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New Commvault CEO Mirchandani: We're ready for the next wave

The new Commvault boss says it's time for well-funded data management upstarts to 'take the training wheels off' if they want to compete in the enterprise.

Commvault has a new CEO for the first time in more than 20 years.

On Tuesday, the data protection and data management vendor named former Puppet CEO Sanjay Mirchandani to replace Bob Hammer, who had been the Commvault CEO since 1998.

Commvault hired Mirchandani after an eight-month search for Hammer's replacement. Hammer said in May 2018 that he would retire as Commvault CEO. Hammer's retirement followed public criticism from influential investor Elliott Management, which said poor management prevented Commvault from reaching its potential.

Hammer went out on a bit of a high note, however, when Commvault's financial results for last quarter exceeded expectations. He pointed to the results as validation of the Commvault Advance program his team devised to improve the company's fortunes. Commvault Advance included a streamlining of its products and pricing models.

Mirchandani spent the last three years as CEO at IT automation tool vendor Puppet. Before that, he was senior vice president and general manager of VMware's Asia Pacific Japan region from 2013 to 2016, CIO of EMC from 2008 to 2013, and he served in a variety of roles at Microsoft from 1995 to 2006.

We spoke with Mirchandani on his first day as Commvault CEO about his challenges in the new position, the importance of DevOps in data management and competition from well-funded startups. Mirchandani said he was not looking for a new job, but he was intrigued by Commvault when the board called him during the fourth quarter of 2018 looking for Hammer's replacement.

Why did you feel it was time to make a move? And what attracted you to Commvault?

Sanjay Mirchandani, CEO, CommvaultSanjay Mirchandani

Sanjay Mirchandani: I wasn't looking to make a move. I was thinking about the next thing I wanted to get involved with from a technology point of view. Over the last three years, I've been involved in a world of automation, DevOps, cloud-native, multi-cloud capabilities. As that world evolves, I've been thinking about the way application infrastructures are being managed, the way things are headed in a world of distributed cloud data applications. It became apparent to me over the last year or so that the challenge customers will face is creating value around these applications.

I was in the throes of growing a company that was going really well. While thinking about the challenge around data that continues to tickle my thinking, I got the call from Commvault, and it all came together. I can honestly tell you I was not looking. But then, I was curious when Commvault called.

What can you bring from your experience at Puppet to help as Commvault CEO?

Mirchandani: I'm not shy. I'm sure I'll have input and opinions. But this is a company that has been marching in a certain direction. They're well on their way, and at the right point, I will insert myself. But, right now, what we've got is good.

But I don't think they brought me in to tread water.

Where do containers and microservices fit in with what Commvault customers are doing?

Mirchandani: That's something I have a lot of thoughts on. There is a transformation that fundamentally says you can build things and deploy things differently, smarter and faster.

It is where customers are focused -- the advantages of truly automated, fully orchestrated infrastructure and applications with distributed development models. All of that stuff is just goodness. But with it comes a new set of complexity -- new ways of managing, protecting and using capabilities. I talk to customers every day, and they're investing in this space. They're playing in this space now and quickly moving into this space.

If I were a CIO, I would be doing that every day.

How closely have you followed the data protection and data management market?

Mirchandani: As a CIO, I was a user of some of these technologies. I was part of a company [EMC] that sold some of these technologies. At VMware, we partnered with companies that did this stuff, so I've been in and out of it. The last three years, I was looking more at capabilities for helping application infrastructure come together, but I looked at it [data protection] a lot more over the last couple of months.

What are your impressions of Commvault as a company and its products and technologies?

Mirchandani: In many ways, they were getting ready for the wave coming on us. They've got an incredible platform, an incredible set of capabilities and customer trust. Bob Hammer has been saying since he started at the company, 'It's about the data; it's about driving value from the data.'

Now, with data as explosive and growing at the clip it is, we're ready.

Commvault competitors include the likes of Veritas, Dell EMC and IBM, but you also compete with well-funded private companies Cohesity, Rubrik and Veeam that have shaken up the market. How does Commvault's technology compare to the up-and-comers?

Mirchandani: Well, being an up-and-comer is fine, but then you've got to take the training wheels off. You have to learn about a bunch of things. You have to learn about enterprise customers. You have to learn about what it means to have global capabilities. You have to learn about innovating in a way that's consumable and get it right the first time around.

I have customers that have mainframes and virtual machines, and I have customers with virtual machines and containers. How do you transcend that? You can't be a point solution and a tool set that somebody has to worry about making it work better together. As far as I'm concerned, I think our technology's pretty cool, and we solve hard problems for our customers that they don't have to go and engineer.

Having said that, some of these upstarts that get a lot of money validate the space we're in.

As Commvault CEO, do you intend to continue with Advance, the plan for the company to move forward that Bob Hammer and his team put in place? Does Commvault have the right product mix and roadmap?

Mirchandani: This industry moves so quickly. If I said we're not going to move away or change or adapt, I would be wrong the moment I walked out this door. The portfolio we have today is in the right space; it addresses what our customers are facing today and, more importantly, where the puck is headed tomorrow. You can't get too far ahead of yourself, because it's going to change quickly.

I also know the work Bob [Hammer] and his team [have] been doing over the last year will get us in the right place. I feel confident in our strategy, capabilities and roadmap. Will the products stay the same a year from now? That would be hard to answer, because everything shifts. But I think the core capabilities, the core value proposition that we have for our customers, the problems we're trying to solve, the outcomes we're helping them drive toward are absolutely the right ones.

Being an up-and-comer is fine, but then you've got to take the training wheels off. You have to learn about a bunch of things.
Sanjay MirchandaniCEO, Commvault

What is your biggest challenge in this new job?

Mirchandani: My No. 1 job is to understand our employees. My goal over the next 60 days is to meet 80% of our employees.

My goal is to understand what makes this company tick, understand the culture of the company, how it stays together. I don't have trucks and shops and bricks and mortars. My assets go home at night, and I want to understand what makes them come back in the morning even more excited.

Which of your past jobs will help you the most in the Commvault CEO job?

Mirchandani: All the experiences are relevant. At EMC, I was CIO and I ran a large organization. That taught me more about IT than in the prior 20 years. I got an appreciation for what it takes to run IT, and I can't say enough about that.

At VMware, I was in the throes of customers transforming infrastructure day in and day out in a way that was revolutionary. At Puppet, I learned the world of automation and DevOps and cloud-native. So, I hope every one of those things helped prepare me.

You'll tell me later if I'm ready or not. I think I'm ready.

Over the past year, Commvault reduced its headcount around 10% to reduce operating expenses. Is it at the right size now, or do you expect more cuts -- or perhaps growth in some areas?

Mirchandani: It's early for me to answer that. I think we're in a good place. The results last quarter speak for themselves. Over the next 60 days, I will sink my teeth into the business. I will meet as many customers and employees as I can. Bob [Hammer] and [retiring COO Al Bunte] are committed to helping with a graceful transition.

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