Tag Archives: platform

Zendesk Relater primes customers for remote call center work

Zendesk, the cloud platform vendor that made its name with its Support Suite customer service platform for SMBs, is moving into CRM. But during the coronavirus crisis, the company quickly moved its own operations to at-home virtual work as it supports its 150,000 users, many of which are launching remote call centers amid spikes in customer service interactions.

“Even companies that are already flexible and using Zendesk are experiencing dramatic increases in their volumes, because a lot of people are trying to work remote right now,” said Colleen Berube, Zendesk CIO. “We have a piece of our business where we are having to help companies scale up their abilities to handle this shift in working.”

Even though the vendor did support some remote work before the coronavirus work-from-home orders hit, immediately rolling out work-from-home for Zendesk’s entire organization wasn’t straightforward, because of laptop market shortages. Like many companies, it required a culture shift to move an entire operation to telecommuting that included new policies allowing workers to expense some purchases for home-office workstations.

“We don’t have any intention of recreating the entire workplace at home, but we wanted to give them enough so they could be productive,” Berube said.

Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane
Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane delivers the Zendesk Relater user conference keynote from his home Tuesday.

Among Zendesk’s prominent midmarket customers so far are travel and hospitality support desks “dealing with unprecedented volumes of cancellations and refunds,” as well as companies assisting remote workforces shipping hardware to their employees, said Zendesk founder and CEO Mikkel Svane at the Zendesk Relater virtual user conference Tuesday.

“Using channels like chat have helped these customers keep up with this volume,” Svane said.

Zendesk has seen interest and network use in general grow among customers who need to bring remote call centers online during shelter-in-place orders from local and state governments. Easing the transition for users and their customers, Berube said, are self-service chatbots that Zendesk has developed over the last few years. She added that she’s seen Zendesk’s own AnswerBot keep tickets manageable on its internal help desk, which services remote employees as well as partners.

During Relater, Zendesk President of Products Adrian McDermott said that Zendesk AI-powered bots have saved users 600,000 agent hours by enabling customer self-service, adding that Zendesk customers using AI for customer support increased more than 90% over the last year. He said the company is betting big on self-service becoming the grand majority of customer service.

[Self-service is] not just going to a knowledge base and reading the knowledge base … but it’s about the user being at the center of the conversation and controlling the conversation.
Adrian McDermottPresident of products, Zendesk

“Self-service is going to be everywhere,” McDermott said. “It’s not just going to a knowledge base and reading the knowledge base … but it’s about the user being at the center of the conversation and controlling the conversation.”

While some larger cloud customer experience software vendors such as Oracle, Salesforce and Google canceled even the virtual conferences that were planned in lieu of live user events, Zendesk assembled a set of pre-recorded presentations from executives at home and other speakers scheduled for its canceled Miami Relate conference and put on a virtual user conference renamed “Zendesk Relater.”

Earlier this month, Zendesk released upgrades to its Sunshine CRM and Support Suite platforms. At Relater, the company announced a partnership with Tata Consultancy Services to implement Zendesk CRM at large enterprises.

Zendesk has the reputation of being a customer service product tuned for B2C companies, specializing in quick interactions. Its CRM system also has potential to serve that market, said Kate Leggett, Forrester Research analyst. Whether that will translate to enterprises and gain traction in the B2B market remains to be seen.

“It’s very different from the complex products that Microsoft and Salesforce have for that long-running sales interaction, with many people on the seller side and many people on the buyer side,” Leggett said.

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Welcoming Arkose Labs to the M12 portfolio

By James Wu

I’m excited to welcome Arkose Labs—a fraud and abuse prevention platform, to protect web and mobile apps—to the M12 portfolio.

In an increasingly digital world where success is measured by Monthly Active Users (MAU) and Daily Active Users (DAU), online traffic is a critical performance indicator. Unfortunately, not all online traffic is created equal. The internet has become a hotbed of global cybercrime as financial transactions and exchanges of personally identifiable information become commonplace.

Cybercrime is on the rise because fraud is a well-funded global operation fueled by deep knowledge sharing and sophisticated tools and resources. Year over year, fraud grows in frequency, size and complexity. Fraudsters have long been playing a cat and mouse game with digital businesses, rapidly bypassing their defenses and evolving tactics to maximize the ROI of cybercrime. Because profitability is the goal for purveyors of fraud and abuse, we are investing in a technology that is focused on breaking the business model of fraudsters. 

Since its founding, Arkose Labs has been thinking about fraud and abuse defense a little differently. Arkose’s mission is to upend the fraud economy by introducing friction to fraud operations and—as a result—diminish their efficiency and financial returns. The more time and resources fraudsters and bots deplete trying to bypass Arkose challenges, the less time they spend wreaking havoc on Arkose customers.

Arkose Labs provides an end-to-end anti-fraud platform that delivers high fidelity detection and prevention with its flagship products: Arkose Detect and Arkose Enforce. Arkose Detect—the risk engine—unearths patterns across devices and networks in real-time for behavioral analytics and anomaly detection. Suspicious traffic will immediately trigger Arkose’s enforcement layer.

