CommVault CEO eyes cloud storage future

Engineering went from 20 to 120 people with still no revenue

Building a storage software company a decade ago was a high-risk venture, but according to CommVault CEO Robert Hammer, the company knew it would succeed if it stuck to its original vision – which now includes data management in the cloud.

In Australia to visit customers, Hammer spoke with Computerworld about the challenges associated with cloud storage for the enterprise.

Hammer said fundamental problems like security and access need to be overcome if businesses are going to use third-parties to manage their core information assets.

“How do they know it's secure? Can they get it back? And once it's there how do they manage it?” Hammer said. “The cloud can be internal or external. How do you manage data over the WAN?”

Hammer believes cloud storage is “not so simple” because providers have to solve the problem of dealing with billions of objects.

“We understand the issues and we are developing technology to solve those kind of problems,” he said.

Hammer has served as chairman, president and CEO of CommVault since 1998, when the company hatched a vision for better management of ever-increasing distributed storage.

It was risky, but has paid off well for the company.

“We didn't have a lot of engineers and were starting a new company on a concept,” Hammer said. “I was able to raise a lot of money [so] we shut the old business down and started the new one.”

“The business was driven by data growth. If I'm moving data, you have to start with your infrastructure. Do I understand it? And you need to understand the data about your data.”

Hammer said managing data requires a number of things like snapshots, replication and archiving and trying to do that with multiple stacks of software “gets difficult”.

“If you assume data was going to grow a million times you need an underlying architecture that can deal with that,” he said. “In early 2000 we took the commission off the old product. We needed to cross the chasm and there was no plan B.”

Hammer admits what the old CommVault was selling was “completely irrelevant” and to create the new software the engineering team went from 20 to 120 with the business still not generating revenue.

“We always new if we build this thing we are going to create a lot of value for customers,” he said.

Ten years later and CommVault is self-funding and has $119 million in cash in the bank.

“About five to six years ago we were doing well in data management, but no one was doing well with content management,” Hammer said, adding content data was siloed into applications like e-mail and the file system.

“We're hitting the data right at the source and creating a virtual repository layer. If you are in a piece of hardware you are in a silo. We need to be seamless across those in the enterprise. And then you add information management.”

After developing analytics technology for unstructured data like de-duplication, virtual server data management CommVault now wants to extend that to the cloud.

“We save people a lot of money because we make it simpler,” Hammer said. “The cloud offers cost reduction and can offer significant value creation by getting value out of stored data.”

Last year CommVault did $238 million in revenue and grew about 18 per cent.

Hammer is confident the company will achieve “double digit growth” over the coming years and cited the 40 per cent (quarter-on-quarter) increase in enterprise deals over $100,000 as one of the main drivers.

“By having a foundation you can virtualisation the infrastructure across the enterprise and increase storage utilization rates from between 30 to 40 per cent to up to 90 per cent,” Hammer said. “But in the cloud the utilisation is 100 per cent as you pay for what you need.”

CommVault develops its software at centres in the US, India and Canada.

Locally, CommVault managing director for Australia and New Zealand Gerard Sillars said the company is expanding its portfolio with about 90 per cent of new wins being cross product sales.

“You can fix a problem by throwing more people and cash at it, but if companies don't have that we can offer a solution and TCO benefit.”

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