How To Bring Tape Back to the Mid-Market Data Center – Spectra Logic Briefing Note

Tape is not dead. It has three valuable use cases. First, it is still a great backup of last resort. The copy of data an organization can count on when everything else has failed. Second, it is ideal for organizations that have exceptionally large data sets, where tape’s cost advantages beat even the rental costs of cloud storage, especially when recall of data from these archives is predictable. Third, tape provides media diversity; if something occurred where hard drives and flash drives failed or were compromised by a ransomware attack, tape might be the only remaining recovery option.

Despite these very real use cases, organizations seem to relegate tape to the massive data sets use case. Can tape make a comeback in enterprises and mid-market data centers where data sets are large but not necessarily massive? There is indeed no doubt that enterprises and mid-market data centers also have large data sets. They can benefit from a backup of last resort, archive costs that are lower than the cloud and media diversity.

The problem is most tape vendors abandoned these two markets and assumed that their customers would all use disk. These vendors also lack the desire to explain to these organizations why tape is still a viable option for them, how tape can integrate into existing data protection and archive processes, and how tape has nowhere near the reliability issues its reputation says it has. In fact, study after study proves that tape is, in reality, more reliable than disk.

There is also a cost issue. The reality is many of these enterprise and mid-market data centers have tape libraries today but to move to a new one that has modern features and capacities is expensive, especially considering most tape vendors would force them into a much larger solution than what they probably need. As a result, when these organizations look at tape upgrades, they often take the path of least resistance and buy disk.

Spectra Logic, one of the remaining innovators in the tape market, has a new tape solution for the mid-market and enterprise data center. While it won’t replace disk, it may slow disk’s growth and drive down operational costs. The Spectra Stack tape library is a simple, scalable tape library that provides a range of drive and media choices for as low as a penny per GB.

Spectra Stack is a modular tape library that can start as small as ten slots and grow to as many as 560 by adding additional modules. Five hundred and sixty slots is equivalent to 16.7 Petabytes of capacity using LTO-8 drives and assuming 2.5:1 compression ratios. It can also support up to 42 LTO tape drives, meaning it can transfer up to 31.5 Gigabytes per second; again assuming the use of LTO-8 and modest 2.5:1 compression. The design of the unit permits installation by the organization’s IT professionals without the need for a professional services engagement.

The main unit, called the Control Module, provides a remote management connection and a color LCD front panel interface. It can scale from 10 to 80 slots and support up to 6 half-height or 3 full-height tape drives. An Expansion Module, which holds the same number of slots and drives, permits expansion beyond 80 slots.

Part of the ease of use of Spectra Stack comes from its software. It provides an intuitive user interface into library operations via the color touchscreen panel. IT can divide the library up into 20 partitions for different purposes. IT can also allocate capacity on-demand (another cost savings feature) in 10 slot increments. It also has built-in media lifecycle management to ensure tape reliability. For tapes leaving the library, the unit supports various forms of encryption.

Stackable libraries are nothing new, but Spectra is raising the bar. First, the unit’s design is for 24x7x365 operation, i.e., 100% duty cycle. It can also use existing LTO drives (as far back as LTO 3), which is another cost savings feature. Another backward compatibility feature is support for LTO-3 tapes, a more than 10-year old technology. It supports a much higher drive count then is typical for these systems. Lastly, it supports Spectra’s BlackPearl Interface, which provides an object storage interface to tape storage.

StorageSwiss Take

Tape is not dead, but just like everything else in the data center; its role is changing. Even if the organization needs only one of the primary tape use cases; backup of last resort, predictable archive or media diversity, the Spectra Stack fits the bill. If the organization has a need for two or all three use cases, Spectra Stack scales to meet the challenge. Ironically, if a forward-thinking organization is reconsidering the role of tape in their data center, they should take a hard look at Spectra Stack.

Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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