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Quantum adds Scalar tape storage for hyperscalers, enterprises

The Quantum Scalar i6H, along with the Quantum RAIL architecture, enables hyperscalers and enterprises to use tape in a scale-out fashion like other storage media.

The unquenchable thirst for data is influencing the design of an older technology.

Recently, Quantum Corporation released the Quantum Scalar i6H, a new tape storage system for hyperscalers and the enterprise that's built to be flexible and easy to install.

The Scalar i6H is sold as a rack unit for a standard data center versus a tape library. The system is built off the vendor's Scalar i6, where the H stands for hyperscaler. It uses Linear Tape-Open (LTO) tape cartridges, standard data center racks and the Quantum Redundant Array of Independent Libraries (RAIL) architecture for a scale-out deployment of tape.

Hyperscalers and large companies will benefit from adding tape to their environments beyond traditional use cases such as for archiving, cold data storage or data backup, according to Vinny Choinski, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), a division of TechTarget.

"There's the opportunity for hyperscalers to use it for active data," Choinski said. "If you recall data from on tape, and put it on flash, and serve it out over the web to someone, they probably will never know it was on tape."

Expanding tape in hyperscale

Quantum has been supplying tape libraries to three of the top five major hyperscalers for the past few years, one of which is already using the Scalar i6H in production, according to Eric Bassier, senior director of product marketing at Quantum.

"We have over 35 EB [exabytes] of capacity deployed across hundreds of data centers," Bassier said. "That equates to a little over 3 million LTO tapes under management in systems we've deployed."

Photo of the full rack Quantum Scalar i6H
The Quantum Scalar i6H tape system fits into the modern data center.

Quantum did not publicly release specifications for the i6H or name the capacity per rack. It did say the i6H is shipped fully assembled in a 48U data center rack. The original i6 had a maximum of 800 LTO tapes per rack; Quantum did not specify the maximum LTO tapes per rack for the i6H. The i6H system will use LTO tapes, with the most recent ninth-generation tape, LTO-9, having a maximum capacity of 45 TB per tape cartridge with compression.

Almost all parts of the new tape rack system are customer replaceable so that technicians can maintain the i6H and, in some cases, replace parts without using tools, Bassier said.

Scaling out tape

The Scalar i6H has a modular method of deployment, which is unique among tape libraries.

The modular method of deployment happens through Quantum RAIL, first announced in October 2021. The architecture allows for one rack to be deployed at a time, with others added as needed. The racks don't need to be contiguous and can be placed wherever there is free space in the data center, similar to how HDDs and flash arrays are scaled out, Bassier said.

Quantum RAIL, along with the Scalar i6H, aggregates performance and failover through a type of erasure coding, breaking data into redundant fragments for data protection. Quantum uses its patented two-dimensional erasure coding that is part of its ActiveScale object storage software, which can run on disk and tape, he said.

Diagram of how the Quantum RAIL architecture enables modular deployment in modern data centers
Quantum RAIL allows tape systems to scale out like HDDs and flash arrays.

The Scalar i6H is a robotic tape library, using a robotic arm to move the tapes to read and write when needed.

"If one of the robotic tape libraries is unavailable for some reason, we can still read and write data to the others," Bassier said. "We can retrieve objects from the others."

ESG's Choinski said tape library vendors have been looking for a way to ship a fully assembled library that customers can plug into their data centers and start using. That is something the i6H and RAIL system helps bring to customers. It also provides flexibility in how tape libraries are expanded, enabling customers to easily add more tape libraries to a data center without having to bolt them together side by side.

The Scalar i6H can be beneficial to hyperscalers and others depending on how they choose to use it, Choinski said.

"If you're trying to fit [tape] in something it's not really good for, it's slow," he said. "If it's streaming, it's as fast as disk [drives]."

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