Skip to content

Spectra Logic Backup and Archive Blog


The Older You Get, the More Nostalgic Birthdays Become

 A 35th birthday is a significant moment in an individual’s life, and even more so in the life of a corporation. As I look back over the past 35 years, Spectra Logic has certainly seen many technologies come and go. However, both innovation and a focus on our customers have kept us not only relevant, but viewed as a technology leader in the storage market.

Although a 35th birthday might make a person feel old… age is not as much an accumulation of years, as it is a reflection of what you’ve done with those years. The constant development and modernization of our products has continuously kept us young. Disk technology is more than 50 years old, tape has turned 60, yet at Spectra we continue to find new and innovative ways of using these mediums to keep them relevant as well. In our 35th year we’ve introduced disk based file storage for half the cost of traditional file storage, we’ve taken tape in to the cloud, and we’ve introduced a new way to deal with exponential data growth through deep storage. 

Today, Spectra Logic is home to over 400 of the most hard-working, dedicated associates the industry has to offer. We are represented in 72 different countries all over the world, with offices located in the US, Australia, and the United Kingdom. We have remained a privately held company since our beginning, which has allowed our employees to develop a greater sense of ownership and inspired them to make their best contributions throughout the years. Among many things, the majority of this company’s success can be attributed to our culture. Spectra employees are dedicated to our customers, our technology, our mission and each other.

If I only have one birthday wish, I would wish for another 35 years of continued growth for Spectra Logic. Throughout this final week of October, we are celebrating yet another record setting fiscal quarter here at Spectra Logic.  I am truly grateful for all of our associates and the continued effort they’ve contributed towards the success of this company.

Happy Birthday Spectra!

Introducing Spectra Logic's New Vision & Interface to Tape Storage: The 'Deep Storage' Tier

A data revolution is occurring as more and more organizations discover new ways to extract value from their data. This movement envelops numerous markets including Web 2.0, cloud services, big data, media and entertainment, and many more. The desire to collect and analyze information for the sake of improving everything from business decisions to overall life experiences has driven data repositories to grow to sizes that were once inconceivable.

This transformation around how organizations amass, use and store long term data has necessitated a new tier of storage – deep storage – that delivers persistent storage over a REST interface with extreme low cost, power efficiency, high density and massive scalability. This tier must be able to manage large, bulk quantities of data for extended and possibly indefinite periods of time while meeting the needs of newer data center architectures that leverage storage in the form of data objects.

This week we are hosting Spectra Summit 2013 here in Colorado, where we're excited to unveil our new vision and roadmap for delivering deep storage solutions to the industry. This vision is designed to meet the new, evolving storage requirements of modern data centers and use cases.

Our vision is coming to life today – the first day of Spectra Summit – with the introduction of the storage industry's first native RESTful interface to tape library storage systems, Deep Simple Storage Service (DS3), which enables simple to use, cost-effective storage of large amounts of data. The DS3 interface is the cornerstone of our vision for delivering deep storage solutions for customers grappling with cost-effective ways to store massive volumes of data.  The new interface is also the first in a series of innovative technologies and solutions we will be introducing to support deep storage.

The DS3 interface will be supported by all of Spectra Logic's T-Series tape library data storage systems. By leveraging RESTful protocols, the DS3 interface enables modern web architecture frameworks to easily and efficiently communicate with massively scalable deep storage technologies. The DS3 interface allows data-intensive organizations to utilize the highest density, most cost-efficient storage for long term data retention and accessibility.

We're excited about this evolution in our business and the industry. Stay tuned for more deep storage developments…after all, it's only the first day of Spectra Summit.  

See today's full press release with DS3 interface details.

Spectra Logic Achieves Another Year of Record Results

16% Year-over-Year Revenue Growth in FY2013

Here at Spectra Logic we are seeing a clear shift toward tape technologies and their unrivaled economic and capacity advantages as IT teams grapple with explosive data growth, tight IT budgets, and a prevailing mindset of ‘save all your data, forever’. This shift is becoming more prevalent and shows no sign of reversing or slowing down; it’s defining the industry and our growth here at Spectra Logic.

