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Cohesity founder, new CEO discuss data management strategy

The current and former Cohesity CEOs seek to bring the company to 'the next level.' Plans include melding backup and security as well as potentially going public.

Fueled in part by the surge in ransomware, the data protection market is in a state of transition. While traditionally backup-focused vendors have started to emphasize security to varying degrees, new Cohesity CEO Sanjay Poonen said he knows where his organization stands.

"We are categorically a data management and data security company," said Poonen, who was most recently COO at VMware and started the job of Cohesity CEO and president in August.

Poonen succeeded Mohit Aron, who was Cohesity CEO since founding the company in 2013 and continues as its chief technology and product officer.

Cohesity offers a range of services with its data management platform, including backup and recovery, ransomware protection, security and governance. The recently released FortKnox provides a managed, air-gapped data vault for cyberattack protection.

Poonen, who will focus on go-to-market while Aron focuses on products, said Cohesity is a mid-sized company with about 3,500 customers.

"We're not a startup, and we're also not a huge company, a trillion-market cap company, or at least not as of yet," Poonen said. "I hope one day we'll be a big, big company."

At its current size, the concentration for Cohesity will be on building organically and partnering, with the potential of acquiring later down the line, Poonen said.

In this Q&A, Poonen and Aron detail their decisions to take on new roles and how they differ, how the company is blending data management and security, and how close Cohesity is to an IPO.

How will both of you work together? How will you work separately?

Sanjay Poonen, CEO, CohesitySanjay Poonen

Sanjay Poonen: When Mohit and the board called me -- I think it was March or April -- I asked him two questions. I said, 'Was this really your decision?' The board had told me it was his decision, and he validated. And then secondly: 'I hope you're not leaving, because I don't want to build this company on my own.'

The product is in good hands. If I had to worry about both the go-to-market and the product, there would be a lot of headache on my end.

Mohit Aron: The company is at a point that business has grown. We need someone like Sanjay to take the company to the next level on the go-to-market side. And I need a more focused role on the product side.

Backup and security are combining in the market. Where is Cohesity on that spectrum?

Poonen: We are both a data management and data security company.

Mohit Aron, founder, CohesityMohit Aron

Aron: What has happened in the last couple of years is that security has really elevated itself within this category. What used to be basically data management has become very security conscious. Data has become the new oil and securing the data is paramount in everyone's minds. It's become a boardroom-level discussion.

Earlier data security was like a small part of data management. But it's a much, much bigger part. It can no longer be thought of as something that's a small part of data management.

How far do you see Cohesity getting into security? Will you be adding features for security teams at organizations?

Aron: We already are leading with data security. Cohesity's mission was always to not just be a one-trick pony. Sometimes I like to draw an analogy to a smartphone. A smartphone starts off by being a great phone. But beyond that, it does way more. It can be a GPS and a camera and a flashlight. So we used to lead earlier with backups and then it was a bigger platform that can do both.

Poonen: The buyer of our technology is usually someone who is a CTO -- head of infrastructure -- and a CISO. We're right in the middle -- the management side of our portfolio appeals more to the CTO. The security part of the portfolio appeals more to the CISO. We have to constantly sell to those two people.

Who is your biggest competition?

Poonen: When I looked at the space, there were like 15 in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for one piece of what we do called backup and recovery [including other leaders Commvault, Dell Technologies, Rubrik, Veeam and Veritas]. And then there's another 15 who claim they do it that are not on the map. So it's somewhat crowded.

What has happened in the last couple of years is that security has really elevated itself within this category.
Mohit AronChief technology and product officer, Cohesity

I think there's an opportunity to spread to 100,000, 200,000, maybe even a million customers in due course. We're just getting started. Our goal is to create a multi-billion-dollar business, and that would set the record for anybody in this space.

We're not the type of people who go around trash-talking our competitors. We don't have to win and everybody else lose. We do want to win and win as much share as we can, but it's done with integrity.

We use our phrase internally: Be customer-obsessed and competitor-aware, not the other way around. Companies who build a strategy that is competitor-obsessed -- it's like watching a fly on the windshield and then you hit a truck in front of you.

How far along is Cohesity in the IPO process?

Poonen: The company disclosed last year that they filed a confidential S1.

We're in a position where we can wait for the right point in time. We're building a company that's going to be an independent, great company. And if and when that appropriate milestone appears, it's a milestone. It's not a destination.

I feel very fortunate that my predecessors here have built the foundation.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity, length and style.

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