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Silicon Valley startups pitch in to the remaking of corporate IT

Enterprise IT is being remade by DevOps, cloud, containerisation and the incursion of AI. We look at one group of Silicon Valley-based suppliers attacking different vectors of new model IT

Enterprise IT has been undergoing a fundamental set of changes in recent years. Some of that falls under the sign of DevOps, and all of it is about new ways of doing IT to get more business value out of it.

Some of it is about creative ways of dealing with legacy IT. And yet more of it is about the long-declared and now very real shift to cloud computing, microservices, software containerisation and the like. And gathering pace is a step-change towards greater automation, using artificial intelligence (AI) – or at least its machine learning sub-domain.

Computer Weekly was represented on a recent European IT press visit, the ‘IT Press Tour’, which visited a group of applications and data-centric startups and early stage suppliers. Within that group of companies, Harness, Frame, Anaplan and DataDog address different aspects of this changing shape of IT.

Harness’s “safety net” for continuous software deployment

Backed by Jyoti Bansal – who founded application performance monitoring company AppDynamics in 2008 and sold it to Cisco for $3.7bn in 2017 – Harness is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) supplier for the continuous integration and delivery of software. The company says it saves CIOs the cost of recruiting too many expensive software engineers, and enables DevOps engineers to focus on doing new things and not just scripting.

Harness has modelled the cost of continuous delivery with three in-house engineers at around $600,000 per year, in comparison with 500 service instances, from Harness, costed at $150,000.

The supplier is a startup, with general availability of the service beginning on 1 February 2018. It has 38 employees in its San Francisco home and five customers.

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Harness marketing vice-president Steve Burton said the suppliers “safety net” reduces failure in software deployment by 90%. But they don’t have an easy road ahead, he admits.

“If it weren’t for Jyoti’s backing, we’d be just another startup, says Burton.People think doing a startup is cool. It’s not. It’s blood sweat and tears”.

An early customer is Jobvite, a US recruiting platform. Burton says their software developers were won over by Harness’s “ability to save their weekends”.

Putting a frame around Windows

Frame, set up by Serbian computer engineer Nikola Bozinovic in 2012, is dedicated to the “webification" of Windows workflows. It says it provides a secure cloud platform for independent software suppliers and enterprises to deliver Windows applications and desktop environments on any device through a browser.

Brian Madden covered their 2015 enterprise product launch on the TechTarget network. He said at the time: “The real question for Frame will be whether this will be an actual alternative to Citrix or VMware in the published app space. It’s not 100% apples-to-oranges, since Frame only operates on the public cloud (a positive or a negative, depending on whom you ask). Then again, you can literally get up and running in three minutes. (The Frame for Business offering lets you assign apps to users, install your own apps, hook into your own authentication and so on.)”

Frame chief product officer Carsten Puls confirmed in the IT Press Tour briefing that the suppliers first tranche of enterprise customers, in 2014, was at CIO or heads-of-lines-of-business level. He also pointed to a Windows-on-Chrome use case that is drawing interest from educational institutions that have distributed Google Chromebooks to pupils and students. Another use case is of Mac users running a browser in a browser – Internet Explorer inside another browser, for instance.

The suppliers financial backers include Microsoft and the US government. Puls said they value the ability to lock down machines using Frame.

Anaplan: finance spreadsheet killer grows with “connected planning”

Anaplan was founded in 2006 in York by Guy Haddleton and Michael Gould, a mathematician educated at Wadham College, Oxford. But its centre of gravity now is San Francisco, and its official launch was in 2010.

It has been a regular fixture on the IT Press Tour as an early stage company.

In part, it aims to take spreadsheets out of the planning activities of the finance function in companies, especially large ones. Its name combines ‘analytics with planning: Anaplan. It has an in-memory calculation engine, dubbed the HyperBlock, at the centre of its software. And it has been a SaaS company from inception.

It is now gearing up to get to a next stage in its growth, and has, anyway, a broader constituency than the finance function. It is used for modelling staff changes by HR departments, for sales forecasting and so on.

It brought Frank Calderoni – former CFO at Red Hat and Cisco – in as CEO early in 2017. He has been building up a significantly new senior management team, with a view – it is widely considered  to an initial public offering.

What could stand in the way of Anaplan – which is not short of competition in the shape of SAP, Oracle, Microsoft et al – getting to the next stage of growth? Calderoni said, at the briefing: “The key thing is that we are at the point now where scale is going to be extremely important because of the kinds of customer we are working with, and also because of the complexity of the problems they are trying to solve. So we are focused on the ability to invest in the talent, experience, and skills we need for that.

“From a competitive standpoint, I feel we are in a unique situation, he added. Yes there are legacy competitors that own a lot of the market share, specifically in the finance space. But because of their decades-old legacy they are bringing together point solutions, and they are slow to react to what is a competitive environment for them. Gartner and Forrester have identified us as a leader and disruptor in our specific areas”.

DataDog barking for DevOps

DataDog is an early stage company based in New York, backed by Index Ventures in San Francisco, and with a French leadership team and a research and development centre in Paris. CEO and founder Olivier Pomel has addressed the IT Press Tour before, in 2015.

The SaaS applications monitoring supplier acquired French log monitoring and analysis company in 2017. This addition to its core application performance monitoring and management technology attempts to offer its customers and prospects a “single plane of glass” in monitoring their cloud-based systems, said Pomel.

He also said DataDog “has an advantage as a SaaS company as we get to use all the [anonymised customer] data to train algorithms. This lets us identify architectural problems to solve for our customers in an efficient [automated] way. Now, you can’t have an AI to solve every problem. But there are pockets of problems where you can identify solutions”. He added that they are purposely hiring AI engineers and data scientists specifically for that effort.

The general context here is what TechTarget senior news writer Beth Pariseau characterises as a “spreading out” of DevOps.

“Tool sprawl has led enterprises to streamline their approach to DevOps, and shift DevOps monitoring responsibilities toward central teams that manage multiple applications. In response, monitoring software vendors have widened their scope”, she writes on SearchITOperations, a US sister site of Computer Weekly.

Pomel said: “In every single large company you will see every single database, runtime, everything. So there is a lot of diversity and there is value in managing that. Microservices, for example, are a key part of the next generation APMs [application performance management] we are building. The older generation of APMs tended to be focused on web applications: simple and shallow, where you had an application server connecting to a database and that is it. Now you are going to have many microservices [that require orchestration]”.

Pomel said DataDog’s customer base includes large banks, telcos, video games companies, media companies, and cited French luxury brand Louis Vuitton as a customer also. This year the supplier will host its first user conference in New York, called – in suitably canine fashion – Dash.

All four of these startup and early stage suppliers are attacking different aspects of what seems to be a fundamental remaking of enterprise IT, and so they might have some pointers for UK CIOs.

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