Arkose Enforce is a challenge-response mechanism that works in conjunction with Arkose Detect to authenticate unrecognized requests. Unlike legacy technology, Arkose Enforce is adaptive and purpose-built for fraud prevention; it learns from past attacks and adapts as Arkose encounters innovative attack schemes.

Above and beyond the business opportunity, the user experience of Arkose piqued our interest. Arkose introduces both game design (Arkose Labs founder, Matthew Ford, was a game designer) and security principles—two seemingly unrelated disciplines—into its product. By design, good users are intended to intuitively solve the challenges (such as rotating an animal onto its feet) with ease while stumping bots and fraud rings.

Arkose Labs’s Enforcement Challenge as it appears on Microsoft.com. One of the features of Arkose Labs is that the look and feel mimic the website it protects.

Arkose’s solution is a light deployment that seamlessly integrates with customers’ existing infrastructure and protects against a wide variety of industry-specific and business-critical use cases, including: account takeover, new account fraud, fake reviews, gift card fraud, scalping and spam.

As companies experience fraud at unprecedented scale, Arkose customers—including product teams at Microsoft, GitHub, and Electronic Arts—are adopting Arkose to protect assets and reduce fraudulent activity. Arkose protects EA gamers from bot-led abuse of its in-game economy. Microsoft Outlook issues an Arkose challenge when a user attempts to send spam. GitHub uses Arkose at the point of registration to verify authenticity of sign ups. Fraud prevention is not for the faint-hearted, but Arkose provides 100% service-level-agreements (SLAs) to prevent inauthentic requests at scale to demonstrate a strong commitment to its customers.

The product speaks for itself, but what really sets this company apart is the incredible team at Arkose Labs. Arkose founders, Kevin Gosschalk (CEO) and Matthew Ford (VP of Product), and their leadership team boast phenomenal experiences combating fraud. When M12 met the team, it was clear that customer-centricity and enthusiasm for Arkose’s mission permeated throughout the organization. CISOs and fraud teams dream of the day when bots and abuse in the online world dwindle to zero. Until then, we’re excited to be working with a preeminent organization making strides against the fraud economy.

To learn more about M12, visit www.m12.vc.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Secure remote access offering gains ground among MSPs

Todyl, a New York City company that sells a networking and security platform through MSPs, reported increasing interest in its product as organizations face secure remote access challenges.

“Things have been rapidly evolving over the last two weeks with the COVID-19 response,” Todyl CEO John Nellen said. “We have been really busy trying to help existing partners and new partners.”

The company offers MSPs — and their SMB customers — the ability to consolidate networking and security components into a cloud-based platform. Todyl MSP partners deploy the technology by installing agents on customers’ Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android devices. A VPN tunnel then links customers to Todyl’s Secure Global Network offering, which incorporates web proxy, firewall, content filtering, intrusion detection/prevention (IDP), malware interception and security information and event management (SIEM) technologies.

The Secure Global Network’s points of presence link end customers to multiple network providers. Todyl’s platform connects organizations’ remote workers, data centers, cloud providers, main offices and branch locations, according to the company.

Todyl is currently offering its platform to MSPs for free for 30 days “to help support the immediate need,” Nellen said. Once the offer expires, pricing is device-based with add-on features. Todyl offers pricing for two groups: mobile (Android/iOS) and desktop/laptop/server (Windows, Mac, Linux).

MSP taps Todyl for remote enablement

Infinit Consulting Inc., an MSP based in Campbell, Calif., is selling Todyl as a white-labeled offering. The company has branded Todyl as Infinit Shield Total Defense, which it has paired with its own Infinit Shield security process management platform, according to Jerod Powell, president and founder of Infinit Consulting.

John Nellen, CEO at TodylJohn Nellen

Powell called Todyl “instrumental in helping our customers rapidly enable complete remote workforce capabilities.”

Infinit Consulting had previously enabled nearly all of its customers to use cloud services, but the company is currently tasked with helping them significantly expand remote workforces. The expansion sometimes includes moving customers from having 15% of employees working remotely to nearly 100%.

While assisting with remote workforce expansions, Infinit Consulting has run into issues such as licensing and hardware limitations around customers’ previous remote work applications, Powell said. He pointed to another issue: Properly securing devices to ensure data integrity, company policy adherence and security, while allowing employees to work remotely — often from their personal home PC or Mac.

Powell said Todyl lets Infinit Consulting enable remote access in a matter of a few hours in a full-scale deployment. The Todyl offering also lets the company “secure that remote connection 100%, end to end;” bring clients onto the Secure Global Network; and feed data back to the SIEM. The SIEM feature provides the MSP with “the telemetry needed to identify potential security risks [and] enforce corporate policy just as if [remote employees] were on the client’s LAN.”

Things have been rapidly evolving over the last two weeks with the COVID-19 response.
John NellenCEO, Todyl

He said Todyl also offers IDP and advanced threat protection scanning to flag potentially malicious applications and data before they reach customers.