Today we announced record revenue and profitability results for fiscal year 2013, which ended June 30. Spectra Logic posted 16% year-over-year revenue growth, led by strong growth of our flagship product, the enterprise T-Finity tape library. We also posted record revenue for each quarter of fiscal year 2013, and Spectra Logic has grown total revenue 67% since 2009.

Today’s announcement is a great way for our team to kick off the week.

Our accelerating momentum and record-setting results validate our long-standing commitment to customer support and satisfaction, and to delivering advanced storage technologies that help our customers solve long term data retention challenges. As organizations contend with the skyrocketing requirements and cost of storing long term data, tape’s unique cost advantages and ability to meet demands for reliability, speed, capacity and ease of use position it as a clear choice for many of today’s toughest storage challenges. This preference toward tape for long-term storage of very large data sets is reflected in tape industry growth rates as well as that of Spectra Logic:

  • IDC reports 8% year-over-year growth in aggregate shipments of midrange tape libraries with 100+ slots and enterprise tape libraries in calendar year 2012.
  • Spectra Logic reported 12% year-over-year aggregate revenue growth of its midrange tape libraries with 100+ slots and enterprise tape libraries during fiscal year 2013.

Spectra’s tape storage systems have proven to be ideally suited to efficiently and intelligently address long term data retention, and we are well positioned to further our growth and success as we prepare to announce exciting new tape solutions next week at our Spectra Summit 2013 event. We expect the reinvigorated demand for tape to continue, and we will unveil new tape solutions that will bolster it further. Stay tuned!

See today’s full press release for additional fiscal year 2013 Spectra Logic highlights.

Spectra Logic Helps Cal-Wood Education Center Resume Business Operations after Damage and Evacuation

Following the recent flood crisis in Colorado, local residents and organizations are coming together to support community members in need, including our team here at Spectra Logic. Being a member of the Boulder, Colorado community we are pleased to be able to help our neighbors who were impacted by the Colorado Flood.

Spectra Logic is providing office space to Cal-Wood Education Center while its flood-damaged campus in Jamestown, Colorado gets restored. Cal-Wood Education Center campus experienced severe water damage to roads, pond study instruction area, outdoor classrooms, nine miles of trails, campgrounds, and Boulder County road access to the school is currently unavailable. Colorado’s local NBC station, covered a heroic rescue of children being airlifted from Cal-Wood Education Center earlier this week.

We are fortunate to have available office space, telephone and networking capacity to accommodate a local organization that is experiencing a terrible burden, especially one such as Cal-Wood that contributes so much to the local community in Colorado. My children are past campers of Cal-Wood Education Center, and I would encourage local families to follow its restoration progress and consider supporting and/or participating in future camp programs.

Several administrative associates from Cal-Wood Education Center are now in full operation in a dedicated area of Spectra Logic’s headquarters, while other staff members work to oversee the cleanup process. To ensure continuous operations, Cal-Wood Education’s existing phone line has been rerouted to dial directly into its Spectra Logic office. Follow Cal-Wood Education Center’s restoration progress.

Spectra Logic Customers Give Company High Ratings in Storage Magazine's 2012 Quality Awards

This past December, we were honored to receive one of the storage industry's most notable awards - Storage magazine/ Quality Awards - as voted on by customers and qualified Storage magazine readers. Spectra Logic received top honors in both the enterprise and midrange tape library categories, and this is the sixth time we’ve won first place in a Quality Awards category.

The Storage magazine recognition was gratifying and capped a year of significant success and technological achievements for us. Over the past year, we announced the availability of 10GbE iSCSI connectivity to tape, the commencement of LTO-6 shipments and the installation of a 380 PBs nearline tape archive for NCSA's Blue Waters supercomputing system—one of the largest and most powerful supercomputers in the world. This year is off to a great start as well. Spectra Logic has installed more than a half an Exabyte of tape storage capacity in the first half of FY2013 and we have posted nine percent year-over-year growth.

