CRN Exclusive: Commvault CEO Hammer On CEO Succession, Regaining Mindshare, And Increasing Competition

Commvault: Picking Itself Up After The Long Stumble

Commvault is a data protection technology leader, something that can be forgotten in all the noise generated by a combination of market activities by such hungry startups like Veeam, Cohesity, and Rubrik combined with the concerns generated by a push by major shareholder Elliott Management's move to change the company's leadership.

But Commvault today is not the company that, while one of the top-two vendors of data protection technology a decade-plus ago, has stumbled and lost market share and mindshare to not only those startups but to system vendors and hyperscale cloud providers who now include data protection technology as one of a checklist of features.

Commvault CEO Robert Hammer is in his mid-70s, but still has the fire of a startup executive combined with the experience, both good and bad, of seasoned business leaders. He has led the company through a resurgence in technology, building on an architecture that gives it the ability to easily tack on new services, as well as an executive reorganization to meet future challenges.

Hammer recently sat down with CRN to discuss the changes Commvault and the data protection industry is facing and why the company thinks the word "legacy" isn't such a bad thing after all.

Following the disclosure this year that Elliot Management has a big stake in Commvault and is pushing for a CEO change, what is the current state of Commvault's executive succession?

There's an ongoing search. We're trying to find an individual who culturally and vision-wise can take this company over the next five to ten years, can take it to the next level. There's a lot of potential here for the company to do extremely well. There's a lot of runway in front of us. I think we've got a really unique position in the [market]. So there's no reason why this company shouldn't have a really long, exciting future. Getting a team in who can execute on that would be really important. It's not so easy.

Are you personally actively involved in the selection process?


You've been CEO for 20 years. Is bringing in someone new something you are looking forward to?

I'm 76 [years old]. I've talked to the board a year ago, and said, 'Look, I may be 75 with the energy of a 35-year-old, but that can't last. So we outta think our way through this and see if we can get the right successor in here. And it's not just me. (Chief Operating Officer) Al Bunte is a part of this.

Is there any pressure to replace management from the new investors?

It was part of the deal. I didn't have a big problem with that. But they know the risks. There's plusses and minuses to this. And the company has just gone through this massive reorganization, which I think at the end of the day is going to work out really well.

The issue was certainly brought up [with the board before the Elliott Management investment] that it was time to start looking.

Can Commvault recover the mindshare it had a decade ago? A decade ago, Commvault was the only alternative to then-market leader Veritas, but until a year ago industry watchers were not sure Commvault could survive competition from nimble startups.

We clearly have the technology. We don't have the mindshare we need. It's interesting. The other guys have done a really good job on the go-to-market side of mindshare. But from a technology perspective, they're not in the same league as us. They're having a field day calling us 'legacy.' But architecturally, we're in front of them. Technically, we're in front of them. That's why we made all these changes in go-to-market. Our strength is in the large enterprise [and governments.] [Our smaller competitors'] appliance approach, and the architecture, which is basically Google file system index, has some advantages but a lot of disadvantages when you talk about scale to deal with these problems in a way that is efficient and effective. You can deal with them. But the more they add to their functionality, the more complicated their platforms get.

What about Commvault?

We've got all that data at a much lower level, and it's all native. And we don't have a storage layer we have to go through. This provides a tremendous amount of additional leverage to do these things in a much more efficient way, including the cloud. We don't have to put that structure in the cloud. We just use all the file tools natively [in the cloud]. For competitors to enrich data, they have to pull it out of the cloud, enrich it, and put it back. They can do it. But it's just a lot more inefficient to do versus what we're doing.

So that's why we turned ourselves upside-down from a distribution and partnering standpoint. We couldn't get that mindshare. We're not going to try to outspend a startup. It doesn't make sense. We can out-innovate [them] because we're really, really efficient. We've got to be a lot more efficient and clever.

One way the smaller, newer competitors have succeeded is by focusing on the small and midsize business market, a market where Commvault has been much less active. Does Commvault have an SMB strategy?

Our SMB strategy was very simplified. The first product, that's our appliances and Commvault Complete, and our pricing, processes, support, quote tools, that's all done. And we've put a lot more resources in the channel to support the partners. So we've done all that. The technology has been coming along, but all the resources and programs were put in place last quarter. We've seen the funnel to do this. But in terms of that showing up in our numbers, I think that will take a couple quarters.

The enterprise is going through some kind of resurgence I don't quite understand yet. But it just happened, all of a sudden. After restructuring, the funnel took off. We'll just have to see how that all plays out.

How does that translate to the SMB market?

