Commvault’s Hedvig throw of the dice

Commvault’s $225 million purchase of software-defined storage maker Hedvig looks like a rational move given the way the backup market is changing.

But it also looks like a massive and potentially expensive gamble for Commvault, which saw revenues decreases and losses posted in its recent first quarter results.

That’s par for the course though. It is companies like Commvault that need to put down big stakes to make headway in the current ‘game state’ in storage and data protection.

So, what is that game state? Look at backup market players and their share a few years ago and it pretty much solely consists of the suppliers that had been in the market seemingly forever: Veritas/Symantec, Dell/EMC, IBM, HP and Commvault.

That all started to change with the advent of server virtualisation and the need to backup VMs and their data. It couldn’t be done the old way (one agent per physical server) and new companies emerged, the brightest of which was Veeam, which is now on revenues of more than $1 billion in a total market of $10 billion-plus.

That was the first wave. The next assault on the ‘traditional’ backup market has come on the back of hyper-converged infrastructure (itself an outgrowth of server virtualisation).

That has seen the rise of vendors that have put cloud-friendly backup capability into clusterable node appliances, such as Rubrik, Cohesity etc.

Compared to these, traditional backup software products are seen as old and clunky, costly and hard to set up. For sure, these appliance-based newcomers are minnows in the market so far but there’s a definite sense that this is the way things are going.

Meanwhile, there is also a movement towards backup and the data it collects as broad data platforms upon which analytics, for example, can derive extra value, such as Veritas has been moving towards.

So, what about Commvault’s move for Hedvig? It seems calculated to take Commvault in the direction of its competitors. It’s not a way to grab Hedvig customers, because there aren’t many of them.

It appears a gamble, but then all such moves are. In making it work Commvault will have tough tasks to tackle in integrating a very different software stack (based around block, file and object storage) into its own. On top of those technical tasks will be the need to re-vamp its product lines, presumably to bring them in line with the ways the market is changing. All that costs money and corporate mindshare.

Customers and investors will be keeping a sharp eye on how this progresses.

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