The demand for supporting customers’ remote workforces is “extremely high,” Powell noted. He cited a case in which Infinit Consulting rolled out Todyl to a customer that needed to enable more than 500 users to work remotely. The customer’s previous remote work product only supported 100 users. Todyl also identified security issues in several of remote workers’ home PCs. The MSP was able to resolve those issues before admitting the remote workers’ devices onto the network, he added.

Powell said his company has created deployment packages for Todyl that can implement the product in an automated manner.

Waves of demand for secure remote access

Citing conversations with Todyl MSP partners, Nellen said MSPs anticipate two waves of unfolding demand for remote work technology.

The first wave consists of early adopters trying to quickly set up their organizations for newly distributed workforces. The second wave will comprise SMBs that have yet to determine the best way to support remote workers. Those companies will start making decisions, based on guidance from government agencies, in the coming weeks, Nellen said.

“They are expecting this not to be just a single shot, but something that is taking place and evolving over time,” Nellen said.

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Oracle ships Java 14 with new preview, productivity features

Oracle’s latest release of the Java language and platform, Java 14 — also known as Oracle JDK14 — brings a series of features focused on helping developers code faster and more efficiently.

The latest Java Development Kit (JDK) provides new developer-focused features including Java language support for switch expressions, new APIs for continuous monitoring of JDK Flight Recorder data, and extended availability of the low-latency Z Garbage Collector to macOS and Windows.

In addition, Java 14 includes three preview features that come out of the JDK Enhancement Proposals (JEP) process. These are Pattern Matching, or JEP 305; Records, or JEP 359; and Text Blocks, also known as JEP 368.

Java 12 introduced switch expressions in preview, and it is now standard in Java 14. This feature extends the Java switch statement so it can be used as either a statement or an expression. “Basically, we converted the switch statement into an expression and made it much simpler and more concise,” said Aurelio Garcia-Ribeyro, Oracle’s Sr. Director of Product Management, Java Platform.

 Oracle will give developers a way to spot errors by continuously monitoring the JDK Flight Recorder, a tool integrated into the Java Virtual Machine for collecting diagnostic and profiling data about a running Java application.

Finally, the z Garbage Collector, also known as ZGC, is a scalable, low-latency garbage collector. Garbage collection is a form of automatic memory management that frees up memory that is no longer in use or needed by the application. Prior to the Windows and MacOS support introduced with Java 14, the z Garbage collector was available only on Linux/x64 platforms.

As for the preview features, Oracle has developed pattern matching for the Java “instanceof” operator. The instanceof operator is used to test if an object is of a given type. In turn, the introduction of Java Records cuts down on the verbosity of Java and provides a compact syntax for declaring classes.

“Records will eliminate a lot of the boilerplate that has historically been needed to create a class,” Garcia-Ribeyro said.

Text Blocks, initially introduced in Java 13 as a preview, returns as an enhanced preview in Java 14. Text Blocks make it easy to express strings that span several lines of source code. It enhances the readability of strings in Java programs that denote code written in non-Java languages, Garcia-Ribeyro said.

Oracle needs to give Java developers the types of tools they need to evolve with the marketplace, said Bradley Shimmin, an analyst at Omdia in Longmeadow, Mass.

“When I look at what they’re doing with Java 14, they’re adding features that make the language more resilient, more performant and that make developers more productive in using the language,” he said.

Oracle takes iterative approach to Java updates

Java 14 also includes a new Packaging Tool, introduced as an incubator feature, that provides a way for developers to package Java applications for distribution in platform-specific formats. This tool is introduced as an incubator module to get developer feedback as the tool nears finalization.

Among the more obscure features in this release are Non-Volatile Mapped Byte Buffers, which add a file mapping mode for the JDK when using non-volatile memory. Also, Helpful NullPointerExceptions improves the usability of NullPointerExceptions by describing precisely which variable was null. NullPointerExceptions are exceptions that occur when you try to use a reference that points to no location in memory as though it were referencing an object. And the Foreign-Memory Access API allows Java programs to safely access foreign memory outside of the Java heap. The Java heap is the amount of memory allocated to applications running in the JVM.

Java 14 is another new release of the language under the six-month cadence Oracle instituted more than two years ago. The purpose of the quicker cadence of releases is to get “more bite-size pieces that are easier to deploy and manage and that get the features to app developers in the enterprise to benefit from these new capabilities,” said Manish Gupta, Oracle’s Vice President of Marketing for Java and GraalVM.

Overall, Oracle wants to advance the Java language and platform to make it work well for new cloud computing applications as well as platforms such as mobile and IoT. In 2017, Oracle spun out enterprise Java, known as Java Enterprise Edition or JavaEE, to the Eclipse Foundation. Eclipse has since created a new enterprise Java specification called Jakarta EE.

“When I think about Java 14, what I’m seeing is that Oracle is not only staying true to what they promised back when they acquired Sun Microsystems, which was to do no harm to Java, but that they are trying to now evolve Java in such a way that it can remain relevant into the future,” Shimmin said.

