Ep. 512 w/ Don Foster Global VP of productivity & evangelism at Commvault
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Kevin Horek: Welcome back to the show today. We have Dawn foster, he's the global VP of productivity and evangelism at Convolt. John. Welcome to the show.
Don Foster: Hey, thanks, Kevin.
Kevin Horek: Yeah, I'm really excited to have you on the show. I think what you guys are doing at Combalt is actually really innovative and cool. Before we dive into that, let's get to know you better and start off with where you grew up.
Don Foster: Cool. Yeah, so I believe it or not, while I may live in Dallas, Texas now I grew up in central Illinois. Going a little farming community right outside of Champaign-Urbana and then moved up closer to the Chicago land area outside of Juliet and a town called Morris, Illinois, where I went to high school.
Kevin Horek: Okay. Very cool. You went to university, what did you take and why? Let's get into MIT and later on.
Don Foster: Yeah, sure. Actually go and that's a fun story by itself. So I went to a Northwestern university. You'll see. Even if you look at my LinkedIn profile, you'll see, I actually did not graduate. Yeah. I was one of those Y2K kids or Y2K professionals, right. That had been doing it consulting on the side. I was at Northwestern university thinking that I wanted to be an attorney in IP law. I was doing a dual major of computer engineering with an eye towards doing pre law, the law school. Of course, the funny thing throughout this whole thing was as I was going to Northwestern university through some of my connections I had made in working and doing consulting work in high school, I had actually met a, a gentleman that worked at Kirkland and Ellis, a law firm in downtown Chicago. I was doing side work for them, help desk work, networking, work, et cetera.
Don Foster: That's what got me low alert out of university and started working in the it side for a global offer.
Kevin Horek: Interesting. Okay. And, and to be fair at that time, there was like, it was such a, like so many people did what you did. Right. I just like got into the.
Don Foster: 19 98, 19 99. It was a, there was a huge demand. If you were smart with technology and especially if you knew networking, if you could code yeah. There was opportunity bounded in galore for you.
Kevin Horek: Sure. Walk us through your career, going to MIT, and then let's dive into how you got to Comdex or Convolt sorry. Let's dive into your different roles because you've done a ton of stuff with them. I'm always fascinated with people's journeys, especially when they've been in a company for almost 20 years. Like you have.
Don Foster: Yeah. It, it, the story is really interesting actually. Going back to being at that law firm, they hired me on full-time. I had worked there for about four and a half years before I went to Cabo and, bear in mind, I'm in my early twenties at this point, working at this law firm, right. Coming out of college, basically quitting school, going to work for a large law firm in the it space. I was living my best life at that point. Right. One of the projects, the joke is the new guys are the new people. In it, the joke back then was, well, when there's someone new that shows up at a company, they always get two projects printers. All the network printers and backups, because they were the joke was the Cubs had no one it wanted to do. That's where my career started was basically, helping to clean up.
Don Foster: If you remember all of the direct HP laser printers and the cards you put in the printers and the print servers, I got started there. And of course it was easy. At that same time got started with backup. We were a legato networker shop well before EMC ever acquired them. The, the thing I really liked about backup at that point was it touched everything. In the data center. So yeah. Got to working with legato, found all the issues and the problems that it just didn't do for the firm. I was told, Hey, let's take a look at how we're doing backup and see if we can improve, especially coming out of a, around the nine 11 time, see if we can re scenarios. That's how I ran into combo, just started looking around. They were a new vendor, new to the space. I decided, along with my boss at the time we took a look at a couple of different vendors.
Don Foster: Cobalt was one of them and they really knocked our socks off even back then. Right. We're talking 2002 now,
Kevin Horek: Very early.
Don Foster: Yeah, exactly. We ended up actually doing a proof of concept with them. We ended up buying the software, we rolled it out and the rest is history kind of, as I started to really get to know the product and then also get to know some of the people, cause they were a small company, then it was kind of exciting to get out of the data center and kind of onto the vendor side. That's really how I, my way to combo.
Kevin Horek: Got it. Okay. What made you finally make the switch and then let's cover your journey through your different roles up until what you're doing today, because you just had a promotion congrats on that by the way. And, and you guys, are, you guys have some of the biggest brands on the planet using the platform?
Don Foster: Yep. Yeah. I guess kind of why I made the switch or why I made the career change. It's odd to think that it's almost been 20 years now that I've been here, but 20 years ago, before I went, before I was going to college, I was already working in doing, I was already a cer a certified Novell engineer. I was doing Novell networking for small businesses. One of the things I loved about that was every day was a different challenge. Right? The consulting company I worked with as they were kind of helping, helping me learn and kind of know, learn new skills, they would throw me in front of every challenge. And so that was fun. When you're going to a, a, a, a organization and it's, like working in it, sometimes it can get monotonous. And what I really thought was cool. Oh, cool.
