Nearly a year after the Internet Engineering Task Force took up a plan to replace words that could be considered racist, the debate is still raging.
Open-source software gave birth to a slew of useful software in recent years. Many of the great technologies that we use today were born out of open-source development: Android, Firefox, VLC media player, MongoDB, Linux, Docker and Python, just to name a few, with many of these also developing into very successful for-profit companies.
While there are some dedicated open-source investors such as the Apache Software Foundation incubator and OSS Capital, the majority of open-source companies will raise from traditional venture capital firms.
Our team has raised from traditional venture capital firms like Speedinvest, open-source-specific firms like OSS, and even from more hybrid firms like OpenOcean, which was created by the founders and senior leadership teams at MariaDB and MySQL. These companies understandably have a significant but not exclusive open-source focus.
Our area of innovation is an open-source AutoML server that reduces model training complexity and brings machine learning to the source of the data. Ultimately, we feel democratizing machine learning has the potential to truly transform the modern business world. As such, we successfully raised $5 million in seed funding to help bring our vision to the current marketplace.
Here, we aim to provide insights and advice for open-source startups that hope to follow a similar path for securing funding, and also detail some of the important risks your team needs to consider when crafting a business model to attract investment.
Strategies for acquiring open-source seed funding
Obviously, venture capitalists find many open-source software initiatives to be worthy investments. However, they need to understand any inherent risks involved when successfully commercializing an innovative idea. Finding low-risk investments that lead to lucrative business opportunities remains an important goal for these firms.
In our experience, we found these risks fall into three major categories: market risk, execution risk, and founders’ risk. Explaining all three to potential investors in a concise manner helps dispel their fears. In the end, low-risk, high-reward scenarios obviously attract tangible interest from sources of venture capital.
Ultimately, investment companies want startups to generate enough revenue to reach a valuation exceeding $1 billion. While that number is likely to increase over time, it remains a good starting point for initial funding discussions with investors. Annual revenue of $100 million serves as a good benchmark for achieving that valuation level.
Market risks in open-source initiatives
Market risks for open-source organizations tend to be different when compared to traditional businesses seeking funding. Notably, investors in these traditional startups are taking a larger leap of faith.
At first glance, Matthew Macy seemed like a perfectly reasonable choice to port WireGuard into the FreeBSD kernel. WireGuard is an encrypted point-to-point tunneling protocol, part of what most people think of as a “VPN.” FreeBSD is a Unix-like operating system that powers everything from Cisco and Juniper routers to Netflix’s network stack, and Macy had plenty of experience on its dev team, including work on multiple network drivers.
So when Jim Thompson, the CEO of Netgate, which makes FreeBSD-powered routers, decided it was time for FreeBSD to enjoy the same level of in-kernel WireGuard support that Linux does, he reached out to offer Macy a contract. Macy would port WireGuard into the FreeBSD kernel, where Netgate could then use it in the company’s popular pfSense router distribution. The contract was offered without deadlines or milestones; Macy was simply to get the job done on his own schedule.
With Macy’s level of experience—with kernel coding and network stacks in particular—the project looked like a slam dunk. But things went awry almost immediately. WireGuard founding developer Jason Donenfeld didn’t hear about the project until it surfaced on a FreeBSD mailing list, and Macy didn’t seem interested in Donenfeld’s assistance when offered. After roughly nine months of part-time development, Macy committed his port—largely unreviewed and inadequately tested—directly into the HEAD section of FreeBSD’s code repository, where it was scheduled for incorporation into FreeBSD 13.0-RELEASE.
Tesla made headlines earlier this year when it took out significant holdings in bitcoin, acquiring a roughly $1.5 billion stake at then-prices in early February. At the time, it also noted in an SEC filing disclosing the transaction that it could also eventually accept the cryptocurrency as payment from customers for its vehicles. Now, Elon Musk says they’ve made that a reality, at least for customers in the U.S., and he added that the plan is for the automaker to ‘hodl’ all their bitcoin payments, too.
In terms of its infrastructure for accepting bitcoin payments, Tesla isn’t relying on any third-party networks or wallets — the company is “using only internal & open source software & operates Bitcoin nodes directly,” Musk said on Twitter. And when customers pay in bitcoin, those won’t be converted to fiat currency, the CEO says, but will instead presumably add to the company’s stockpile.
In February when Tesla revealed its bitcoin purchase, observers either lauded the company’s novel approach to converting its cash holdings, or criticized the plan for its attachment to an asset with significant price volatility. Many also pointed out that the environmental cost of mining bitcoin seems at odds with Tesla’s overall stated mission, given its carbon footprint. Commenters today echoed these concerns, noting the irony of Tesla accepting the grid-taxing cryptocurrency for its all-electric cars.
As for how the bitcoin payment process works today, Tesla has detailed that in an FAQ. Customers begin the payment process from their own bitcoin wallet, and have to set the exact amount for a vehicle deposit based on current rates, with the value of Tesla’s cars still set in U.S. dollars. The automaker further notes that in the case of any refunds, it’s buyer-beware in terms of any change in value relative to the U.S. dollar from time of purchase to time of refund.
