Physical Tape

Musings on the Spectra Logic T-Finity Announcement

Last week Spectra Logic unveiled the T-Finity, a new high-end tape library that is one of the largest and most scalable units in the industry.  The system can grow to 30,000 tape slots and 480 drives and it creates some interesting questions.

As data backup and recovery SLAs have become more stringent, end users have migrated rapidly to disk-based technologies.  Deduplication also adds value by reducing $/GB and required disk capacity although the technology can negatively impact backup and recovery performance.  These two trends have combined to reduce the requirements for physical tape and many tape vendors are seeing declining revenues.  This is not to say that tape is dead, it is very much in use and will be for the foreseeable future, but the use model has changed.  Physical tape is typically used for very long-term data archival where multi-year retention is not uncommon.

It is in the context of this changing market that Spectra Logic released the T-Finity.  It looks like an impressive piece of machinery, but it makes me wonder whether the market really needs it.  If anything, it appears that the market is more interested in mid-range libraries versus these massive units.  However Spectra Logic deserves credit for continuing to innovate in the world of tape.  Many vendors have limited their tape development efforts in order to focus on disk and Spectra Logic has not.

The feature set of the T-Finity appeals to my inner geek.  I have never seen a library with this level of technology although some might consider it gimmicky.  Here are some of the fun features:

  • Multiple remotely controlled webcams inside the frame to allow for panning and zooming of the interior.
  • LED light on the top that moves with the robot to show where it is at any given moment.
  • Dual robots – if one breaks, the other shoves it out of the way and takes over.
  • Complete remote management that allows for remote control and management of all features.

It certainly appears that the T-Finity ranks highly on the gadget factor, but what does that mean in actual operation?  Once the geek coolness recedes, the real question is how valuable are these features in real world use.

I believe that Spectra Logic has an opportunity with T-Finity even though the solution addresses a slow growing or even shrinking market.  Prior to the T-Finity, Spectra Logic primarily sold solutions that addressed small enterprises and below.  The T-Finity with its massive scalability targets a segment that Spectra Logic could not effectively address in the past and creates the potential for incremental revenue.  I wonder about the size of the market, but for Spectra Logic this represents a new revenue opportunity.

In summary, customers have been changing their tape use model.  Disk is now the primary target for backup and recovery in most environments and tape is used for long-term archival.  Tape is not dead, but the use model is different.  Spectra Logic has made a bold statement by releasing the T-Finity.  They are one of the few remaining innovators in a shrinking market, and have the potential to take market share from other vendors and improve revenue and profits.

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