Spectra Logic’s ArcticBlue Storage Promises Longevity, Price of Tape With the Power of Disk

Spectra Logic is looking to fill a hole in the media and entertainment (M&E) storage market between nearline disk storage systems and the tape-based deep-archive systems that the company has largely been known for. To that end, it has launched the ArcticBlue storage platform.

Announced this week at Spectra Summit in Boulder, CO, ArcticBlue leverages the company’s BlackPearl hybrid storage architecture and Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR) disk media to create an object-storage–based disk platform that, according to Senior Director of Product Management David Feller, offers “the longevity and cost of tape with the accessibility of disk.”

Spectra Logic’s new ArcticBlue is an object-storage–based disk platform

Spectra Logic’s new ArcticBlue is an object-storage–based disk platform

With an initial price as low as 10¢ per gigabyte, ArcticBlue is expected to serve as a major market disrupter when it begins shipping in December.

ArcticBlue, which can be used in conjunction with or instead of tape, also represents yet another chapter in Spectra Logic’s evolution from a traditionally tape-focused organization into one that embraces the growing use of cloud-based workflows and disk-storage platforms. The ArcticBlue announcement follows the release of Black Pearl (based on Amazon S3 cloud storage) two years ago and of Verde DPE (an SMR-based NAS disk platform) in August.

“ArcticBlue is a breakthrough product for Spectra Logic that fills an open segment in private cloud, object, nearline, and archive storage,” Spectra Logic CEO Nathan Thompson said in the company’s press release. “Combining disk and tape with the benefits of cloud storage creates a genetically diverse storage-media strategy, one we believe is important in assuring digital preservation.”

SMR, BlackPearl at the Heart of ArcticBlue
At the core of ArcticBlue are two platforms: Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR) and BlackPearl.

SMR allows each written disk-drive track to overlap the previous track in the same way that shingles on a roof are laid, thereby increasing storage density by an average 25%. In the case of ArcticBlue, SMR allows high-density storage from 384 TB to 6.1 PB in a single rack (with a long-term upgrade path to higher capacity). However, SMR drives need special handling and work best when written to sequentially in large blocks, rather than with a high number of deletes or random changes.

“That sounds a lot like a tape drive,” said Feller. “It took a tape company to unleash the power of SMR drives.”

ArcticBlue is managed directly by Spectra’s BlackPearl Deep Storage Gateway, providing an S3/REST-based object-storage interface designed to be easy to implement and use. ArcticBlue leverages BlackPearl’s new Advanced Bucket Management (ABM) feature, which automatically creates one or more copies on both ArcticBlue disk systems and Spectra Logic tape libraries. By creating nearline and offline copies of all content, this policy-based storage delivers genetic diversity and redundant digital preservation of all data.

Avid Use Case: ArcticBlue in Media Production
At the Spectra Summit, Spectra Logic detailed how ABM can be integrated into Avid’s Interplay and Media Composer environments to allow video producers to instantly create copies of clips in the cloud, in nearline storage, and/or in the deep archive. The user simply establishes policies on where content should be automatically copied, allowing the editor to edit using lo-res proxy while the hi-res content is stored separately. Once the piece is finished, these clips are automatically rendered in hi-res and ready for playout.

Increased Longevity and Power Savings Without Loss of Speed
According to Spectra Logic, ArcticBlue will offer more than twice the life of today’s disk archive at half the cost, a seven-year lifespan vs. the three-year obsolescence cycle of traditional disk archives.

“Our goal is to make something that feels like a high-performance seven-year product at a very low cost,” said Feller at the Summit.

This is accomplished via Spectra Logic’s Drive Lifecycle Management, which extends the life of SMR-SATA drives through intelligent idling. Drives are powered off when not in use, reducing energy consumption by more than 70% per rack and reducing drive failures by 1,100% over seven years (according to company data). ArcticBlue’s very wide bands can be independently powered up or down, allowing content to be accessed from one band while another is powered down.

Feller explained how he sees ArcticBlue delivering on the unrealized potential of MAID (massive array of idle disks), which promised similar power savings and functionality a decade ago but never delivered.

Even with its intelligent power-down functionality, ArcticBlue’s online performance is maintained using fast-access wide stripe-bands, which can all be powered up for mass random reads and fast network access, including 10GigE and 40GigE options through BlackPearl.

ArcticBlue also offers five levels of digital preservation with triply redundant local-erasure coding to statistically eliminate data loss and allow error detection and correction from the object level all the way to the media.

Shipping in Time for Christmas
ArcticBlue will begin shipping in December. Pricing for a 48-drive ArcticBlue disk system begins at $49,920. A full-rack configuration delivers 6.1-PB raw capacity, before compression of data.