Archive for April, 2012
Flash memory is hot because it runs cooler than other kinds of storage in the data center. It’s also faster and more efficient at storing frequently used data. Violin Memory is one of the companies that is benefiting from this trend in the data center.
And the trend has helped Violin boost its latest funding round from $50 million to $80 million, according to AllThingsD. Previously, Mountain View, Calif.-based Violin had raised a fourth round at an $800 million valuation. Investors in that deal included Toshiba, Juniper Networks, SAP VEntures, and Highland Capital.
But the round was oversubscribed and it reached $80 million, with the addition of new investors GE Capital Management. Violin chief executive said that the funding is the latest step toward an initial public offering. Four bankers involved in that include J.P. Morgan, Deutsche Bank, Bank of America Merrill-Lynch and Barclay’s. The IPO could happen by Oct. 27.
Last year, Fusion-IO went public last June in an offering that valued the company above $2 billion.
Violin Memory makes flash memory arrays like the one pictured above. Those are used as primary storage for servers in enterprise data centers. The arrays replace slower disk drives.
The main storage for data in servers has traditionally been the hard-disk drive. Flash memory devices — which are solid-state semiconductor chips — have been much faster than the spinning magnetic disks. But the reliability and the storage density used to be too low for flash memory. Improvements on that front have enabled flash to be used as primary data storage. Violin says it can improve the performance of Oracle databases by ten times. The addressable market of hard drive arrays is $20 billion, as measured by Gartner. That market is vulnerable to replacement by smaller servers with incredible amounts of input-output performance, Basile said in an interview with VentureBeat.
Customers include AOL, Revlon, Tagged.com, Juniper and Hewlett-Packard. Violin has now raised $182 million since a recapitalization in 2009. The company was founded in 2005 and launched its first memory arrays in 2009 and has since deployed multiple product generations using RAID protection for reliability. In June 2010, Violin acquired Gear6.
Fusion-io does server caching, but direct rivals include makers of arrays of hard disks. Those direct rivals include EMC, Network Appliance, IBM, Hitachi and Dell. There are perhaps dozens of startups trying to do flash array. The company has grown from 100 employees a year ago to more than 320.
At VentureBeat, we come across a lot of funding news every day. In order to bring you the most information possible, we’re rounding up the quick-and-dirty details about the funding deals of the day and serving them up here in our “Funding daily” column.
Microsoft puts $300M in Barnes & Noble Nook subsidiary
Hoping to fight off the Amazon Kindle, Microsoft invested $300 million in Barnes & Noble’s new Nook subsidiary. The deal gives Microsoft significant stake in the ebooks market.
Custom Made raises $4 million
Custom Made, an online marketplace for hand-made goods, has raised $4 million. The website connects you with artisans-for-hire that will make you custom jewelry, furniture, clothing, and art. Google Ventures led the round.
Simulmedia grabs $6M
Advertising analytics for television company Simulmedia has raised $6 million. Using data from set-top boxes, such as a Roku Box or an Apple TV, to create targeted ads for TV watchers. Existing investors Avalon Ventures, Union Square Ventures and Time Warner Investments led the round.
SaaS Capital launches $22.5 million fund
Saas Capital, a debt financing venture capital firm for cloud companies, has launched a new $22.5 million fund. The fund will be used to provide senior debt loan to SaaS companies with more than $3 million in revenue.
Filed under: deals
Taking on World of Warcraft is no small task. Just ask the folks who made Tera, the massively multiplayer online world that launches in North America for the first time tomorrow, May 1.
Tera is in a rare category of fantasy online gaming worlds that take forever to create because they have to debut with a massive amount of content — enough for fans to stay busy for a long time, not just a week or so, as with many single-player games. Work on Tera began in March 2007, and a total of 280 developers worked on the game between developer Bluehole Studio in South Korea and En Masse Entertainment in Seattle.
That’s what it takes to challenge Blizzard Entertainment’s dominant multiplayer game World of Warcraft, which has 10.2 million subscribers nearly eight years after it first launched.
Tera launched in South Korea in the third quarter in 2011, but the developers had to remake the game for the North American market.
