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Carbonite CEO discusses data protection threats, developments

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Mohamad Ali, president and CEO of Carbonite, reflects on his trip to the State of the Union, how his job compares to previous high-profile positions and what's next for the vendor.

Carbonite CEO and President Mohamad Ali has had a busy 3 1/2 years as leader of the cloud data protection company.

The Boston-based vendor has made several acquisitions in that time and increased its presence in the business data protection market. Carbonite now provides data protection for more than 100,000 businesses, Ali said in a podcast Q&A.

"We're looking for that to be 200,000 and 300,000 and 400,000," Ali said. "There was a time when we served just the consumer market. We continue to serve the consumer market, but over 70% of our company now serves businesses. And I think that's an important message for us to keep out there and keep reiterating because I think a number of people still remember us for the consumer company that we were, and we're a very different company today."

In March, Carbonite closed on its acquisition of Mozy backup, which will help build out its data protection portfolio and bring it more business customers. Though Carbonite hasn't revealed many specifics about the integration yet, it plans to roll out more details at Dell Technologies World, scheduled for April 30 to May 3, 2018.

"Typically, it takes -- for any of the deals that we've done -- between 12 to 24 months to integrate a company," Ali said. "I don't expect it to be much different from that."

In 2017, Carbonite purchased Datacastle's endpoint backup, as well as Double-Take Software to improve its high availability technology.

In-house, the company is readying its new disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) product, Carbonite Recover. Carbonite is also working on a data protection console that will be a "very important piece of delivering complete data protection in a simple, easy-to-consume manner," Ali said.

For more details on Carbonite's current and future product line, the data protection market and evolving cybersecurity threats, Ali's trip to the State of the Union address and his time as Carbonite CEO, listen to the podcast, and read the transcript below.

Update: Ali's tenure as Carbonite CEO ended in July 2019, when he became CEO at IDG.

Editor's note: The following transcript has been edited for clarity and condensed.

You've been Carbonite CEO and president since late 2014. How has the data protection market changed in that time, and how has Carbonite changed with it?

Mohamad AliMohamad Ali

Mohamad Ali: It's been quite an exciting three years for us here at Carbonite. The data protection market continues to evolve. From the first day a computer program was written, data protection was required, and it will be till the end of time. The only thing that's different is where the data lives, how much exists, how much you want to store and how fast you want to get it back. But, for the most part, the data protection market is a solid long-term market that we're excited to participate in.

In terms of how it's changed, clearly, there is a large variety of data sources, and that's growing: On premises, hybrid, cloud, physical, virtual. It's scattered everywhere. And there are new attacks on that data, such as ransomware. And over the last three years, I think Carbonite has really risen to meet the needs of this new world of data protection.

It's already been a busy year for you and Carbonite. Earlier this year, you attended the State of the Union as a guest of Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). A couple of months later now, what sticks out most in your mind about attending the event, and what are some key takeaways for you?

Ali: We live in a very interesting time. There is a lot of both technology disruption and economic disruption happening in the world. There are meaningful political shifts. And being at the State of the Union address was fascinating. I got to have dinner with the 100 senators, and I had some pretty interesting conversations about cybersecurity, about net neutrality, about global trade. We're living in both a pretty exciting and frightening time. The significant cybersecurity threats to our companies and our country continue to escalate.

There are some estimates that suggest that, by the year 2019, cybercrime will cost businesses in excess of $2 trillion. There is not really a clear way to prevent this, which unfortunately makes the service that Carbonite offers even more important because you will be breached. The question is: How do you recover? And services like Carbonite become very important to recover your small business, your large business, whatever business you have.

How do you see the ransomware threat developing over the course of the next year?

Ali: We see this as a continuing and expanding threat, not only over the next year but possibly over the next decade. Today, ransomware and other malware attacks represent 22% of downtime for companies. About five years ago, Carbonite invested in some technology to recover from ransomware. And to date, we have recovered over 10,000 customers who have called us after being attacked by ransomware. I'm not sure any other company can claim that.

We see this as an ongoing problem, from small companies to very large companies. We had a customer who had 800 servers that were taken down with ransomware, and the ones that were protected with Carbonite came back up within 24 hours. The ones that were backed up with a competitor product didn't come back up for several weeks. Ransomware is a continuously growing threat, and we need data protection for it.