Results for the Quality Awards are derived from a survey of qualified Storage magazine readers who assess products in five main categories: sales-force competence, initial product quality, product features, product reliability and technical support. 

With the Quality Awards win, we outpaced competing midrange and enterprise tape library solutions from IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, Quantum and Dell. End-user respondents gave us particularly high marks for initial product quality, product reliability, and our knowledgeable sales force representatives and technical support personnel. We take pride in providing an unsurpassed customer experience and would like to thank our valued customers for participating in this annual survey. This win would not have been possible without their participation, and we will continue to focus on delivering innovative, high quality data storage solutions that meet and exceed their expectations.

DCIG Interview with Spectra Logic CEO Nathan Thompson Part V

Tape Libraries as a File Level Storage Device is Coming

This interview series was originally published on the DCIG website at

The tape pendulum is swinging back to the middle with more and more people coming to recognize that tape is more than alive; it has a bright future in front of it. However what people may fail to recognize is the many innovations going on right now in tape that are primed to be announced in just the next few years. In this fifth and final blog entry in my interview series with Spectra Logic's CEO Nathan Thompson, he pulls back the veil a bit and provides some insight into what we should expect tape libraries to deliver in the next few years.

Jerome:  Does the recently announced partnership between EMC and Spectra Logic indicate that an inflection point for tape is already here?

Nathan:  Several companies in the industry spent years saying and spending marketing dollars to support the notion that organizations could do everything with just disk. When anybody pronounces an extreme view of the world in any context, the pendulum swings too far, and the speaker's view becomes discredited by some viewers.

When anyone pushes one solution so strongly, users really call your motives into question. Several companies in the industry have gradually come to a more balanced view. In respect to EMC, it has sold tape for many, many years. It is just that it has now chosen Spectra to become its supplier of tape.

I am not certain that it is much of a change for EMC, though I would point out that NetApp does not sell tape. NetApp is one of those companies that for years and years said tape is dead, and parts of the company still say that despite much evidence to the contrary.

Go just five miles to the west of NetApp's headquarters in the Mountain View, CA, area, to the NASA Ames facility, and explain to those folks how tape is dead. Or go 50 miles north to the San Francisco-based public broadcasters and explain how tape is dead. Or go to any of the internet companies of any significance spread around the Silicon Valley, and explain to them that tape is dead.

They would all view that statement as simply ridiculous. Tape is an important part of those any many more storage infrastructures across the world—and it is not just surviving, it is thriving.

Jerome:  Where does Spectra Logic go from here and what should we look for Spectra to deliver in the next few years?

Nathan:  Thank you for asking that. Spectra has put a lot of effort into reliability and improving the overall customer experience with tape. We have already made an impact but, relative to what we can do, we have just scratched the surface.

You will see from us a lot of capabilities going forward that significantly improve the user's experience with tape. Tape management, tape error reporting, and ways we can automatically address problems, etc. are just some of the new features that you will see from us.

The second piece is tape in its raw form is still a block format. We work with several partners in the backup space, including QStar, FileTek, Crossroads Systems, Front Porch Digital, MassTech, SGL and many others. Over time, users will start to look at tape more as a file-level interface, plus IBM has done some wonderful things with LTFS (Linear Tape File System.)

Over the next two or three years we are going to see tape looked at more and more as file-oriented storage. We have some initiatives in place with partners that are going to help bring tape to be more than just a block-level interface.

Someday you will see a tape library that has a 40 Gb per second Ethernet port on it instead of a fiber channel cable, and you will manage a file-level interface instead of a block-level interface. That is my view of the future.

Jerome:  One final question. Tell us something that people may not know about Spectra Logic.

Nathan:  The root of our success is the strength of our culture. Spectra has a tremendous culture that is very supportive, intense but nurturing, and we know that our success is driven by the success of our customers.

