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About the survey

The Storage magazine/ Quality Awards are designed to identify and recognize products that have proven their quality and reliability in actual use. Results are derived from a survey of qualified readers who assess products in five main categories: sales-force competence, initial product quality, product features, product reliability and technical support. Our methodology incorporates statistically valid polling that eliminates market share as a factor. Indeed, our objective is to identify the most reliable products on the market regardless of vendor name, reputation or size. Products are rated on a scale of 1.00 to 8.00, where 8.00 is the best score. A total of 378 respondents provided 468 tape library evaluations.

The seventh edition of Storage magazine's Quality Awards for tape storage systems tallied tape users' ratings for service and reliability, and Spectra Logic came out on top twice.

It seems when Spectra Logic Corp. is in it, the company wins it. The "it" in this case is the Storage magazine/ Quality Awards for tape libraries. After failing to garner enough responses to qualify for last year's Quality Awards, Spectra Logic came roaring back with top finishes in both the midrange and enterprise tape library groups.

Spectra Logic prevailed over some very tough competition in both groups. Looking at this year's results and those of the past six surveys, the broader story is how satisfied users are with their tape storage systems, underscoring how vendors continue to produce high-quality and innovative products.

Overall ratings

Enterprise: Spectra Logic had the highest overall average among our five enterprise finalists with a score of 6.84. It's the second highest overall rating we've ever had for enterprise tape libraries, trailing Spectra's own record of 7.40. This is the third time Spectra collected enough responses to qualify, and the second time it's won. Oracle Corp. placed second with a solid 6.32 just ahead of IBM (6.28). IBM has finished in the top three in every Quality Awards tape library survey to date. Oracle's performance is nearly as impressive, missing a top-three finish only once. All the vendors fared well, but the overall average rating was only the third highest to date. Spectra Logic dominated this time around with the highest score in every rating category, ranging from a 7.17 for initial product quality to a "low" of 6.59 for product features.

Midrange: Spectra Logic's performance in the midrange group -- both past and present -- is equally impressive: The company has received enough evaluations to make it into four midrange finalist lists and has won all four of those Quality Awards. This time, Spectra had to battle with IBM and Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co., and in the end only 0.12 points separate those three. IBM continued its remarkable run of never finishing out of the top three for overall scores. All five vendors/product lines were strong, producing an overall average score that's the highest we've ever seen for midrange tape libraries. Unable to repeat its sweep of all five midrange tape storage systems ratings categories, Spectra Logic nonetheless prevailed in three, with HP (initial product quality) and IBM (product reliability) taking top honors in the other two.

Sales-force competence

Enterprise: It's been said many times that the sales process sets the table for the ensuing user/vendor relationship. With a 6.94 score in this category, Spectra Logic is showing off its sales support know-how. On the way to that score, Spectra racked up two 7.00-plus ratings for statements related to having a knowledgeable sales team (7.24) and ease of negotiations (7.00). It just missed on two other statements with a pair of 6.94 ratings for being knowledgeable about its customers' industries and businesses. IBM and HP tied for second with scores of 6.20, and they were the only other vendors to earn scores of 6.00 or higher on all six category statements. HP's top mark (6.44) was for knowing its customers' industries, while IBM's was for having knowledgeable sales support teams (6.49).

Midrange: Spectra Logic (6.66) also copped the sales crown among midrange tape library vendors, with IBM (6.39), Dell Inc. (6.32) and HP (6.29) closely bunched behind. Proving that its sales expertise comes in both enterprise and midrange sizes, Spectra scored highest for all category statements, showing particular strength once again with its sales support teams (6.84) and for keeping customers' interest foremost (6.78). IBM and Dell had all 6.00-plus ratings, with both tallying very consistent scores. IBM's top mark was for knowing customers' industries, and Dell's highest rating came for sales support teams. The overall average for all five vendors/product lines in our survey was 6.28 -- the highest cumulative score across all Quality Awards tape library surveys. HP was just a hair off the pace, with only one sub-6.00 score and a notable 6.67 for its support teams.

Initial product quality

Enterprise: The real experience with a tape storage system begins when the "power on" switch is pressed and the machine is put through its paces. Spectra Logic users rated their initial encounters very favorably, giving the vendor a resounding 7.17 category score with ratings of 7.00 or higher for all six category statements. That total has been topped only once by -- you guessed it -- Spectra Logic's 7.50 a couple of surveys ago. But all the vendors and products did very well in this critical category, with second-place Oracle (6.48) followed closely by IBM (6.44). The highest average statement score across all five vendors was a 6.63 for "This product is easy to use." Oracle's strongest showing (6.64) was for products that require little daily intervention, while IBM's top mark (6.55) was for ease of use.

Midrange: HP prevailed in the midrange group for initial product quality with a 6.71 rating that handily outdistanced an extremely close gang of three, with only 0.06 points separating IBM, Spectra and Dell, and Oracle not far off the pace. HP nearly swept the category, yielding to Spectra for "This product was easy to install" by a slim 0.04 margin. HP's top grades were earned for ease of use (6.77) and easy configuration (6.76). All the products scored particularly well for ease of use and configuration, with the statement scores for all product lines ranging between 6.14 and 6.77 for an overall category average of 6.53 for all five vendors -- a testament to their impressive track records delivering quality products.

