A rack of Vast Data servers.
Image: Vast Data

Vast Data has momentum. Will that propel it up the stack?

Protocol Enterprise

Welcome to Protocol | Enterprise, your comprehensive roundup of everything you need to know about the week in cloud and enterprise software. This Monday: a storage startup looks to build software momentum, Genesys is on a hiring spree, and Microsoft and SAP unwind a partnership.

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The Big Story

Vast Data's big plans

In a time when many tech companies are posting blockbuster results, Vast Data stands out.

The 5-year-old flash storage company did two funding rounds: an $83 million series D in May and a $100 million series C in April 2020. It's valued at $3.7 billion, is cash-flow positive and recently surpassed a $150 million run rate, which just eight salespeople were largely responsible for driving. (Think of the commission checks!)

The tech appears impressive as well: CEO Renen Hallak said a rack — which he said contained, on average, around 43 individual units — can fit 40 petabytes. Consider that 1 petabyte in a rack was a stunning accomplishment in late 2019, and you'll see how much progress has been made.

Now, as Vast Data charts its path forward, the startup has ambitions higher up on the tech stack. It no longer sells hardware, instead certifying appliances made to its specifications by Avnet.

That means doubling down on software. The company wants to run its own data science platform, Hallak told Protocol, a trajectory that he says will pit it against vendors like Databricks.

  • "We think that five years from now ... that infrastructure stack needs to be very different. It needs to enable AI supercomputers rather than the applications that we have in the past," Hallak said. "Vertical integration adds to simplicity. But more than that, it allows you to take full advantage of the underlying technology."
  • Achieving that goal, however, is easier said than done. While data storage is difficult, so is AI. It took Databricks years to build its foundational tech. Still, Hallak indicated that Vast Data would seek to build most of the platform itself.
  • "It would not be possible for us to just buy someone else … and strap it on top of our system," he said. "We always lean towards doing the critical parts ourselves. And if there are any peripherals that aren't as important … then maybe there would be room for acquisitions."
  • The company definitely has cash to invest in R&D. Of the $263 million it raised, more than $200 million is still on hand, per Hallak.

Vast Data may have up-the-stack ambitions, but that's not ubiquitous in the storage industry. Pure Storage, which also offers its own version of flash storage, prefers to be a neutral vendor and let customers pick the products they layer on top.

  • "We live in a world of very polymorphic data. Every business has data coming at it out the wazoo from every direction," said Pure Storage vice president and chief architect Robert Lee. "All of these different types of data have best-of-breed ways to analyze."
  • Hallak recognizes the problems poised by potential vendor lock-in. And he readily admits that some customers are going to want that open ecosystem.
  • Instead, Hallak says Vast Data is trying to pave the way in a still wide-open market: providing the backbone for the very data-heavy AI algorithms of the future, those that will constantly require troves of raw information (video, for example) that require more storage than permissible by database companies today.
  • But as Vast Data goes up the stack, Hallak also expects more competition in its core storage business.
  • "Perhaps it will come from these database companies creeping down in the same way that we are going to creep up," he said.

Vast Data is definitely targeting a much higher-end market, companies that now (and in the future) need to manage massive amounts of sensitive data on-premise. Current customers include the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

  • Still, Hallak believes if it's able to solve the problem of the more advanced AI challenges, there would be much broader applicability for the technology.
  • "When you solve a really hard problem, you sometimes also have solved a less-hard problem on the way," he said.

Vast Data's technical prowess and sales efficiency make it a contender. But the data storage industry is very different from advanced analytics. It's also a space that probably has too many providers already, all touting the same capabilities.

Still, it's a fluid market and there is a massive opportunity to compile different data services into one product suite. And with the traction Vast Data has gotten, there is clearly excitement around the technology and the startup's future. Now Hallak and his team just have to keep delivering against that promise.

— Joe Williams


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This Week On Protocol

Genesys is on a hiring spree: The call center software provider nabbed execs from Twilio, Salesforce and Microsoft to help beef up its AI and cloud capabilities.

Salesforce eyes the feds: The company is looking for someone with top-secret clearance to head up its insider threat program.

Five Questions For...

Spenser Skates, CEO, Amplitude

What was your first tech job?

I started my own tech support business in high school. Geek Squad was charging $100 per hour to do simple things like hook up a printer or reinstall Windows, and I thought that was crazy expensive! I didn't know anything about business but I knew how to fix a computer. I started out charging $30 per hour, which was a lot for a high school student. I put up flyers around the neighborhood for "Computer Help" and people started calling. I've been in technology since.

Pick one piece of consumer or business software (that isn't sold by your company) that you can't live without.

Peloton. Most hardware companies do a bad job with software. They've done a fantastic job of creating a great all-around experience.

What was the first computer that made you realize the power of computing and connectivity?

I convinced my parents to order a bunch of computer parts off [the internet] back in 2002. I spent a week putting it together. I was shocked when I tried turning it on for the first time and it all worked. It opened up a whole new world for me: the internet, AOL Instant Messenger, programming, gaming. Although it wasn't until college that I realized I could make a career out of it. I still have that desktop today.

What will be the biggest challenge for cloud computing over the coming decade?

The internet has opened up markets that are bigger than anyone realizes. Because we're so close to it, everyone in the technology industry doesn't realize how big the opportunity is. We keep underestimating it because exponential growth is hard to get your head around.

What is one book that changed your professional mindset?

"The Five Dysfunctions of a Team." I'm a first-time manager and it gave me a way to think about what goes into building a great team. One of the concepts I use from it is your No. 1 team. Your No. 1 team is your set of peers, not those who report to you. It takes work to build those relationships and get a team to come together. I'm still figuring it out at Amplitude.

Around the Enterprise

In January, CEO Satya Nadella showed up at SAP's RISE announcement. A few months later, the companies are winding down a key aspect of their years-long partnership, reports Business Insider.

Procore raised nearly $635 million in its IPO, a standout in an otherwise scattershot week for tech stocks.

The Phorpiex ransomware botnet is surprisingly persistent. Now Microsoft researchers are taking a closer look at it.

Ten years after the RSA SecurID hack, nondisclosure agreements have expired and insiders are giving the full story.

There's a tech conference called !!Con, pronounced "Bang Bang Con," which is also the name of a concert series from K-Pop band BTS. Hilarity ensues.


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Thanks for reading — see you Thursday!

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