Don Foster: I'm going to have a chance to join a company. They want me to essentially be a bit of a consulting engineer. Right. Of pre-sales of post-sales, but every day was going to be different, trying to tackle different problems every, every other day for a different customers, so to speak. It was going into some, going back to something that I really enjoyed when I was younger. Of course, when I got there, the role was exactly that it was, Convolt with a small company, right. I w as a consulting engineer or a systems engineer, what are you going to call us back? We would talk to a client, go through a sales cycle. Of course we would be the ones then helping do the implementation. We quality. You quickly learned that you didn't oversell the products and that you didn't tell any a false prudes, right. Because you're going to have to implement make sure that solution truly lands home the next week.
Kevin Horek: Interesting. Can we, can we pause for a second on that? I'm curious. I think what you just said is actually super important, the kind of over promise. I also think just the reality of not selling so hard. Can you elaborate on both of those things and why do you think those are so important?
Don Foster: Yeah, I mean, so look as technologists and folks, that would be whether you're the presale side or consulting end of the day, your integrity. I mean, you obviously have your own brand and your integrity is everything. The last thing that anybody wants to have is, an upset customer, especially when you were the one there showing them how you've been, helped them solve these really difficult challenges. With a person like myself, I wear my passion on my sleeve, right. I really, I believe in the things that combo has done and is continuing to do. The last thing I ever wanted to do was, and it was something I probably struggled with early on, right? Because sometimes you can make software and technology do things it wasn't meant to do. Just because he can doesn't mean you should, right. That's a sentence statement on upcoming to live by, but it's important that, you're upfront and that when it's okay to say, no, we can't do that.
Don Foster: Or no, it will work that way. It's also, I find, having high integrity also means that when you're talking with customers, sometimes you jointly come to find solutions that you never really thought about because everyone has their own context of their own, preconceived notions of what good is or how you would solve a problem. Sometimes having that clear, no, it doesn't work that way. You start working together, you start to come up with some really interesting and innovative ways to solve the challenges that are in it. I think that goes outside of just our jobs in it. It's just an interesting way of the things that I've learned in working with clients. That look, if you're always of high integrity, the number one you're going to at least help, make sure you can meet each other's goals, but better than that, you're not going to have a client screaming at you that what you promise and the money they spent, their money, they spent their hard earned money on isn't working.
Don Foster: Right. That's really why I think that's so important.
Kevin Horek: Nope. That makes a lot of sense. I guess before we dive into what exactly Commonwealth is, I'm curious, how do you manage your own internal roadmap compared to feature requests? Because, when some of these big brands come calling and they say we have, I don't know, a hundred grand or a million bucks or whatever the number is to implement X features. Sometimes it's very hard to say no, especially at the early days or even when you've been in business for a long period of time.
Don Foster: Oh yeah. This is something that our chief product officer and our CTO and I have run around and around in different roles and in trying to define that intricate balance. Right. Cause it is about one of the things that we always try and, and I kind of view it as a an important foundational thing when anytime you're talking about technology and software in general is we create the software for our customers. Right. Right. At the end of the day, if there's a feature that we're creating and our customers don't see a way that it would be utilized or see its value, then that feature probably isn't while we might think it's important, it may or may not be something that are, that is, that needs to be prioritized. Right. I see this a lot where companies will talk about capabilities and features, but then they're never utilized because it's almost like it's technology looking for a problem that's having technology created to truly solve.
Don Foster: Right.
Kevin Horek: Interesting.
Don Foster: So, the, it is a delicate balance because one hand, right, you've got a lot of smart technologists that are driving a company like Convolt and we have a vision and an understanding of the market. We have a vision of, where we see problems continuing to evolve as we see that market evolve. We want to develop towards that vision. Sometimes that means creating capabilities or features or even products that maybe is ahead of its time for the marketplace and a challenge, but knowing full well that those things will come together. One of the interesting things I like to highlight the customers about that combo has done in the past is we actually created some VM provisioning technology that would allow us to automatically create virtual machines as a part of our software. Of course, at the time it was like 2012. Everyone's like, why are you guys getting into BM provisioning?
Don Foster: Like, it doesn't make sense. Like there's all these other companies that do that. It doesn't make sense. Why are you doing this fast forward five years later? Now our ability to spin up and spin down compute workloads in the cloud. Some of that provisioning technology is now, oh, some of the most differentiated and cool stuff, right back in the day for making it easy for customers to really kind of burst in the cloud, et cetera, for disaster recovery routines, et cetera. It's interesting things like that where customers didn't ask for it, but it was part of a vision that we saw on how went to help drive a fully autonomous and truly kind of orchestrated environment. Also you need to talk with customers and understand, Hey, they have a real need for how they might do X or Y. If it's not too big of a cult, too big of a rock to lift within the technology of the software that you have, then you build that in.
