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Spectra Logic Backup and Archive Blog

 

2010: The Year Vendors Get Smarter or Go Home

Hearing news about the difficulties currently being faced by Copan it struck me that the storage market has been a fairly tumultuous one in 2009. As disk prices have dropped over the last 2 or 3 years, and as virtualization has gained a foothold in enterprises, there has been a fair amount of innovation in the disk market with technologies such as deduplication and thin provisioning becoming hot topics. However, with the challenging economic environment shaping the decisions of investors and end-users, it has been a challenging time for any companies desperately trying to gain a foothold.

From an industry perspective there seem to be two camps forming – in one camp are the very big fish in the storage pond – the EMCs, HPs and NetApps of this world that continue to gobble up relatively small tadpoles and even some of the larger fish by way of acquisition.
 
In the other camp are those smaller storage vendors that have carved out a niche for themselves in an otherwise very crowded market. Copan is not alone in finding the going difficult as a host of companies are finding it hard to compete or offer differentiation from what is being offered by competitors.
 
As the big boys continue to build out their offerings via acquisition, and look to grab as large a slice as possible of the virtualization and cloud computing pie through partnerships, the smaller vendors clearly need to work harder and be more nimble and innovative to avoid being threatened. Companies that have muddled strategies or product portfolios which are all over the place are the ones that will be in trouble.
 
I haven’t even mentioned tape yet- perhaps a first for one of my blog entries. In an earlier blog post our CEO commented that in a few years there will be only a handful of tape vendors. Faced with a giant like IBM in the market it’s clear that we have to differentiate ourselves – the question is how? It would be easy to try and compete on price but ultimately that’s (a) the lowest common denominator and (b) the easiest way to get trumped when someone undercuts you.
 
Ultimately the only way to really compete in the long-term is on functionality and technology and with the amount of effort we put into research and development we think we have successfully carved out a leadership position. This doesn’t mean we’re expensive – it just means that end-users need to be aware of the ongoing OPEX savings they can make from a high-density, scalable tape library like the T-Finity. Sometimes CAPEX doesn’t tell the complete story.
 
Yes – we do offer disk, but our primary business is secondary storage, which in our opinion is all about tape. End-users are faced with a bewildering array of options on the disk front, but those that need tape (and they really do need it) can realistically only go one of a few ways. We feel pretty strongly that on the performance and functionality front we’re the clear leader and we may even win out on price depending on whether you take a short- or long-term view.
 
So that’s the space we will continue to make our own, and we will look in with interest at what happens within the storage market in 2010 in terms of churn and further consolidation. While the bigger companies are getting bigger, the smaller companies are having to get smarter – if you’re not a jack of all trades you need to be a master of one.

What's the Link between Katy Perry and Tape?

The other day while I was in town meeting with a customer I walked past a poster advertising the MTV Europe Music Awards, taking place in Berlin in a couple of days. Once I’d gotten the image of host Katy Perry out of my mind, I thought about how important the media sector has become for us.  

The switch to digital media formats has forced media organisations to reconsider and subsequently rearchitect their storage strategies, which has obviously been great for the industry. However, not everyone has lucked out and cashed in. The media sector has some very specific needs, many of which can’t be met by any old disk array.
 
One of the big factors for media companies – particularly with the digital switchover – is capacity. An hour of high definition video (or even 3 minutes of Katy Perry shaking her stuff) requires a significant chunk of storage, so costs can quickly start to mount as a company gets into hundreds of hours of footage.  More mature companies with a great deal of old film to convert to digital are particularly conscious of the whole $/GB equation.
 
Unlike those organisations forced to archive material by legislation, media and entertainment companies do it for a very different reason – revenue. A whole industry has grown up around packaging footage from sports, show business etc. as bite size chunks and “highlights” packages for syndication and re-use.
 
You can also never tell what seemingly irrelevant footage might turn out to be important – think about the classic clip of Clinton and Lewinski shaking hands that was played the world over after that particular scandal blew up. Someone must have spent ages poring through archives to dig up that little gem – but that effort probably translated into huge revenues. Take the recently released Michael Jackson film “This is it” – could the makers have ever known how much footage from rehearsals might end up being worth? That material went from DVD Bonus Feature material to being turned into a feature film which grossed over $34million at the USA Box Office in its first week alone.
 
Clearly we think that tape is the medium of choice when archiving huge amounts of footage and I would highlight the interesting project undertaken by NASCAR to archive more than 50,000 hours of footage on Spectra Logic’s libraries as evidence of this. A number of other large media and entertainment companies have also turned to tape in order to protect their content.
 
This vertical market is incredibly exciting and is very much at the forefront in terms of innovation where storage is concerned. Any IT department with significant archiving requirements could learn from media / broadcast companies, many of whom would happily proclaim (to butcher Katy Perry’s original lyrics somewhat), “I Tried Out Tape, And I Liked It…”

Data Breaches Resurface in the Headlines

It seems like not a week goes by without a story hitting the headlines about sensitive customer data being compromised in one way or another. If it’s not a laptop getting lost it’s a handheld device getting left in a taxi - in fact nowadays you can just pop onto Ebay to buy the bank details of a million or so people . These breaches of security are damaging for the corporations involved and extremely disconcerting for the people whose personal details are compromised, but they also raise serious questions about how companies protect data once it leaves the corporate network.

