Vast Data is latest storage disruptor with vaulting ambitions

Jeff Denworth of Vast Data is the latest in a fine tradition of hypergrowth datacentre innovators.

Vast Data

In Soho’s red and tranquil labyrinth on a fine late-April day, the sun is shining, drinkers congregate in smartly dressed clusters on pub corners and I’m meeting a company growing like billy-o that’s the latest upsetting the applecart in information technology. London, it’s good to have you back…

The company is Vast Data and it’s the latest in a fine tech tradition of companies that build a better mousetrap and watch the world beat a path to their doors. In the achingly fashionable and (even more achingly expensive) Soho Hotel, co-founder and CMO Jeff Denworth is telling me about his disruptive venture. The numbers are eye-popping even by the standards of this crazy business. Vast has a $300m annual revenue run-rate, is quadrupling in size year on year and today has about 400 staff. About 40% of its business comes from outside the US, a proportion many fine companies never reach.

This all comes on the back of disaggregated datacentre storage technology that is changing the economics of the sector. Vast made a bet-the-farm choice to go all out for Flash media and it is paying off: Denworth says, “We did make that bet and every day it looks smarter.”

Essentially, as its name hints, Vast appeals because it offers enormous scalability but also performance, resilience and manageability. That’s of a piece with many modern tech growth stories that take their cue from the iPhone in combining premium features with ‘even a CEO can do this’ usability. “People say, ‘I can’t work my dishwasher but I can run Vast’,” Denworth quips.

Of course, the storage old guard of IBM, HPE, NetApp, Dell/EMC and HDS are still there but the newer pre-pandemic gang of the likes of Pure Storage and Nutanix have gained ground and now firms such as Vast are treading on even their toes as well as those of Big Data players. In the go-go data economy whirligig that’s being fed by AI, analytics, the Internet of Things and more, the cycle never stops.

“Most people aren’t throwing out infrastructure but data growth is so rapid and [approaches like] scale-out NAS or Hortonworks/Cloudera are falling out of fashion,” Denworth says.

Despite the growth, Denworth & Co. aren’t rushing to buttress themselves with scads of VC cash. Instead, he says, at the tender age of six years old, Vast is cash-flow positive and has only taken a relatively modest $263m in VC. Still, the marketing power of an IPO mega-event appeals and he sees the equation being that of a 2% dilution for a potential tripling in valuation. Could Vast be a public company in 2023? Maybe, but it could well file papers at least, he says.

Following a well-trodden path, Vast is already acting like a public company on the quarter-by-quarter hamster-wheel. As more firms become data firms, Vast’s face fits and the plan appears to be to “go for broke” in the manner of Jeff Bezos at Amazon but perhaps without the tolerance for years of large losses. Already the appeal of Vast is spreading across verticals from financial trading, the media, life sciences, government and anywhere else that’s data-hungry: read ‘everywhere’. Average deals are north of $1m and individual sales measured in tens of petabytes are common. Some are way larger.

Soon, Vast will announce a name-brand hardware partner but beyond that it has a vaulting ambition, one that it is only currently hinting at, of taking its platform and broadening out from storage. In this I suggest, Vast is adopting an attitude that is also the ‘we want it all’ aim of rivals such as Pure and Nutanix. Asked about companies that Vast is analogous to, Denworth says “we very much track Pure” (which saw explosive growth in its early years and still impresses) “but we’re kind of on an island.” The goal is, well, vast, and he appears to be happy to be on the mission to get there.