Don Foster: The other thing is if you see a marketplace that's opening, and this is where some of the SAS and metallic right, where there's a need, and maybe there is a, a chance to catch that wave, then maybe you go out and you completely build a new product line. Those are some of the things that you always need to balance across the organization on customer asks the vision of where you think the market's going, and then where you see that next wave coming. Because the last thing you want to be as disrupted by that way,
Kevin Horek: No, a hundred percent. I want to dive deeper into what is comm vault today and how do your customers actually implement your technology?
Don Foster: Sure. Combolt, today is essentially a data management platform now. What we mean by that is most folks know no of us for backup. It's one of the many services, data intelligent data services that we provide, but essentially we're a data management platform that can deliver everything from enterprise backup, recovery, disaster recovery, and the orchestration that comes together within that all the way to help customers better utilize the cloud, as well as providing secure immutable environments in protecting against ransomware. And, and on top of that, we also provide some of the archival and e-discovery and search capabilities across the platform as well. Okay. We say it's a data management platform, it really does cover all the different things that you might think you need to do when it comes to maintaining and managing the data throughout its life cycle. Also ensuring that it's available for the business to continue operating.
Don Foster: Right. Right.
Kevin Horek: Okay. Obviously the problem that you guys are solving is only getting worse. Right. I think, well, we all read about companies getting hacked all the time. Right. I think now is probably more challenging than ever because, and you can correct me if I'm wrong here is you potentially need data protection and data security and compliance and governance, and then kind of reporting around all that kind of at your physical offices or just office, and then obviously potentially at somebody's home. If they're working kind of remote from a coffee shop or wherever, is that fair to say, or, or how does, how do you guys see it like that?
Don Foster: Yeah. I wouldn't say that you potentially, I say you do need.
Kevin Horek: Fair.
Don Foster: Enough. Yeah. Because, and look, you just outlined the new data center, right? The data centers no longer four walls and a building or an office data's being created everywhere. As we're seeing the importance of that data that's being created, whether it's on end users, laptop, all the way up to an executives, iPad all the way to some that might be running in the cloud for development team, it all has value back to the business. Every single one of those points where data is being created or accessing company information is also part of the surface area or the threat surface area. For some form of attack, we had a ransomware, we had a hacking attempt to be, good people making bad decisions and making mistakes. Those are all areas where something can happen. And, a lot of folks have thought or previously have thought that, oh, well, if I move things to the cloud automatically has the data protected.
Don Foster: And that's also not the case. Right? As you say, data security, data protection, all these different controls and governance, et cetera, they do that. You need to have that as an organization so that you can understand exactly, what your potential risk would be. If you get hit by some form of ransomware attack, obviously there's a number of different legislative, oh, what's the term I'm looking for. I just blanked on the term GDPR, The different sets of governance rules that you need to adhere to. As businesses you need to be and be able to report that back up. I guess the point here is that none of these things by themselves will solve or keep your organization. You need a, you need a great perimeter security plan. You also need an active security plan, but you also need a recovery plan. In order for you to have a good recovery plan, you have to ensure that you're protecting all of your information all the way through, across the enterprise, from the edge to the cloud, to the data center, wherever that data might live.
Don Foster: The other key thing there too is look, just because you have data protected it and business is still very complex, right? You have to know what it takes to actually recover it as well. Those are some of the key things that combo helps customers do is not only do we make sure that the data is protected and then store it and make it efficient and help you manage it in the cloud or at the edge, et cetera. We also help make sure that you can recover it when that point in time happens. When you get hit by ransomware, when there might be a hacking it down, or it's something, hardware fails and you have to restore it to another location.
Kevin Horek: Right. Okay. This might be a really stupid question, but I think it needs covering in the sense that when I've talked to businesses that are looking at doing this, they're like, well, I'm already in the cloud, I'm using Google drive or Dropbox or whatever. Right. There's a million of them. Maybe before we dive deeper into how we get people get set up with what you guys do, how are you guys different than those solutions? Because I know you are, but how do you explain that to kind of non-technical people because what I'm getting at the.
Don Foster: Yep. Yeah. So, I mean, look, if you're running in the cloud, Google cloud, Google drive one, drive all those sorts of things, and yes, you can back up your data, to those, those locations are synchronized. It really is. It's really how it functions, right? Yes. I know it gives you versioning and a number of different capabilities there as well. That's kind of from an end user perspective, but this also expands the enterprise. What really makes, what Combolt does different is not only can we protect those sources. One drive Google drive Gmail, obviously 65, et cetera, give you the versioning, the ability to search the ability to actually understand and see exactly what information you have. We also give you those immutable copies so that if something does happen like a ransomware attack or a malware attack, and all that data gets encrypted, you can get yourself recovered back to before that happened.
