VAST Data looks to disrupt enterprise data centre with Universal Storage Architecture

VAST Data is targeting larger enterprises with an unabashed rip-and replace offering, designed to replace legacy data centre infrastructure with what they term a revolutionary and state of the art offering designed to deal with modern enterprise pain points.

VAST Data has officially announced its new architecture that the company says offers several technological breakthroughs. Their Universal Storage system is highly-scalable, and leverages QLC flash to produce a single tier of storage that manages all data, so removes the need for storage tiering and archiving. It also offers what the company says is a revolutionary approach to data protection, which eliminates the RAID tradeoff between the cost of data protection and a system’s resilience, by delivering more resilience as the cluster grows and enables new levels of data reduction. The company also announced a Series B funding round, bringing the company’s total funding to $80,000,000.  It is led by TPG Capital and includes strong participation from existing investors including Norwest Venture Partners, Dell Technologies Capital, 83 North and Goldman Sachs.

“We hope to be an extinction level event for the hard drive,” said Jeff Denworth, VAST Data’s VP of Products. “With our Universal Storage system, you don’t need to tier your data. Our data protection system also breaks the tradeoff with RAID, where you either pay a lot of money for high resilience  or accept more risk to save money.”

VAST Data started up in 2016, led by Renen Hallak, whose pedigree is with XremIO. VAST actually released their product to General Availability in November of 2018 – but did so, very, very quietly.

“We have been operating under the radar,” Denworth said.  “When we started this, we talked with hundreds of customers, and the response was so strong that we weren’t compelled to take the company out early to develop pipeline. We have more pipeline than we know what to do with, and we have seen strong business validation in the first quarter we have been selling.”

Denworth noted that most storage capacity bought today is still HDD, despite the much-vaunted move to flash.

“Flash kills everything on performance, but the average customer has 5-20 different types of storage on the floor, which is primarily designed for hard disks and tape,” he said. “We address that by delivering a much easier data centre experience, and building a single system that is cost-effective, so they don’t have to move data to slow inefficient archives. We have a completely new data centre and application paradigm. We put all data on one tier, which is super cost-effective and super-scalable.”

This single tier for all data was not the company’s original plan when they started out.

“We started to build the world’s first all flash archive, but when we were finished, we hadn’t compromised on the performance so it was also suitable for Tier One applications,” Denworth said.

The secret sauce here is the leveraging of three newer technologies – particularly in innovative ways. They are NVMe-over-Fabric, QLC flash, and Intel 3D XPoint storage class memory.

“We use NVMe over Fabric as an internal protocol in a data centre-scale fabric where every CPU is disaggregated from the storage,” Denworth said. “The idea here is to provide a single global namespace, where every read and write is serviced by NVMe media, since the servers don’t need to co-ordinate IO. It’s a shared-everything approach that allows every CPU to see every media like it was DAS, which we use as a foundation to drive up the efficiency of cluster, and drive down the cost.”

The second technology utilized is QLC flash, in a way that allows VAST to leverage its lower cost and overcome its limitations.

“QLC is the next generation of flash, which is far cheaper than previous generations, and in terms of price is very close to HDD,” Denworth said. “The issue with QLC has been that it has lower endurance, so you can’t cant overwrite them as much. You need very large writes that don’t get disrupted, or the drives wear themselves out too early.”

Denworth said that VAST has addressed this with new application-aware data placement methods, together with a large SCM write buffer, and the third technology, Intel 3D XPoint.

“XPoint has been advertised as expensive storage-class memory, but we use it to enable the use of this lowest cost flash,” Denworth said. “We can use it to get 10 years or more of longevity of the flash.”

Denworth said that VAST also leverages 3D Xpoint to provide a breakthrough in compression on data.

“It is the most significant thing in data storage history in terms of data reduction,” he said. “We have reinvented the way that data gets reduced in systems. Until now, you have had  compression or dedupe. What we do is write the data to 3D Xpoint is it comes in. It’s not volatile, so there are no cache coherency issues. It is much more granular [4,000 to 128,000x] than dedupe, so we can make further reductions in data that’s already compressed. We just took a lot of compressed Commvault data and found an additional 5-7:1 data reduction. That has huge benefits for resellers.”

The VAST platform is aimed at the high end of the market.

“The minimum product cost is hundreds of thousands of dollars, so it lends itself to petabyte scope,” Denworth said. “We are targeting it where you have convergence of performance and capacity – genome companies and  hedge funds – that kind of customer.”

VAST will go to market entirely through partners – and with a very aggressive strategy.

“We are 100 per cent channel, and building a leveraged business where the partner makes the introductions and provide long-time care and feeding,” Denworth noted. He indicated that the channel would be relatively select – no big surprise given their sweet spot – with partners numbering perhaps in the low dozens.

“We want to land on ones who take a forward position in technology, and make them very successful in their territory, rather than overload territories with partners,” he said. General Dynamics and Trace3 are among their partners.

Unusually for the IT business today, VAST doesn’t pretend that their product is designed to play nice with others. They are frank that it is designed to ‘rip and replace’ legacy data centres.

“There’s no lack of ambition here, no pretense,” Denworth said. “We are designed to knock the whole pyramid down and start over on a modern foundation. We are one solution to replace the portfolio you’ve been saddled with.”

VAST Data’s Universal Storage platform is available in three flavours: a turnkey server and storage cluster appliance; storage plus VAST container software written on Docker that runs on customer machines, or software only, with the latter targeted principally at large hyperscalers.

“We are also having conversations with a few OEMs, where they would take the software,” Denworth added.