Ransomware is just one challenge in the market right now. What are some of the other major challenges in the data protection market for Carbonite to tackle in the year ahead?

Ali: Data has really become the most important resource to many companies today. And the data is not just in one place. It's scattered all over the place. It's on mobile devices, it's on laptops, it's on servers, it's in clouds.

It's in a variety of different worlds: virtual and physical. Most midsize companies have some sort of hybrid footprint, and they actually have to go to multiple vendors to protect all that data. And what Carbonite brings to the table is a single vendor that can protect that data in any of those forms that I just described.

Back in February, Carbonite announced it would acquire Mozy backup, a deal that closed in March. Are there any new details about how Carbonite will integrate Mozy? And how does the deal shape Carbonite going forward?

Ali: This is a very, very exciting deal for us. This was the first company I wanted to acquire when I got here three years ago. It is the perfect fit with Carbonite. We really value the team, the customer, the partners, the technology. And like everything else that we've done, we will combine the Mozy platform into our platform and deliver even more value to the Mozy customers and the Mozy partners.

We are going to have a very large presence at Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas. And at that time, we will provide a lot more detail. But needless to say, our full intent is to protect the investments the customers and partners have made and to provide more by leveraging all the technology that Carbonite brings to the table.

In the last couple of years, Carbonite has made a number of acquisitions. But what in-house development or advancement are you most excited about in your product line?

Ali: We have three or four that are really exciting. The one that I've discussed somewhat extensively is the disaster recovery as a service [DRaaS] product -- Carbonite Recover -- that we're bringing to market. It's based on some of the world's highest-performance, true near-zero recovery point objective and recovery time objective replication technology. It's the same technology that many of the large businesses in the world use for their own high availability. So, that becomes the core of this DRaaS.

Layered on top of that is a highly automated orchestration layer that we have been building organically for quite some time. Underneath that, there is a fully multi-tenant architecture that allows for efficient use of resources so that you don't need to have your own second data center. We believe that this is a disruptive offering into the existing DRaaS market, which is probably about a $2 billion market, but it's really dominated by services that are stitched together around individual backup or individual replication products in a reasonably inefficient way. So, we're very excited about our DRaaS offering.

What other new in-house elements are you excited about?

Ali: One of the other things that we're doing will likely be called the Carbonite Data Protection Console. It's a unified user experience. It's a unified set of REST APIs that allows consumption of endpoint backup, server backup, server high availability and server migration -- so, effectively, the entire data protection suite.

All forms of data protection that a company would need, you could get from one place with one user experience, one set of APIs, one account model, etc. That doesn't exist today. Today, if you want those four different services, you have to go to multiple vendors. And, in many cases, you have four different vendors to get those. As a result, you have four different APIs, four different account models, etc. And once again, everything that lives underneath that will be multi-tenant, highly efficient and highly scalable.

Looking back now, in terms of your career, how does the Carbonite CEO role compare to other positions you've held?

Ali: It's been wonderful. There's not a dull moment around here. Having said that, my two to three years at Hewlett Packard were not dull either. I was fortunate enough to work on the project to split the company into multiple parts. At IBM, I helped build their analytics business. And here at Carbonite, we're on a similar, if not more exciting, path where, over the last three years, I think we've been able to build a very, very compelling platform, one that is well-positioned for the future.

It seems like every couple of months there's some exciting new thing happening here. I'm barely able to keep up myself, but we have a great team that just keeps going and going and going. So, it's been very exciting for me, and it's also a great place to work. I love coming to work every day. I love the people I work with.

It has been very busy for you over the last couple of years. What is the most difficult aspect of the job as Carbonite CEO and president?

Ali: The most difficult aspect of anything is assembling a team of people who embrace change. We have seen a lot of change. We've seen changes to our product set, to our customer set, to our channel set, to our channel programs, to our culture, to our IT infrastructure. Our IT infrastructure is a big deal. The company is 12 years old. When I joined three years ago, we were running on an IT infrastructure that was literally built in somebody's garage 12 years ago, and now, we've fully modernized it with Salesforce, Marketo, NetSuite and Zuora. All that has happened in the last three years, and it's allowed us to be a much more efficient company. Being able to get a team on board who can embrace that change is the hardest part of any of these projects.

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