Fundamentally we want to keep doing things better and better and better. We will continue to be a leader in data backup and archive technologies and innovation, but in the end, I believe it will be our commitment to customers and desire to ensure their success that will set Spectra apart and drive the company's long term growth and success.

In Part I of this interview series Nathan shares how and why Spectra Logic got its start in the tape business and what differentiates it from almost every other tape manufacturer even today.

In Part II of this interview series Nathan discusses why Spectra Logic decided to double down on tape even as many experts were forecasting its death.

In Part III of this interview series, Nathan discusses how tape libraries are maturing and evolving to meet new organizational demands.

In Part IV of this interview series, Nathan discusses how tape's role in backup remains and the case for using it is even strengthening in many organizations.

DCIG Interview with Spectra Logic CEO Nathan Thompson Part IV

Tape Strengthens Its Position in Backup as the Pendulum Centers

This interview series was originally published on the DCIG website at

Despite some claims to the contrary, the primary use case for tape remains in the context of backup. It is HOW tape is being used in the backup process that is changing. As it does, it is putting tape in a better position to solve certain data protection concerns that disk and even new flash media drives can never solve. In part IV of my interview series with Spectra Logic's CEO Nathan Thompson, he discusses why tape will remain an integral part of backup processes for a long time to come.

Jerome: So why is using tape as a media for backup still likely to survive long term?

Nathan: There is a lot of PR about tape that suggests companies have an incentive to backup to disk or move to disk. So what happened in the tape industry when Sun took over StorageTek, and then Sun by Oracle, due to all of this maneuvering, the market lost its natural leader in the tape space, which was StorageTek. This left the industry without anyone to raise their hand and explain tape's evolving role, as disk became a backup target.

The tape industry did a poor job for many years of promoting tape's benefits. At Spectra Logic we are committed to being the champions of tape. We see 80 percent of the world's data stored on tape.  

In every field from genetics, manufacturing, simulation, scientific research, statistics, media and entertainment, and video surveillance, there is just no way of performing many of these tasks without a sustainable, low cost, long term media like tape.

Now, you also hear a lot about tape going away or being supplanted by disk for backup. There are places that it makes sense to backup to different media.

For example, when I create a file on my laptop that I have spent a lot of time working on, I copy that file onto a USB memory stick because if something happened to it, I would have to recreate it. It might be information I do not have access to anymore, so I would then back it up to a different media. But I would not back it up to a tape drive. I'd back it up to a memory stick or email it to myself so it ends up in an email server or something like that.

When you have a small amount of data there may be media other than tape that you may use to back it up. But most organizations that we interact with (which is literally about 85 percent of the world out there) backup to tape in some fashion.

Now they may conduct backups on a daily basis to disk. But they then copy it to tape or they make a copy on tape. In situation such as that, we have concluded that tape is less expensive.

But even if tape were more expensive than disk, it would still probably be used for data backup (to create a backup of the backup), as there are just too many things that can go wrong with disk drives.

I am not saying that disk drives are inherently bad. I am saying you may have programmatic errors, operating system errors, heat, fire, and/or floods that could cause you to lose your data if it is only stored on disk.

In this era, at this time in society, you can point out many organizations that could potentially survive the loss of their data. But for most government institutions and businesses, loss of data may mean the end of the entire enterprise. So most companies have adopted a hybrid backup strategy where they put some amount of data on disk and they make sure weekly or even daily copy backups are stored to tape just in case they have a problem.

As an analogy, compare tape-based backup to the Department of Agriculture. At a fundamental level, it needs to make sure that it has as many varieties of seed, corn, rice, barley, wheat and whatever else, because one day one of those varieties may fail you. You may need to plant an alternate variety just to make sure you have something to grow because of a virus or a plague. The Dept. of Agriculture keeps all of these grain varieties on hand so that the whole population does not starve because it is completely dependent on one genetic strain.

That is how people should look at backup to tape. When you look at the possibility of being completely wiped out by data loss, you want copies of the data residing on other media.

