Riding the sleeve around the revival of the duct tape in the cloud

Quantum has turned firmly into the future, capturing cloud service providers with storage solutions originally designed for archiving. The tape revolution is underway.

Tape archiving, which some historical storage operators declared doomed – not to mention EMC at the European launch of Centera in London in 2002 with Pat Gelsinger – is experiencing a real revival with the development of online backup solutions. During an IT press tour of Colorado in early June, we met two major vendors of tape backup solutions, Quantum and Spectra. Founded in 1980, Quantum isn’t really a startup anymore, but the arrival of Jamie Lerner as CEO and Chairman of the Board in 2018 awakened Sleeping Beauty. As a well-rounded expert in the storage market, this manager retained part of the historical team and directed the company’s development around three strategic axes: video storage solutions (monitoring and media) with Stornext hardware, Scalar robotic tape libraries and DXi library virtualization systems – and finally software and cloud activity with development Subscription (Q-Cloud).

Visiting the Quantum Assembly Center in Broomfield, Colorado with CEO Jamie Lerner. (credit SL

During our press conference in Broomfield, Jamie Lerner showed us Quantum’s return to the saddle with a strong increase in sales of the ultra-thin. Seven of the largest cloud service providers use automated book sellers. “We’ve re-engineered everything we know about tape to be the number one seller in the cold storage market again,” the CEO told us. Although Quantum no longer manufactures the tape—since it has abandoned the internal SDLR format—it does work with LTO cartridge suppliers Sony and Fujifilm. For LTO (Linear Tape Opening) cartridge readers, IBM continues to develop and manufacture reading heads. At Broomfield, Quantum designs and assembles its Scalar systems with parts manufactured by Flextronics in Guadalajara, Mexico. Quantum’s automated tape libraries represent more than 40 EB of worldwide capacity and more than 3 million LTO cartridges under management. The advent of Super Cartridges has completely changed the use of LTO cartridges, which are exploited as “large hard disks … tape is seen as a large slow hard disk.” Not the usual use of backup cartridges, even if they don’t have much to do with yesteryear’s models anymore.

To offer its Scalar i6H libraries to redundant apprentices, here for the cloud giant, Jamie Lerner’s team makes custom packaging. (credit SL)

Cartridge capacity increase

Compared to the LTO-8 specification, the LTO-9 — which was marketed last September — increases cartridge storage capacity by 50%: that’s 18TB in native mode and up to 45TB after data compression. Transfer speed increases from 750MB/s to 1GB/s for compressed data and from 360 to 440MB/s for uncompressed data. “Products we designed for enterprises are not suitable for CSPs […] So we’ve refreshed everything we know about tapes for these superstars. The latter wants – along with services like Glacier in AWS – to speed up the loading of archived data on higher-capacity cartridges, in order to improve the work of automatic trays. The work of the latter also becomes intensive, which leads to increased stress on the mechanical elements. Hyperscalers who effortlessly build their own servers with commercial standards will love to do the same with tape libraries, but it’s not quite that simple. This is why Quantum designed and launched the Scalar i6H library last March. With its own modular rail structure; This makes it possible to deploy one rack compartment at a time, and add another if needed to form an overall assembly. It meets the needs of ultras and companies that intend to use tape extensively. Anti-ransomware and CBA (cloud-based analytics) functions are also introduced for preventive and proactive continuous monitoring to ensure data resiliency. An intelligent system called Ransom Block also blocks access to certain cartridges. The function can be controlled by simple backup software like Veeam and goes beyond a simple air gap where tapes are physically separated to ensure safe backup storage. The physical latch here prevents any cartridge tampering.

The Scalar i6H library was developed to meet the specific requirements of hyper-modulators, in particular, simplified modularity and maintenance. (credit amount)

Like all vendors in the market, Quantum has been affected by supply chain issues and component shortages, which have created a pressure on cash flow. During the last fiscal quarter ended March 31, 2022, Broomfield reported a 3% year-over-year revenue increase to $92.5 million, for a loss of $7.8 million. Losses last year for the same period amounted to $17.5 million. The CEO told us that if revenue is $372.8 million in 2021, the hardware share is still very high at nearly $300 million. However, Quantum already has 356 companies in subscription mode for its software solutions (video surveillance, video stream management, ransomware prevention, content indexing, etc. (see slide below). For this year, the goal is to boost supply chain and lower production costs, Move is underway to move to more modern locations in Broomfield.

Quantum software suite has grown exponentially with business solutions.

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