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Spectra Logic Answers Tough Questions Regarding Tape’s Relevancy Going Forward

Everyone asks, “Is tape dead?” Personally, I think that question is ridiculous. There will always be a demand for tape. The better question is, “How is the tape industry evolving to ensure tape remains relevant as a solution to address current technology trends such as “Big Data,” “the Cloud” and virtualization?” This is the more pressing question regarding tape’s future to which Spectra Logic provided some excellent answers this past week at its first ever analyst and press event.

While tape is not dead, it certainly is not the shining star it once was as total revenues for the tape industry have been on the decline for at least the last decade. In 2010 tape still generated about $3 billion in revenue according to some estimates though that represents nearly a billion dollar drop in revenue from 2000.

Aggravating the situation this drop in total annual tape revenue may not yet be over. The introduction of disk as a primary backup target coupled with the use of data deduplication technology to reduce the size of backup data stores continues to gather momentum. Vendors providing these solutions are taking direct aim at backup which is the heart of where tape-based solutions have their strong hold and are winning regularly.

Yet in the face of this precipitous drop in tape revenue over the past decade and the new threats that disk and deduplication present to tape based backup, Spectra Logic has continued to survive and thrive. Last year alone it realized a 27% increase in total revenue, moved to a new, larger building in Boulder, CO, and is actively looking for new employees to continue to grow its tape business.

If anything, Spectra Logic is one of the few if not the only storage company on the market that is looking to downplay its disk-based backup offerings. While Spectra offers its nTier disk-based backup solution, it prefers to keep its primary focus on tape and only offers that solution if its customers ask for Spectra to provide a disk-based backup product.

So what gives? How is it that Spectra Logic is growing its portfolio of solutions in a segment of the market that is arguably hostile and even downright negative about tape and then even has the gall to suggest, “Disk is interesting but Spectra wants to downplay its offerings in that area.

To do that, Spectra is having to answer some really tough technical questions that organizations have about tape and how tape is going to remain relevant going forward. Even as it does so, a common theme among these technical questions that Spectra had to address is not technical at all. Rather Spectra has to simultaneously overcome a perception that almost all users consciously or unconsciously possess: tape is unreliable and bothersome to manage.

So at this event, Spectra Logic spent a great deal of time answering technical questions about tape and how it was evolving tape to make it better. But more importantly, it answered them in the context of here is how it is evolving tape so user experiences with it switch from negative to positive. Consider some of what Spectra shared as to how it is improving:

  • Tape reliability. Many users have a bad taste in their mouth about the reliability of tape for a number of reasons almost too numerous to mention here. However Sepctra addresses them in two ways.

First, it only uses enterprise grade tape hardware by offering LTO tape media in all of its T Series product lines and both LTO and TS1140 technology in its T-Finity product line. 

But second and more importantly, all of Spectra’s T Series tape libraries include the BlueScale operating system software. This software eliminates the need for organizations to manually track the health of its tape drives, cartridges or robotics in the tape library. Instead the T Series library assumes the responsibility for this very important task to include verifying the integrity of the data on individual tape cartridges.

This series of innovations actually results in tape becoming more reliable than disk over the long haul. How is that for helping to change one’s perception about tape?

  • Tape management. Spectra Logic actively embraces the use of disk as a primary backup target as it frees tape from backup to do what it does best: economically store infrequently accessed data for long periods of time. Using tape as a primary backup target was always problematic at best as it necessitated that organizations regularly handle tapes and to monitor and optimize the flow of data to tape drives to avoid issues like shoe shining.

But by now using tape primarily in the context of archiving, tape cartridges largely stay in the tape libraries limiting the need for organizations to handle them. Further, when data is transferred to tape for archive purposes, it can typically be more effectively planned and queued up than what occurs during backups so issues like shoe shining are minimized or even eliminated.

It is by Spectra Logic positioning its tape libraries for this new primary role of archiving as opposed to being a backup target that it confidently says, “Disk is a distraction to our core tape business.” While Spectra Logic clearly plans to use disk and even SSDs for either caching data prior to writing it to tape or to house the metadata of the files stored on the tapes in its tape libraries, Spectra Logic’s focus is clearly not on competing in the arena of disk. It primarily intends to use disk to enhance the capabilities of its tape libraries.

So by Spectra Logic remaining focused on its core competency of tape libraries and providing the right answers to the really tough questions about tape does Spectra Logic do more than ensure tape remains relevant and grows in the years to come even as “Big Data,” “the Cloud,” and server virtualization proliferate. Spectra Logic positions itself to emerge as the big winner with few viable competitors once the demand for tape swings back the other way.

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