Don Foster: That you're not sitting there with new information or forced to potentially pay it a really expensive ransom with the hope that you might be able to get your data back. Right? It's about not just doing that for the end user, but it's about making sure that the databases, the infrastructure as a service, whether that be a VMware or Microsoft hyper V or some form of OpenStack configuration, or even if it's just cloud virtual machines, ensuring those two are protected because at the end of the day, the cloud is just a separate set of infrastructure and infrastructure services that, we, as customers can leverage. In fact, we leverage it in our SAS offering called metallic, right? We're using Microsoft Azure to help drive that solution for customers, but it also needs to be protected because it can be corrupted. Granted it can be, it's being might be replicated to multiple locations, but when you realize that data corruption or having data be encrypted through a ransomware attack, or even some deletion things that can happen, that can still invalidate data and it can cause a business outage.
Don Foster: That's why, enterprise backup recovery is so important and more important on top of that. Oftentimes for cyber insurance or for any form of governance, you have to be able to prove that, you're following and meeting the different guidelines, that either the insurance company or that the governing bodies, require. That's also another key part about what we can give back to customers is the simplicity report on how well they're performing against their goals.
Kevin Horek: Okay. What do you mean by how, what, like, so what would be an example of a goal and then how do I see whether I'm hitting that or not like, obviously it's a report, but what's in that report.
Don Foster: So great question. Three simple ways to think about this, right. Am I protecting the maximum amount of my data estate? Ideally you want that to be a hundred percent, but let's be honest. Most organizations, probably aren't protecting 100% of their data estate. There's always a laptop here or there, or some application or some development space or whatnot. That's not being protected and they probably have good reason for that. Right? What percentage of my data state is being protected. For those different classifications of the data in that data state, what are my SLS net SLA is recovery time objectives and recovery point objectives. Those are really the three things that customers are always tracking. Am I protecting what I need to protect am I then classifying them in a way for performance cost, et cetera, and adjusting for risk based upon what the organization deems appropriate.
Don Foster: What I mean by that is can I recover from 10 minutes ago or 24 hours ago, right? The, the risk in that data or that risk to the business is, proportional to the cost that it takes to have those more recently recovery points, so to speak. More importantly, it's something where to happen. Can I recover back to that recovery point in a timely enough fashion, that's also adjusted for that importance or risk, right? That's where recovery point recovery time objectives come from. What customers really look at is, okay, yes, I'm successfully protecting my data estate at the level that we've stated as a part of our business continuity plan, disaster recovery plan, whatever it might be. Number two, we're also doing it at the, the frequency that is required based upon classification to ensure that we can get back to a certain recovery time or recovery point and do it within a certain amount of time and that how they can assess risk and showcase back how well you're meeting your stated goals for the business.
Don Foster: Of course, there's also reports that highlight, there's things that might be executing for longer term retention for different compliance routines, et cetera. There's also things that we can report off from that perspective as well.
Kevin Horek: Got it. Okay. Interesting. Hypothetically, I have Kevin COE, for example, and I come to combo and I want to implement everything you just talked about. How do I actually go about getting you guys into my company? Like walk us through that. I get, it's different probably depending on what I'm looking to do, but can you give us kind of a quick example? How long roughly does it take, is it weeks? It months maybe walk us through that as well.
Don Foster: I'm so glad you asked this question, right? Because this is part of the transformation that's occurring in our industry. Right. Kevin, I would first say to you, it's like, okay, so your team, your it team, I mean, do you want to continue managing the infrastructure that it takes to scale and drive backups and Dr. At the answer, there is no, I'd to get out of the business. I'm trying to manage all this infrastructure. That's the conversation that leads us towards, let's talk about how we can provide the level of backup and recovery, the level of compliance and governance that you need across all of your data state systems and do it from a SAS model. What I mean by that is instead of us necessarily installing software that you have to manage and maintain and get the drive infrastructure for your typical it world, right?
Don Foster: We're going to run this much, like a salesforce.com or like a, an office 365 for your email. We're going to go ahead and provide the infrastructure and all of that initial setup driven from the cloud. We're going to help you drive and protect your systems on premises easily. You can still bring storage for high speed recovery, right? Also your laptops, also your SAS applications and manage it as a service. This way you're only paying really for the users or the number of VMs, or maybe the number of applications that you have in your environment. We're basically helping you meet those specified SLS and set helping you set that up. That way, when it comes time to actually execute your backups or execute on your plan, or, Hey, it's already set up and defined. Really at that point, you're just trying to track for novels or for, the, the items that aren't running successfully and working together with Combolt team to ensure that, okay, we've solved those anomalies and that everything's running at the spec that you would expect that you would require.
