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Spectra Logic digs into deep storage, pulls out BlackPearl

Tape vendor Spectra Logic launches BlackPearl appliance with S3-like RESTful interface and LTFS support for 'deep storage' archives.

Spectra Logic Corp. today unveiled a tape-based object storage system that includes a RESTful interface modeled after Amazon S3, and that uses Linear Tape File System on the back end.

The BlackPearl Deep Storage Appliance is for data that will be kept long term and infrequently accessed. How long? Spectra Logic claimed BlackPearl can store data forever because the object storage interface allows it to be read by whatever format is used decades down the road.

The BlackPearl appliance is entering beta and is expected to be generally available in December.

RESTful object-based storage is starting to catch on as a way to move data to the cloud and to handle large numbers of files internally. To allow RESTful architectures to directly access tape, Spectra Logic developed its Deep Simple Storage Service (DS3), which all its libraries support. Spectra Logic pledges to keep DS3 open, although BlackPearl will be available only with the vendor's T-Series tape libraries.

The main target markets for BlackPearl include media and entertainment, cloud services, gas and oil exploration, life sciences, and other industries that keep massive amounts of data for business use.

"There's just too much data and it can't be housed on expensive spinning disk anymore," said Bruce Kornfeld, Spectra Logic senior marketing advisor. "We're bringing tape into the modern era of computing."

Kornfeld said that while "deep storage" consists mainly of tape today, the RESTful interface will allow companies to preserve that data on any media that eventually replaces tape.

Kornfeld said Spectra Logic used Amazon's S3 interface as the model because: "We realize S3 has become somewhat of an industry standard for developers to move data around the cloud and the Internet. It's becoming so pervasive that it seemed [like] a no-brainer to design a RESTful interface for S3-like commands for tape. We're making tape look like a big Web repository that, in theory, anybody can access."

BlackPearl connects to servers through 10-Gigabit Ethernet on the front end and connects to tape over Fibre Channel and SCSI on the back end.

BlackPearl beta user Kevin Graham, principal infrastructure architect at Yahoo, said his company does not use any public cloud storage, but does have object storage and is familiar with the S3 interface.

"Object storage is important to us," he said. "The RESTful interface is a well-known quantity to us internally. Adoption to DS3 is really trivial."

Yahoo uses a little bit of disk for backup, but most of its backup and archiving are done with tape, Graham said.

He said BlackPearl is the first appliance to make Linear Tape File System (LTFS) valuable on a library scale. LTFS is designed to make tape look like a file system. "LTFS is interesting in a single drive case, but once you get up to a library scale, LTFS doesn't make a whole lot of sense," Graham said. "A file system construct is an odd way to address tens of thousands of tapes."

In the case of BlackPearl, he said, LTFS adds portability to the underlying object storage.

"In most cases, we don't need a file system construct," he said. "We're not doing random I/O across individual files for large data sets. So reducing it to the simplicity of an object interface opens up the underlying systems to do more optimal data placement."

Spectra Logic positions BlackPearl as a way to migrate data from one format or media to another.

"Let's say a customer is using a Spectra library today with LTO-5 tape drives," Kornfeld said. "Ten years from now, when LTO-8 is out there, that data will have to move from LTO-5 to LTO-8. Today that move is really cumbersome. We're going to be able to do that automatically in the background. BlackPearl can read from the old tapes and move to new drives."

Graham said he intends to use it that way.

"We can look to BlackPearl to manage our technology migrations," Graham said. "When the tapes start getting old, we'll end up keeping older technology in the library so we can do the restores. In other cases, we will repeat the backup to tape if the data still exists on disk. That will now be BlackPearl's responsibility."

With the first tape-based object storage system, Spectra Logic now competes with object storage vendors as well as tape vendors. The largest tape vendors -- Oracle and IBM -- haven't made any move to incorporate objects in their storage products, while Quantum has partnered with object storage startup Amplidata for its Lattus object-based disk storage. But EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, DataDirect Networks and startups such as Cleversafe, Scality, Amplidata and Caringo, use objects for cloud and archive storage as well as primary data.

"This puts Spectra up against all the object storage players who are all seeing a little traction in archiving case, although it's not their primary use case," said Dave Simpson, senior storage analyst for 451 Research. "In terms of competitive positioning, Spectra plans to play all the tape versus disk cards that it has always played -- primarily, lower price."

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