Jerome: Are we coming to an inflection point either now or soon where tape is "sexy" again and regains its reputation as a strategic technology?

Nathan: The pendulum will come to the center. Consider oil. The world will come to realize that it cannot stop using oil in the economy. There has been talk about completely stopping oil use--but it's impossible. A complete energy strategy includes hydro, nuclear, solar, wind, coal, natural gas, and  oil components.

A data storage strategy is the same thing. You have to be realistic. There are things that disk is great for. There are going to be many things that flash is great for. Five years from now, I bet nobody will be able to buy a disk drive based laptop. They will all be flash.

But there will still be disk drives, servers, server farms and other applications, and there will still be tape. You may not use tape to back up your laptop or your iPad. But if it is synced to the cloud, I bet that tape is involved at some level.

My expectation is that the world will become more realistic.  The market has been re-balancing itself and that is why when you survey tape and tape library users, you see that some people have come back to tape as the pendulum swings too far.

In Part I of this interview series Nathan shares how and why Spectra Logic got its start in the tape business and what differentiates it from almost every other tape manufacturer even today.

In Part II of this interview series Nathan discusses why Spectra Logic decided to double down on tape even as many experts were forecasting its death.

In Part III of this interview series, Nathan discusses how tape libraries are maturing and evolving to meet new customer demands.

In the fifth and final part of this interview series, Nathan talks about what new features we can expect to see from tape in the future and what new roles it will be able to assume in just a few years.




DCIG Interview with Spectra Logic CEO Nathan Thompson Part III

Tape Libraries Just Keep Getting Better with Age

This interview series was originally published on the DCIG website at

In today's information age our focus always tends to be on the here and now and how quickly we can access information that was made sometimes just seconds ago. But in terms of the total amount of data in the digital universe, that is just the tip of the iceberg with possibly as much as 90% of today's data existing as archival data. Ensuring the integrity of that data and making sure it is stored cost effectively for decades is the responsibility of today's new generation of tape libraries. In part 3 of my interview series with Spectra Logic's CEO Nathan Thompson, we discuss how tape libraries have continued to mature to meet today's new business demands for retaining archival data for even longer periods of time.

Jerome:  How have tape libraries continued to mature - even in the last year?

Nathan:  This is a story that is not very well told. 20 years ago disk drives had low reliability but they have tremendously improved over that time. In much the same way, tape libraries and tape applications have also tremendously improved, as has the reliability of tape media.

Today, the reliability of LTO drives and tape libraries are nothing short of spectacular. Development of new features, capabilities and intelligence in tape has continually been invested in and delivered upon year after year.

In that vein, I'll speak to a feature that Spectra Logic put out a year and a half ago that really became deployed in customer environments over the last 12 months.

We built a feature into our libraries called Data Integrity Verification. Here is what that is: if a user writes a tape on Tuesday, the library itself will load that tape in a separate tape drive on Wednesday, and conduct a quick read verification to confirm that there are no errors that cannot be corrected by the tape drive's integrated error correction system as the data is written to the drive.

Our T-Series tape libraries can be configured to verify data integrity every six months, or every year, or every five years from that point forward. So a verification and validation system is now built into our tape libraries, at no cost to the user.

We also announced in November 2011 a new technology for tape media health assurance called CarbideClean. CarbideClean does an initial cleaning of "Green" tapes that have never been written to before they are deployed in the customer environment. This reduces debris on the heads of the tape drives as well as decreases needs for tape drive cleaning.

This CarbideClean process has in fact also resulted in an improvement in actual tape capacity and performance. It is a relatively small increase, maybe a two to three percent capacity improvement coupled with a five to eight percent improvement in speed using this innovation.

The concept of pre-cleaning tape media was brought to our attention by a large customer who observed some characteristics of continuous tape use so we built a process into our tape libraries to address it.