Don Foster: Now, the time it would take to implement can be incredibly fast. In fact, if you wanted to, and if anyone listening once do, you can go to metallic.io, which is our, which is Commonwealth metallic, which is our, our software as a service operating, you can do a free trial for your laptop right there from our website. You'll see, it takes literally, probably all of about maybe a minute to install the intelligence, to get tied in and you get to see how simple it actually is to protect the laptop. That's just as simple for protecting virtual machines, be it on prem or in the cloud. Like I say, we've got a number of different ways that we can make that aligned to whatever your recovery point and recovery time objectives are for your data center. The other way of that is if you were to say, what, I love the idea of SAS, but we've got a really strong it team.
Don Foster: We really want to manage and drive this ourselves. That's fantastic. In that case, we have a number of ways that we can help you implement the solution. The one that most customers choose nowadays are our converged appliances that we call hyper-scale X. That brings together all of our software, all of the intelligence of how data is being maneuvered, as well as the storage and networking that is required in an appliance that gets basically shipped to your data center rack and stack, plug it in. About 30 minutes later, you're ready to then start doing backups of the applications or virtual machines or laptops in your data center. Before, it, you have everything protected and that can be really straightforward and simple, and that will probably cover 80%, maybe 90% of your enterprise. Beyond that, when you start to get really complex data challenges, complex environments, then that's when we can work with you on some of those personalized solutions and help you customize the orchestration and automation components to tap into whatever's necessary.
Don Foster: Those are really the two interesting options we find a lot of customers are starting to look more and more towards that SAS based offering versus trying to bring on more solutions and more infrastructure on prem.
Kevin Horek: Okay. So, so basically I install a piece of software and, or use the hardware piece and, or connect my cloud service accounts. You guys are monitoring all of that. If my laptop dies or something, and I get a new one, I just restore from backup and kind of keep going in and reconnect to what I just outlined is that like a simplified version of what you're talking,
Don Foster: It's a very simplified virtual, what we just discussed and absolutely right. If you were to run a backup, whether it be on-prem, through our software solution, the Commonwealth software solution, or whether using metallic, if that laptop goes sideways or say you lose a virtual machine, or you need to do a refresh for devin test environment, it's basically a point and click and tell the system to restore either the new laptop or to the new virtual machine location or in the cloud. We take care of that for you.
Kevin Horek: Awesome. Okay. How are you guys monitoring my cloud services outside of what you guys provide? Like my one drive or whatnot.
Don Foster: From a one drive perspective, that's all about our Microsoft 365 support, right? So, so what ends up happening is we pay, we ask our customers to pay per user. That's the way the subscription licensing for that solution works. What ends up happening is once we register your Microsoft account for the Microsoft 365, and we have the users, as all of those components are linked to that user. We're able to protect one drive, we're able to protect your email, even the archives or the undeleted, the recoverable items, folder, all that is protected. We're also for, and this is really important in today's, collaboration world of SharePoint, online and teams. I don't know if you use teams promote Microsoft perspective, but it's like slack. It's like a lot of the, the lot of the different Google, what was it like Google Hangouts and some of the other Google tools, but what's important.
Don Foster: There is we can even protect the channels and the files inside of teams and all the different conversations, because it's amazing if one team gets deleted and you lose those files that can bring an entire department to a grinding halt. Right? Sure. That's really how we help manage that is we use the internal intelligence that the, a solution already has. We have built in the way that we have the elegant tie-ins to these applications to ensure them that we're protecting your one drive, that we have your mail protected. That just becomes a part of them, the SLA of how you drive the data protection for that part of the environment.
Kevin Horek: Nope. Okay. That makes total sense. I'm assuming that I can have these backups happen automatically kind of on-demand like, how does that kind of work?
Don Foster: Yeah. The way that it works is when you define your recovery point objective. How frequently, you want to be able to roll back from a point in time that will then help us define the schedule. We use a lot of machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms in the background in analyzing the environment. After we've been implemented, we'll run some schedules and get some things kicking off and running after about 10 to 14 days of continual, execution of those backup jobs, the machine learning algorithm will start to take control and ensure that we're running backups as frequently as necessary to meet the RPO of the RPO points. And, but doing it without necessarily, overloading the system, right. If you want to have a recovery point of every 12 hours, then we'll ensure that we're making those schedules run, and then we'll optimize it on the fly for every 12 hours.
Don Foster: Right.
Kevin Horek: Right. Then, so if my computer's sleeping during one of those 12 hours, does it run, still run, like wake the computer up and do it in the background? Or how does that work?
Don Foster: Yeah. I mean, if the PC is off, then obviously nothing's going to happen. It will just, it will basically want to kick on and it will try to run a job the next time that it's powered on in the, in the laptop space. You have to realize this is, yeah, this is where the nuance of it gets interesting. Right. Totally. The data center, things are always on. Right, right. For an end-user your laptop can be powered off. Sure. So that's where we've done. Interesting little features like the continuous protection of a laptop. Okay. That's usually something that's turned on by default nowadays. In that scenario, what it basically means is when your laptop is running and you save a file, we'll track, those file changes. In the background just automatically protect them, basically do very small backup jobs to ensure they're always protected that way.
