Bob Hammer on 20 years as Commvault’s CEO
Master Data Management

Bob Hammer on 20 years as Commvault’s CEO

Commvault is coming up to its 30th birthday. Originally spun out of Bell Labs in 1988 and then one of AT&T Network’s business units until 1996, the New Jersey-based data protection & management company has seen the world of data change dramatically.

And Bob Hammer has been at the helm of the company for a month shy of 20 of those years.

“If I thought back 20 years and whether the company would look like this, in terms of the breadth and depth of innovation, and the staying power of the company, absolutely not.”

“The core idea of the company has not changed. We founded a data company, and we evolved it.”

When Hammer took the reins in 1998, data management as know it today didn’t really exist, and backup and recovery was much simpler.

“I had a server and a tape drive; that's basically what it looked like in '98.”

However, the foundations of what the company would become today were quickly put in place.

“To my mind it was like, ‘Do I really care about backup? No, I care about my data and what I'm going to do with it.'”

He compares data to the energy powering light switches: you don’t care where it comes from, you just want it there when you need it, whatever the reason. So, this led to investments and development in areas such as distributed architecture, the idea of a universal platform, followed not long after by the ability to index and search content, and finally a push to be ready for the cloud.


Speed bumps

Hammer says overall, those days – the ‘phase 1’ from when he took over in 1998 to revenues of $500 million – went “pretty smoothly”. But the start of ‘phase 2’ however, saw “speed bumps” in the form of Dell and Veeam.

Dell were once a major partner for Commvault, with what is now Dell-EMC shipping hardware with Commvault’s Simpana software.

“They became 25% of our revenue. And then the market started to shift and Dell all of a sudden do their own IP [in the shape of Quest and AppAssure acquisitions] and I said, ‘Let's just get out of here because this is not going to work. But 25% of our revenue went right out the door.”

That relationship still exists; Dell-EMC is named as one of the companies that will be making their own version of Commvault’s Hyperscale Appliance, but Hammer isn’t above taking some snipes.

During his keynote at the recent Go event, he called Dell-EMC “our friends that try to kill us every day” and derided Dell’s attempts to spend $1 billion on building a fully distributed platform: “You don't have to look for it, we spent 20 years building it, and we're going to be innovating a lot faster than you are. Game on.”

In a press Q&A later that conference, he reinforced the point: “[Michael Dell] has got piece parts, he's going to do what he typically does, what they always do, which is cobble it together and put something on top.”

On the subject of Veeam and their rise in the market however, Hammer is more complimentary.

“Veeam figured virtualisation: Make it simple, automate it, put a simple UI on it, give it a simple message, price it right, put in the market. And people started buying it.”

“We completely screwed up. We let that competitor come in, and they did a good job, so shame on us. But we stepped that up and we came back and turned out better products and virtualisation than Veeam.”

The rise of rivals was also impacted by some financial struggles. Though revenue has been increasing at a slow but steady rate in the last few years, profits have been hard to come by.

Hammer says that low sales productivity and cost of maintenance were the main reasons for this, compounded by flat growth. But confidence is high off the back of recent announcements such a as suite of new analytics applications, an Endpoint Data Protection as a Service for laptops and other devices, a new Hyperscale Appliance, and a partnership with Google’s Cloud Platform.

“Your worst case is that it’s just going to get a lot better, your best case we'll get to where we want to be and that's 20% growth on the top and 20% margins.”

“This is the leading technology out there. We have distribution with it in both the enterprise and the midmarket and the big cloud guys are jumping on this. We're in a pretty good spot.”


What next

Today the main drivers for the company are the journey to the cloud (which increasingly includes ‘cloud-like infrastructures’ on-premise) security, compliance (with a specific focus on GDPR), and analytics.

“The cloud is not an experiment anymore, it's the majority of our growth,” says Hammer. “Providing secure seamless portability to the cloud and enabling customers to use cloud resources and compute is really critical.”

“Analytics is coming like a freight train – fast – and it's going to be a critical part of our ability to enable customers. Pure backup is always going to become a smaller part, and analytics will become a much bigger part of our business.”

Despite this new push into analytics, Hammer isn’t planning on making any major M&A moves.

“We built it [the company] without acquisitions. Our objective is not to get big just to be big. Our objective is to provide good solutions for customers that have value. And it just turns out we can innovate faster than buying something.”

“It doesn’t mean we won’t acquire, but our Devs know what my strategy is and they just keep moving: Machine Learning, AI, they don't wait for a product manager to tell them.”

The conference also saw a major push to raise awareness around the EU’s incoming GDPR legislation.

“GDPR is a big opportunity from a business standpoint. People are understanding that this whole data management thing has now become critical, and we have the best comprehensive data foundational technology to deal with it.”

Hammer also brings up the subject of blockchain.

“What is blockchain? It's a big distributed system. I'm not making any predictions on how or when but the odds are it will happen.”

“It doesn't matter for us for whether it’s blockchain or I’m in a different hypervisor. It's just distributed and we can deal with it; we can deal with a file being chopped up into pieces and then put back together because that's how we operate.”


More than backup

While transformation is a big theme for a number of companies – especially so for companies with a legacy of a few decades – Hammer sees it more as the market coming around to what Commvault’s vision has always been.

“We've been a data management company for a number of years, but the perception is Commvault's just a backup and recovery company.”

“When we started, people were just buying backup and that's what we did. But we've always been a data management company. I think people are now getting it.”

A big theme of the company’s Go conference was ‘doing remarkable things with data’ and how the company can use its indexing know-how to create more value from the data customers are storing.

Hammer points to recent partnerships with the likes of Cisco, Google, and Microsoft as proof that the big technology players understand the importance of data management and Commvault’s role in that, which in turns helps get the message out to a wider audience.

“It's easier for us to articulate who we are really are because people need what we do now. The Big companies have got it, because they need it. But the general market still had this perception. But this isn't slideware. It's not who we want to be but we are.”

“It's certainly a lot easier when you have Cisco saying that and Microsoft saying that and Google saying that. And it sure makes it a lot easier than just Commvault saying it.”


Also read:
Commvault sets sights on becoming an analytics provider
Shadowing VMware, Veeam chief retains a healthy paranoia
“Organic innovation” high on new F5 CEO’s agenda


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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect. Writes about all manner of tech from driverless cars, AI, and Green IT to Cloudy stuff, security, and IoT. Dislikes autoplay ads/videos and garbage written about 'milliennials'.  

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