During the time it took to make the game, the MMO market changed. Most new titles are coming out as free-to-play games, where users can start playing for free and later pay real money for virtual goods such as customized weaponry and clothing. Tera will have 30 days of free play. But the downloadable and packaged-goods game will sell for $49.99. Players will also have to pay a subscription fee of $15 a month.
Only the big-budget games can charge such fees. Tera has been developed by Bluehole Studio. It is co-produced and published by En Masse Entertainment in North America, and distributed at retail by Atari. All of these companies are betting that Tera’s time hasn’t passed it by.
The company bills the game as an action-MMO, where players have to pay attention in fights with giant bosses. They have to use the right tactics and pay attention to the location and timing of their strikes during combat. That’s a contrast to existing MMOs where the fighting is a lot more repetitive. Tera promises the “depth of a traditional MMO and the visceral gratification of an action game,” En Masse says.
“Tera ushers in a new era of true action MMO gameplay that advances the online roleplaying genre,” said Chris Lee, vice president of publishing at En Masse Entertainment. “It’s time to move past yesterday’s repetitive combat mechanics and embrace a more intense and deeply immersive approach to MMO gaming, where every player is actively engaged in skill-based combat and the most savvy players rise to the top through an innovative political system.”
One of the obstacles that stood in the way of Tera was a lawsuit by NCsoft, which sought to prevent the North American launch. NCsoft alleged that former employees stole code and art assets from NCsoft’s Lineage 3 game and used it in Tera. Some former NCsoft employees were convicted of stealing trade secrets in 2009. En Masse denied the allegations and said the suit isn’t stopping the launch. The litigation is still pending.
The game is getting some praise, including some kind words from GameBeat’s Sebastian Haley, for its great character design and action. But official reviews have not yet been released. In the meantime, check out our comprehensive gallery of Tera characters and gear.
Players can choose a character from seven races and eight classes. They can join an alliance of all races to save their homelands from ravaging armies that may destroy the gods who hold the world together. The game has a political system in which players wield power in a province.
A Digital Collector’s Edition will sell for $59.99 and it will grant players in-game items including the Regal Frostlion mount for in-game travel, along with two valuable necklaces: the level 15 Velik’s Bloodstone necklace and the level 40 Shakan’s Bloodstone necklace.
The physical Limited Collector’s Edition has all the digital edition items and collectibles such as a Letter of Marque, a canvas world map, a field guide, a Valkyon Federation-issued compass and a game soundtrack. The Limited Edition costs $79.99.
Google “Comparison” Units Get New Look; Change Highlights Paid Inclusion In Some Vertical Search Areas
Google has had what it has called “comparison ads” for some time, but these comparison units are getting a new look in Google’s search results beginning today. Google hopes the change will better explain to searchers that comparison listings come from companies it has a commercial relationship…
Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.
The Brockton Retirement Board is suing Google co-founder Larry Page and other executives today for its recently proposed stock split.
Google announced it would be splitting its stock in its first quarter 2012 earnings call. Page explained on a conference call regarding the split that for every class A common share, Google would match it with another, non-voting share. This would make a class C of common stock and Page put the emphasis on non-voting. Preventing this new class of stock from having any voting rights means Google co-founders Page and Sergey Brin get to maintain control of the company, and not dilute their own voting power.
This is where the Brockton Retirement Board balked. The Massachusetts pension believes that Page and Brin are not acting in the best interest of its shareholders, and that this is just a way for the two co-founders to rake in billions of dollars, without doing much for it. Additionally, it believes Google did not have the stock split fairly reviewed before approval.
“[The co-founders] wish to retain this power, while selling off large amounts of their stockholdings, and reaping billions of dollars in proceeds,” Brockton Retirement Board explained in its complaint. “The reclassification effort is a thinly veiled attempt to entrench [the co-founders] as dominant shareholders of Google by creating a non-voting class of Google stock in order to preserve their voting power into perpetuity.”
The complaint was filed in a Wilmington, Delaware court today. The case is Brockton Retirement Board v Larry Page et al, No. 7469.
Filed under: deals
Groupon’s board of directors is playing musical chairs as the downtrodden daily deals company attempts to address fallout from an accounting restatement that sent its stock price plummeting.