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New AI tools in the works for ThoughtSpot analytics platform

The ThoughtSpot analytics platform only has been available for six years, but since 2014 the vendor has quickly gained a reputation as an innovator in the field of business intelligence software.

ThoughtSpot, founded in 2012 and based in Sunnyvale, Calif., was an early adopter of augmented intelligence and machine learning capabilities, and even as other BI vendors have begun to infuse their products with AI and machine learning, the ThoughtSpot analytics platform has continued to push the pace of innovation.

With its rapid rise, ThoughtSpot attracted plenty of funding, and an initial public offering seemed like the next logical step.

Now, however, ThoughtSpot is facing the same uncertainty as most enterprises as COVID-19 threatens not only people’s health around the world, but also organizations’ ability to effectively go about their business.

In a recent interview, ThoughtSpot CEO Sudheesh Nair discussed all things ThoughtSpot, from the way the coronavirus is affecting the company to the status of an IPO.

In part one of a two-part Q&A, Nair talked about how COVID-19 has changed the firm’s corporate culture in a short time. Here in part two, he discusses upcoming plans for the ThoughtSpot analytics platform and when the vendor might be ready to go public.

One of the main reasons the ThoughtSpot analytics platform has been able to garner respect in a short time is its innovation, particularly with respect to augmented intelligence and machine learning. Along those lines, what is a recent feature ThoughtSpot developed that stands out to you?

ThoughtSpot CEO Sudheesh NairSudheesh Nair

Sudheesh Nair: One of the main changes that is happening in the world of data right now is that the source of data is moving to the cloud. To deliver the AI-based, high-speed innovation on data, ThoughtSpot was really counting on running the data in a high-speed memory database, which is why ThoughtSpot was mostly focused on on-premises customers. One of the major changes that happened in the last year is that delivered what we call Embrace. With Embrace we are able to move to the cloud and leave the data in place. This is critical because as data is moving, the cost of running computations will get higher because computing is very expensive in the cloud.

With ThoughtSpot, what we have done is we are able to deliver this on platforms like Snowflake, Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery and Microsoft Synapse. So now with all four major cloud vendors fully supported, we have the capability to serve all of our customers and leave all of their data in place. This reduces the cost to operate ThoughtSpot — the value we deliver — and the return on investment will be higher. That’s one major change.

Looking ahead, what are some additions to the ThoughtSpot analytics platform customers can expect?

Nair: If you ask people who know ThoughtSpot — and I know there are a lot of people who don’t know ThoughtSpot, and that’s OK — … if you ask them what we do they will say, ‘search and AI.’ It’s important that we continue to augment on that; however, one thing that we’ve found is that in the modern world we don’t want search to be the first thing that you do. What if search became the second thing you do, and the first thing is that what you’ve been looking for comes to you even before you ask?

What if search became the second thing you do, and the first thing is that what you’ve been looking for comes to you even before you ask?
Sudheesh NairCEO, ThoughtSpot

Let’s say you’re responsible for sales in Boston, and you told the system you’re interested in figuring out sales in Boston — that’s all you did. Now the system understands what it means to you, and then runs multiple models and comes back to you with questions you’ll be interested in, and most importantly with insights it thinks you need to know — it doesn’t send a bunch of notifications that you never read. We want to make sure that the insights we’re sending to you are so relevant and so appropriate that every single one adds value. If one of them doesn’t add value, we want to know so the system can understand what it was that was not valuable and then adjust its algorithms internally. We believe that the right action and insight should be in front of you, and then search can be the second thing you do prompted by the insight we sent to you.

What tools will be part of the ThoughtSpot analytics platform to deliver these kinds of insights?

Nair: There are two features we are delivering around it. One is called Feed, which is inspired by our social media curating insights, and conversations and opinions around facts. Right now social media is all opinion, but imagine a fact-driven social media experience where someone says they had a bad a quarter and someone else says it was great and then data shows up so it doesn’t become an opinion based on another opinion. It’s important that it should be tethered to facts. The second one is Monitor, which is the primary feature where the thing you were looking for shows up even before you ask in the format that you like — could be mobile, could be notifications, could be an image.

Those two features are critical innovations for our growth, and we are very focused on delivering them this year.

The last time we spoke we talked about the possibility of ThoughtSpot going public, and you were pretty open in saying that’s something you foresee. It’s about seven months later, where do plans for going public currently stand?

Nair: If you had asked me before COVID-19 I would have had a bit of a different answer, but the big picture hasn’t changed. I still firmly believe that a company like ThoughtSpot will tremendously benefit from going public because our customers are massive customers, and those customers like to spend more with a public company and the trust that comes with it.

Having said that, I talked last time about building a team and predictability, and I feel seven months later that we have built the executive team that can be the best in class when it comes to public companies. But going public also requires being predictable, and we’re getting in that right spot. I think that the next two quarters will be somewhat fluid, which will maybe set us back when it comes to building a plan to take the company public. But that is basically it. I think taken one by one, we have a good product market, we have good business momentum, we have a good team, and we just need to put together the history that is necessary so that the business is predictable and an investor can appreciate it. That’s what we’re focused on. There might be a short-term setback because of what the coronavirus might throw at us, but it’s going to definitely be a couple of more quarters of work.