Musk also said that the plan is to expand Bitcoin payments to other countries outside the U.S. by “later this year.” Depending on the market, that could require some regulatory work, but clearly Musk thinks it’s worth the effort. Meanwhile, Bitcoin is up slightly on the news early Wednesday morning.
Open source software is at the core of… well, practically everything online. But while much of it is diligently maintained in some ways, in others it doesn’t receive the kind of scrutiny that something so foundational ought to. $1.3 million worth of grants were announced today, split among 13 projects looking to ensure open source software and development is being done equitably, sustainably, and responsibly.
The research projects will look into a number of questions about the way open source digital infrastructure is being used, maintained, and otherwise affected. For instance, many municipalities rely on and create this sort of infrastructure constantly as the need for government software solutions grows, but what are the processes by which this is done? Which approaches or frameworks succeed, and why?
And what about the private companies that contribute to major open-source projects, often without consulting one another — how do they communicate and share priorities and dependencies? How could that be improved, and with what costs and benefits?
These and other questions aren’t the type that any single organization or local government is likely to take on spontaneously, and of course the costs of such studies aren’t trivial. But they were deemed interesting enough (and possibly likely to generate new approaches and products) by a team of experts who sorted through about 250 applications over the last year.
The grantmaking operation is funded and organized by the Ford Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Omidyar Network, and the Mozilla Open Source Support Program in collaboration with the Open Collective Foundation.
“There’s a dearth of funding for looking at the needs and potential applications of free and open source infrastructure. The public interest issues behind open source have been the missing piece,” said Michael Brennan, who’s leading the grant program at the Ford Foundation.
“The president of the foundation [Darren Walker] once said, ‘a just society relies on a just Internet,’ ” he quoted. “So our question is how do we create that just Internet? How do we create and sustain an equitable Internet that serves everyone equally? We actually have a lot more questions than answers, and few people are funding research into those questions.”
Even finding the right questions is part of the question, of course, but in basic research that’s expected. Early work in a field can seem frustratingly general or inconclusive because it’s as much about establishing the scope and general direction of the work as it is about suggesting actual courses of action.
“The final portfolio wasn’t just about the ‘objectively best’ ones, but how do we find a diversity of approaches and ideas, and tackle different aspects of this work, and also be representative of the diverse and global nature of the project?” Brennan said. “This year we also accepted proposals for both research and implementation. We want to see that the research is informing the building of that equitable and sustainable infrastructure.”
You can read the full research abstracts here, but these are the short versions, with the proposer’s name:
- How are COVID data infrastructures created and transformed by builders and maintainers from the open source community? – Megan Finn (University of Washington, University of Texas, Northeastern University)
- How is digital infrastructure a critical response to fight climate change? – Narrira Lemos de Souza
- How do perceptions of unfairness when contributing to an open source project affect the sustainability of critical open source digital infrastructure projects? – Atul Pokharel (NYU)
- Supporting projects to implement research-informed best practices at the time of need on governance, sustainability, and inclusion. – Danielle Robinson (Code for Science & Society)
- Assessing Partnerships for Municipal Digital Infrastructure – Anthony Townsend (Cornell Tech)
- Implement recommendations for funders of open source infrastructure with guides, programming, and models – Eileen Wagner, Molly Wilson, Julia Kloiber, Elisa Lindinger, and Georgia Bullen (Simply Secure & Superrr)
- How we can build a “Creative Commons” for API terms of Service, as a contract to automatically read, control and enforce APIs Terms of service between infrastructure and applications? – Mehdi Medjaoui (APIdays, LesMainteneurs, Inno3)
- Indian case study of governance, implementation, and private sector role of open source infrastructure projects – Digital Asia Hub
- Will cross-company visibility into shared free and open source dependencies lead to cross-company collaboration and efforts to sustain shared dependencies? – Duane O’Brien
- How do open source tools contribute towards creating a multilingual internet? – Anushah Hossain (UC Berkeley)
- How digital infrastructure projects could embrace cooperatives as a sustainable model for working – Jorge Benet (Cooperativa Tierra Común)
- How do technical decision-makers assess the security ramifications of open source software components before adopting them in their projects and where can systemic interventions to the FOSS ecosystem be targeted to collectively improve its security? – Divyank Katira (Centre for Internet & Society in Bangalore)
- How can African participation in the development, maintenance, and application of the global open source digital infrastructure be enhanced? – Alex Comninos (Research ICT Africa (RIA) and the University of Cape Town)
The projects will receive their grants soon, and later in the year (or whenever they’re ready) the organizers will coordinate some kind of event at which they can present their results. Brennan made it clear that the funders take no stake in the projects and aren’t retaining or publishing the research themselves; they’re just coordinating and offering support where it makes sense.