Don Foster: If you power the laptop off, or you're disconnected from the network, and you do a lot of changes, you're not now suddenly trying to force a whole lot of information to the network. We also meet her in a way where it's , background surface, just doing it like a windows update in the background, doing that over time.
Kevin Horek: Got you. Okay. Even if I'm offline, you're tracking my changes. When I reconnect to the internet, it'll kind of upload those changes kind of slowly in the background.
Don Foster: Yep. That's, that's the beauty of having of intelligence put within the lap of the actual, a laptop. So like in a windows world, right. There's, there's changed journal logs that are occurring all the time or what files you're updating. If that maps back to content that we're protecting for you, obviously we keep that running index, even though you might be disconnected from the mothership, so to speak, right. Your network connectivity hits back, boom we'll Scan and see all those changes and a part of our process for then protecting those files. We'll understand what we have to synchronize and it's often running.
Kevin Horek: Got it. Okay. How does that, does this same process apply to say the Mac or iOS android and the iPad iOS? I know you could probably do more on Android than you can with some of the apple stuff or what are your thoughts around that?
Don Foster: Yeah, I mean, so we're talking protection of phones and iPads for the most part. There's not a whole lot that we really necessarily do on that front, primarily because the data that's getting created there, and this is different in some scenarios, but most of that data it's, especially from an enterprise perspective, that's being written or managed or maintained through some of the device management solutions that will then store that data and have it synchronized from a security aspect.
Kevin Horek: Yeah. It's getting, it's just not, you're not sinking my iPad to the cloud. I'm pulling data from the cloud. That's already being backed up by you guys. Correct.
Don Foster: Eventually. Yep. That's the way it's the same idea works for Mac OSS. Of course, for any of the enterprise systems that you would think about from virtual machines to file servers, to network attached storage devices, to, any of the new fangled technology in containers, Kubernetes, you name it, we've got the industry's broadest support for what enterprises run is one of the key differentiators that we offer to customers, not only in providing a simple solution, but also giving the broadest level of support. Cause we still have customers that run old versions of windows, AIX, even some sun Solaris out there and, they still need that data protected because they can't turn that solution off just yet.
Kevin Horek: No, that makes sense. You just moved into a new role. Let's talk about that. What is, what is your new role? Because I'm actually really fascinated by it.
Don Foster: Yeah. I guess, I don't think we ever went through my, not that we want to spend the entire time talking about what the, the, the career path at Commonwealth has been, but it's one of the great things of working here in that I've had a chance to reinvent myself as the company has grown as well.
Kevin Horek: That's awesome.
Don Foster: Yeah. It's almost like, it's almost like, I've been at a company for almost 20 years, but in reality, it's not like I've been stale in those 20 years. You look across my career and it's been a lot of cool changes that have happened. Right.
Kevin Horek: So, so maybe give us some highlights along the way then, and then we'll dive into your new role.
Don Foster: I started combo, that was essentially a pre-sales and consulting engineers. That, as I said before, I would sell to a customer one week and then implement that same customer, the next right. It was fun. As the company grew, obviously we brought on more people. I went into a district manager role for SES, for sales engineers. Still a sales engineer, assistant engineer is essentially the technical seller, right? The person that can help you build the solutions and solve your problems with our technology and explain how it's going to work and what the outcomes will look like. I started to run a small team out of Illinois across 13 states and did that for a couple of years. In basically mid 2008, our CTO who was the, it was basically creating a new product management team had given me a good, gave me a quick call and asked me to help him create this product management team.
Don Foster: So that was cool, right? That was fun. I ended up doing product management in which we created a number of really cool and differentiated things in the product today. One of them being IntelliSnap, which is just the way that we integrate with snapshot engines and storage arrays, that's probably a whole nother conversation for another time, but ended up running product management for basically the largest part of our product for backup and recovery for good for actually what C it's about six years. My, that same CTO or VP of product at that point asked me to help kickstart our technical alliances because we'd never really built a technical Alliance team. So we got that put in place. I made the interesting left turn and joined our COO, who was at the time was Chris Powell. He was looking for someone to help kick off and kind of build a solutions and product marketing team.
