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Spectra: Tape is dead? We installed 550PB of the stuff in 6 months

Amazon beauty could be behind unexpected growth

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Tape library vendor SpectraLogic says it installed 550PB of tape library capacity in the second half of 2012 and reports that its revenues, led by rising T-Finity library sales, for that six months were up 9 per cent compared to a year ago.

Half an exabyte of tape equates to the installation of roughly a dozen of the vendor's high-end T-Finity libraries in the period - each library has a 45PB raw capacity maximum with LTO-5 tapes. A base unit cost $218,000 in 2011. Let's do some rough-and-ready math and up that to $225,000 for inflation and then triple it for a high-capacity box - which would give us $675,000 apiece. A dozen of these would give us $8.1m, which seems low for a six monthly revenue period for SpectraLogic. It is very rough and ready and my gut says the number should be $10m or more. As a private company, it doesn't have to publish its financial statements, so we can't tell for sure.

As EMC's new tape Select partner, it may also be capitalising on the EMC-Quantum deals.

During the year the NCSA’s Blue Waters supercomputing system had at least four Spectra T-Finity libraries installed and it's understood - though not publicly stated - that Amazon is using Spectra T-Finity tape libraries to provide the storage in its Glacier cloud archive storage facility.

According to our reckoning Glacier is available in five Amazon regions:

  • North Virginia (US East)
  • Oregon (US West or Oregon)
  • North California (US West or Northern California)
  • Ireland (EU (Ireland) Region)
  • Tokyo (Asia Pacific (Tokyo) Region)

We understand Glacier redundantly stores data in multiple facilities and on multiple devices within each facility. That would suggest at least 10 T-Finity libraries would be involved and, if they exist in the various availability zones in Amazon regions, probably more.

Details are sparse but, we understand, the US East-1 region consists of more than 10 data centres structured into five availability zones. It is thought that Amazon's US West (Oregon) region has data centres at Umatilla, Port of Morrow and Boardman, making three in all. If the Glacier rumours are true, it looks as if tape's future is bright as use of Amazon's cloud storage grows and library deployments go into double figures.

SpectraLogic says it has had six years of profitability and that big tape archives "have become the prevailing standard for media and entertainment, high performance computing (HPC), cloud and general IT organisations challenged with storing, managing and accessing massive amounts of unstructured file data."

This market for high-end tape libraries is mostly split between IBM, Oracle and SpectraLogic.

Spectra's CEO Nathan Thompson says some of the profits have been used for research and development. The firm foresees, "a strong slate of new products and technologies this coming year". Spectra plans to launch a large number of new data storage products - "more than were released in the past five years combined".

Quantum said tape sales increased in its latest quarter. Whisper it quietly, but tape, once thought to be on the ropes and reeling, is back in the centre of the data centre ring and punching hard. Watch out tape deniers: you could get a bloody nose. ®

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