Alibaba acquires German big data startup Data Artisans for $103M

Alibaba has paid €90 million ($103 million) to acquire Data Artisans, a Berlin-based startup that provides distributed systems and large-scale data streaming services for enterprises.

The deal was first announced by European media, including EU-Startups, before being confirmed by both Alibaba and Data Artisans through blog posts.

Data Artisans was founded in 2014 by the team leading the development of Apache Flink, an open source large-scale data processing technology. The startup offers its own dA Platform, with open source Apache Flink and Application Manager, to enterprise customers that include Netflix, ING, Uber and Alibaba itself.

The Chinese e-commerce giant has been working with Data Artisans since 2016, through support and open source work to help the architecture and performance of the software, both companies said in statements. Data Artisans is on record as raising $6.5 million over two rounds, most recently a Series A in 2016 led by Intel Capital, but there was a seemingly unannounced Series B which closed last year and it looks like Alibaba was involved, according to a blog post from Data Artisans co-founders Kostas Tzoumas and Stephan Ewen.

Now Alibaba’s ownership — and you’d also presume, resources — can help the business reach “new horizons” with its open source technology, including moves to “expand to new areas that we have not explored in the past and make sure that Flink becomes a more valuable data processing framework for the modern data-driven, real-time enterprise,” the duo wrote.

“Moving forward together, data Artisans and Alibaba will not only continue, but accelerate contributions to Apache Flink and open source Big Data,” Tzoumas and Ewen added, explaining that Alibaba is one of Flink’s biggest users and contributors to the community.

To mark the new era, Alibaba has committed to providing its own in-house developments to Flink — which it calls Blink — to the community.

“By leveraging the technology expertise of both teams and shared passion to develop the open-source community, we are confident that this strategic tie-in will further strengthen the growth of the Flink community, accelerate the data-processing technologies and help bolster an open, collaborative and constructive environment for global developers who are passionate about stream processing and enabling real-time applications for modern enterprises,” said Jingren Zhou, vice president of Alibaba Group, in a statement.

This deal is reminiscent of Alibaba’s 2017 investment in MariaDB, an open source startup known for offering the most popular alternative to MySQL, a database management system. While not a full acquisition, the partnership has seen the two companies work together on new products for the community, and that’s also the goal here.

“Especially at times when many open source technologies and companies decide on a less collaborative and more “closed” approach, it is with great pleasure to see Alibaba committed to open source and our mission, eager to take Flink’s technological advancement to the next level,” Tzoumas and Ewen wrote in the announcement blog post.

Moving into open source and infrastructure tech makes sense for Alibaba, which is best known for e-commerce but also operates a cloud business, streaming services and more. With a net profit of $2.66 billion on revenue of $12.4 billion in its last quarter of business, the Chinese company certainly has plenty of money to pursue the strategy.

We’ve contacted Alibaba and Data Artisans with follow-up questions, and we hope to have more information on the deal soon. Please refresh for updates.

Zhou, the Alibaba vice president, responded to two questions from TechCrunch.

When asked why Alibaba pursued an acquisition rather than a continued partnership or investment, he said:

We are confident in our joined capabilities to contribute even more to Flink, both in terms of technology and community development. It is the shared vision and effective work relationship that brought the two teams together. We appreciate learning from each other and strive to make the data processing open source community more open, collaborative and diverse.

We also asked how Alibaba would respond to concerns on how one of the world’s largest tech companies will use and respect the open source community, let alone a business headquartered in China — to which Zhou replied:

We have been a strong collaborator with data Artisans since 2016, and we have always shared the same passion to use open-source stream processing framework to unify real-time event-driven applications and real-time analytics. Both data Artisans and Alibaba have been participating in the Apache Flink community for several years with absolute respect to the spirit of the Apache Software Foundation and we intend to continue to do so.

From a technology perspective, this is something truly exciting for developers across the globe, who are working hard on an easy stream processing for everyone. For our customers and partners, our joining forces with data Artisans presents an efficient option to the challenges that many enterprises are facing in the era of Digital Transformation, when real-time applications and analytics are often talked about in the boardroom but without a lot of vendor support on how to do it effectively – and in a scalable manner.

Update 01/08/19 05:22 PST: Articled updated to add emailed responses from Alibaba