$1.3 million is an interesting number. For some, it’s peanuts. A startup might burn through that cash in a month or two. But in an academic context, a hundred grand can be the difference between work getting done or being abandoned. The hope is that small injections at the base layer produce a better environment for the type of support the Ford Foundation and others provide as part of their other philanthropic and grantmaking efforts.
Almost by default, open-source developers get very little insight into who uses their projects. In part, that’s the beauty of open source, but for developers who want to monetize their projects, it’s also a bit of a curse because they get very little data back from these projects. While you usually know who bought your proprietary software — and those tools often send back some telemetry, too — that’s not something that holds true for open-source code. Scarf is trying to change that.
In its earliest incarnation, Scarf founder Avi Press tried to go the telemetry route for getting this kind of data. He had written a few successful developer tools and as they got more popular, he realized that he was spending an increasingly large amount of time supporting his users.
“This project was now really sapping my time and energy, but also clearly providing value to big companies,” he said. “And that’s really what got me thinking that there’s probably an opportunity to maybe provide support or build features just for these companies, or do something to try to make some money from that, or really just better support those commercial users.” But he also quickly realized that he had virtually no data about how the project was being used beyond what people told him directly and download stats from GitHub and other places. So as he tried to monetize the project, he had very little data to inform his decisions and he had no way of knowing which companies to target directly that were already quietly using his code.
“If you were working at any old company — pushing code out to an app or a website — if you pushed out code without any observability, that would be reckless. You would you get fired over something like that. Or maybe not, but it’s a really poor decision to make. And this is the norm for every domain of software — except open source.”
That led to the first version of Scarf: a package manager that would provide usage analytics and make it easy to sell different versions of a project. But that wasn’t quite something the community was ready to accept — and a lot of people questioned the open-source nature of the project.
“What really came out of those conversations, even chatting with people who were really, really against this kind of approach — everyone agrees that the package registries already have all of this data. So NPM and Docker and all these companies that have this data — there are many, many requests of developers for this data,” Press said, and noted that there is obviously a lot of value in this data.
So the new Scarf now takes a more sophisticated approach. While it still offers an NPM library that does phone home and pixel tracking for documentation, its focus is now on registries. What the company is essentially launching this week is a kind of middle layer between the code and the registry that allows developers to, for example, point users of their containers to the Scarf registry first and then Scarf sits in front of the Docker Hub or the GitHub Container Registry.
“You tell us, where are your containers located? And then your users pull the image through Scarf and Scarf just redirects the traffic to wherever it needs to go. But then all the traffic that flows through Scarf, we can expose that to the maintainers. What company did that pull come from? Was it on a laptop or on CI? What cloud provider was it on? What container runtime was it using? What version of the software did they pull down? And all of these things that are actually pretty trivial to answer from this traffic — and the registries could have been doing this whole time but unfortunately have not done so.”
To fund its efforts, Scarf recently raised a $2 million seed funding round led by Wave Capital, with participation from 468 Capital and a number of angel investors.
The last few months have put technology and its role in society, especially in the United States, in the spotlight.
We need a serious conversation on the equitable and ethical use of tech, what can be done to combat the spread of misinformation and more. As we work to solve these problems, however, I hope this dialogue doesn’t overshadow one silver lining of the past year: The rise of the developer activists who are using tech for good.
They stepped up like never before to tackle numerous global issues, demonstrating they not only love solving incredibly hard problems, but can do it well and at scale.
We need a serious conversation on the equitable and ethical use of tech, what can be done to combat the spread of misinformation and more.
The responsibility lies with all of us to empower this community to unleash their entrepreneurial growth mindset and ensure more people have the opportunity to create a sustainable future for all. I’m calling on my colleagues, our industry, our governments and more to join me in supporting a new wave of developer-led activism and renew efforts to collectively close the skills gap that exists today.
From the COVID-19 pandemic, to climate change, to racial injustice, developers are playing a crucial role in creating new technologies to help people navigate today’s volatile world. Many of these developers are working on social problems on their own time, using open-source software that they can share globally. This work is helping to save lives and going forward, will help millions more.
The international research community acted early to share data and genetic sequences with one another in open-source projects that helped advance our early understanding of coronavirus and how to mobilize efforts to stop it. The ability for researchers to track genetic codes around the world in near real-time is crucial to our response.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was able to digitize its contract signature process in just 10 days during this critical time. A team of four developers hailing from Taiwan, Brazil, Mongolia and India helped farmers navigate climate change by using weather data to make more informed crop management decisions.
From the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1950s and 1960s through the recent rallies supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, people have used passion and protests to shape the conversations that lead to a better future. Now, this rich history of people-powered action has an important new set of tools: The data, software and tech know-how that’s needed to mount a coordinated global and local response to our greatest challenges.
Today’s software developers are akin to civil engineers in the 1940s and 1950s who designed bridges and roads, creating an infrastructure that paved the path for enormous widespread progress.