Another example of ongoing Tape Library innovation is improved usability features. Tape libraries from decades ago were considered very hard to use and to manage.  Useability features released in the most recent Spectra BlueScale 12 software in the last year continued in our efforts to make tape as easy to manage as disk. 

BlueScale 12 included an XML interface. As our customers upgrade to BlueScale 12 (a free upgrade) they can interface, monitor and manage their tape library using XML as well as programmatically interface with it.

So if they want somebody monitoring a tape library for any variety of conditions that might occur in a data center, it's very easy to do. These are just some of the innovations that have recently occurred in tape libraries.

Jerome:  So as tape libraries offer these new features, what percentage of tape libraries is still being used in the traditional backup and recovery role and what percentage is being deployed in new capacities?

Nathan:   I would estimate that, on a day-to-day basis, approximately 70 percent of tape libraries in the field are being used primarily to support backup and disaster recovery while the other 30 percent are being used to support archive.

However, if you look at the amount of data on tape libraries and what type it is, the percentages are probably the other way around. Probably 70 to 80 percent of the amount of information that is stored in the aggregate set of tape libraries that we have installed around the world is archival information and it may be as high as 90 percent. The rest would be backup data.  

The growth in unstructured data over the past decade has dramatically increased the amount of data on tape for archive. Most of the really big libraries (over 5000 tape slot libraries) we have installed are being used for archival.

We have a T-Finity tape library  at the Korean Meteorological Institute, which captures weather history for the southern part of the Korean peninsula. KMA's Spectra T-Finity tape library is tied to a Cray supercomputer, and archives PB upon PB of weather history. The reason is that they run weather models that predict the weather in South Korea so they built a model that inputs the history of the weather and uses it to predict the future.

In their case they need to keep weather history forever. The weather history in Korea that was captured five years ago, or two years ago, or one year ago is being stored in our T-Finity tape library. 100 years from now that information is still going to be important and relevant—because weather will still be predicted.

The only way you can really predict the weather is to access historical climate models. In those climate models you have to plug in previous data and previous weather patterns to see if you are correctly predicting it. That's one example of the kind of application that will store information forever.

We also have the National Archives and the Library of Congress as accounts, both of which are storing video information. They have large central libraries and are required to maintain information for the life of the republic plus 100 years. So, how best to store all of that data? On spinning disk drives? I hope not.

All of the airfoil design that every airplane uses, formerly known as the NACA. It does simulations and wind tunnels at NASA Ames and it keeps data forever. So there are an enormous number of applications like that and you just can't realistically keep that information on disk.

In Part I of this interview series Nathan shares how and why Spectra Logic got its start in the tape business and what differentiates it from almost every other tape manufacturer even today.

In Part II of this interview series Nathan discusses why Spectra Logic decided to double down on tape even as many experts were forecasting its death.

In Part IV of this interview series, Nathan discusses why tape will remain an integral part of backup processes for a long time to come.

In Part V of this interview series, Nathan talks about what new features we can expect to see from tape and what new roles it will be able to assume in just a few years.

DCIG Interview with Spectra Logic CEO Nathan Thompson Part II

This interview series was originally published on the DCIG website at

80% of the World's Data Resides on Tape

Despite the marketing buzz about the demise of tape, one almost indisputable fact remains: up to 80% of the world's data resides on tape. Statistics like that helped to convince Spectra Logic that there was a bright light at the end of the tape tunnel and prompted it to double down on tape products. In this second part of my interview with Spectra Logic's CEO, we discuss what Spectra Logic saw—that others did not—that led it to focus more heavily on tape as opposed to disk.

Jerome: In the first part of our interview series, we talked about the factors that influenced Spectra to initially offer tape. But in light of what has happened over the last decade and those who forecasted that "tape was dead," what factors influenced you to stay the course with tape?

Nathan: Being close to the technology and knowing the market as well as the customers, we knew that the naysayers were wrong. Tape just announced its 60th year and I got an email from somebody at ExaGrid Systems who said, "Tape is 60 years old. Don't let it live anymore!"

