We’re going to keep phase one, the date’s not moving, which means your cost doesn’t move.”

In SaaS, projects aren’t perfect, sometimes there’s [a scope issue], but you have something live. You get some payback, and there’s some kind of finish line for that. That’s the biggest difference that I’ve seen.

The Fusion Applications portfolio and brand persists today and was a big focus at OpenWorld. But Fusion was announced in 2005, and became GA in 2011. That’s eight years ago. So in total, Fusion’s application architectural pattern is about 15 years old. How old is too old?

Are they old compared to on-premise products? Definitely not. Are they old compared to our largest SaaS competitor [Editor’s note: Salesforce]? No, that’s actually an older product.

Okay, now, just in a standalone way, is Fusion old? Well, I would say a lot of the technology is not old. We are updating to OCI, the latest infrastructure, we’ve moved our customers there. We are updating to the latest version of the Oracle database to an Autonomous Database. We’ve refreshed our UI once already, and in this conference, we announced the upcoming UI.

Now. If you go through every layer of the stack, and how it’s architected and how it’s built, you know, there’s some technical debt. It depends on what you mean by old.

We’re moving to more of a microservices architecture; we build that part a piece at a time. Once we get done with that, there’s going to be something else behind it. [Oracle CTO and chairman Larry Ellison] talked about serverless and elasticity of the cloud. We’re modifying the apps architecture to more fully leverage that.

So if the question is in hindsight, did we make mistakes? The biggest mistake for me personally is, look: We had a very large customer installed base across PeopleSoft Siebel, E-Business Suite, JD Edwards and the expectation from our customers, is when Oracle says we’ve got something, that they can move to it, and they can move to the cloud.

And so what we tried to do with Fusion V1, and one of the reasons it took us longer than anticipated is that we had this scope.

Any company now, it’s sort of cliche, they have this concept of minimum viable product. You introduce a product, and does it service all of the Oracle customer base? No. Will it serve a certain customer base? Sure, yeah. And then you get those customers and you add to it, you get more customers, you add to it, you improve it.

We had this vision of, let’s get a bigger and bigger scope. Had I done it over again? We’ve got a minimum viable product, we would announce it to a subset our customer and then some of this noise that you hear of like, oh, Oracle took too long, or Oracle’s late to markets or areas wouldn’t have been there.

I would argue in a lot of the areas, while it may have taken us longer to come to market, we came out with a lot more capabilities than our competitors right out the box, because we had a different mindset.

Oracle initially stressed how Fusion Applications could be run both on-premises and as SaaS, in part to ease customer concerns over the longer-term direction for Oracle applications. But most initial Fusion customers went with SaaS because running it on-premises was too complicated. Why did things play out that way?

While it may have taken us longer to come to market, we came out with a lot more capabilities than our competitors right out the box, because we had a different mindset.
Steve MirandaExecutive vice president of applications development, Oracle

I would take issue with the following: Let’s say we had the on-prem install, like, perfect. One button press, everything’s there. Do I think that we would have had a lot of uptake of Fusion on-premises as opposed SaaS? No. I think the SaaS model is better.

Did we optimize the on-premises install? No. We didn’t intentionally make it complicated. But, you know, we were focused on the SaaS market. We were [handling] the complexity. Was it perfect? No. Did that affect some customers? Yes. Did it affect the overall market? No, because I think SaaS was going to [win] anyway.

The classic debate for application customers and vendors is best-of-breed versus suites. Each approach has its own advantages and tradeoffs. Is this the status quo today, in SaaS? Has a third way emerged?

I don’t know if it’s a third way. We believe we have best-of-breed in many, many areas. Secondly, we believe in an integrated solution. Now let’s take that again. I view the customer as having three constituents they care about. They care about their own customers, they care about their employees and they care about their stakeholders, because public company, that’s shareholders, if it’s a private company, it’s different.