The open-source code community already collaborates and shares, producing innovations that belong to everyone, focusing on progress over perfection. If a hurricane is about to create havoc in your community, don’t just fill sandbags, hit your keyboard and use open-source technologies to not only help your community, but to scale solutions to help others. DroneAID, for example, is an open-source tool that uses visual recognition to detect and count SOS icons on the ground from drones flying overhead, and then automatically plots emergency needs on a map for first responders.
A recent GitHub study shows that open-source project creation is up 25% since April of last year. Developers are signing on to contribute to open-source communities and virtual hackathons during their downtime, using their skills to create a more sustainable world.
In 2018, I helped found Call for Code with IBM, David Clark Cause and United Nations Human Rights to empower the global developer community, and a big part of our mission was to create the infrastructure needed to shepherd big ideas into real-world deployments. For our part, IBM provides the 24-million-person developer community access to the same technology being used by our enterprise clients, including our open hybrid cloud platform, AI, blockchain and quantum computing.
One winner, Prometeo, with a team including a firefighter, nurse and developers, created a system that uses artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to safeguard firefighters as they battle blazes and has been tested in multiple regions in Spain. We’ve seen developers help teachers share virtual information for homeschooling; measure the carbon footprint impact of consumer purchases; update small businesses with COVID-19 policies; help farmers navigate climate change; and improve the way businesses manage lines amid the pandemic.
This past year, Devpost partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) and challenged developers to create COVID-19 mitigation solutions in categories including health, vulnerable populations and education. The Ford Foundation and Mozilla led a fellowship program to connect technologists, activists, journalists and scientists, and strengthen organizations working at the convergence of technology and social justice. The U.S. Digital Response (USDR) connected pro-bono technologists to work with government and organizations responding to crisis.
The most complex global and societal issues can be broken down into smaller solvable tech challenges. But to solve our most complex problems, we need the brains of every country, every class, every gender. The skills-gap crisis is a global phenomenon, making it critical that we equip the next generation of problem solvers with the training and resources they need to turn great ideas into impactful solutions.
This year, we can expect to see a newly energized community of developers working across the boundaries of companies, states and countries to take on some of the world’s biggest problems.
But they can’t do it alone. These developer activists need our support, encouragement and help pinpointing the most crucial problems to address, and they need the tools to bring solutions to every corner of the world.
The true power of technology lies with those who want to change the world for good. To ensure anyone who wants to create change has the tools, resources and skillsets to do so, we must renew our focus on closing the skills gap and addressing deep inequalities in our society.
Our future depends on getting this right.
Tim Berners-Lee wants to put people in control of their personal data. He has technology and a start-up pursuing that goal. Can he succeed?
For years, founders and investors in China had little interest in open source software because it did not seem like the most viable business model. Zilliz‘s latest financing round shows that attitude is changing. The three-year-old Chinese startup, which builds open source software for processing unstructured data, recently closed a Series B round of $43 million.
The investment, which catapults Zilliz’s to-date raise to over $53 million, is a sizable amount for any open source business around the world. Storied private equity firm Hillhouse Capital led the round joined by Trustbridge Partners, Pavilion Capital, and existing investors 5Y Capital (formerly Morningside) and Yunqi Partners.
Investors are going after Zilliz as they increasingly recognize open source as an effective software development strategy, Charles Xie, founder and CEO of Zilliz, told TechCrunch at an open source meetup in Shenzhen where he spoke as the first Chinese board chairperson for Linux Foundation’s AI umbrella, LF AI.
“Investors are seeing very good exits for open source companies around the world in recent years, from Elastic to MongoDB,” he added.
“When Starlord [Xie’s nickname] first told us his vision for data processing in the future digital age, we thought it was a crazy idea, but we chose to believe,” said 5Y Capital’s partner Liu Kai.
There’s one caveat for investing in the area: don’t expect to make money in the first 3 to 5 years. “But if you’re looking at an 8 to 10-year cycle, these [open source] companies can gain valuation at tens of billions of dollars,” Xie reckoned.
After six years as a software engineer at Oracle, Xie left the U.S. and headed home to start Zilliz in China. Like many Chinese entrepreneurs these days, Xie named his startup in English to mark the firm’s vision to be “global from day one.” While Zilliz set out in Shanghai, the goal is to relocate its headquarters to Silicon Valley when the firm delivers “robust technology and products” in the next 12 months, Xie said. China is an ideal starting point both for the cheaper engineering talents and the explosive growth of unstructured data — anything from molecular structure, people’s shopping behavior, audio information to video content.
“The amount of unstructured data in a region is in proportion to the size of its population and the level of its economic activity, so it’s easy to see why China is the biggest data source,” Xie observed.
On the other hand, China has seen rapid development in mobile internet and AI, especially in terms of real-life applications, which Xie argued makes China a suitable testing ground for data processing software.
So far Zilliz’s open source product Milvus has been “starred” over 4,440 times on GitHub and attracted some 120 contributors and 400 enterprise users around the world, half of whom are outside China. It’s done so without spending a penny on advertising; rather, user acquisition has come from its active participation on GitHub, Reddit, and other online developer communities.