The company, now trading at more than 60 percent off its initial offering, announced Monday that American Express CFO Daniel Henry and Deloitte vice chairman Robert Bass are joining Groupon’s board.
Henry is replacing Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who stepped down from Groupon’s board of directors on April 24. Bass will replace Kevin Efrusy of Accel Partners, who will leave his post as of Groupon’s shareholder meeting on June 19.
The swap-a-roo is Groupon’s attempt to self-correct after a revised fourth quarter earnings report that did more than raise a few eyebrows.
One month ago, Groupon informed shareholders that, due to yet another accounting snafu, revenue for Q4 2011 was $14.3 million less than it initially indicated. The restatement was not received well and shareholders who felt misled responded in turn with both a class action lawsuit and a derivative complaint. The latter suit specifically named both Schultz and Efrusy, along with other board members, as defendants in breach of their fiduciary duty to Groupon and its shareholders.
Henry and Bass add financial credibility to Groupon’s board. Bass, who will retire from Deloitte before his appointment, is said to have specialized in one area where the deals company could certainly use some help: SEC filings. Henry, meanwhile, has worked at American Express since 1990 and has served as the company’s CFO for more than four years. He was previously a partner at Ernst & Young.
“With their deep financial, accounting and operational experience, Dan and Bob will provide invaluable expertise to the Board going forward,” Groupon chairman Eric Lefkofsky said in a statement.
Groupon closed at $10.71 per share Monday afternoon, but its stock price is trading up roughly 2 percent in after-hours trading following news of the board shakeup. Valued as high as $17.8 billion on its first day of trading, Groupon’s market capitalization now stands at $6.83 billion.
Filed under: deals
There will soon be a little less anarchy in the UK, Google’s Wi-Fi snooper had a couple enablers, and Google Wave is gone for good. More »
Y Combinator might be best known for software plays like Dropbox and Airbnb. But it’s also harbored a few hardware companies, notably the one that blew out Kickstarter funding records with Pebble Watch this month.
There’s actually one more waiting in the wings.
Per Vices is a startup from the latest class that’s looking to disrupt how wireless communications are sent. They’ve built a device called Phi that can interact with any wireless or radio signal. It’s a transceiver that can demodulate and process signal data up to 4 Gigahertz.
In plain English, that means one of Per Vices’ devices can re-route your cell phone calls through your landline connection, if for example you have bad 3G service in your house. In theory, that means you could set up a decentralized wireless network where mobile devices and desktops are sending communications to each other instead of one where all mobile phones have to send and receive signals from carrier-operated cell phone towers. It’s a critical issue the industry needs to solve as data-hogging mobile subscribers eat into the profit margins of the carriers.
For now, however, the company is focusing on the hacker and hobbyist market as the device is a PCI card that supports Linux machines. (So yes, that limits the current potential audience size).
However, the longer-term goal is to build something that’s both accessible and affordable to the mainstream market. On their site, Phi retails for $666 for just the card or $750 with antennas, but the cost of producing it (as with many interesting hardware products) is getting lower every year. Comparable products from rivals like Ettus Research sell for $1,300 or higher.
They’ve hacked a few demos with the product, including one where you can pick-up HDTV transmissions and watch shows on your phone or call a walkie talkie using your mobile phone. They’re hoping that hackers will find even more interesting ways of using the Phi, like how some developers figured out how to subvert Microsoft’s Kinect.
Per Vices founders, Victor Wollesen and Yi Yao, are a physicist and an electrical engineer who used to work in the defense industry. But sales cycles there are endlessly long, so going the consumer route promises a faster time to market.
Job search site Indeed, already a long-standing powerhouse in the U.S., has overtaken TotalJobs to become the top job search site in the U.K. based on unique visitors, the company revealed today.
Indeed overtook Monster in the U.S. in Nov. 2010, a sign that its formula of showing job listings from tons of job-related sites worked pretty darn well. As of March, Indeed has attracted more than 67 million unique visitors worldwide monthly, with 32 million or so of those being from the U.S., according to Google’s Doubleclick Ad Planner.
