tape meets Web

This is NOT “Deep Storage,” says Spectra Logic…

It’s easy to find hot-heads who argue that tape is dead. It’s old, slow and unreliable, they argue, and for a little more money you can get vastly better performance with SATA disk.

Besides, tape is so…so…old, reminding today’s hipsters of the cassette tapes that provided storage for their Grandpa’s TRS-80.

But someone forgot to tell Spectra Logic. The privately-held backup, recovery and archive vendor just announced record revenue and profits for fiscal year 2013. Much of the credit goes to products like its flagship T-Finity tape library, which can store more than three Exabytes of data.  Yes, disk storage is getting denser and cheaper all the time, Spectra Logic says, but tape is making even faster progress, making it the go-to technology for long-term storage of very large data sets.

To expand tape’s long-term storage role Spectra Logic has used some of those profits to gin up a whole new market for tape it calls Deep Storage. This will let customers not only store huge quantities of unstructured data such as documents, images and video on tape virtually forever, but access it through the same REST (Representational State Transfer) interfaces used by many of today’s Web-centric applications and users.

Meet Deep Storage

Deep Storage, according to the Boulder, Colo. Firm, is “is extremely low cost, power efficient and dense storage for data that does not need immediate access.” Among its attributes are that it is persistent, lasts for decades or more without corruption, cost-effective (which Spectra Logic defines as between 1/5th and 1/50th the cost of traditional disk) and easier to deploy and access than block-based storage protocols such as Fibre Channel.

At its recent press and analyst event, to which it graciously hosted me, Spectra Logic began delivering on the strategy with an API, a software development kit, and even a hardware emulator so developers can test how client devices and apps will write to Spectra Logic hardware.

It also delivered enhancements to the widely-used API for Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service that support key tape attributes, such as sequential access rather than the

tape meets Web

…but this T-Finity is.

random access provided by disk or flash drives. It also planted a stake in the fast-growing Big Data market with client software that allows “Big Data” Hadoop clusters to move data to Spectra Logic tape libraries.

Then there is a data management appliance called BlackPearl that will (among other things) aggregate data from client apps , verify and cleanse it before caching it on solid state drives for transmission to tape libraries. BlackPearl will also create object “buckets” that will help customers to find the object they need (such as the cake at your cousin’s wedding) from among billion without navigating file systems.

 Yahoo Leans In

Kevin Graham, principal storage architect at Yahoo, is already beta-testing Spectra Logic’s Deep Storage offerings and actually pushed Spectra Logic to develop them. He says it’s only a matter of time before they go into production at the search and media giant. Two possible uses: Making it easier to assure back-ups of the millions of photos users upload to its Flickr photo sharing service, and allowing “Big Data” analysis of the data now sitting unused on its backup systems.

Sam Bogoch, CEO of video editing tools vendor axle Video, sees Deep Storage as a particularly good fit for video, where ever-higher resolutions and increased use of video is creating a largely-untapped market for “Media Asset Management.” BlackPearl could be a cost-effective alternative to third-party tape access middleware for customers, and a natural fit for the systems integrators who serve them. At least one video-editing customer at the event liked the idea of using less-expensive tape rather than disk to store their ever-growing video archives.

 Now, to Execute

Spectra Logic did a convincing job of combining tape’s historic strengths (low cost,) future capabilities (higher density and the use of new materials for longer life) with established cloud standards into a Web-friendly future for tape.  Another advantage for Spectra Logic: This is not a “save the company” leap out of a dying market, but a growth opportunity atop what seems to be a healthy business.

Next up, of course, is delivering on these product and feature promises. So is wooing application and service providers to help them move beyond their core markets such as media and entertainment and high-performance computing. Also, for now Deep Storage works only with Spectra Logic’s offerings, which maximize its revenue but could slow acceptance.

Finally, there is the need to do something bold to get the current generation of developers, weaned on open-source technologies, to think of tape without sniggering. Maybe a “Never Die” viral video or online game? Anyway, if tape turns into the Next Cool Thing, you heard it from Spectra Logic first.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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