Going forward, Zilliz plans to deploy its fresh capital in overseas recruitment, expanding its open source ecosystem, as well as research and development in its cloud-based products and services, which will eventually become a revenue driver as it starts monetizing in the second half of 2021.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments tomorrow in Google v. Oracle. This case raises a fundamental question for software developers and the open-source community: Whether copyright may prevent developers from using software’s functional interfaces — known as APIs — to advance innovation in software. The court should say no — free and open APIs protect innovation, competition and job mobility for software developers in America.
When we use an interface, we don’t need to understand (or care) about how the function on the other side of the interface is performed. It just works. When you sit down at your computer, the QWERTY keyboard allows you to rapidly put words on the screen. When you submit an online payment to a vendor, you are certain the funds will appear in the vendor’s account. It just works.
In the software world, interfaces between software programs are called “application programming interfaces” or APIs. APIs date back to the 1950s and allow developers to write programs that reuse other program functionality without knowing how that functionality is performed. If your program needs to sort a list, you could have it use a sorting program’s API to sort the list for your program. It just works.
Developers have historically used software interfaces free of copyright concerns, and this freedom has accelerated innovation, software interoperation and developer job mobility. Developers using existing APIs save time and effort, allowing those savings to be refocused on new ideas. Developers can also reimplement APIs from one software platform to others, enabling innovation to flow freely across software platforms.
Importantly, reusing APIs gives developers job portability, since knowledge of one set of APIs is more applicable cross-industry. The upcoming Google v. Oracle decision could change this, harming developers, open-source software and the entire software industry.
Google v. Oracle and the platform API bargain
Google v. Oracle is the culmination of a decade-long dispute. Back in 2010, Oracle sued Google, arguing that Google’s Android operating system infringed Oracle’s rights in Java. After ten years, the dispute now boils down to whether Google’s reuse of Java APIs in Android was copyright infringement.
Prior to this case, most everyone assumed that copyright did not cover the use of functional software like APIs. Under that assumption, competing platforms’ API reimplementation allowed developers to build new yet familiar things according to the API bargain: Everyone could use the API to build applications and platforms that interoperate with each other. Adhering to the API made things “just work.”
But if the Google v. Oracle decision indicates that API reimplementation requires copyright permission, the bargain falls apart. Nothing “just works” unless platform makers say so; they now dictate rules for interoperability — charging developers huge prices for the platform or stopping rival, compatible platforms from being built.
Free and open APIs are essential for modern developers
If APIs are not free and open, platform creators can stop competing platforms from using compatible APIs. This lack of competition blocks platform innovation and harms developers who cannot as easily transfer their skills from project to project, job to job.
MySQL, Oracle’s popular database, reimplemented mSQL’s APIs so third-party applications for mSQL could be “ported easily” to MySQL. If copyright had restricted reimplementation of those APIs, adoption of MySQL, reusability of old mSQL programs and the expansion achieved by the “LAMP” stack would have been stifled, and the whole ecosystem would be poorer for it. This and other examples of API reimplementation — IBM’s BIOS, Windows and WINE, UNIX and Linux, Windows and WSL, .NET and Mono, have driven perhaps the most amazing innovation in human history, with open-source software becoming critical digital infrastructure for the world.
Similarly, a copyright block on API-compatible implementations puts developers at the mercy of platform makers say so — both for their skills and their programs. Once a program is written for a given set of APIs, that program is locked-in to the platform unless those APIs can also be used on other software platforms. And once a developer learns skills for how to use a given API, it’s much easier to reuse than retrain on APIs for another platform. If the platform creator decides to charge outrageous fees, or end platform support, the developer is stuck. For nondevelopers, imagine this: The QWERTY layout is copyrighted and the copyright owner decided to charge $1,000 dollars per keyboard. You would have a choice: Retrain your hands or pay up.
All software used by anyone was created by developers. We should give developers the right to freely reimplement APIs, as developer ability to shift applications and skills between software ecosystems benefits everyone — we all get better software to accomplish more.
I hope that the Supreme Court’s decision will pay heed to what developer experience has shown: Free and open APIs promote freedom, competition, innovation and collaboration in tech.
The custom-made Goldman Sans is ‘neutral, with a wink’ — or boring and derivative, according to fontheads.
The custom-made Goldman Sans is ‘neutral, with a wink’ — or boring and derivative, according to fontheads.
Mirantis, the company that recently bought Docker’s enterprise business, today announced that it has acquired Lens, a desktop application that the team describes as a Kubernetes integrated development environment. Mirantis previously acquired the team behind the Finnish startup Kontena, the company that originally developed Lens.
Lens itself was most recently owned by Lakend Labs, though, which describes itself as “a collective of cloud native compute geeks and technologists” that is “committed to preserving and making available the open-source software and products of Kontena.” Lakend open-sourced Lens a few months ago.