Does the decline in the stock market related to COVID-19 play into your plans at all?

Nair: It’s absolutely an important event that’s going on and no one knows how it will play out, but when I think about a company’s future I never think about an IPO as a few quarters event. It’s something we want to do, and a couple of quarters here or there is not going to make a major difference. Over the last couple of weeks, we haven’t seen any softness in the demand for ThoughtSpot, but we know that a lot of our customers’ pipelines are in danger from supply impacts from China, so we will wait and see. We need to be very close to our customers right now, helping them through the process, and in that process we will learn and make the necessary course corrections.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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Mendix expands support with private, dedicated cloud options

Low-code platform provider Mendix has its cloud bases covered after introducing new private and dedicated cloud offerings this week.

Mendix for Private Cloud and Mendix Dedicated Cloud join the Mendix Public Cloud service and expand the company’s offerings across public, private and hybrid cloud deployment options.

These tools will help enterprises use low-code development in any cloud environment of their choice, as well as on premises, said Jon Scolamiero, manager of architecture and governance at Mendix.

Mendix is bucking the trend where low-code pure-plays offer their solutions as PaaS deployments, responding to enterprises’ adoption of Kubernetes-based hybrid cloud strategies.

Charlotte DunlapCharlotte Dunlap

“Increasingly, leading public cloud providers are offering their own versions of low-code and automation technologies to complement their Kubernetes offerings — for instance, Microsoft with Power Automate and Google’s acquisition of AppSheet in January, which poses a competitive threat to Mendix,” said Charlotte Dunlap, an analyst at GlobalData in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Mendix for Private Cloud runs on Kubernetes in any privately configured location or data center. Its target is any enterprise with specialized security, compliance or data integration needs.

Meanwhile, the company said the Mendix Dedicated Cloud is aimed at enterprises that have more than 100 Mendix applications as well as customers operating in highly regulated environments. This cloud is built, managed and configured by Mendix exclusively for the customer. Mendix Public Cloud runs managed and hosted by Mendix or hosted on AWS, SAP or IBM public clouds.

Multi-cloud in demand

Some 86% of respondents to a recent Forrester Research survey said they may deploy workloads on hybrid cloud or multi-cloud environments. One-third of that group said they will use private cloud as part of their development strategy. In addition, 23% of respondents planned to deploy on-premises workloads together with public cloud deployment.

Increasingly, leading public cloud providers are offering their own versions of low-code and automation technologies to complement their Kubernetes offerings.
Charlotte DunlapAnalyst, GlobalData

Forrester’s survey focused on the general IT landscape and not specifically low-code vendors such as Mendix. But Mendix’s cloud options could appeal to existing customers such as Kermit, a firm based in Hunt Valley, Md., that offers a spend management platform for hospitals to track the amount spent on implantable medical devices. The analytics-based platform helps medical institutions track physician preference items, which account for about 60% of a hospital’s spending for supplies.

Kermit developed its cloud-based platform with Mendix. In fact, the CEO and two of his co-founders found Mendix so approachable that they downloaded a Mendix modeler and were able to construct a running application, said Richard Palarea, CEO and co-founder of Kermit.

“I am very comfortable with the paradigm of having control over the code and wanting to actually hard-code everything, versus having an environment where you can stitch together a business process and go into the app store and grab widgets that you need to bring your idea about,” he said. “That, to me, just has always seemed like a better way of doing things.”

The Kermit analytics platform, which was built by one core developer in nine months, enables hospitals to track and manage contracts, billings, and vendor compliance.

The company has primarily offered its platform to hospitals in Maryland, where Kermit manages 40% of the total spending on medical implants, Palarea said. Kermit began taking its platform nationwide at the end of last year.

“Healthcare analytics are a huge game right now,” Palarea said. “Every CIO in hospitals these days is looking at these kinds of tools to manage the business better because lower reimbursements from both Medicare primarily and also third-party insurers mean the payment that they get for their surgeries are going down.”

While it is too early for Kermit to consider using these new editions of the Mendix platform, company officials said that once use of the Kermit offering goes nationwide, they might take another look.

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Developers vie for Oracle Cloud Infrastructure certs

Oracle hopes a new developer certification program can drive more interest in its cloud platform, which is well behind the likes of AWS, Microsoft and Google in terms of market share.

To this end, Oracle has introduced a new Developer Associate certification for Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, to help developers familiarize themselves with the platform and ultimately build modern enterprise applications there. Oracle now offers five distinct certifications for architects, operators and developers on OCI.

“We absolutely expect this certification will help to grow the number of developers in the Oracle cloud ecosystem,” said Bob Quillin, vice president of Oracle cloud developer relations. “This is a real, professional set of skills and we have a broad set of tools on the toolbox to get and keep developers up to speed.”

