DCIG Interview with Spectra Logic CEO Nathan Thompson Part II

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This interview series was originally published on the DCIG website at www.dcig.com.

80% of the World's Data Resides on Tape

Despite the marketing buzz about the demise of tape, one almost indisputable fact remains: up to 80% of the world's data resides on tape. Statistics like that helped to convince Spectra Logic that there was a bright light at the end of the tape tunnel and prompted it to double down on tape products. In this second part of my interview with Spectra Logic's CEO, we discuss what Spectra Logic saw—that others did not—that led it to focus more heavily on tape as opposed to disk.

Jerome: In the first part of our interview series, we talked about the factors that influenced Spectra to initially offer tape. But in light of what has happened over the last decade and those who forecasted that "tape was dead," what factors influenced you to stay the course with tape?

Nathan: Being close to the technology and knowing the market as well as the customers, we knew that the naysayers were wrong. Tape just announced its 60th year and I got an email from somebody at ExaGrid Systems who said, "Tape is 60 years old. Don't let it live anymore!"

Clearly it was a marketing piece and he was specifically talking about how using tape for backup is dead and that people should now use ExaGrid Systems for backup. To me, it is clear he does not even really understand the role of tape in backup or its use in archival which is an even  more exciting market for us.  This type of marketing also completely ignores the market of disaster recovery that tape has over the past 60 years always served as the media of choice for.

People like this fail to see tape's real potential.

Jerome: So how did tape get a bad reputation in the industry? Isn't there some merit to what the tape naysayers have to say?

Nathan: There was a generation of really bad tape out there. It was very poorly implemented which resulted in many of the concerns people hear and share about tape. If you go back to the days of DLT, the quality levels and reliability of the early generation DLT cartridges were terrible. When you mention the Grand Daddy of the worst tape media, the Exabyte 8mmm, and there is an element of truth to what people say about tape.

But whatever impressions people may have of tape from an era, that passed a decade ago, are no longer correct. When you look at high quality, modern tape and tape storage systems you see a different story.

It is our belief, and analysts confirm this belief, that when we look at some of the sizes of the customers that we have out there, we believe that 80 percent of the world's digitally stored data resides on tape. It may be broadcast or video information, or it may be nuclear physics work, or it may be spatial observation, or it may even be Internet data since much of the data on the Internet is stored on tape.

We know this because many of the cloud players are our customers. We know that scientific research outfits like Argonne National Laboratory or NASA or CERN use tape. We know the video companies like Discovery Channel or NBC or the Tennis Channel or local PBS station use tape. It is based on our knowledge of these companies that we understand and realize just how much information they have and how much of it is stored on tape.

In fact, we recently issued a press release with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). In it, we highlight how it is implementing a tape solution consisting of four Spectra Logic tape libraries initially supporting a configuration of 380 PB.

Think about that number: 380 PB! It is a big investment but that is nothing as compared with what the cost would be if it were disk or any other kind of storage medium. So when we compare what is really going on in tape versus what some of the naysayers say, we know the reality about tape is very different than what they portray it as.

Jerome: You mentioned Internet data. Can you give an example of how tape is being used to store that data?

Nathan: There are many examples, but unfortunately, a lot of cloud initiatives with which we are associated are companies that we are not allowed to publicly discuss. However we know for a fact they are using tape as a layer in the cloud and we see many more very substantial deployments of tape for use in the cloud in the works.

In addition, some of the online email applications out there, to include Yahoo, Hotmail and some others, any old message, any old deleted message, any message that has not been accessed, or any account that has not been accessed for some period of time, ends up on tape. This is a massive amount of data.

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 III of this interview series, Nathan will talk about how tape libraries are maturing so they may be used in these new and emerging roles within organizations.

In Part IV of this interview series, Nathan discusses why tape will remain an integral part of backup processes for a long time to come.

In Part V of this interview series, Nathan talks about what new features we can expect to see from tape and what new roles it will be able to assume in just a few years.