Don Foster: I knew the product I could write fairly well. I enjoyed doing presentations, I enjoyed creating content. I, I basically took on that role, did that for a number of years, I think almost five years, and then had been kind of working in, did some mergers and acquisitions work with the Hedvig solution we acquired. I've been working with our field SES and now of course the head of our productivity and evangelism team. That last role, which is the most recent one is essentially because of my history and the way that I guess I have built my career, our CRR, our chief revenue officer had said, look, we'd really like you to take over the enablement team and turn it into the next generation of, productivity evangelism that this company needs to grow as we continue to transform it as fast, et cetera. The challenge sounded very interesting because it's all about ensuring that, our sales engineers, our account executives, our partners, our partner account executives, their sales engineers, our professional services folks, and even our customers that they're all getting the level of understanding and awareness of what the product does, but then that we're also then making sure that, our new sales reps, new SES, understand how the product works and also have the skills and tools to not only improve their career, but be super successful here with combo, same thing from a customer perspective, that when they buy a solution that they have the right online training, they have the right documentation, they have the right resources and community aspects to ensure that they're successful from day one after they make that purchase.
Don Foster: So it's a super exciting role. It's definitely challenging lots of things to definitely do still to get us to that point where, best in class and this new transfer, transformative area of, company productivity. I think I'm up for the challenge. It's going to be fine.
Kevin Horek: Oh, that's really great, man. Congrats on that. Thank you. I'm curious because you've had to reinvent yourself as probably the wrong word for it, but you've had to, obviously as things have changed in the industry, you basically had to, learn, stay current and learn new things and be on top of all this stuff and adapt. How have you managed that and kind of decided where to take your career because it's, it can be really hard to manage your own career. Do you know what I'm getting at?
Don Foster: Oh, it can be. Yeah. Like in my LinkedIn, I actually, I talk about how I'm a student of the game and maybe that's kind of how I've done it is. I look at everything that, in my career and what we do in tech, it's kind of a game at the end of the day, right? There's rules, there's boundaries. There's, there's ways you can hack the game, so to speak in your favor. I guess as I've grown, I've first off, I've always had some form of a mentor. I can't, I can't say how important I think that is in a career and helping to kind of map what you want to do, where we want to go is always having someone there and they don't have to necessarily be more senior, but someone there that's mentoring you and just your thought processes and what you like to do, what excites you where your passion lies?
Don Foster: Cause one of the, probably the biggest things I learned very early on in my career is, if you're not passionate about something, then are you really going to truly enjoy it? Right? Are you really going to constantly be, doing the things that make you happy day in and day out, or is it just going to be a job? I can tell you I've come to love what I do in tech, because I'm always following my passion. If I know there's a big passion for what the next challenge is in front of me, then I'll be successful because, if I have the passion, then I'll put the energy and we'll, I'll figure out whether it means I have to read whether it means I have to, maybe bring on a third party consultant, hire folks around me that know more about the topic and what we're trying to achieve, then maybe I do.
Don Foster: At that point it becomes more about leadership and helping all these great ideas mesh into a strategy. At the end of the day, if you have a mentor and you follow your passion, then navigating your career and going and doing what you want and having fun and enjoying it as long as you're in the you're in that passion zone. To speak, it almost comes along with the, I don't say, along with the ride, but comes along with the acumen, right? There's always going to be things you have to read. There's always going to be books. You're always going to find people that are smarter in the topics. When you do listen, right, there's no need to ever be the smartest person in the room. It's all about hearing what others can kind of get back to you and learning from that. I think that's kind of how I've navigated my career, is the challenge exciting?
Don Foster: Does it fall in my passion? More importantly, am I going to have fun doing it? Usually that all coincides with, do do I know everything about it? If not, then I'm probably going to have fun doing it. Cause it means I'll be learning. Right?
Kevin Horek: Sure. No, I think it's interesting that you say that. Cause I feel like I'm the exact same way is for me, it's obviously passion, but if I'm constantly learning, I'm happy doing what I'm doing and if I'm not, I am ready to move on whether it's within the company or without, to a new company or just changing up what I'm doing. So no, I totally get that.
Don Foster: On that same front, I always say to people, when we're looking at hiring candidates for roles experience through experience out the window, and I'm not saying it's not important because it is, but I'll take the person that is super passionate and, and excited then the person that has maybe very little passion, but has the experience, the experience of a, of a, seasoned professional, because you can teach and train and bring people up to speed and experience. In some cases they find new ways, innovative ways that may be that they get the job done in ways that other folks haven't, it's that passion that really drives them. That's almost always the most important aspect for me.
Kevin Horek: No, I actually think that's really good advice because you're right. You can, it's easy to just, well, this guy's got 10 years of experience, we're going to hire them. It's like, well, maybe if they're a good fit. Sure. If, you could just tell right. If somebody is just there for a job or, and I think in technology, I get that having a work-life balance. Sometimes it's very tricky and sometimes I think we're good at it. Other days I think I'm terrible at it. So.
Don Foster: If you figured that one out, let me know. I want to listen to your self help book. Okay.
Kevin Horek: Yeah, exactly. I think if anybody figures that out, but I'm curious on almost on that point though, like how do you kind of stay on top of things, try to have some work-life balance and also still be passionate and still kind of, move up the ladder in your career because all those things are very challenging.
