Tape Libraries as a File Level Storage Device is Coming; Interview with Spectra Logic CEO Nathan Thompson Part V

The tape pendulum is swinging back to the middle with more and more people coming to recognize that tape is more than alive; it has a bright future in front of it. However what people may fail to recognize is the many innovations going on right now in tape that are primed to be announced in just the next few years. In this fifth and final blog entry in my interview series with Spectra Logic’s CEO Nathan Thompson, he pulls back the veil a bit and provides some insight into what we should expect tape libraries to deliver in the next few years.

Jerome:  Does the recently announced partnership between EMC and Spectra Logic indicate that an inflection point for tape is already here?

Nathan:  Several companies in the industry spent years saying and spending marketing dollars to support the notion that organizations could do everything with just disk. When anybody pronounces an extreme view of the world in any context, the pendulum swings too far, and the speaker’s view becomes discredited by some viewers.

When anyone pushes one solution so strongly, users really call your motives into question. Several companies in the industry have gradually come to a more balanced view. In respect to EMC, it has sold tape for many, many years. It is just that it has now chosen Spectra to become its supplier of tape.

I am not certain that it is much of a change for EMC, though I would point out that NetApp does not sell tape. NetApp is one of those companies that for years and years said tape is dead, and parts of the company still say that despite much evidence to the contrary.

Go just five miles to the west of NetApp’s headquarters in the Mountain View, CA, area, to the NASA Ames facility, and explain to those folks how tape is dead. Or go 50 miles north to the San Francisco-based public broadcasters and explain how tape is dead. Or go to any of the internet companies of any significance spread around the Silicon Valley, and explain to them that tape is dead.

They would all view that statement as simply ridiculous. Tape is an important part of those any many more storage infrastructures across the world – and it is not just surviving, it is thriving.

Jerome:  Where does Spectra Logic go from here and what should we look for Spectra to deliver in the next few years?

Nathan:  Thank you for asking that. Spectra has put a lot of effort into reliability and improving the overall customer experience with tape. We have already made an impact but, relative to what we can do, we have just scratched the surface.

You will see from us a lot of capabilities going forward that significantly improve the user’s experience with tape. Tape management, tape error reporting, and ways we can automatically address problems, etc. are just some of the new features that you will see from us.

The second piece is tape in its raw form is still a block format. We work with several partners in the backup space, including QStar, FileTek, Crossroads Systems, Front Porch Digital, MassTech, SGL and many others. Over time, users will start to look at tape more as a file-level interface, plus IBM has done some wonderful things with LTFS (Linear Tape File System.)

Over the next two or three years we are going to see tape looked at more and more as file-oriented storage. We have some initiatives in place with partners that are going to help bring tape to be more than just a block-level interface.

Someday you will see a tape library that has a 40 Gb per second Ethernet port on it instead of a fiber channel cable, and you will manage a file-level interface instead of a block-level interface. That is my view of the future.

Jerome:  One final question. Tell us something that people may not know about Spectra Logic.

Nathan:  The root of our success is the strength of our culture. Spectra has a tremendous culture that is very supportive, intense but nurturing, and we know that our success is driven by the success of our customers.

Fundamentally we want to keep doing things better and better and better. We will continue to be a leader in data backup and archive technologies and innovation, but in the end, I believe it will be our commitment to customers and desire to ensure their success that will set Spectra apart and drive the company’s long term growth and success.

In Part I of this interview series Nathan shares how and why Spectra Logic got its start in the tape business and what differentiates it from almost every other tape manufacturer even today.

In Part II of this interview series Nathan discusses why Spectra Logic decided to double down on tape even as many experts were forecasting its death.

In Part III of this interview series, Nathan discusses how tape libraries are maturing and evolving to meet new organizational demands.

In Part IV of this interview series, Nathan discusses how tape’s role in backup remains and the case for using it is even strengthening in many organizations.

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