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Data Sheet—Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Good morning, Data Sheet readers. As anticipated, Microsoft will pay $2.5 billion to buy Minecraft developer Mojang: longing for a leg-up in mobile apps and hoping to build credibility with its massive teen-leaning user community. Meanwhile, Infor CEO Charles Phillips expects to win converts by combining better interface aesthetics with enterprise software features that people (not developers) actually want. So far, he’s hired 100 fashion-school graduates, architects and graphic designers in New York. Read more about his philosophy in an exclusive Connected interview.

TRENDING

Google and Apple: Feds overzealous with data collection. There’s definitely one place the rivals see eye-to-eye, both bemoan mushrooming government demands for user info. In its latest transparency report, Google says it fielded 32,000 requests in the first six months of 2014, up 15% from last year. Apple handled far fewer (between zero and 250), but CEO Tim Cook believes that’s because it doesn’t collect as much in the first place.

Musing over Microsoft’s Minecraft move. Why a game software acquisition? Because the $2.5 billion takeover of Swedish developer Mojang is about more than a viral Xbox title: it gives Microsoft a much needed boost in mobile apps and (if it manages not to screw things up) could win over next-generation software users. After all, Minecraft is used by a 100-million-person global community that skews teen and younger (including my 9-year-old nephew). One downside: Mojang co-founder Markus Persson won’t be sticking around

Meanwhile, in the world of legacy apps. Micro Focus wants to pay $2.3 billion for Attachmate. If the deal is approved, the app modernization and management vendor will own the Novell, SUSE Linux and NetIQ brands. There are no plans to integrate the products (at least not yet).

CLOUD CHATTER

Optimize utilization. Be honest: your company is probably dealing with more than one cloud service provider, which means it has to monitor uptime and metrics in many places. Cloudyn—which just got another $4 million in funding led by Titanium Investments—wants to simplify things with an administrative platform that consolidates the view. Right now, it looks across Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud and Open Stack.

STATS & SPECS

Save the date. Apparently, Microsoft will show off Windows 9 enterprise features on Sept. 30 in San Francisco. Stay tuned for more details, and potentially some early test code.

Cross-sell like eBay. The e-commerce giant’s enterprise group is teaming with predictive analytics developer FICO on a new retail marketing platform that gleans insights from multiple channels, predicts behavior and guides campaigns.

Facebook wants everyone to love open source development. So it got together with other proponents like Google and the WalmartLabs division to create TODO Project, committed to developing (and sharing) best practices. (Other founders include Box, Dropbox, GitHub, Khan Academy, Square and Stripe; supposedly there are more than 30 other companies on board.)

STARTUPS & DISRUPTORS

Stealthy security startup protects from within. Backed with $42 million over the past three years (including $36 million in August), vArmour monitors and locks down nefarious activity that already made it into your data center. More to the point, it secures “east-west” data traffic flowing between virtual machines and other stuff, which is usually a complex and bandwidth-intensive proposition. “Operationally, it makes your policies much simpler,” says vArmour CEO Tim Eades, whose resume includes Silver Tail (now part of RSA) and IBM.

Once vArmour’s technology detects something bad, it quarantines the malware so your team can learn where it entered and how it moves around—more intelligence for future defense. For this capability, your company will pay anywhere from $25,000 to “millions” depending on the extent of what you’re protecting, Eades says.

451 Research analyst Peter Christy describes vArmour’s approach as a necessary evolution of security technology for cloud-scale computing: “They’ve brought useful assets together to attack an important problem that they understand very well.”

CONNECTED

Infor, the enterprise apps developer fronted by Oracle alumnist and former analyst Charles Phillips, has so far made cloud converts out of more than 73,000 customers in 200-plus countries—including the likes of Boeing, Ferrari and Siemens. It has a barrage of releases in store this week including one focused squarely on rival NetSuite and the first product built ground-up using its “beautiful software” philosophy.

Headlining its annual customer conference is CloudSuite Business, an all-in-one ERP system for midmarket companies combining financial, human resources, supply chain, product, sales and customer relationship features. Already rely on NetSuite for this? Info will offer pricing incentives to switch.