“The mission of Mirantis is very simple: we want to be — for the enterprise — the fastest way to [build] modern apps at scale,” Mirantis CEO Adrian Ionel told me. “We believe that enterprises are constantly undergoing this cycle of modernizing the way they build applications from one wave to the next — and we want to provide products to the enterprise that help them make that happen.”
Right now, that means a focus on helping enterprises build cloud-native applications at scale and, almost by default, that means providing these companies with all kinds of container infrastructure services.
“But there is another piece of this of the story that’s always been going through our minds, which is, how do we become more developer-centric and developer-focused, because, as we’ve all seen in the past 10 years, developers have become more and more in charge off what services and infrastructure they’re actually using,” Ionel explained. And that’s where the Kontena and Lens acquisitions fit in. Managing Kubernetes clusters, after all, isn’t trivial — yet now developers are often tasked with managing and monitoring how their applications interact with their company’s infrastructure.
“Lance makes it dramatically easier for developers to work with Kubernetes, to build and deploy their applications on Kubernetes, and it’s just a huge obstacle-remover for people who are turned off by the complexity of Kubernetes to get more value,” he added.
“I’m very excited to see that we found a common vision with Adrian for how to incorporate lens and how to make life for developers more enjoyable in this cloud -native technology landscape,” Miska Kaipiainen, the former CEO Kontena and now Mirantis’ Director of Engineering, told me.
He describes Lens as an IDE for Kubernetes. While you could obviously replicate Lens’ functionality with existing tools, Kaipiainen argues that it would take 20 different tools to do this. “One of them could be for monitoring, another could be for logs. A third one is for command-line configuration, and so forth and so forth,” he said. “What we have been trying to do with Lens is that we are bringing all these technologies [together] and provide one single, unified, easy to use interface for developers, so they can keep working on their workloads and on their clusters, without ever losing focus and the context on what they are working on.”
Among other things, Lens includes a context-aware terminal, multi-cluster management capabilities that work across clouds, and support for the open-source Prometheus monitoring service.
For Mirantis, Lens is a very strategic investment and the company will continue to develop the service. Indeed, Ionel said that the Lens team now basically has unlimited resources.
Looking ahead, Kaipiainen said that the team is looking at adding extensions to Lens through an API within the next couple of months. “Through this extension API, we are actually able to collaborate and work more closely with other technology vendors within the cloud technology landscape so they can start plugging directly into the Lens UI and visualize the data coming from their components, so that will make it very powerful.”
Ionel also added that the company is working on adding more features for larger software teams to Lens, which is currently a single-user product. A lot of users are already using Lens in the context of very large development teams, after all.
While the core Lens tools will remain free and open-source, Mirantis will likely charge for some new features that require a centralized service for managing them. What exactly that will look like remains to be seen, though.
If you want to give Lens a try, you can download the Windows, macOS and Linux binaries here.
Merico, a startup that gives companies deeper insights into their developers’ productivity and code quality, today announced that it has raised a $4.1 million seed round led by GGV Capital with participation from Legend Star and previous investor Polychain Capital. The company was originally funded by the open source-centric firm OSS Capital.
Merico head of business development Maxim Wheatley tells me that the company plans to use the new funding to enhance and expand its existing technology and marketing efforts. As a remote-first startup, Merico already has team members in the U.S., Brazil, France, Canada, India and China.
“In keeping with our roots and mission in open source, we will be focusing some of these new resources to engage more collaboratively with open source foundations, contributors and maintainers,” he added.
The idea behind Merico was born out of two key observations, Wheatley said. First of all, the team wanted to create a better way to analyze developer productivity and the quality of the code they generate. Some companies still simply use the number of lines of code generated by a developer to allocate bonuses for their teams, for example, which isn’t a great metric by any means. In addition, the team also wanted to find ways to better allocate income and recognition to the community members of open source projects based on the quality of their contributions.
The company’s tool is systems agnostic because it bases its analysis on the codebase and workflow tools instead of looking at lines of codes or commit counts, for example.
Google, in collaboration with a number of academic leaders and its consulting partner SADA Systems, today announced the launch of the Open Usage Commons, a new organization that aims to help open-source projects manage their trademarks.
To be fair, at first glance, open-source trademarks may not sound like it would be a major problem (or even a really interesting topic), but there’s more here than meets the eye. As Google’s director of open source Chris DiBona told me, trademarks have increasingly become an issue for open-source projects, not necessarily because there have been legal issues around them, but because commercial entities that want to use the logo or name of an open-source project on their websites, for example, don’t have the reassurance that they are free to use those trademarks.
“One of the things that’s been rearing its ugly head over the last couple years has been trademarks,” he told me. “There’s not a lot of trademarks in open-source software in general, but particularly at Google, and frankly the higher tier, the more popular open-source projects, you see them more and more over the last five years. If you look at open-source licensing, they don’t treat trademarks at all the way they do copyright and patents, even Apache, which is my favorite license, they basically say, nope, not touching it, not our problem, you go talk.”
