Zoho launches Catalyst, a new developer platform with a focus on microservices

Zoho may be one of the most underrated tech companies. The 23-year-old company, which at this point offers more than 45 products, has never taken outside funding and has no ambition to go public, yet it’s highly profitable and runs its own data centers around the world. And today, it’s launching Catalyst, a cloud-based developer platform with a focus on microservices that it hopes can challenge those of many of its larger competitors.

The company already offered a low-code tool for building business apps. But Catalyst is different. Zoho isn’t following in the footsteps of Google or Amazon here and offering a relatively unopinionated platform for running virtual machines and containers. Indeed, it does nothing of the sort. The company is 100% betting on serverless as the next major technology for building enterprise apps and the whole platform has been tuned for this purpose.

Catalyst Zia AI

“Historically, when you look at cloud computing, when you look at any public clouds, they pretty much range from virtualizing your servers and renting our virtual servers all the way up the stack,” Raju Vegesna, Zoho’s chief evangelist, said when I asked him about this decision to bet on serverless. “But when you look at it from a developer’s point of view, you still have to deal with a lot of baggage. You still have to figure out the operating system, you still have to figure out the database. And then you have to scale and manage the updates. All of that has to be done at the application infrastructure level.” In recent years, though, said Vegesna, the focus has shifted to the app logic side, with databases and file servers being abstracted away. And that’s the trend Zoho is hoping to capitalize on with Catalyst.

What Catalyst does do is give advanced developers a platform to build, run and manage event-driven microservice-based applications that can, among other things, also tap into many of the tools that Zoho built for running its own applications, like a grammar checker for Zoho Writer, document previews for Zoho Drive or access to its Zia AI tools for OCR, sentiment analysis and predictions. The platform gives developers tools to orchestrate the various microservices, which obviously means it’ll make it easy to scale applications as needed, too. It integrates with existing CI/CD pipelines and IDEs.

Catalyst Functions

Catalyst also complies with the SOC Type II and ISO 27001 certifications, as well as GDPR. It also offers developers the ability to access data from Zoho’s own applications, as well as third-party tools, all backed by Zoho’s Unified Data Model, a relational datastore for server-side and client deployment.

“The infrastructure that we built over the last several years is now being exposed,” said Vegesna. He also stressed that Zoho is launching the complete platform in one go (though it will obviously add to it over time). “We are bringing everything together so that you can develop a mobile or web app from a single interface,” he said. “We are not just throwing 50 different disparate services out there.” At the same time, though, the company is also opting for a very deliberate approach here with its focus on serverless. That, Vegesna believes, will allow Zoho Catalyst to compete with its larger competitors.

It’s also worth noting that Zoho knows that it’s playing the long-game here, something it is familiar with, given that it launched its first product, Zoho Writer, back in 2005 before Google had launched its productivity suite.

Catalyst Homepage

 

Edge computing startup Pensando comes out of stealth mode with a total of $278 million in funding

Pensando, an edge computing startup founded by former Cisco engineers, came out of stealth mode today with an announcement that it has raised a $145 million Series C. The company’s software and hardware technology, created to give data centers more of the flexibility of cloud computing servers, is being positioned as a competitor to Amazon Web Services Nitro.

The round was led by Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Lightspeed Venture Partners and brings Pensando’s total raised so far to $278 million. HPE chief technology officer Mark Potter and Lightspeed Venture partner Barry Eggers will join Pensando’s board of directors. The company’s chairman is former Cisco CEO John Chambers, who is also one of Pensando’s investors through JC2 Ventures.

Pensando was founded in 2017 by Mario Mazzola, Prem Jain, Luca Cafiero and Soni Jiandani, a team of engineers who spearheaded the development of several of Cisco’s key technologies, and founded four startups that were acquired by Cisco, including Insieme Networks. (In an interview with Reuters, Pensando chief financial offier Randy Pond, a former Cisco executive vice president, said it isn’t clear if Cisco is interested in acquiring the startup, adding “our aspirations at this point would be to IPO. But, you know, there’s always other possibilities for monetization events.”)

The startup claims its edge computing platform performs five to nine times better than AWS Nitro, in terms of productivity and scale. Pensando prepares data center infrastructure for edge computing, better equipping them to handle data from 5G, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things applications. While in stealth mode, Pensando acquired customers including HPE, Goldman Sachs, NetApp and Equinix.

In a press statement, Potter said “Today’s rapidly transforming, hyper-connected world requires enterprises to operate with even greater flexibility and choices than ever before. HPE’s expanding relationship with Pensando Systems stems from our shared understanding of enterprises and the cloud. We are proud to announce our investment and solution partnership with Pensando and will continue to drive solutions that anticipate our customers’ needs together.”

