A lot of exciting things are happening in the storage business, notably the strong adoption of all-flash arrays as the replacement for hard disks for active Tier-1 production storage and the move toward software-defined options. Still most of the explosive growth in data leads to infrequently or never-again-accessed information that needs to be kept for long periods of time in a more cost-effective manner than Tier-1 storage typically delivers.  

Those use cases include general backup and archiving, information-intensive vertical industries, like media and entertainment (M&E) and horizontal information intensive applications, such as video surveillance. In other words, secondary storage remains very important and so it is worth considering Spectra Logic, which is a leader in that space.

Spectra Logic targets secondary storage in a number of ways and has done so successfully for nearly 40 years. It would be hard to dispute its claim to be the “setter of the standard” for Tier-1 storage offloading, especially with over 20,000 storage solutions installed worldwide.

Although Spectra Logic is by no means disk-phobic (as, for example, its Spectra Verde® NAS product proves) and is very strong in the important non-Tier-1 storage trend of object storage (BlackPearl® Converged Storage System), its primary business remains tape automation, especially in the high-end. In this regard, the company just announced the Spectra T950v Tape Library which offers the same enterprise-class characteristics as the existing T950 library but at a lower price. But our focus today will be on another new product, the Spectra Stack Tape Library.

The Spectra Stack Tape Library

Spectra Logic’s stackable tape library fits within part or all of a standard 42U (73.5 inches) height by 19 inches wide rack by 1 meter (39.375 inches) deep. This is in contrast to some other stackable tape libraries that are too deep to fit in a standard rack.

The Spectra Stack Tape Library starts off with a minimum of a 6U high control module. To this can be added (i.e., stacked up) as needed up to six 6U high expansion modules. The advantages of the stackable tape library are ease of use in that it is user installable, scalable, and serviceable (which is a very useful customer self-management approach). Plus, the user can start with a minimal investment and grow the environment as needed.

The supposed disadvantage of a stackable tape library is scalability, but conceivably the Spectra Stack Tape Library could grow from about a minimum of 120 TB compressed to up to 6.7 PB (16.75 PB compressed) with a maximum of 560 LTO-8 tapes. This is a remarkable range that can accommodate numerous requirements and use cases, from standard IT backup and archiving to bulk storage requirements, such as for video surveillance. In addition, an organization that outgrows the storage capacity that is offered by the Spectra Stack can ‘TranScale’ to a larger Spectra library, enabling  the media and drives from the Spectra Stack to be installed in one of the enterprise libraries (Spectra T950v, T950, or TFinity ExaScale) to provide virtually limitless storage while preserving the initial drive and media investment made in their Spectra Stack library.

Whatever Spectra Logic does tends to be creative and innovative, not simply a copy of what competitors are doing. Consider how the notion of “flexibility” is often overused.  In the case of investment protection, that is exactly what Spectra Logic delivers. The Spectra Stack Tape Library uses Linear Tape Open (LTO)-compliant tape drives and tape media that follows the specifications of the LTO Consortium. Tape drives come in half-height (1U) and full-height (2U) versions. Each module in the Spectra Stack Library can use one or the other.

This ability to mix is something that not all competitors offer. Moreover, the system can support LTO-5 through LTO-8 drives and LTO-3 to LTO-8 tape media. What this means is that a user does not necessarily have to buy new drives (a substantial cost in any tape library) or tape media, but can simply retire an older non-Spectra Logic tape library regardless of the height or generation (within reason) of the tape drives.

But the company does not stop there. Spectra Logic has long recognized the importance of integrated library management software and provided it to its larger tape libraries in Spectra Enterprise BlueScale. BlueVision, which is adapted from BlueScale, provides those same management features for the Spectra Stack Tape Library.

Users can access the library either through a color touchscreen or a remote web access. The library can be divided into up to 20 partitions (where each partition acts as if it were a separate library, which means that a different software application — say backup, archiving, object storage — can have its own partition). Tape encryption can be defined as appropriate. In addition, BlueVision provides library and tape drive diagnostics. For media, it provides a MLM (media lifecycle management) feature that is exclusive to Spectra Logic and is available with the use of Spectra certified media.

Other differentiators from competitors’ stackable libraries include the fact that the Spectra Stack Tape Library is designed for a 100% duty cycle (i.e., 24x7x365) and can work with the company’s BlackPearl product, which enables object storage tape (and object storage on tape can be a big deal because of its ability to scale very cost-effectively).

Mesabi musings

As always, it has to be reiterated that tape is not dead. Nor is innovation in tape libraries a thing of the past. Spectra Logic’s new Spectra Stack Tape Library’s scalability, investment protection flexibility, and customer self-management should be welcomed by those who already use tape and want an upgrade, those who may not currently use tape libraries, but need an inexpensive option for long-term storage of humongous amounts of data, and those who need to start off small and grow incrementally.

Secondary storage may not be in the limelight, but it deserves more attention because of its great ongoing importance. That point highlights why and how Spectra Logic has long prospered by focusing on Tier-1 storage offloads.