Snowflake headquarters building
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Snowflake is still special in cloud data. For now.

Protocol Enterprise

Good morning, and welcome to Protocol | Enterprise. This Thursday: Snowflake's new services and new challengers, IBM's quantum leap and China's cloud-capacity glut.

A still-special Snowflake

A little more than a year after Snowflake's historic IPO, the cloud-native data management market has gotten a lot more complicated.

Snowflake is fending off more challengers these days. Companies like Databricks have forced it into a more defensive position within a market it helped create. But customers are still embracing its services: Second-quarter revenue doubled to $255 million. And this week the company showed off several new products and partnerships that it believes can help it maintain that momentum going into the end of the year.

  • Snowflake added support for Python, a programming language widely used by data scientists and the most-wanted language in Stack Overflow's annual survey of developers this year.
  • Customers will soon be able to sync their accounts across different Snowflake installations running on different cloud providers or within different cloud-provider regions, which should help ensure stability and availability.
  • Several new data governance tools will help companies that recognize the need to set rules around how they use data internally.

Snowflake also experienced one sure sign it's maturing as an enterprise tech vendor: It got into a public dispute with Databricks over performance claims trumpeted by Databricks a few weeks ago.

  • In a blog post entitled "Industry Benchmarks and Competing with Integrity," Snowflake's two technical co-founders — Benoit Dageville and Thierry Cruanes — pushed back on Databricks' description of its data-warehouse performance.
  • "There is a reason why all the relevant players in the database industry, those that are running the majority of customer workloads, have largely stopped publishing new results," the founders wrote, arguing that benchmarks can be easily manipulated and don't always represent real-world performance.
  • Still, even Snowflake's revised analysis showed that Databricks was slightly faster at the chosen tasks.
  • Competitive marketing has always been the most eye-rolling part of enterprise tech, but it does go to show which companies are battling each other during the end-of-year RFP process.

But the company's stock hit an all-time high this week, after it had fallen precipitously a few weeks after its IPO. Stock prices are imperfect measures of a company's performance and trajectory, but its performance and momentum — as well as the performance of its competitors — are clear evidence that cloud-based data warehouses and data management tools have arrived to stay.

  • Now all Snowflake needs to do is see what AWS has in store for re:Invent 2021, which kicks off Nov. 29.
  • Last year both AWS and Microsoft announced new services that compete with Snowflake in back-to-back weeks, although it's tough to see how those announcements threw up any roadblocks for Snowflake in 2021.
  • AWS's relationship with Snowflake is tricky: Increased use of Snowflake on AWS (where it is most widely used by far) generates revenue for AWS.
  • But the cloud infrastructure leader is keen to sell higher-level managed data services that carry better margins than its basic compute and storage services.

As Protocol | Enterprise noted last month: "Data isn't the new oil; it's the new gold. And in any gold rush, the ones who make the most money in the long run are the tool makers and suppliers." And, for now at least, Snowflake's shovels are still very much in demand.

— Tom Krazit


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This week on Protocol

Quantum leap? IBM announced what Axios called a "quantum computing breakthrough" in a breathless report Sunday about a 127-qubit quantum chip. But industry experts were skeptical about its claims: The number of qubits in a quantum processor is important, but it's only part of the story.

Better together: Slack rolled out a new platform design that promises to make it easier for third-party developers to integrate their apps on Slack. Protocol's Lizzy Lawrence talked to Slack about the changes, which include a no-code tool for building workflows.

Upcoming at Protocol

Join us Wednesday Dec. 8 at 10 a.m. PT for The Year in Enterprise Tech, a live virtual event recapping the week that was at AWS re:Invent, and discuss some of the most important trends and developments that will shape enterprise computing in 2022. Our panel features Sheila Gulati of Tola Capital, Liz Fong-Jones of Honeycomb and Corey Quinn of The Duckbill Group in a free-wheeling discussion moderated by Protocol's Tom Krazit. RSVP here.

Around the enterprise

AWS will likely focus more on specific industries, CEO Adam Selipsky said, with packages of cloud services designed for specific sectors. That's a strategy already embraced by Microsoft and Google Cloud.

Microsoft reorganized its cloud and AI group, in what's become at least an annual event. This time it's creating a new team for Executive Vice President Jason Zander that will report directly to CEO Satya Nadella and focus on emerging enterprise technologies.

Nvidia continued to post blockbuster earnings with a 50% increase in revenue driven by a 55% increase in sales of data center chips.

Splunk CEO Douglas Merrittstepped downrather abruptly ahead of the company's quarterly earnings call, with no named successor at the ready.

Google Cloud suffered a networking outage Tuesday that took down big customers such as Spotify for a few hours before it was fixed.

China is planning to replace U.S. cloud vendors and other enterprise tech suppliers with domestic suppliers, according to Bloomberg.

The Department of Homeland Security has an idea for how it's going to try to recruit security experts from the private sector: pay market-rate salaries.

Microsoft opened a new Azure region in Sweden that the company said will run on 100% carbon-free energy.

Software supply-chain attacks are still a thing approaching the one-year anniversary of the SolarWinds discovery, and GitHub just fixed two major security flaws in the npm package registry, which is widely used by software developers.

It's a good time to shop for cloud-computing services in China: Canalys said this week that following the government limits on the number of hours minors are allowed to play video games reduced cloud usage in China by up to 30%.


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Thanks for reading! We'll see you on Monday!

Clarification: A previous version of this newsletter described Informatica as a Snowflake competitor, whereas both companies see it as more of a partner. While partners can turn into competitors fairly quickly in enterprise tech, that's not a fair assessment of their relationship at present.

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