Rocket Lab successfully launches fifth Electron rocket this year

Rocket Lab has added another successful commercial launch to its track record: The rocket startup’s ‘As The Crow Flies’ mission took off today from its LC-1 launch site in New Zealand as planned. The rocket took off at 9:22 PM ET (6:22 PM PT), during its second launch opportunity of the day after the first window was pushed due to high altitude winds.

This is the ninth Electron launch for the company thus far, and the eighth mission for a commercial customer (the first was a test mission in 2017) since it began ferrying payloads for paying clients in 2018. Today’s launch carried a satellite called ‘Palisade’ for client Astro Digital, which is a technology demonstrator that will test the company’s next-generation geocommunications satellite design.

This mission was a late-stage substitute, swapping in for another Rocket Lab client who had to delay their own launch. Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck told TechCrunch that “Electron is a launch on demand service — we’re ready when the launch customer is,” highlighting the flexibility of the launch service they offer to adapt to the needs of their customers.

electron 9

After successful launch and kick stage separation, the Astro Digital satellite now awaits its final deployment into its target orbit, which should happen in the next few hours. We’ll update with the results of that maneuver.

MyGate raises $56M to bring its security management service to more gated communities in India

MyGate, a Bangalore-based startup that offers security management and convenience service for guard-gated premises, said today it has bagged more than $50 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand its footprint in the nation.

Chinese internet giant Tencent, Tiger Global, JS Capital and existing investor Prime Venture Partners funded the three-year-old startup’s $56 million Series B financing round. The new round pushes MyGate’s total fundraise to $67.5 million.

MyGate offers an eponymous mobile app that allows home residents to approve entries and exits, communicate with their neighbors, log attendance and pay society maintenance bills and daily help workers.

The startup says it is operational in 11 cities in India and has amassed over 1.2 million home customers. Its customer base is increasing by 20% each month, it claimed. The service is handling 60,000 requests each minute and clocking over 45 million check-in requests each month.

The idea of MyGate came after its co-founder and CEO, Vijay Arisetty, left the Indian armed force. In an interview with TechCrunch, he said his family was appalled to learn about the poor state of security across societies in India.

“This was also when e-commerce companies and food delivery firms were beginning to gain strong foothold in the nation. This meant that many people were entering a gated community each day,” he said.

MyGate has inked partnerships with many e-commerce players to create a system to offer a silent and secure delivery experience for its users. The startup also trains guards to understand the system.

According to industry estimates, more than 45 million people in India today live in gated communities, and that figure is growing by 13% each year. The private security industry in the country is a $15 billion market.

Arisetty says he believes the startup could significantly accelerate its growth as its solution understands the price-sensitive market. Using MyGate costs an apartment about Rs 20 (28 cents) per month. Even at that price, the startup says it is making a profit. “Today, we are seeing more demand than we can handle,” he said.

That’s where the new funding would come into play for the startup, which today employs about 700 people.

The startup plans to use the fresh capital to expand its technology infrastructure, its marketing and operations teams and build new features. The startup aims to reach 15 million homes in 40 Indian cities in the next 18 months.

In a statement, Sanjay Swamy, managing partner at Prime Venture Partners, said, “It’s been great to see a fledgling startup execute consistently and holistically, and grow into a category-creating market-leader.”

Labor leaders and startup founders talk how to build a sustainable gig economy

Over the past few years, gig economy companies and the treatment of their labor force has become a hot button issue for public and private sector debate.

At our recent annual Disrupt event in San Francisco, we dug into how founders, companies and the broader community can play a positive role in the gig economy, with help from Derecka Mehrens, an executive director at Working Partnerships USA and co-founder of Silicon Valley Rising — an advocacy campaign focused on fighting for tech worker rights and creating an inclusive tech economy — and Amanda de Cadenet, founder of Girlgaze, a platform that connects advertisers with a network of 200,000 female-identifying and non-binary creatives.

Derecka and Amanda dove deep into where incumbent gig companies have fallen short, what they’re doing to right the ship, whether VC and hyper-growth mentalities fit into a sustainable gig economy, as well as thoughts on Uber’s new ‘Uber Works’ platform and CA AB-5. The following has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Where current gig companies are failing

Arman Tabatabai: What was the original promise and value proposition of the gig economy? What went wrong?

Derecka Mehrens: The gig economy exists in a larger context, which is one in which neoliberalism is failing, trickle-down economics is proven wrong, and every day working people aren’t surviving and are looking for something more.

And so you have a situation in which the system we put together to create employment, to create our communities, to build our housing, to give us jobs is dysfunctional. And within that, folks are going to come up with disruptive solutions to pieces of it with a promise in mind to solve a problem. But without a larger solution, that will end up, in our view, exacerbating existing inequalities.