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Tape so does not suck, insists EMC

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Blocks and Files Does EMC still think tape sucks? Nah, that is so last year – at least, if the storage giant's tech conference at the beginning of this month is anything to go by.

A funny thing happened at EMC World in Las Vegas this year: tape library vendor SpectraLogic exhibited there. Weird. Still, on the face of it, it's no weirder than Quantum exhibiting at the EMC World show last year, the year of the Great Tape Slate – where certain players in the storage world turned their backs on the cheap storage medium, declaring it dead in the water.

At the time, EMC loudly announced that: "Tape sucks." Those of us with an ability to do basic math totted up the figures of $/GB for deduped disk and tape, looked at 10PB, 20PB, 50PB plus archive data requirements for enterprises and the cloud, sighed heavily, and said to ourselves: "Tucci's guys are talking tosh."

EMC's Stig will have to eat his words...

Back then EMC was Quantum's biggest reseller, even though EMC's sales force had no incentive to sell Quantum boxes.

So that was that – until I talked to SpectraLogic's Molly Rector, chief marketing officer, at ISC 2012 in Hamburg; yes – Spectra was exhibiting there too.

Did you know that Spectra tape libraries are being used in the US Blue Waters supercomputer project to store up to 380PB of nearline data? The NCSA has gone and bought four 17-frame Spectra T-Finity libraries just for the first year of Blue Waters' operation.

What? Did you think the US NCSA would store 380PB of nearline data on disk? Are you nuts?

Anyway, back to EMC. Rector said SpectraLogic gear could now also be resold by EMC but, unlike the Quantum tape products, EMC's sales force receive commission for selling the Spectra products. Yes, tape-sucks-supporters, EMC is paying its sales force to sell tape libraries. Suck on that.

Do EMC and SpectraLogic have a strategic relationship? No, not at all. It's not as if Molly Rector has talked to BJ Jenkins either. (Jenkins gave the "Tape sucks" keynote at last year's EMC World). It's more a case of a very large creature slowly changing course down in the murky depths of the storage ocean.

Chatting to more people gets me a story that says the Great Tape Slate of 2011 got a few wrists slapped inside EMC. According to a few insiders I spoke to, EMC was more or less telling its customers who have tape systems that they were being foolish. Cue BJ Jenkins being appointed to run EMC's Backup and Recovery Systems division, and the internal attitude against tape has now softened considerably.

EMC knows its customers are not going to stick 380PB of archive data on disk. They are not that stupid. Does it want customers to stick their data on arch-rival Oracle's StreamLine libraries and have Oracle tell these customers what a great combination an Exadata- or Exalytics-engineered system and StreamLine make? Ditto IBM tape libraries and IBM disk storage?

Nope, no way Jose. EMC only has one tape library vendor it can call upon to sell enterprise high-end tape libraries – at least only one with which it is not in competition – and that is the company which employs Molly Rector. There is no one else to call, as Quantum does not have a high-end library in the T-Finity class.

EMC also knows – at least the people in EMC with an understanding of archive data growth and disk-tape economics know – that archival data needs in the tens of petabytes and up area cannot affordably be met by disk.

It's no good being in denial about this. In the large-scale archive area, disk sucks and tape rocks.

We expect EMC's tape conversion to gather pace and might even see EMC thinking it needs some piece of software to present a single interface to disk- and tape-stored data, providing a kind of virtual nearline-archive data pool. Did anyone say StorNext?

If you're thinking that what I'm thinking is nuts – have your say in this forum topic please. ®

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