Spectra Logic to channel: Catch up with demand for tape

Spectra Logic Expansion Node

Spectra Logic has shared plans to propel tape storage back into the spotlight.

The company maintains there’s a profitable market for tape storage – and that it’s leading the charge when it comes to advancing the technology: “We are focused on what we do; we don’t sell anything else; we sell archive storage,” comments Steve Mackey, VP of sales for Europe and Africa.

Unsurprisingly Spectra heralds the cost savings associated with tape storage – as opposed to other mediums such as disk or de-dupe – claiming tape comes in between a fifth and a fiftieth of the cost of a PB of traditional disk storage.

“We are seeing a clear shift toward tape technologies and their unrivalled economic and capacity advantages as IT teams grapple with explosive data growth, tight IT budgets, and a prevailing mindset of ‘save all your data, forever’,” announced Spectra Logic founder & CEO Nathan Thompson last month.

“Datacentres are extending tape’s usage beyond traditional backup and are rapidly deploying it within near-line, active archive, cloud and other emerging storage infrastructures,” he added. “We expect the reinvigorated demand for tape to continue.”

There is some evidence to back up Thompson’s claim that the market is growing for tape; IDC reported an eight percent growth in shipments of midrange tape libraries with 100+ slots and enterprise tape libraries in 2012. [1]


Two weeks ago the vendor announced its BlackPearl ‘deep storage’ appliance, which it says enables a new tier of storage to manage massive amounts of data at “an extremely low cost.” BlackPearl, it says, makes it easy for new datacentre architectures to store large data objects on tape via a simple interface.

“BlackPearl enables the use of tape to easily store massive volumes of data objects and is ideal for any compute environment that needs to store data for long periods of time,” explains Molly Rector, EVP product management and worldwide marketing at Spectra Logic.

“The deep storage tier offers the ease of use of cloud and web interfaces while removing the constraint of network connections that are too expensive or slow to handle migration of large data sets to the public cloud,” she adds. “Additionally, most customers want unrestricted access to the data in their deep storage, which is something they can’t always have with public cloud offerings.”

“The economic model is very straightforward – Spectra Logic wants to sell more tape libraries. BlackPearl opens up a whole new part of the market,” Spector, told press and analysts recently at the firm’s base of Boulder, Colorado. “It’s not a software licensing model.”

“The proposition as far as the channel’s concerned is deep storage, and BlackPearl is a name that gets us there,” explains Mackey. “We’re trying to sell tape libraries, but we’re up against a number of other vendors that sell tape libraries. Deep storage is different in that it sets up more against cloud storage solutions than it does against a library, because another library doesn’t compete with that.”

The firm is claiming the “lowest purchase cost in the industry” with the appliace, with list pricing for a BlackPearl with tape library ranging from $0.09 - $0.14 per GB for typical configurations, or lower for very large systems (10 PB or more).

Spectra argues that when compared with public cloud offerings that charge on the basis of ‘per gigabyte per month’ into perpetuity, disk array storage costs that average approximately $1 per GB[2] and low-cost archive grade NAS disk of $0.45 per GB, its deep storage solution is extremely economical.

“BlackPearl is perfect for any customer that has a PB or above of storage. Nothing will compare from a cost advantage,” says Spectra’s EVP of worldwide sales, Brian Grainger.

“We hear about Amazon and Microsoft Azure…You hear the ‘$1 a GB, per month’, but that is such a misconception. It’s a $1 to put it up there, but try getting it back – it’s not $1 a GB, a month, I can guarantee.

“Your datacentre is flooded and you need to restore massive amounts of data – that could be three, four, five, six dollars a GB. That’s why something like BlackPearl can take that bite away, as they can have their own private cloud – they can even partner up with a hybrid public cloud.”

To coincide with the launch, Spectra has created a Developer Programme to help partners write a custom client for BlackPearl to move data to and from deep storage. This programme offers the API, a simulator download, the software development kit, documentation, client code samples and a developer forum.

Despite however, talk of “reinvigorated demand for tape”, the vendor still has to contend with the problem that many resellers view tape as a primitive or archaic medium for storing data.

This, says Grainger, couldn’t be further from the truth.

“It’s frustrating to me, this perception that ‘tape is dead’. I’ve been hearing that for fifteen years. It’s still a $3.5bn market. When you tell me it’s a $3.5m market I might agree,” he says.

Grainger believes that the channel needs to look beyond disk in order to effectively service their customers: “The way tape is being used has changed, and I don’t think the channel has caught up those changes yet,” he comments.

“It started back with the growth of disk and de-dupe, so everyone ran to de-dupe thinking it was going to solve all their problems – and here it is three, four, five years later and you’re going to see a good swell of those people come back.

“End users are saying, ‘de-dupe is good, disk is good, but it’s not the be-all-and-end-all’. Many customers missed that blend of tape because of the cost-proposition. They’re coming back, but unfortunately what we haven’t seen is the channel coming with it.”

“A lot of peoples’ experience of tape comes from ten years ago when it was the primary target for backup,” comments Mackey. “Spectra [has] shifted its focus onto long-term data retention – which is now presented as deep storage. We’ve designed our products for long-term data retention; they’re not backup products re-positioned. It’s all about the long-term preservation of data as opposed to put it off site for disaster recovery.”

Rick Villars, VP of datacentre and cloud at IDC agrees there’s still a place for tape, claiming it “has a lot of value if you can get the right organisational structure.”

“Tape to disk-based back-up was a huge transition, but in the media and entertainment industry they’re [now] going from analogue to digital tape, which is which is one tenth of the cost. They’ve shown the scale and cost benefits but [the channel] should be applying it in other sectors – any place you have large sequential data sets.”

Spectra channel

Internationally, Spectra has products installed in 45 countries worldwide, with 22 percent of its revenue growth coming from EMEA.

The vendor has 350 channel partners worldwide, with 50 in EMEA where, with the exception of one customer, it operates an entirely indirect sales model. Spectra’s partner base comprises storage VARs, SIs as well as OEM deals with vendor such as EMC and HDS.

In an effort to broaden its reach the firm signed CMS Distribution in May. Says Mackey: “As our potential markets have grown – the more places we can sell tape – we’ve needed to broaden access to those markets. It’s all bout reach, to more resellers and more opportunity.

Mackey says the company is interested in recruiting partners with expertise in particular markets with big data sets such as oil & gas, entertainment and life sciences. “They are ideal for us as they connect us to these markets,” he comments.

“I’d like the channel to embrace more of the services piece. Customers have no problem finding a VAR that wants to sell them something,” adds Grainger. “But they have difficulty finding one that has that technical expertise that can come in and help them solve a business problem.”

Adds Mackey: “We are looking for incremental tape opportunity and looking to expand the opportunity for tape and we need companies that understand that proposition, not just grab share.”

[1] IDC Tape Qview Calendar Year 2012 Pivot Tables

[2]Pauley, W. “Spectra Logic BlackPearl Deep Storage Appliance for Web Applications and the Cloud,” Enterprise Strategy Group, October 2013.

Christine Horton

Christine has been a tech journalist for over 20 years, 10 of which she spent exclusively covering the IT Channel. From 2006-2009 she worked as the editor of Channel Business, before moving on to ChannelPro where she was editor and, latterly, senior editor.

Since 2016, she has been a freelance writer, editor, and copywriter and continues to cover the channel in addition to broader IT themes. Additionally, she provides media training explaining what the channel is and why it’s important to businesses.