If you told me for any given company, there are two or five best-of-breed applications out for some niche feature that benefits one of those three audiences? OK. You go with it, no problem.

If you told me there were 20 or 50 best-of-breed options for a niche feature? It’s almost impossible for there to be that many niche features that matter to those three important people, particularly in areas where really we specialize in: ERP, supply chain, finance, HR, a lesser extent in CRM, slightly lesser in some parts of HR.

So this notion of “Oh, let’s best-of-breed everything.” Good luck. I mean, you could do it. But I don’t think you’re going to be happy because of the number of integrations. I don’t believe in that at all.

Let’s move forward to today. Apart from NetSuite in 2016, there haven’t been any mega-acquisitions in Oracle applications lately. Rather, it’s been around companies that play in the CX space, particularly ones focused on data collection and curation. What’s the thinking here?

Without data, you can automate a map, right? You can find out how to go from here to Palo Alto. No problem. You have in your phone, you can do directions, etc. But when you add data, and you turn on Waze, it gives you a different route, because you have real-time data, traffic alerts and road closures, it’s a lot more powerful.

And so we think real-time data matters, especially in CRM but also, frankly, in ERP. You might have a supplier and you have the other status, they go through an M&A, or other things. You want to have an ERP and CRM system that doesn’t ignore the outside world. You actually have data much more freely available today. You want to have a system that assumes that. So that’s our investment.

Oracle has recently drawn closer to Microsoft, forming a partnership around interoperability between Azure and Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. Microsoft is placing a big bet on Graph data connect, which pulls together information from its productivity software and customers’ internal business data. It seems like a place where your partnership could expand for mutual benefit.

I’m not going to answer that. I can’t comment on that. It’s a great question.

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Bollywood, blockbusters and a $5 billion industry: How Indian company Eros Now is redefining online video | Transform

Being on the cutting edge of technology was baked into the DNA of Indian video company Eros Now from the start.

Its parent company, Eros International Plc., was founded in 1977, the same year the VHS videocassette format was released in North America. While some in the entertainment industry were leery about the newfangled technology, Eros was all in.

“Back then, it was a scary thing,” says Eros Digital CEO Rishika Lulla Singh. “But we embraced VHS and we continued to embrace new technology.”

That approach has served the company well. Eros International Plc., a movie distribution and production company, was India’s first VHS distributor and the first Indian media company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Eros Now, its on-demand video arm, was launched in 2012 and has now attracted over 18.8 million paid subscribers and 155 million users worldwide with its more than 12,000 Bollywood films, music videos and original content including series and short episodes.

Eros Now amassed its big audience largely by premiering blockbuster films and related content such as trailers and music videos on its site even before they were on YouTube, Lulla Singh says. The company aims to differentiate itself not just as a one-stop destination for online entertainment but also as a tech innovator — and a new collaboration with Microsoft is underpinning those efforts.

Portrait of Rishika Lulla Singh, CEO of Indian company Eros Digital
Eros Digital CEO Rishika Lulla Singh.

Eros Now is working with Microsoft to migrate the company’s operations to the Azure cloud platform to improve video and viewing experiences for consumers worldwide. Lulla Singh says Microsoft’s ability to innovate in cloud computing and artificial intelligence, its research in voice services and discovery, and the company’s capacity for handling big data were the primary reasons Eros Now wanted to collaborate with Microsoft to develop next-generation video technology.

“We feel that Azure can help us to drive a lot of our ambitions to create the correct architecture for the video platform,” she says. “It was the sheer sophistication of the product over everything else on the market.”

The collaboration, Microsoft’s first effort in India in streaming video, signifies a move into a thriving entertainment market. Streaming video is growing rapidly in India, where the market is projected to reach $5 billion by 2023, according to a study by The Boston Consulting Group.

“India is among the fastest-growing entertainment and media markets globally, with cutting-edge innovation in content creation, distribution and data insights ,” says Anant Maheshwari, president of Microsoft India. “Our partnership with Eros Now is a significant milestone. Together, we hope to redefine the video viewing experience for consumers in India and across the globe.”

