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Sun, IBM Butt Heads On Tape Encryption

As the two companies shipped tape drives with built-in encryption, each accused the other of using proprietary technology.

Sun Microsystems and IBM this week started delivering tape drives with built-in encryption technology, and both accused the other of offering proprietary technology.

Sun on Wednesday unveiled the Sun StorageTek Crypto-Ready T10000 tape drive which enables the encryption of data as it is written to a cartridge, said David Kenyon, Sun's Storage Group senior director of data product management.

Sun first discussed the encrypted version of the T10000 tape drive last November at the company's annual users conference.

The drive is based on the enterprise-class Sun StorageTek T10000 drive, which features 500 Gbytes of native capacity and a native transfer rate of up to 120 Mbytes per second.

Along with the new drive, Sun also unveiled the Sun StorageTek Crypto Key Management Station, which is a Sun Ultra 20-based workstation appliance running Solaris 10 that allows users to use the encryption technology without changes to their operating system, backup software, or tape libraries, Kenyon said.

IBM on Tuesday unveiled the addition of encryption technology to its IBM System Storage TS1120 tape drives. That technology will be included free-of-charge to all newly-ordered TS1120 drives, while existing drives can be upgraded for encryption for a fee.

The enterprise-class TS1120 drives have a native capacity of up to 500 Gbytes, with a native transfer rate of 104 Mbytes per second.

The two vendors were quick to point out the difference between each other's offerings and to point to those differences as shortcomings of their competitor's products.

Both accused the other of using proprietary technology. Kenyon said that IBM's encryption technology is based mainframe technology, compared to Sun's, which uses the same encryption key management system for open systems and mainframes.

Andy Monshaw, general manager for IBM System Storage, on the other hand, called Sun's solution proprietary because it is based on the Solaris operating system. Instead, Monshaw said, basing encryption on IBM's mainframe technology is important because of the built-in security mainframes have had for decades.

While Sun's solution manages the encryption keys in a separate appliance, IBM encrypts the encryption key directly onto the tape.

Monshaw said that encrypting the keys onto the tape allows them to be passed and traded as needed and to be easily run on different platforms. "The market doesn't want data encrypted so only you can use it," he said. "Or 10 years later, you don't want to have to find the appliance that was used to encrypt the data."

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