Friday, 02 June 2017 17:31

Not all superheroes wear capes – some protect data (interview)


Back-up is not just about making copies of everything across disparate hybrid environments – it is really about the recovery speed of data, operating systems, and apps, the global chief marketing officer of Commvault says.

Chris Powell told iTWire in an interview that given this, organisations would end up paying more for faster, more complete, recovery.

Powell, who is based in New Jersey, worked with SAP for three years before joining Commvault in 2000. He is also a part-time superhero

"So far, it has been a marketer's dream. We don’t have a customer challenge or a product challenge, and we’re not trying to grow in a shrinking market. Instead, we have a marketing challenge," he said.

What attracted you to Commvault in June 2014?

Coimmvault Chris PowellI had been with SAP since 2000 and had just finished three years running its Latin American and Caribbean marketing. At that time, SAP was about US$500 million, growing rapidly towards a billion. I really didn't have any intention of a change.

Commvault was in a very similar situation. I found myself hooking up with Commvault as it too was a high growth environment, had a great product, a loyal customer base, no debt and a half a billion dollars in the bank. Plus, I'm from the East Coast of the United States and Commvault is based on the East Coast so it was what I would call a unicorn.

So far, it has been a marketer's dream. We don’t have a customer challenge or a product challenge, and we’re not trying to grow in a shrinking market. Instead, we have a marketing challenge. We are number one for the sixth straight year in the Gartner data centre back-up and recovery quadrant against some very strong contenders. So, what we're trying to do in marketing is to help grow companies’ awareness of the issues. Then the product sells itself.

Commvault gartner

What are the new issues? Back-up is a back-up, right?

Tape stack imageThis market is being disrupted. Now more than ever, organisations need information management, governance, recovery, business continuity and more – it’s no longer about how many tapes are needed for back-up and will it really restore properly. It is about becoming a real data/information ecosystem that encompasses so much more than a back-up. And Commvault happens to have solved more of those ecosystem needs than most.

For example, back-up is not just about making copies of everything across disparate hybrid environments – it is really about the recovery speed of data, operating systems, and apps. Naturally, organisations pay more for faster, more complete, recovery.

And that is where data governance comes in. What data would be catastrophic to lose versus what you really don’t need: ROT – redundant, obsolete and trivial data.

Then there are the secondary use cases to monetise those back-ups. Companies must look at their data environment as a key strategic enabler and asset to use backed up data instead of live data for analytics, and more. Secondary data has suddenly become a critically powerful resource for more people.

From my standpoint, a lot of CMOs of large sized companies have silos of data – ranging from social media, websites, sales, support, call centre – you name it, there are many different sources.

For example, as CMO I have 19 different systems that data is stored in. All those disparate things could go into my marketing automation machine. The philosophical question is, when are we going to get one big dog? We’re getting closer to this. These secondary silos are ripe for analytics and creating data lakes.

That is not to say there are not issues with the concept – there is a lot of unstructured data out there and it can be hard to establish a virtual repository. The possibilities are endless when you start to think about how to join data together and you begin to put machine learning on top of it.

How do you tame all this data?

The really big issue is many organisations cannot tell you where all of their data is. Traditionally there has been a lack of discovery, so suddenly when you want to make decisions or see opportunities that could leverage all those sources, you can’t access them.

It comes down to having the right policies in place across all of your data. It can be a very simple problem to solve in terms of applying policy if have a single pane of glass to manage it.

Our job is to help our customers manage data more effectively by being able to find it through discovery, govern it with policies, and protect and recover it.

How and who does Commvault sell to?

We have great reseller and value-added partnerships – at least 50% of our business globally is driven through them. That varies slightly in ANZ, where we are almost 100% supported by partners.

Many of the partners we work with are now offering software-as-a-service solutions and managed services, which is great for small businesses, right up to the enterprise level. Larger enterprises generally do it in-house but in many cases, they're running it like a service business anyway.

The “problem” is that CIOs don’t suddenly wake up one morning and say they need a total data back-up and recovery solution so they tend to buy bits and pieces of different solutions to meet very specific needs. Commvault has an almost complete ecosystem and our role is focussed on educating people on the new data management paradigms and how that can help evolve their business.

We’re playing around right now with what we call the “Path to remarkable”. It is working because a lot of our customers are beginning to talk about what their customers are delivering – remarkable, tremendously innovative, things.

What are some of those new data paradigms?

To do remarkable things with data you must have the right tools.

Frankly, too many customers have lost track of what data they have, they don't know where it is, when and who created it, and if it is still relevant; let alone when it can be disposed of. The first thing organisations need to do to combat this is the overall indexing of their data. Then dealing with ROT data to clean it.

Another issue is when you do discover all the data that is residing in your organisation from apps to public clouds, it is often very hard to move it securely and consolidate it.

A lot of larger companies are looking to move data freely across all environments but the key to portability is mandating policies across the data. Then it is important to apply sensible policies and deletion rules when you know it is OK to delete data. Policies also include back-up frequency – this can happen in real-time, every fifteen minutes or every fifteen days.

Organisations have also shifted to want to do more with their data – the goal is to monetise it to gain real value.

And the final thing is the obvious one – the ability to recover it quickly if things go wrong.

Recovery is not simple – why?

Because the perception of back-up traditionally has been making a raw copy of data and apps, usually to tapes and hard disks. It was not so much about how to use that back-up to recover data in the event of a ransomware attack or equipment failure. Back-up was a placebo.

Given the explosive data growth that has occurred in recent times, having the right data management platform in place is no longer the sole concern of the CIO or IT department. It has well and truly been elevated to the CEO and executive board as a strategic business driver, given the critical role data now plays in fostering innovation and growth.

In addition to knowing your data, today, a core focus of data management must also be on how fast a company can get back up and running, not how many tapes you need. Commvault classifies data into what you need to get going within a specified time frame (critical) and what you need on other time frames (non-critical). It is all about managing the risk and understanding your business needs.

If the risk is low, go ahead and use the plethora of free back-up resources. But know that these are hard to use and offer no guarantees. Hey, if you replicate a corrupt file the back-up is corrupt too – go replicate yourself into a horrible situation. We simply don’t do that.

What we're finding is that it's almost funny for a marketing guy to say it's not about clever marketing language or slogans – it is really a non-sexy story about building the right foundations for a data management system that meets your risk needs.

Ransomware is the latest scourge. Why?

Ransomware works on volume and spread. Someone is going to open a poisoned email and the charge is one bitcoin – today around $3400 (was about 10% of that to start).

Our customers don’t need to give in to ransomware because if they encounter an attack, they can easily retrieve their backed-up data. That is an important aspect of a lot of audits when you compare different back-up systems – it should be measured on how reliable back-ups are, and the speed of recovery. Not just what the auditors want – there is a back-up system in place, check.

How is cloud affecting back-up?

Cloud is an exciting place to be with an annual global growth rate of around 38% in data protection specifically. This is a sweet spot for us – in fact, whether a company is operating on-premise, in the cloud or leveraging a hybrid environment – we have the ideal proposition to support any of these scenarios.

There are enormous benefits associated with the cloud. Take, for example, a mid-sized US retailer we currently work with. It was spending a million dollars a year on disaster recovery and it was only passing its audit 60% of the time. They moved to the cloud and reduced costs to $150,000 and achieved an audit success rate of more than 90%.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!



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