Product features

Enterprise: Initial product quality provides the first impression, but a tape library's features are its bottom line. Spectra Logic triumphed in this category again, but just barely, nosing out Oracle 6.59 to 6.56 -- nearly a dead heat. Oracle copped top grades for three statements: product scaling (6.83), an overall feature set that meets users' needs (6.65) and providing adequate performance (6.62). Spectra scored best on the other five statements, with a near-7.00 for loading and ejecting tapes efficiently (6.95). As a group, our vendors/products fared very well again with a cumulative average score of 6.43. HP's best mark (6.60) was for overall feature set; IBM's was for well-designed products (6.53); and Quantum Corp. ran up a 6.50 for efficient tape loading and ejecting.

Midrange: Spectra Logic racked up another 6.59 to win the midrange group's features category but its margin of victory was even tinier, just 0.02 over HP. Those two vendors split the eight category statements with HP snagging the top spot for overall feature set, management features, user interface and performance. Spectra rated best for loading/ejecting tape, interoperability, scaling and being well designed. IBM's strong third-place finish was highlighted by a 6.71 for loading/ejecting efficiency; Dell's fourth-place showing was bolstered by a sturdy 6.74 for features that meet users' needs. The loading/ejecting statement scored highest across the board, and the overall average for all the products was 6.39, equal to last year's high.

Product reliability

Enterprise: Time is the true test of a tape library's reliability. Spectra Logic users showed their overwhelming approval by grading the company's enterprise libraries the highest for all seven statements in the product reliability category, including a couple of 7.06 scores for meeting service-level requirements and requiring few unplanned patches or updates. Well behind Spectra Logic's category average (6.78), but with very respectable scores, were Oracle (6.21) and IBM (6.20) finishing a close second and third, respectively. Oracle's best grade, 6.41, was for the service-level statement, while IBM's top mark was for rarely being the cause of backup failures. HP, just behind IBM with a category score of 6.16, fared best on the service-level statement (6.42) as well.

Midrange: IBM cruised to a category win for product reliability with high scores on all seven statements (tied by Spectra Logic on one). It's the second time IBM has come in first in this category. IBM's highest marks were earned for requiring few unplanned patches/updates (6.75) and rarely being the cause of backup failures (6.73). Spectra edged out HP for second place, with its highest ratings coming on the service-level and unplanned patches statements; HP, just 0.02 behind Spectra, also had its best scores for those two statements. Just a small gap separated Dell from the top three as it also finished with 6.00-plus scores for all category statements, including its highest tallies for requiring few unplanned patches and rarely causing backup failures.

Technical support

Enterprise: Mechanical devices -- including tape storage systems -- will hiccup sooner or later, prompting a call to tech support. How a vendor's support team performs can tilt the scales between a positive user experience and disappointment. Spectra Logic isn't disappointing its users; it swept all eight tape storage system technical support statements with a staggering category average of 6.74. Spectra was astonishingly consistent with scores ranging from 6.61 to 6.89. It got top marks for supplying support as specified in contracts and received three scores of 6.78 for ease of service, knowledgeable support personnel and user training. Oracle's second-place finish (6.29) came from high ratings for knowledgeable third-party partners (6.57) and support personnel (6.53). IBM's highest score was also for the knowledgeable support personnel statement (6.38).

Midrange: As a group, the midrange tape library vendors earned the highest average score for technical support that we've seen on any Quality Awards survey. Individually, kudos go to Spectra Logic once again, as it bested the field on all eight category statements on the way to a winning score of 6.74. All vendors and products were rated highly for providing support as contractually agreed, with Spectra's 6.89 leading the pack. IBM's 6.47 was good for second place as its high scores were pulled down slightly by a somewhat weaker rating for training -- but with the exception of Spectra, all the vendors received their lowest rating for the training statement. HP had all 6.00-plus scores, leading to its third-place finish highlighted by a 6.70 for delivering support as promised.

Would you buy this product again?

One of our final questions on the Quality Awards surveys asks respondents to tell us if they would buy the product again given what they've experienced with it. Often, the results on this question don't jibe with overall rankings and category scores, but this time around, the percent of "yes" responses hews fairly closely to the other survey results.

Products in the survey 

The following vendors/model lines of enterprise-class and midrange tape libraries were included in this Quality Awards survey. The total number of responses for each finalist is shown in parentheses. An asterisk after the product name means the product received too few responses to be included among the finalists.

Enterprise: Hewlett-Packard ESL/EML Series (43), IBM TS3400 or TS3500 (52), Oracle (Sun) StorageTek SL500/SL3000/SL8500 (38), Overland Storage NEO 8000 Series*, Qualstar TLS or XLS Series*, Quantum Scalar i500/i2000/i6000 or PX720 (24), Spectra Logic 64K/T120/T200/T380/T680/T950 or T-Finity (17)

Midrange: Dell PowerVault Tape Backup 124T/114T or TL4000/TL2000 or ML6000 Series (88), Hewlett-Packard MSL Series (65), IBM TS3100, TS3200 or TS3310 (52), Oracle (Sun) StorageTek SL24 or SL48 (16), Overland Storage NEO 200s/400s or NEO 2000e Series or NEO 4000e Series*, Qualstar RLS Series*, Quantum M Series, PX502, Scalar i40/i80 or Scalar 24/50*, Sony (all models)*, Spectra Logic 20K/T24/T50 (20), Tandberg Data StorageLibrary T24/T40/T80/T120/T160 or StorageLoader Series*

About the author:
Rich Castagna is editorial director of TechTarget's Storage Media Group.

This was last published in December 2012
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