Spectra Logic: Competitors will always be behind in tape storage

Tape storage has strong footing. EMC’s Mike Ruettgers’ infamous late 90s claim that “tape is dead” have still not rung true, and according to Spectra – a Boulder, California company founded in the late 70s and the top dog in the industry – any suggestion that it will die in the near future is based on panic from the disk storage industry, which knows tape will always eat into its profits. 

We met up with Molly Rector, VP of product management at Spectra. Spectra’s business is 30 percent federal government, 20 percent High Performance Computing, 15 percent for the broadcast industry and the rest is made up of general corporate IT. In terms of vertical markets, there has never been a bump in customers or a great chance. Tape works and most are content to keep using it, she tells us.

Rector tells us the company isn’t worried about competition. Tape storage is absolutely necessary for supercomputers because, Spectra says, disk storage simply isn’t fast enough. Its reliability is another reason. IBM is a competitor in the space, as we’ve all seen as the world and its dog commented on its Jeopardy! PR trick where it pitched “Watson” against real-life contestants.

But IBM is too thinly spread, according to Spectra. While its technology is good,  it is always a few years behind the rest of the industry . It focuses on too many segments to really own the competition in tape storage.

For example, an announcement from Spectra is on the cards – though we can’t say just what at the moment – which IBM will roll out in the next couple of years. It’ll “wake up” to the idea straight away, but it won’t have the dedicated resources to release anything similar for some time.

Spectra is close to the supercomputer industry. It won’t talk to us about a lot of its clients, but we are told there is a financial authority in England that uses its technology – the representatives have been at a meeting there before we meet. When asked where supercomputers will be in five years time, Spectra confidently tells us we’ll be dealing in exaflops, and it’ll be ready. There are products in the pipeline already. 

Talking in terms of that buzzword, the cloud, Rector says liability fears are understandable but perhaps overplayed. That’s as cloud stands at the moment though, where data is generally pictures sent from mobile phones rather than entire systems of highly sensitive data. “There is a lot less adoption than there is interest,” Rector says. “The amount of data going out is way less than one percent overall.”

Molly Rector’s view on corporate responsibility for the cloud is interesting. She says that there’s too much governence and self regulation which actually gets in the way of getting “the job done”.
We won’t see official regulations in the cloud market for some time because the market is “too scattered.” It “will be driven by corporate governence,” Rector says.

Cloud’s not going to be a catastrophe as far as data loss goes if storage companies are adhering to best practice. That is, having more than one copy of the data in different locations – and that goes for physical data breaches as well. Which is another advantage for tape, according to Rector: actually physically moving data from tape storage is comparably fast compared to migrating entire networks.

She cites a recent snafu we’re familiar with: “Remember Gmail? They [recently] had to go back to tape. You have to have that copy that can be replicated.”

So what’s the reason some would ever choose to make a song and dance about tape as if it’s archaic and irrelevant? Spectra says it’s because they’re worried. It’s a $4 billion plus market, and the others want in.