Oracle has struggled to attract enterprise customers to OCI, the second-generation version of its cloud platform. The company is hoping the certifications will help in that regard by teaching developers how to use the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure service APIs, command-line interface and SDKs to write applications.

Bob Quillin, VP of Oracle cloud developer relationsBob Quillin

“Certifications matter when it comes to building software,” said Holger Mueller, principal analyst at Constellation Research in Cupertino, Calif. “It matters for enterprises to know what they can expect from developers with a certain certification level. And developers want to document their skills level with a certification.”

Passing the certification means that developers have learned OCI architecture, as well as use cases and best practices, Quillin said.

Traditional leading app platforms providers such as Oracle have a massive installed base of customers and developers invested in their solutions who will continue to adopt new cloud-based solutions.

Developers are less motivated to climb onboard a new brand, which is very costly, so vendors are tailoring new programs and certificates to attract non-Oracle expertise developers and broaden its developer following.
Charlotte DunlapPrincipal analyst, GlobalData

However, “Beyond that pool, developers are less motivated to climb onboard a new brand, which is very costly, so vendors are tailoring new programs and certificates to attract non-Oracle expertise developers and broaden its developer following,” said Charlotte Dunlap, principal analyst at GlobalData in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Quillin said the move to add the new certification was based on developer demand.

“We have thousands of Oracle Cloud Infrastructure certified individuals and are seeing a strong customer demand for Oracle Cloud technical skills,” he said.

This reflects strong momentum among developers who want to build new applications, as well as build extensions to existing applications and data.

“The creation of a certification is a usually a sign of maturity for a platform or product,” Mueller said. “This is the case for Oracle’s cloud developer certification, which just launched. As with all certifications, popularity will determine relevance and we will see in a few quarters what the uptake will be.”

Oracle University is offering the new Developer Associate certification at $150. Oracle University is also reducing the price of all Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Associate level certifications — including architect and operations — to $150 and offering the Foundations certification at $95.

In addition, Oracle University has made all its Oracle Cloud Infrastructure learning content available at no charge. Oracle previously charged $2,995 per user subscription.  

The certification exam is 105 minutes long and contains 60 questions. It is currently available only in English.

Moreover, the developer certification is aimed at developers who have 12 or more months of experience in developing and maintaining applications. They should also have an understanding of cloud-native fundamentals and knowledge of at least one programming language.

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Sigma analytics platform’s interface simplifies queries

In desperate need of data dexterity, Volta Charging turned to the Sigma analytics platform to improve its business intelligence capabilities and ultimately help fuel its growth.

Volta, based in San Francisco and founded in 2010, is a provider of electric vehicle charging stations, and three years ago, when Mia Oppelstrup started at Volta, the company faced a significant problem.

Because there aren’t dedicated charging stations the same way there are dedicated gas stations, Volta has to negotiate with organizations — mostly retail businesses — for parking spots where Volta can place its charging stations.

Naturally, Volta wants its charging stations placed in the parking spots with the best locations near the business they serve. But before an organization gives Volta those spots, Volta has to show that it makes economic sense, that by putting electric car charging stations closest to the door it will help boost customer traffic through the door.

That takes data. It takes proof.

Volta, however, was struggling with its data. It had the necessary information, but finding the data and then putting it in a digestible form was painstakingly slow. Queries had to be submitted to engineers, and those engineers then had to write code to transform the data before delivering a report.

Any slight change required an entirely new query, which involved more coding, time and labor for the engineers.

But then the Sigma analytics platform transformed Volta’s BI capabilities, Volta executives said.

Curiosity isn’t enough to justify engineering time, but curiosity is a way to get new insights. By working with Sigma and doing queries on my own I’m able to find new metrics.
Mia OppelstrupBusiness intelligence manager, Volta Charging

“If I had to ask an engineer every time I had a question, I couldn’t justify all the time it would take unless I knew I’d be getting an available answer,” said Oppelstrup, who began in marketing at Volta and now is the company’s business intelligence manager. “Curiosity isn’t enough to justify engineering time, but curiosity is a way to get new insights. By working with Sigma and doing queries on my own I’m able to find new metrics.”

Metrics, Oppelstrup added, that she’d never be able to find on her own.

“It’s huge for someone like me who never wrote code,” Oppelstrup said. “It would otherwise be like searching a warehouse with a forklift while blindfolded. You get stuck when you have to wait for an engineer.”

Volta looked at other BI platforms — Tableau and Microsoft’s Power BI, in particular — but just under two years ago chose Sigma and has forged ahead with the platform from the 2014 startup.

The product

Sigma Computing was founded by the trio of Jason Frantz, Mike Speiser and Rob Woollen.

Based in San Francisco, the vendor has gone through three rounds of financing and to date raised $58 million, most recently attracting $30 million in November 2019.

When Sigma was founded, and ideas for the Sigma analytics platform first developed, it was in response to what the founders viewed as a lack of access to data.