Clearly it was a marketing piece and he was specifically talking about how using tape for backup is dead and that people should now use ExaGrid Systems for backup. To me, it is clear he does not even really understand the role of tape in backup or its use in archival which is an even  more exciting market for us.  This type of marketing also completely ignores the market of disaster recovery that tape has over the past 60 years always served as the media of choice for.

People like this fail to see tape's real potential.

Jerome: So how did tape get a bad reputation in the industry? Isn't there some merit to what the tape naysayers have to say?

Nathan: There was a generation of really bad tape out there. It was very poorly implemented which resulted in many of the concerns people hear and share about tape. If you go back to the days of DLT, the quality levels and reliability of the early generation DLT cartridges were terrible. When you mention the Grand Daddy of the worst tape media, the Exabyte 8mmm, and there is an element of truth to what people say about tape.

But whatever impressions people may have of tape from an era, that passed a decade ago, are no longer correct. When you look at high quality, modern tape and tape storage systems you see a different story.

It is our belief, and analysts confirm this belief, that when we look at some of the sizes of the customers that we have out there, we believe that 80 percent of the world's digitally stored data resides on tape. It may be broadcast or video information, or it may be nuclear physics work, or it may be spatial observation, or it may even be Internet data since much of the data on the Internet is stored on tape.

We know this because many of the cloud players are our customers. We know that scientific research outfits like Argonne National Laboratory or NASA or CERN use tape. We know the video companies like Discovery Channel or NBC or the Tennis Channel or local PBS station use tape. It is based on our knowledge of these companies that we understand and realize just how much information they have and how much of it is stored on tape.

In fact, we recently issued a press release with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). In it, we highlight how it is implementing a tape solution consisting of four Spectra Logic tape libraries initially supporting a configuration of 380 PB.

Think about that number: 380 PB! It is a big investment but that is nothing as compared with what the cost would be if it were disk or any other kind of storage medium. So when we compare what is really going on in tape versus what some of the naysayers say, we know the reality about tape is very different than what they portray it as.

Jerome: You mentioned Internet data. Can you give an example of how tape is being used to store that data?

Nathan: There are many examples, but unfortunately, a lot of cloud initiatives with which we are associated are companies that we are not allowed to publicly discuss. However we know for a fact they are using tape as a layer in the cloud and we see many more very substantial deployments of tape for use in the cloud in the works.

In addition, some of the online email applications out there, to include Yahoo, Hotmail and some others, any old message, any old deleted message, any message that has not been accessed, or any account that has not been accessed for some period of time, ends up on tape. This is a massive amount of data.

In Part I of this interview series Nathan shares how and why Spectra Logic got its start in the tape business and what differentiates it from almost every other tape manufacturer even today.

In Part III of this interview series, Nathan will talk about how tape libraries are maturing so they may be used in these new and emerging roles within organizations.

In Part IV of this interview series, Nathan discusses why tape will remain an integral part of backup processes for a long time to come.

In Part V of this interview series, Nathan talks about what new features we can expect to see from tape and what new roles it will be able to assume in just a few years.

DCIG Interview with Spectra Logic CEO Nathan Thompson Part 1

This interview series was originally published on the DCIG website at

One of the most engaging and friendly CEOs one can hope to meet in the technology industry is none other than Spectra Logic's CEO Nathan Thompson who came from very humble beginnings and has worked hard to build Spectra Logic to what it is today - the leading manufacturer of tape libraries. However, how Spectra Logic came to assume this position is an interesting story in and of itself. Today, in the first part of this interview series with Nathan, he sheds some light on how Spectra Logic became so tape centric and even today views tape as an underserved market.


Jerome: Nathan, thanks for joining me today and agreeing to do this interview. So to start out and for the benefit of DCIG's readership, please tell me a little bit about yourself and what led you to found Spectra Logic.



Nathan: Jerome, pleasure to join you and thanks for giving me this opportunity. To set the context, I started this company when I just turned 19 while going to school and getting a degree in engineering.

