At its recent announcement event Spectra laid out a bold and compelling move to make tape a more attractive place for organizations to store less-active-but-still-important data for the long term. While it can still be a contentious issue at times (not surprisingly, for some vendors don’t have tape in their portfolio!) the fact is that tape remains the least expensive digital storage media in terms of cost/TB and TCO. However, despite many advances in tape reliability, handling and ease of use over recent years, the tape industry has struggled mightily to shake the image in certain user-quarters of being something you’d want to avoid if you can, and something not well suited to the contemporary IT era.
As the following video shows, that could well all be about to change as a result of Spectra’s DS3 and BlackPearl announcements:
My thanks to my colleague Jason Buffington for laying out the market opportunity and commentary so clearly.
So, what’s the Cliff Notes version of all this? Tape itself, automated or not, is an inexpensive mass storage medium. Its historical challenges have been dramatically addressed over recent years:
- Reliability – uncorrectable bit error rates (BER) are way lower than for disk; while BERs of ten to the minus whatever can be a little arcane, here’s a way of looking at it – a conservative reliability number for tape would mean an error every 11,000PB, while an aggressive reliability for disk would mean an error every 11PB!
- Certainty – modern analytics packages make tracking media and date, ensuring good recording, and monitoring, all pretty straightforward.
- Searchability – even before this latest round of news from Spectra the tape industry had integrated a file system (LTFS) that makes tape both mobile and searchable (think of a giant USB thumb drive).
Here’s the rub, however – despite the ongoing significant use of tape across many industries and its increasing importance for archive, tape is seen as something of a throwback to another era. Sure, the enormous capacities of the latest cartridges (whether LTO or the enterprise drives from IBM and Oracle) have helped, and committed tape users are benefitting….but persuading new prospects to join the tape world remains challenging at best. That could certainly all change with the moves that Spectra is making; and it’s helped by the fact that it is – true to form – trying to grow an ecosystem (that is, making the pie bigger) as well as ensuring it plays a key role (that is, grabbing a big slice for itself). While BlackPearl is the first manifestation to use DS3 and is a specific Spectra appliance, DS3 will – Spectra hopes and intends - be used by others.
With the RESTful interface making tape as easy to use as any other ‘cloud’ tool (whether or not you actually know you’re using it, whether or not it’s private or via a CSP, as you’ll likely just choose a price-performance storage level), suddenly what matters most is the attributes of the provided service rather than the assigned views of the underlying equipment. And then buckets of tape objects are merely a good, and very inexpensive way to keep large amounts of less-active data available and useable for a very long time. The good news for the “Deep Storage” concept is that you don’t need to think very deeply to divine and appreciate its value.