“Gartner reported that 60 to 73 percent of data is going unused and that only 30 percent of employees use BI tools,” Woollen, Sigma’s CEO, said. “I came back to that — BI was stuck with a small number of users and data was just sitting there, so my mission was to solve that problem and correct all this.”

Woollen, who previously worked at Salesforce and Sutter Hill Ventures — a main investor in Sigma — and his co-founders set out to make data more accessible. They set out to design a BI platform that could be used by ordinary business users — citizen data scientists — without having to rely so much on engineers, and one that respond quickly no matter the queries users ask of it.

Sigma launched the Sigma analytics platform in November 2018.

Like other BI platforms, Sigma — entirely based in the cloud — connects to a user’s cloud data warehouse in order to access the user’s data. Unlike most BI platforms, however, the Sigma analytics platform is a low-code BI tool that doesn’t require engineering expertise to sift through the data, pull the data relevant to a given query and present it in a digestible form.

A key element of that is the Sigma analytics platform’s user interface, which resembles a spreadsheet.

With SQL running in the background to automatically write the necessary code, users can simply make entries and notations in the spreadsheet and Sigma will run the query.

“The focus is always on expanding the audience, and 30 percent employee usage is the one that frustrates me,” Woollen said. “We’re focused on solving that problem and making BI more accessible to more people.”

The interface is key to that end.

“Products in the past focused on a simple interface,” Woollen said. “Our philosophy is that just because a businessperson isn’t technical that shouldn’t mean they can’t ask complicated questions.”

With the Sigma analytics platform’s spreadsheet interface, users can query their data, for example, to examine sales performance in a certain location, time or week. They can then tweak it to look at a different time, or a different week. They can then look at it on a monthly basis, compare it year over year, add and subtract fields and columns at will.

And rather than file a ticket to the IT department for each separate query, they can run the query themselves.

“The spreadsheet interface combines the power to ask any question of the data without having to write SQL or ask a programmer to do it,” Woollen said.

Giving end users power to explore data

Volta knew it had a data dexterity problem — an inability to truly explore its data given its reliance on engineers to run time- and labor-consuming queries — even before Oppelstrup arrived. The company was looking at different BI platforms to attempt to help, but most of the platforms Volta tried out still demanded engineering expertise, Oppelstrup said.

The outlier was the Sigma analytics platform.

“Within a day I was able to set up my own complex joins and answer questions by myself in a visual way,” Oppelstrup said. “I always felt intimidated by data, but Sigma felt like using a spreadsheet and Google Drive.”

One of the significant issues Volta faced before it adopted the Sigma analytics platform was the inability of its salespeople to show data when meeting with retail outlets and attempting to secure prime parking spaces for Volta’s charging stations.

Because of the difficulty accessing data, the salespeople didn’t have the numbers to prove that by placing charging stations near the door it would increase customer traffic.

With the platform’s querying capability, however, Oppelstrup and her team were able to make the discoveries that armed Volta’s salespeople with hard data rather than simply anecdotes.

They could now show a bank a surge in the use of charging stations near banks between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., movie theaters a similar surge in the use just before the matinee and again before the evening feature, and grocery stores a surge near stores at lunchtime and after work.

They could also show that the charging stations were being used by actual customers, and not by random people charging up their vehicles and then leaving without also going into the bank, the movie theater or the grocery store.

“It’s changed how our sales team approaches its job — it used to just be about relationships, but now there’s data at every step,” Oppelstrup said.

Sigma enables Oppelstrup to give certain teams access to certain data, everyone access to other data, and importantly, easily redact data fields within a set that might otherwise prevent her from sharing information entirely, she said.

And that gets to the heart of Woollen’s intent when he helped start Sigma — enabling business users to work with more data and giving more people that ability to use BI tools.

“Access leads to collaboration,” he said.

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Google Cloud security gets boost with Secret Manager

Google has added a new managed service called Secret Manager to its cloud platform amid a climate increasingly marked by high-profile data breaches and exposures.

Secret Manager, now in beta, builds on existing Google Cloud security services by providing a central place to store and manage sensitive data such as API keys or passwords.

The system employs the principle of least privilege, meaning only a project’s owners can look at secrets without explicitly granted permissions, Google said in a blog post. Secret Manager works in conjunction with the Cloud Audit Logging service to create access audit trails. These data sets can then be moved into anomaly detection systems to check for breaches and other abnormalities.

All data is encrypted in transit and at rest with AES-256-level encryption keys. Google plans to add support for customer-managed keys later on, according to the blog.

A secrets manager … is really no different than a database, but just with more audit logs and access checking.
Scott PiperAWS security consultant, Summit Route

Google Cloud customers have been able to manage sensitive data prior to now with Berglas, an open source project that runs from the command line, whereas Secret Manager adds a layer of abstraction through a set of APIs.

Berglas can be used on its own going forward, as well as directly through Secret Manager beginning with the recently released 0.5.0 version, Google said. Google also offers a migration tool for moving sensitive data out of Berglas and into Secret Manager.