Traditionally, open-source licenses didn’t cover trademarks because there simply weren’t a lot of trademarks in the ecosystem to worry about. One of the exceptions here was Linux, a trademark that is now managed by the Linux Mark Institute on behalf of Linus Torvalds.
With that, commercial companies aren’t sure how to handle this situation and developers also don’t know how to respond to these companies when they ask them questions about their trademarks.
“What we wanted to do is give guidance around how you can share trademarks in the same way that you would share patents and copyright in an open-source license […],” DiBona explained. “And the idea is to basically provide that guidance, you know, provide that trademarks file, if you will, that you include in your source code.”
Google itself is putting three of its own open-source trademarks into this new organization: the Angular web application framework for mobile, the Gerrit code review tool and the Istio service mesh. “All three of them are kind of perfect for this sort of experiment because they’re under active development at Google, they have a trademark associated with them, they have logos and, in some cases, a mascot.”
One of those mascots is Diffi, the Kung Fu Code Review Cuckoo, because, as DiBona noted, “we were trying to come up with literally the worst mascot we could possibly come up with.” It’s now up to the Open Usage Commons to manage that trademark.
DiBona also noted that all three projects have third parties shipping products based on these projects (think Gerrit as a service).
Another thing DiBona stressed is that this is an independent organization. Besides himself, Jen Phillips, a senior engineering manager for open source at Google is also on the board. But the team also brought in SADA’s CTO Miles Ward (who was previously at Google); Allison Randal, the architect of the Parrot virtual machine and member of the board of directors of the Perl Foundation and OpenStack Foundation, among others; Charles Isbel, the dean of the Georgia Institute of Technology College of Computing, and Cliff Lampe, a professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan and a “rising star,” as DiBona pointed out.
“These are people who really have the best interests of computer science at heart, which is why we’re doing this,” DiBona noted. “Because the thing about open source — people talk about it all the time in the context of business and all the rest. The reason I got into it is because through open source we could work with other people in this sort of fertile middle space and sort of know what the deal was.”
Sherman Ye founded VESoft in 2018 when he saw a growing demand for graph databases in China. Its predecessors like Neo4j and TigerGraph had already been growing aggressively in the West for a few years, while China was just getting to know the technology that leverages graph structures to store data sets and depict their relationships, such as those used for social media analysis, e-commerce recommendations, and financial risk management.
VESoft is ready for further growth after closing an $8 million funding round led by Redpoint China Ventures, an investment firm launched by Silicon Valley-based Redpoint Ventures in 2005. Existing investor Matrix Partners China also participated in the Series pre-A round. The new capital will allow the startup to develop products and expand to markets in North America, Europe, and other parts of Asia.
The 30-people team is comprised of former employees from Alibaba, Facebook, Huawei, and IBM. It’s based in Hangzhou, a scenic city known for its rich history and housing Alibaba and its financial affiliate Ant Financial, where Ye previously worked as a senior engineer after his four-year stint with Facebook in California. From 2017 to 2018, the entrepreneur noticed that Ant Financial’s customers were increasingly interested in adopting graph databases as an alternative to relational databases, a model that had been popular since the 80s and normally organizes data into tables.
“While relational databases are capable of achieving many functions carried out by graph databases… they deteriorate in performance as the quantity of data grows,” Yu told TechCrunch during an interview. “We didn’t use to have so much data.”
Information explosion is one reason why Chinese companies are turning to graph databases, which can handle millions of transactions to discover patterns within scattered data. The technology’s rise is also a response to new forms of online businesses that depend more on relationships.
“Take recommendations for example. The old model recommends content based purely on user profiles, but the problem of relying on personal browsing history is it fails to recommend new things. That was fine for a long time as the Chinese [internet] market was big enough to accommodate many players. But as the industry becomes saturated and crowded… companies need to ponder how to retain existing users, lengthen their time spent, and win users from rivals.”
The key lies in serving people content and products they find appealing. Graph databases come in handy, suggested Yu, when services try to predict users’ interest or behavior as the model uncovers what their friends or people within their social circles like. “That’s a lot more effective than feeding them what’s trending.”
The company has made its software open source, which the founder believed can help cultivate a community of graph database users and educate the market in China. It will also allow VESoft to reach more engineers in the English-speaking world who are well-acquainted with the open-source culture.
“There is no such thing as being ‘international’ or ‘domestic’ for a technology-driven company. There are no boundaries between countries in the open-source world,” reckoned Yu.
When it comes to generating income, the startup plans to launch a paid version for enterprises, which will come with customized plug-ins and host services.
The Nebula Graph, the brand of VESoft’s database product, is now serving 20 enterprise clients from areas across social media, e-commerce, and finance including big names like food delivery giant Meituan, popular social commerce app Xiaohongshu, and e-commerce leader JD.com. A number of overseas companies are also trialing Nebula.
The time is ripe for enterprise-facing startups with a technological moat in China as the market for consumers has been divided by incumbents like Tencent and Alibaba. This makes fundraising relatively easy for VESoft. The founder is confident that Chinese companies are rapidly catching up with their Western counterparts in the space, for the gargantuan amount of data and the myriad of ways data is used in the country “will propel the technology forward.”