There are a number of ways for organisations to ensure that they aren’t hitting the headlines many of which revolve around policy as much as technology, but encryption is the most obvious choice (although that doesn’t necessarily mean every IT department is deploying it ). You can deploy encryption at various levels of the network and in various forms – at Spectra we’ve always felt that it should be offered as standard and that customers should just be able to ‘turn it on’. When we talk about making sure our customers’ data is always available, we mean available to them – not to anyone who fancies emptying a few bank accounts!
 
This story about a tape backup being lost by Zurich in South Africa not only highlights the importance of encryption on tape but also the global nature of IT – all the individuals affected were UK customers. With Spectra Logic, encryption is a standard feature on all of our libraries, included as part of our BlueScale management software. Customers can add encryption to their backup strategy – with no changes to backup policies and no additional hardware or software. We use the federally approved AES-256 encryption algorithm – considered unbreakable by the US Government, and although it’s up to our customers to decide whether or not to encrypt their data we always advise them to, particularly if they have any kind of offsite storage policy.
 
The IT industry as a whole often jumps on these news stories to point out why certain technology is needed – but the fact is people evidently still aren’t taking even the most basic of steps to protect their data. As soon as you have any sensitive data leaving your premises, encryption of that data should be used without a second thought.
 
Click here to read a previously published post on Spectra’s Backup and Recover Blog by Sr. Product Manager Jon Hiles: “Top 10 Reasons to Encrypt your Data”.

Storage Expo 2009 Recap

We’ve just recovered from the exertions of Storage Expo 2009 – a show which has always been one of the better attended shows in the industry’s calendar. But what of this year’s show? Well certainly the financial climate and its impact on IT spending has been a major talking point over the last 12 to 18 months – but has the industry weathered the storm? According to reports - http://bit.ly/15Vm1b - there are some doubts as to whether we are over the worst of it, but the prevailing attitude of vendors attending the show this year seemed to be optimistic. End-users at the show, if not ready to put pen to paper immediately, were certainly talking about committing budget in the next three to six months.

What was interesting at Storage Expo this year was that for the first time the show floor was divided into three Solution Zones – HPC (which Spectra Logic sponsored), Virtualization and Cloud Computing. This was a great move – anything which gives attendees a clearer indication of where to go for certain types of technology is only going to improve the quality of the show experience.
 
HPC is a massive growth market and a huge opportunity for Spectra Logic – but does our headlining role in the HPC zone mean we don’t fit well in virtualized or cloud environments? Certainly not – in fact one of the reasons you won’t hear us talking as much about these subjects as other vendors is that Spectra Logic’s position is to sit beneath any infrastructure regardless of what, or indeed where, that infrastructure is. Data needs to be backed up and archived – whether the data is internal or external, physical or virtualized.
 
Whereas virtualization is now very much an accepted part of the mainstream IT landscape, cloud computing has a little bit less of a clear cut position. For starters there is still no real agreement on what the term refers to – is it simply Software as a Service? Is it just another way of referring to outsourced IT infrastructure? Is it just pay as you go compute capacity? Among the big disk storage manufacturers there seems to be a great deal of fairly frenetic R&D and Marketing efforts to gain mindshare in a market that seems to only be in its infancy.
 
Banking analysts say that cloud computing will be a $160 billion market within the next five years but certainly for the moment it is not something we see customers being ready for right now. From our point of view we also feel that organisations in the markets Spectra Logic is strongest in – Government, Healthcare, HPC, Media – will not be outsourcing their IT any time soon for various reasons. For this reason anyone who visited our stand might have found it refreshing how little we were pushing the whole cloud aspect.
 
Ultimately – the overriding theme at the show seemed to be the old staple of ‘doing more with less’. Even in times of plenty customers want the most bang for their buck, and vendors were competing to show that their products trump those of their competitors in terms of efficiency, cost-effectiveness etc. Spectra Logic’s stand featured a Spectra T950 in all its glory, and we’d wager there wasn’t anything on show at the other stands that offered anywhere near the capacity or density of this product.
 
Perhaps the other news of note is that Storage Expo will be replaced next year by a new show called 360°IT. As the name suggests this show will have a broader focus – covering general IT infrastructure, cloud and information management. What will this mean for the show? Well it will probably drive up attendance but conversely it is likely to detract somewhat from how focused the show is. At the current Storage Expo you at least know that end-users attending the show and walking up to your stand probably have storage infrastructure within their remit. At 360°IT you could find network managers, virtualization specialists, server admins – the list goes on. Conversely the show could end up attracting more director and C-Level attendees with wider remits who prefer the idea of attending a show which covers off more in one place. We’ll wait and see what the reality is…..