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Commvault CEO says we won't go back to pre-COVID-19 ways

Commvault CEO Sanjay Mirchandani says cloud adoption and remote collaboration will stay after the pandemic, but in-person events and physical data centers will be scaled back.

Commvault CEO Sanjay Mirchandani said he doesn't expect the world to go back to the way it was before COVID-19, even after the vaccine is widely distributed and the pandemic ends. Instead, he anticipates a shift to what he described as a "balanced" point and settling into a new, comfortable norm.

Mirchandani said customers are unlikely to give up or roll back the technology investments they've made to enable their businesses to function in a cloud-oriented, touchless world. Cloud adoption, remote work and virtual collaboration are here to stay, according to the CEO, who said the biggest challenge now is overcoming a lack of IT skill as staffs are forced to work with unfamiliar tools.

Mirchandani became CEO of Commvault in February 2019. The company since launched Metallic, a SaaS subsidiary, and acquired software-defined storage vendor Hedvig, the company's first acquisition in its more than 30-year history.

We spoke with Mirchandani about COVID-19's impact on the businesses, the IT and data protection changes that resulted from the pandemic, and which of those changes will likely be permanent.

How did COVID-19 impact IT and data protection?

Sanjay Mirchandani, CEO of CommvaultSanjay Mirchandani

Sanjay Mirchandani: We've tipped the scales in those first three, four, five months -- there was a structural shift, the world had changed and there was no going back to what it was. And then there was a second shift, where people just sort of figured out how to get things going. As different countries were seeing lockdowns or other preventive measures, business conversations tended to be like, "OK, we're going into lockdown, but we're going to continue with the things we've got to get done."

And as a result of that, public cloud adoption accelerated at an unprecedented pace. But skills, security, and pace of change are lagging, so there's still work to be done. And data has never been more important, in my opinion. If you look at what science has been able to do with the data, and sharing of data, I'd say it's valuable -- but it's also never been more vulnerable.

The bad guys continue to up their game, they continue to keep doing things in more and more sophisticated ways. And your average commercial customer doesn't have defenses for that, so you've got to find ways to really automate protecting that data. And this is all underpinned by skills. Suddenly, you're asking IT to do more, do it remotely, and with less. And to do it without the infrastructure they're used to and do it faster.

Everything about the vaccine is good news. It gives us hope that things will come back to some sort of a balance. And that's where we're at -- I think the world will recalibrate and find some balance. Hopefully, the worst is behind us.

2020 hasn't been a normal year. How does that affect your preparations and business strategies for 2021?

Mirchandani: As much as the environment around us has been horrible with the pandemic and its impact on mankind, we've had some of the best quarters in our history. In the past year, save the March quarter, when the pandemic came on full force, we just knocked the wind out of most people. We've actually had two great quarters, and for two reasons that will take us further into 2021. One is everything we've been building was designed for this new cloud-oriented, remote-touch, light-touch world. The second is we've been so focused on execution and getting back to growth, and that's starting to show results.

But it's really down to the technology. The need for data protection is at an all-time high. When I was a CIO a few years ago, data protection meant something very different. If you have five data centers, a catastrophe would mean you couldn't get to three or four of them. But you'd limp along with what you had to get your business running. The world didn't expect to get whacked, for every data center in every corner of the world to become inaccessible. It puts things in a different light.

Data protection has again become top of mind, but it means something different. It obviously means data protection -- backup, recovery, archiving and very agile DR. But it also means security and ransomware defense, and analytics and sensitive file capabilities. Going into 2021, our portfolio is absolutely designed for that.

Are customers still struggling to get to cloud?

Mirchandani: I'd say customers are at different points in that journey, but I wouldn't necessarily use the word struggle. I think a big part of the struggle is making the decision in the first place -- having the direction, deciding how deep you're going to go with it. The pandemic just accelerated all those decision points. I think skills is the single largest inhibitor to any of this technology promise coming to fruition.

It's important that providers like us protect those skills that customers have invested in. With Commvault as an example, we make sure when we say something works with [SAP] HANA, it really works with HANA, so that skills don't become the inhibitor and the customer doesn't have to do the integrations. If a company is rushing into the cloud and building Kubernetes applications, it doesn't mean the entire organization understands Kubernetes, nor does it need to. We're saying just as much as you backed up your Oracle or VMware environments, you can protect your Kubernetes environments in the same way. We're making sure we protect the skill investments they made and abstract any complexity.

Related with that journey, you're always going from something to something. There isn't a company -- even if it was born this morning -- that doesn't have legacy. Part of that journey is understanding the pain points customers are trying to fight while going to the promise of the cloud. Respect where they're coming from, but be a step ahead of where they're going to.

My hunch is that we will never go back to the patterns of a year ago.
Sanjay MirchandaniCEO, Commvault

What changes made in response to COVID-19 do you see becoming permanent?

Mirchandani: My hunch is that we will never go back to the patterns of a year ago. In the past, if the team in France decides that there's a prospect I should go visit and have dinner with, it's a great outcome for the business, but that's inherently inefficient. Today, we're all a bit more shrewd. Though I miss the engagement with our team and our customers, I don't think we'll ever go back to flying across the world for something.

I think there'll be a balance. There will be times when you're doing a big thing and you want to meet people from the company you're doing business with or doing a partnership with. But we've also gotten pretty good at being able to meet virtually, make decisions and get things done in 30 minutes or an hour. Why lose that?

Does this mean the end of big face-to-face events? What are Commvault's event plans?

Mirchandani: Time will tell, but I think it'll be a combination of slicker, more effective, more engaging virtual events along with focused in-person events. I don't know if these big 30,000-person events hold any charm anymore.

For the foreseeable future, everything Commvault's doing will be virtual. Will physical events be a thing? Of course, they will. But will it be at the same scale and velocity as it was before, where you get an invite every week? I don't know. But to flip this question on its head, I'd say world-class virtual capabilities are growing every day, and they're definitely coming to the fore.

Google recently bought Actifio, one of your competitors. How does that affect Commvault and other data protection vendors?

Mirchandani: It's going to be interesting to see what they do with it. I think if I was a cloud provider, I'd want every data protection company to be able to write to me. Why would you alienate a workload? If I was a customer, I'd want my data protection suite to be as open as possible to give me that hybrid capability, to give me that equity across platforms. So I think most of the cloud providers will be friends, and not foes.

Data protection vendors do more than just copy bits. Data protection is quickly becoming data management. If you're really thinking public cloud, private cloud, hybrid capabilities, you need a layer of abstraction around your data. That gives you fluidity across your data across your environments -- across all these generations of data from all the different data-producing applications that you've got. It's not uncommon for a company to have everything from mainframes to containers, all spitting out data. A cloud provider doesn't even begin to scratch that surface.

Does Commvault currently have any acquisition plans?

Mirchandani: I can't talk about it. But I will say we've got a rich platform right now. I'm not out there hunting down trophy things to buy, but if I see something we need that will add customer value, we'll look at it.

Johnny Yu covers enterprise data protection news for TechTarget's Storage sites SearchDataBackup and SearchDisasterRecovery. Before joining TechTarget in June 2018, he wrote for USA Today's consumer product review site,

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