The Cloud Native Computing Foundation, the Linux Foundation-based home of open-source projects like Kubernetes, OpenTracing and Envoy, today announced that Dan Kohn, the long-time executive director of the organization, is stepping down, with Priyanka Sharma, the director of Cloud Native Alliances at GitLab, stepping into the general manager role. Kohn will continue to be part of the Linux Foundation, where he will launch a new initiative “to help public health authorities use open source software to fight COVID-19 and other epidemics.”
Sharma, who once presented in the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield competition a startup she co-founded, became part of the overall cloud-native community during her time as head of marketing and strategic partnerships at Lightstep, a role she took in 2016. Her involvement with the OpenTracing project snowballed into a deeper relationship with the CNCF, she told me. “Once I joined GitLab, I was fortunate enough to be elected to the board of the CNCF — and until the 31st, I am in that role,” she told me. “That was really helpful, but that gave me the context about how does such a successful foundation and community run — what is the governance piece here — which, when I was on the community side, I wasn’t that involved in.”
Kohn had been at the helm of the CNCF since 2016 and guided the project from its early days to becoming one of the most successful open-source foundations of all time. Its bi-annual conferences draw thousands of developers from all over the world. While its marquee project is obviously Kubernetes, Kohn and his team at the foundation put a lot of emphasis on the overall ecosystem. The organization’s mission, after all, is “to make cloud native computing ubiquitous.” Today, the CNCF is home to 10 graduated projects, like Kubernetes, Prometheus, Envoy, Jaeger and Vitess, as well as 16 so-called “incubating projects,” like OpenTracing, Linkerd, Rook and etcd.
“Priyanka’s contributions to CNCF as a speaker, governing board member, and community leader over the last several years has been invaluable,” said Kohn in a statement. “I think she is a great choice to lead the organization to its next stage.”
Sharma says she’ll start her tenure by listening to the community. “Cloud native has become the de facto standard,” she said. “We’re doing great with regard to technology adoption, growth — but as things evolve — with the number of people already in the foundation that is on track to be 600 members — I think as a community, and there is so much growth opportunity there, we can go deeper into developer engagement, have more conversations around education and understanding of all the projects. Now we have 10 graduated projects — not just Kubernetes — so there’s lots of adoption to happen there. So I’m just very excited for the second wave that we will have.”
Now that everybody knows that DevOps and containers are, she wants to bring more people into the fold — and also look at new technologies like serverless and service meshes. “We’ve been off to a blockbuster start and now I think we have to mature a little and go deeper,” she said.
It’s worth noting that current CNCF CTO Chris Aniszczyk will continue in his role at the foundation. “The cloud native community has grown leaps and bounds in the last few years as companies look for more flexible and innovative solutions to meet their continuously evolving infrastructure and application needs,” he said. “As CNCF now reaches nearly 50 projects and 90,000 contributors globally, I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to work with Priyanka to cultivate and grow our cloud native community in its next evolution.”
VC fund Runa Capital was launched with $135M in 2010 and is perhaps best known for its investment into NGINX which powers many web sites today. In more recent years it’s participated or led investments into startups such as Zipdrug ($10.8M); Rollbar this year ($11M); and Monedo (for €20M).
HQ’d in San Francisco, it’s now completed the final closing on its $157 million Runa Capital Fund III, which, they say, exceeded its original target of $135 million.
The firm typically invests between $1 million and $10 million in early-stage companies, predominantly Series A rounds and has a strong interest in cloud infrastructure, open-source software, AI and machine intelligence and B2B SaaS, in markets such as finance, education, and healthcare.
Dmitry Chikhachev, co-founder and managing partner of Runa Capital, said in a statement: “We are excited to see many of our portfolio companies’ founders investing in Runa Capital III, along with tech-savvy LPs from all parts of the world, who supported us in all of our funds from day one… We invested in deep tech long before it became the mainstream for venture capital, betting on Nginx in 2011, Wallarm and ID Quantique in 2013, and MariaDB in 2014.”
Going forward the firm says it aims to concentrate much of its firepower in the realm of machine learning, and quantum computing.
In addition, Jinal Jhaveri, ex-CEO & Founder of Schoolmint, a former portfolio company of Runa Capital which was acquired by Hero K12, has joined the firm as a Venture Partner.
Runa operates out its HQ in Palo Alto to its offices throughout Europe. Its newest office opened in Berlin in early 2020, given Runa Capital’s growing German portfolio. German investments have included Berlin-based Smava and Mambu, as well as the recently added Monedo (formerly Kreditech), Vehiculum, and N8N (a co-investment with Sequoia Capital). Other investments made from the third fund include Rollbar, Reelgood, Forest Admin, Uploadcare, and Oxygen.
N8N and three other startups were funded through Runa Capital’s recently established seed program that focuses on smaller investments up to $100k.