Lulla Singh has been working with teams across Microsoft and says she’s been struck by the company’s collaborative culture.

“Microsoft wants to enable other companies to be cool and to essentially realize your own ambition. The collaboration that’s come from that is incredible,” she says.

The rise in video streaming has shifted consumer expectations and the role of companies like Microsoft in the industry. Consumers are watching content on multiple devices, from smartphones to tablets, and media companies are facing increased competition to attract viewers, Maheshwari says. Those companies are looking to cloud providers for secure and scalable content delivery, he says, and for capabilities such as advanced search and smart content recommendations.

“What will differentiate video streaming services is the ability to give users exciting content to experience within the limited time and attention span they have,” he says. “AI and intelligent cloud tools will be the next drivers of the media business and will impact everything in the content value chain.”

Eros Now, Lulla Singh says, saw an opportunity to distinguish itself by creating original content that was a departure from the typical Indian television fare.

“The television landscape in India is very, very different to what happens in the U.S., where we have ‘Game of Thrones’ and a lot of sexy content,” she says. “That doesn’t really exist in the Indian television ecosystem.

“Most Indian programming is catered to more older audiences, which is actually not relevant to the new millennial audiences.”

Eros Now began developing its own original content around 2015, launching “Side Hero,” a Bollywood-inspired comedy series, last year, followed by “Smoke,” a drama about drug cartels. Last December, the company introduced “Eros Now Quickie,” a series of eight- to 10-minute episodes ranging from docudramas to comedy, and segments on food, health and travel.

Eros Now plans to continue innovating by personalizing content for customers by language, subtitles and other geographic-based preferences. Bollywood movies have been growing in popularity in regions outside India including China, Russia and Eastern Europe, Lulla Singh says. Eros Now, which currently has viewers in more than 135 countries, hopes to ride that momentum to expand into new markets and reach its goal of 50 million subscribers over the next three years.

“We just want to continue to create, continue to please our customers and grow in the process as well,” she says.

Top image: A sampling of Eros Now’s original content, which began premiering in 2018. (Images courtesy of Eros Now)

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Cohesion is latest Acquia acquisition

Acquia has acquired United Kingdom-based company Cohesion, the creator of DX8, it recently announced.

Acquia is a SaaS company, headquarted in Boston, created to provide enterprise products, services and technical support for the open-source web CMS platform Drupal. Cohesion’s DX8 is an enterprise-level, low-code Drupal website builder that enables in-browser creation of themes, layouts and pages.

The Acquia acquisition is intended to help content marketers and site builders with minimal coding skills create scalable Drupal sites from scratch up to four times faster, according to the company. Acquia also claims Cohesion DX8 will help provide brand consistency across websites.

Dries Buytaert, CTO and co-founder of Acquia and founder of Drupal, said that the Acquia acquisition won’t affect current Cohesion customers.

“There will be no change to support arrangements for Cohesion DX8 customers who have current contracts in 2019,” he said. “Acquia will notify and engage with Cohesion DX8 customers if any changes are envisioned.”

He added that he anticipates the Acquia acquisition benefiting the customers of both companies.

“It helps customers realize significant savings in development and maintenance costs,” he said. “Marketers can publish content more quickly and without the involvement of developers. Cohesion will also appear for customers who are getting started with Drupal. The tool makes it easier for content marketers and site builders with minimal coding skills to be productive and see creative results faster.”

Buytaert declined to disclose the specifics of the deal but said the chance to bring more value to customers was the driving factor.

“The addition of Cohesion DX8 to the Acquia product portfolio strengthens the proposition of both businesses and allows Cohesion the opportunity to scale faster.”

In May, Acquia also acquired Mautic, an open marketing automation and campaign management platform that enables Acquia customers to automate, personalize and measure the customer lifecycle.

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