“Whatever you’re paying NetSuite, reduce that by about 25%, we’ll migrate you over,” Phillips told me during a pre-briefing. One advantage it will tout: Infor covers reporting for close to 100 countries, so if you’re global it’s got an edge.

For its other big launch, CloudSuite Financials, Infor hired PriceWaterhouse to collect the 100 biggest complaints about existing financial systems and then methodically addressed them. Infor will offer a $55,000 flat-fee data migration service to bring companies on board. (There will be industry-specific templates, but you can’t customize.) 

Notably, Financials was developed with Infor’s 100-person Hook & Loop internal design agency—which Phillips has positioned as a big differentiator for Infor. Here’s more perspective from my interview last week (edited for length and clarity):

Is this the first product where Hook & Loop’s influence can be felt?

It’s not the first, but it is a new application that they got in on the ground floor to help create. They are a differentiator for us: we’re the only software company to try this approach to separate user experience design from the application. We have different people who are good in that discipline, who didn’t come from enterprise software, who really understand aesthetics and beauty and came from a different background. The second thing is you need fresh eyes. Not only did they not come from our industry, they tend to be the 20-somethings that think about design differently. The fact that they don’t know about enterprise software is actually good because they ask very simple questions about why things work the way they do and about why it can’t be easier.

How do you look for new hires?

That was one reason we located this in New York City. Finding people who understand and care about design is hard to do, and most of us just don’t have that eye or taste. But in New York, there’s a lot of people who care about design and fashion. We started hiring out of fashion schools, architecture schools, agencies. … All these schools now have a tech track, so they start picking up technical skills and get interested in it. That’s the perfect profile. Call them left-brained creatives.

What about working with the schools?

The universities here are so hungry for tech presence, they’ve all been in here. We’re starting an internship program with five universities, giving them our software, training their professors and running a couple-hundred interns through here a year. It helps everybody.

How do you fund that?

We’re funding most of it to get it started. Now, we’ve hired a university relations person from Microsoft. What we’re trying to next is scale it beyond New York and create virtual internships. Obviously, we train people online all the time. We can do that with interns all over the world. It’s an investment you have to make in people.

How does this team interface with the developers?

That’s, frankly, a challenge. Brilliant as they are, they’re not the easiest people to manage sometimes so we had to figure out a way to build the right culture and find the right leader to work with the other engineers. The initial reaction was, ‘Why do we need this team in New York, we can do our own [user interfaces].’ I told the Hook & Look guys they had to show us great UI designs, stunning, and earn their way. And they did. Then [the scenario] flipped. Now everybody wants to work with them.

Connected is an interview series with leaders of innovative organizations. Conversations are condensed and edited.

ONE MORE THING …

Macy’s makeover. Not only will the $28 billion department store chain be one of the first to support Apple Pay, it’s testing wireless marketing beacons, new mobile apps, handheld point-of-sale systems and (get ready for this) “smart” fitting rooms with wall-mounted tablets that help clerks answer questions or help customers accessorize. I could go on, but suffice to say is part of big push to make the shopping “experience” better across all channels.

EVENTS

Open Data Center Alliance Forecast 2014: Cloud trends. (Sept. 22 – 24, San Francisco)

Oracle OpenWorld: Get a roadmap reality check. (Sept. 27 – Oct. 2, San Francisco)

Interop: Actionable solutions for IT headaches. (Sept. 29 – Oct. 3, New York)

Enterprise Security Summit: Challenges, trends and solutions. (Sept. 30, New York)

Gartner Symposium ITxpo 2014: Compare notes. (Oct. 5 – 9, Orlando, Fla.)

Splunk .conf2014. Glean intelligence from machine data. (Oct. 6 – 9, Las Vegas)

Dreamforce: 1,400 sessions about the largest cloud ecosystem. (Oct. 13-16, San Francisco)

Strata/Hadoop World: Big data tools and techniques. (Oct. 15 – 17, New York)

TBM Conference 2014: Manage the business of IT. (Oct. 28- 30, Miami Beach)

AWS re:Invent: The latest about Amazon Web Services. (Nov. 11 – 14, Las Vegas)

Gartner Data Center Conference: Ideas for operations and management. (Dec. 2 – 5, Las Vegas)