Don Foster: Yeah. So, well, I think we're the first, the most important things, and this is actually advice from a previous mentor and, number one is he need to make sure you're always reading, right. Reading and learning. Right. It's amazing how just by reading certain, maybe analysts articles or, Harvard business review every now and then going through, different, even different tech manuals every now and then, right in technology, it's amazing the stats and the perspective it gives. Oftentimes those stats and perspective, if you can have some of those things stored away, like we've all been sitting in a meeting and people are asking for different opinions and you hear the, I thinks, and I believe, and I feel, but then when you can hit someone with data yeah. Then suddenly the whole thing changes. So being data-driven definitely helps. Using that almost as a, a core fundamental as to, how you kind of shaped decisions and shape ideas.
Don Foster: I mean, your gut is important, your feelings, emotions, what you think is important, but data is that. I know it's probably cliche at this point, but it really does help to kind of drive and, and help you kind of move upward from a career perspective. If you're always data-driven, cause people are always asking, how are you gonna metric that? How are you going to prove success? That's all data. Reading, having some of that information to form your opinions, shape your opinions. I think also not being steadfast in your opinions. I've had many people change my mind and change it for the better, because ultimately I'm not the smartest person and there's always people that know more about things than I do. That's always been a big thing to me is, sitting back and listening and making sure I hear more perspectives. That's part of what I think I've done to really help drive my career.
Don Foster: The other thing is again, it's, there's a level of tenacity and maybe that has a bit of a weird maybe side meeting. When you say, tenacious or tenacity, it might have a bit of a, an aggressive tone to it, but really, maybe this is a better way to put it as professionally persistent. Right? Sure. Being professionally persistent or just being persistent to ensure that you see things through kind of goes back to the integrity piece. If you say you, if you say that your software technology can do something, then make sure it does it. If you tell somebody that you're going to do something, then make sure you do it. There's number of times over my career where I can remember, you're always in those, you've got those hairy situations cropping up where it's a deadline, or maybe it's a, an event coming up and the leader is not quite sure if it's going to get done and the ability to turn them and say, Hey, we've got this as a team.
Don Foster: Right. Doing the the breakdown, like realize, okay, I just told them, I told the, a leader, we've got this. I know right now we don't have this. Let's figure out how we're going to get this done. It's those scenarios that really help you start to handle stress. Also organize your thoughts and make sure that you're keeping the most important aspects in line. And it's amazing. It's those times of pressure that will also help you start to realize what's actually important when to discard complexity and when to strive for simplicity. Those are just some of the things that I've seen in, in my execution. One tip, I'll give everyone, this is another mentor that told me this said, look, you probably get about 2000 emails a day. Right. I'm sure we're all nodding our heads. Yeah. Okay. You don't have to answer or look at all 2000.
Don Foster: In fact, the ones that are important, you're going to see again. Don't feel bad if you miss an email or you miss a string or you forgot something because if you forgot it, chances are, you'll have a phone call or you'll have an am or you'll have another email asking and reminding you about that same thing, because the important topics, somehow we'll always find a way to bubble themselves to the top. The challenge of course, will be managing your time and that personal, how do I keep my own head straight versus all the asks from the business? That's the challenging aspect. That's the, the work-life balance, the personal work balance of doing the things that are important to you, as well as doing the things that are important to the company. That can be the challenge.
Kevin Horek: No, I, I actually think that's really good advice, but sadly, we're coming to the end of the show. How about we close with mentioning where people can get more information about yourself Convolt and any other links you want to mention?
Don Foster: Yeah, for sure. You can absolutely check me out on LinkedIn, Donald Foster or Don foster with Convolt by all means, follow me there. I do. I do some postings and whatnot. Every once in a while, convolt.com. I do blog on combolt.com fairly frequently. That's also a place you can find out more about the company and the software we offer and the capabilities built within. Also, I mentioned metallic.io earlier. That is the website for our SAS offering, which is built off the same technology that combo is built for. All right. It's just a, a different branch of the same code tree that's being developed and driven specifically for SAS. Those are probably the three key things that you can go check out. I am on Twitter every once in a while, but it's probably more business stuff than it is anything personal. Probably not that important to necessarily follow me there.
Don Foster: If you want to do by all means, please do. I'm probably more active on LinkedIn. Of course I do a lot of my blogging, whatnot through there as well.
Kevin Horek: Very cool and calm bolt is with two. M's not one just.
Don Foster: With the breath.
Kevin Horek: Well, well, Don, I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to be on the show. I look forward to keeping in touch with you and have a good rest of your day.
Don Foster: Yeah. Thanks for the great conversation, Kevin. It was been fun.
Kevin Horek: You as well. Thanks very much. Bye.
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