I'd always run little businesses or been involved in businesses ever since I was a kid. Further, I grew up with very modest means and my parents were unable to give me anything more than about $1,500 for the first two years I went to college. They certainly gave me emotional support but in terms of financial support there was not a lot.

So I worked for a friend of mine during my freshman year and into the summer to make enough money to pay for my sophomore year. Unfortunately he was having some cash flow problems and while I earned about $15,000, he could not pay me much of it at that time. So I was on the order of $4,000 - $5,000 short going into my second year of electrical engineering at the University of Colorado.

So I looked around for a job and got an offer to fix pinball machines for $13/hour at a place called Old Chicago (it was actually the very first Old Chicago) though at that time it was still a pinball arcade. I was thrilled since $13/hour was four or five times what a "student slave" worker was paid.

Unfortunately the amount of time it took to do the work and the time required to do the course work for electrical engineering did not allow me to do both. I needed to do something else to pay my college tuition, so I literally took my last $500 and started a company called Western Automation.

That company made and sold disk, tape and memory products, which I used to pay my college bills. I finally graduated in the spring of 1983 with a company that was employing somewhere between 10 and 12 people (a couple of them are still with us to this day.) We then bought a division of Cypher called Spectra Logic, which was a tape drive company in 1987. After about four years we incorporated in Delaware in 1991 as Spectra Logic Corporation and have continued doing business under that name to this day.

Jerome: So at one time Spectra did both disk and tape. So why, of the two, did you choose to build Spectra around tape?

Nathan: Over the years there have been many companies associated with tape in the Boulder (Colorado) Valley. Boulder actually traces its roots back to companies like Exabyte and StorageTek (acquired by Sun which is now owned by Oracle.) At one point there were probably six tape manufacturers and maybe more in Boulder.

The way it happened was that IBM built its IBM 360, its breakthrough mainframe product in 1963 or 1964, and was building plants around the country. It built its disk drive facilities in San Jose, CA, and Lexington, KY, semiconductors in Burlington, VT, mainframe CPUs in Poughkeepsie, NY, and tape drives in Boulder, CO.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s this is where all of the IBM tape drives were once designed. In fact, there is a big IBM plant just north of here that actually made magnetic tape and magnetic tape drives before IBM eventually moved those activities to Tucson.

It was the existence of that original IBM plant in Boulder that created a group of people who were tape experts. A number of them went on to start a company in 1969 by the name of Storage Technology that later became StorageTek. So when IBM eventually moved to Tucson, IBM employees who did not want to move created a bunch of IBM tape spinoffs that resulted in Boulder becoming "Tape Central".

In this sense, Spectra was different in that it was not really a spinoff-- nor was I a spinoff-- of any of those companies. But being in the area and looking at what skills were available and what the potential for the tape market was, it made sense for Spectra to focus on tape.

Since the 1990's, Boulder has gone from six companies manufacturing tape drives to only Oracle, and even those tape drives may be made in Puerto Rico. But the knowledge of the markets was imprinted on me and some of Spectra's early employees.

That is what led us to focus on tape. Spectra does have other products today but the majority of our products are very much tape-focused. Further, Spectra continues to see tape as an underserved market segment so our focus is to be successful in that market and a few others.

At this point Spectra Logic is mostly known for its tape libraries. While I would expect over the next 10 to 15 years for Spectra Logic to bring out other products in other markets, to date tape has been by far its most successful offering.

In Part II of this interview series, Nathan discusses why Spectra Logic recently decided to double down on tape even as many experts were forecasting the death of tape.

In Part III of this interview series, Nathan will talk about how tape libraries are maturing so they may be used in existing as well as in new and emerging roles within organizations.

In Part IV of this interview series, Nathan discusses why tape will remain an integral part of backup processes for a long time to come.

In Part V of this interview series, Nathan talks about what new features we can expect to see from tape and what new roles it will be able to assume in just a few years.

More Entries