Even before the Stamford, Conn.-based company became number one jobs site in the U.S., it had its sights on the rest of the world. David Rudick, Indeed’s Vice President of International Markets, told me that while the company introduced Indeed in the U.K. in 2007, it didn’t start picking up real steam until 2011 when it introduced a slew of new products that were tested in the U.S. first.
“Our traffic from this past March was actually 50 percent higher than what it was a year ago,” Rudick said. “We’re always looking for new ways to give job seekers a better experience and that is paying off.”
Besides the U.S. and U.K., Indeed also has localized versions in about 50 other counties. Success has been mixed from country to country, but Rudick said Indeed is now the no. 1 job site by unique visitors in France and the Netherlands. Both of those milestones were reached in 2011.
To ensure that Indeed maintains strong international growth, the company opened a new Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) office this March in Dublin. Rudick said it is considering other countries to add to its list, but the company’s immediate priority is to roll out new features and products to markets it has already launched in.
Fast-growing Indeed stands in stark contrast to competitor Simply Hired, which laid off 20 percent of its 100-person staff in early January. Indeed, on the flip side, now has 450 employees, with 105 of those hires happening this year.
On the financial side, Indeed raised a $5 million first round from Allen & Company, The New York Times, and Union Square Ventures back in 2005 and has coasted on that ever since, generating revenue almost exclusively through on-site advertising.
Here’s a chart Indeed provided showing its global growth since its 2005 launch to March 2012:
Apply Here illustration: ra2 studio/Shutterstock
Filed under: VentureBeat
Rumor: Hulu Will Soon Require Viewers To Have A Cable Subscription [Update: It'll Happen, But Not "Soon"]
If you love watching TV shows on Hulu but don’t have a cable subscription, things could get a bit more complicated in the near future. According to the New York Post, Hulu could soon start requiring its users to prove that they also have a cable or satellite subscription. This would obviously turn Hulu’s current business model on its head. It’s not clear how many of the service’s 31 million users currently don’t subscribe to cable TV, but chances are that the service’s audience would shrink after this move.
Keep in mind, this is just a rumor for now, but it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on. It’s also not clear if this subscription requirement – assuming it is actually going to happen – will just apply to Hulu’s free service, or if it will also apply to Hulu Plus subscribers. Hulu Plus, which costs $7.99 per month, currently has somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million paying subscribers.
Update: We just talked to a source close to Hulu. According to our source, Hulu and its content providers have talked about this move toward authentication since 2009. Our source noted that Hulu has no interest in being a first mover here and that a requirement for authentication is likely still a few years out. Hulu, however, does want to be a good partner and may have to give in to its partners’ pressure soon or later. Even though an authentication requirement isn’t likely to happen right away, though, our source notes that what could happen relatively soon is that the content providers could require longer delays before their shows become available on the service for non-subscribers. Cable subscribers, under this model, would get access to a show on Hulu the next day, while non-subscribers would have to wait at least 30 days. This model would likely also apply to Hulu Plus subscribers.
As our own Alexia Tsotsis noted last year when the FCC gave the go-ahead for the Comcast-NBC merger, it issued a number of specific rules to ensure that this merger wouldn’t influence Hulu’s operations. These rules, however, did not specifically touch upon any future provisions that would tie access to Hulu to a cable subscription.
NBCUniversal, News Corporation, The Walt Disney Company and Providence Equity Partners currently share ownership of Hulu. There have been persistent rumors that Providence Equity Partners is looking to sell its stake in the company to the rest of the owners, though. The New York Post’s Claire Atkinson argues that this move toward an authentication model is one of the main reasons why Providence Equity Partners is trying to sell its stake in the company.
We asked Hulu for a comment about these rumors and will update the story once/if we hear more.
One group that has already commented on these rumors is Public Knowledge, a group that works to “preserve the openness of the Internet” and promotes “creativity through balanced copyright.” In a statement, the group’s president and CEO Gigi B. Sohn writes that “restricting access to legal content will only drive consumers to find illegal content. In particular, we are concerned about restricting access to TV programming available over free over-the-air broadcasting. It should be available online, regardless whether anyone subscribes to cable or satellite TV. By putting more restrictions on consumer access to popular content, the entertainment industry only removes any justification for stronger ‘anti-piracy’ laws it is perpetually seeking from Congress.”