Secret Manager builds on the existing Google Cloud security lineup, which also includes Key Management Service, Cloud Security Command Center and VPC Service Controls.

With Secret Manager, Google has introduced its own take on products such as HashiCorp Vault and AWS Secrets Manager, said Scott Piper, an AWS security consultant at Summit Route in Salt Lake City.

Scott Piper, an AWS security consultant at Summit Route Scott Piper

A key management service is used to keep an encryption key and perform encryption operations, Piper said. “So, you send them data, and they encrypt them. A secrets manager, on the other hand, is really no different than a database, but just with more audit logs and access checking. You request a piece of data from it — such as your database password — and it returns it back to you. The purpose of these solutions is to avoid keeping secrets in code.”

Doug Cahill, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy GroupDoug Cahill

Indeed, Google’s Key Management Service targets two different audiences within enterprise IT, said Doug Cahill, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass.

“The former is focused on managing the lifecycle of data encryption keys, while the latter is focused on securing the secrets employed to securely operate API-driven infrastructure-as-code environments,” Cahill said.

As such, data security and privacy professionals and compliance officers are the likely consumers of a key management offering, whereas secret management services are targeted toward DevOps, Cahill added.

Meanwhile, it is surprising that the Google Cloud security portfolio didn’t already have something like Secret Manager, but AWS only released its own version in mid-2018, Piper said. Microsoft released Azure Key Vault in 2015 and has positioned it as appropriate for managing both encryption keys and other types of sensitive data.

Pricing for Secret Manager during the beta period is calculated two ways: Google charges $0.03 per 10,000 operations, and $0.06 per active secret version per regional replica, per month.

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Developers could ease DevOps deployment with CircleCI Orbs

CI/CD platform provider CircleCI has introduced a suite of 20 integrations that automate deployment and were developed with prominent partners including AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, VMware and Salesforce.

These integrations, known as CircleCI Orbs, enable developers to quickly automate deployments directly from their CI/CD pipelines. CircleCI launched Orbs in November 2018, and today there are more than 1,200 listed in its registry. But users created the vast majority of them; the difference with CircleCI’s internally created orbs is that they’re backed by vendor support.

CircleCI Orbs are shareable configuration packages for development builds, said Tom Trahan, CircleCI’s vice president of business development. The orbs define reusable commands, executors and jobs so that commonly used pieces of configuration can be condensed into a single line of code, he said.

The process of automating deployment can be challenging, which is why CircleCI added this suite of out-of-the-box integrations.

Orbs have two primary benefits for developers, said Chris Condo, an analyst at Forrester Research. “They can be certified by the third parties that create them, and they are maintainable pieces of code that contain logic, actions and connections to CD [continuous delivery] capabilities,” he said.

The orbs help CircleCI operate in an increasingly competitive market that includes open-source Jenkins as well as the commercial CloudBees Jenkins Platform, GitLab and GitHub, as well as cloud platform providers such as AWS and Microsoft.

Orbs are very similar in design to the best package managers that you see — like npm for Node.js, or like the Java library or Ruby Gems.
Tom TrahanVice president of business development, CircleCI

“When we launched Orbs, it was because our customers were asking us for a way to operate the same way that they operate within the broader open source world, particularly when you think about open source frameworks for various languages,” Trahan said. “Orbs are very similar in design to the best package managers that you see — like npm for Node.js, or like the Java library or Ruby Gems.”

These are all frameworks created so that bundles of code could be packaged up and made available to developers, which is what the CircleCI Orbs do, Trahan added.

Developers don’t want to have to “reinvent the wheel,” when they can simply access bundles of code and best practices that others have already developed, he said.

Multi-cloud trend drives need for easier deployment

Anything that removes boring configuration work from a developer’s plate is likely to be welcome, said James Governor, an analyst at RedMonk, based in Portland, Maine.

“CircleCI building out a catalog of deployment orbs makes a lot of sense, particularly as the market becomes increasingly multi-cloud oriented,” Governor said. “Enterprises want to see their vendors offer a wide range of supported platforms. The Orb approach allows for standardized, repeatable deployments and rollbacks.”

However, the process of automating deployments can be problematic for some teams because of the time it takes to write integrations with services such as AWS ECS or Google Cloud Run, Trahan said. The CircleCI deployment orbs are designed to limit the complexity and time spent creating integrations.

“Customers are asking for simpler ways to connect their dev and CD processes; Orbs helps them do that,” Forrester’s Condo said. “So I see Orbs as a very nice evolutionary step that allows teams to build maintainable abstractions between their development and deployment processes.”

How commercially successful the new suite of Orbs will be remains to be seen, but conceptually, the approach has been embraced by CircleCI users. Since their launch in November 2018, CircleCI orbs are now used by 13,000 user organizations, with around 40,000 repositories and nine million CI/CD pipelines, Trahan said.

Pricing for CircleCI’s CI/CD pipeline services is free for small teams and starts at $30 a month for teams with four or more developers. Pricing for enterprise customers starts at $3,000 a month. The orbs are free for all CircleCI users.

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