[SaaS is our] SMB play. But we're not going to compete against the really simple easy stuff the cloud does. With Microsoft and so on, you get it for free. And that's not our hand. But certain things you'll start to see hit the market starting this quarter and the next quarter in terms of what we're doing with SaaS. We're putting Commvault's own marketplace together that ties into the [cloud providers'] marketplaces. [We have] a contract with AWS where [customers] can acquire the cloud resources in a simple, automated way. Point and click.

And it's available now?

Pieces are this quarter. In a broad way, certainly next quarter.

But what about the risk from competitors grabbing the smaller customers that Commvault has not traditionally served? Those smaller companies will grow, but they may stay with their existing data protection providers.

I would say this: If somebody like Veeam has a market position, that is a strength until it's not. Because Veeam's being eclipsed by [data protection appliance vendors] Rubrik or Cohesity. I shouldn't say eclipsed, but they're certainly feeling the pressure from those guys.

Those are real issues. I'm not sure how long that run is going to be on the appliance. Three years, five years, I'm not sure, before that disappears.

How is Commvault looking at the California Consumer Privacy Act, which is similar to GDPR. It was written to protect California citizens' data. But California is such a huge market that data protection software vendors may not want to make a version specifically for California.

OK, say I'm a big company and I've got to deal with California. How do I deal with my California operations? I have to take my HR (human resources) index, and marry it to all these other indexes, which we can do. We can combine multiple indexes. And not just attributes, but at the indexing layer. So we take HR, or geospatial, or anything else [and look at] where does that individual reside, where does the data reside, and how do I connect the dots? We can do that today. That's just an offshoot from GDPR and how you execute a really efficient, automated GDPR process. … Technically, I think we're in really good shape.

Commvault has technology partnerships with several large vendors including NetApp, HPE, Cisco, and Hitachi Vantara. How important are those partnerships to Commvault's success?

Well, the ones that work are extremely important. We need some of them to work. The way HPE has gone about it aligns their strategy and ours extremely well. And sales motions, [such as with HPE's] GreenLake solutions. They're spinning up the Commvault relationship and putting a lot of emphasis on it, and doing it where it's aligned with a common motion of theirs'. Otherwise, it's extremely difficult because then we're doing all the evangelizing and trying to pull them in. You can do it that way, but I think it's hard. I think they've done a really, really good job of doing that. I think it's gonna work extremely well.

NetApp, we had that alignment years ago with SnapProtect, and then it kinda got lost. Now we're much better aligned. I think it's gonna work really well. And [NetApp is] a machine. They've got a really good distribution capability and go to market. Those guys have really outstanding capabilities. I think that's gonna work really, really well.

How about with other vendors?

Cisco, we've worked together. I think we need to take it up a level and get more aligned with HyperFlex [hyper-converged infrastructure]. We're fine with UCS, but when you start adding HyperFlex and that alignment in the enterprise, I think that's going to be extremely helpful.

We're aligning more and more with Microsoft … on the Azure side. I think that's happening as we speak. And there are things we're doing with AWS that are quite good. So those partners are important to us. And we're doing some work with [Hitachi Vantara]. We've done a lot of business with them, but the alignment wasn't tight. So now working on getting better aligned. Strategically, there's good reasons for us to get aligned with [Hitachi Vantara]. And we're doing a lot of work with Huawei.

So yes, partnerships are important. We're in a hybrid world.

Does Commvault have relationships with the professional services automation companies like Kaseya, ConnectWise, and Datto to reach out to the MSP community?

No [But] Commvault has plans to integrated with several service providers like ServiceNow.

There's a lot of talk about machine learning and artificial intelligence. Commvault is talking about autonomous, self-driving backups. How did that get started?

We started this a year ago with customers, understanding how they use a plan to get an outcome. 'Plan' is the word we use, where you define what outcome you want. A plan auto-configs, does all that work automatically, depending on what the storage needs are, what the compute needs are, what the bandwidth is. We do all that work.

Clearly, there are a lot of customers that want it, that are beginning to use it. We came up the curve really fast on this. Part of it's tied to our architecture, and part of it's because we've been working on these ideas of machine learning and artificial intelligence. We've been at this, if I said five years I'd probably be right.

But Commvault has been doing this for more than a year, right?

We've been using it internally for quite a while with no issues that I'm aware of. A lot of our automation was tied to how we wrote our own code. We automated all our code and dev-test. That was started, I'd bet, 15 years ago. All that automation and cloud and orchestration, that all came about internally. Our test bed is really, I don't know, maybe somebody else in the world is more sophisticated that we are, but there won't be many. We've been at this for a long time.