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Spectra Logic bets big on SMR disk and S3 for on-premises deep archive

Amazon Web Services (AWS) S3 de-facto standard protocols may actually increase the use of on-premises archive storage rather than diminish it. That irony was not lost on me when briefed recently on product announcements by Spectra Logic. Spectra originally released a hybrid storage architecture called BlackPearl in 2013 that started Spectra down the concept of putting near-line storage behind a gateway appliance (BlackPearl) that provides S3 compatible data services. Initially BlackPearl supported tape libraries and Spectra has now enhanced it by releasing a very high capacity disk companion called ArcticBlue.

ArcticBlue is a density optimized sub-system based on spinning disks using Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR). SMR disk drives allow the tracks on a platter to be layered on top of each other, similar to roof shingles on a house, to increase platter density or tracks per inch. The one catch for SMR is that in order to update an individual sector you first have to read several tracks of information and update the sectors information in cache and then write back out the several tracks of information to complete the update. In that aspect SMR is very similar to tape access which is exactly the type of engineering that Spectra is well known for. SMR promises to be one of the most cost effective forms of disk media as vendors can add about 25% more capacity to existing state of the art disk capacities making it a great fit for archive workloads. SMRs technology enables ArcticBlue to provide on-premises disk archives at 10 cents per raw GB. ArcticBlue is a 4U sub-system that handles 96 8 TB disk drives to scale up to 768 TBs of storage. Spectra have also added Drive Lifecycle Management, Spectra’s power down technology, which extends the life of your disk archive from the typical three years to a seven year span.

What makes this really interesting is that Spectra can offer a full complement of deep archive storage products at prices significantly below AWS for those customers that have big archive pools. When Spectra first implemented S3 for tape libraries, customers had to use a special S3 SDK in order to handle the access delays inherent in tape libraries. With the BlackPearl and ArcticBlue combo that limitation is lifted. AWS then did Spectra another favor by creating the S3 Glacier service which is now a great fit for tape libraries as the delays for retrieving cold information is built into the protocol. Why this is a big deal for both tape and SMR media? It is because most archiving application providers and many storage providers either have or are building AWS S3 compatible storage interfaces directly into their products. This allows Spectra to work with many ISVs to build compatible storage solutions and provides them a significant head start on other storage vendors. For customers this is huge win as they can seamlessly build solutions based on a common S3 storage archicture and pick and choose whether they want to archive locally, in the cloud or a combination of both.


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