Sun, IBM Offer Technology To Protect Customer Data - InformationWeek

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Hardware & Infrastructure

Sun, IBM Offer Technology To Protect Customer Data

Building encryption technology into tape drives will make data impossible to read if it's stolen or lost.

Despite their best efforts, businesses seem unable to prevent the theft of laptops, the loss of tapes, and hacks of their IT systems. In the past 18 months alone, 90 million U.S. consumers have had their personal data exposed. Thirty states now require customer notification when data is lost or stolen.

That smells like an opportunity to IBM and Sun Microsystems, which last week introduced systems to help businesses protect sensitive customer data like credit card and Social Security numbers, which most companies store on magnetic tapes. Both vendors unveiled tape drives that can encrypt data as it's being recorded onto tape, an approach that's the most direct method yet for protecting it from prying eyes.

IBM has embedded new technology into its existing TS1120, so the storage system can encrypt data while recording it, making the data inaccessible to thieves or others who wrongfully come into possession of the tapes. "It's useless to whoever gets it," says Andy Monshaw, general manager of IBM's system storage group.

The tape drive on the TS1120 can encrypt data on the fly without compromising speed, using the same public encryption key methods employed by IBM's powerful zSeries mainframe computers. It supports the Encryption Key Manager for Java, which can help businesses generate and transmit encryption keys over networks. "The market doesn't want encryption you can only use yourself," Monshaw says.

Encryption Rivals
Sun T10000  

IBM TS1120

Base price


OS support
Solaris, Windows, z/OS  

Linux, Unix, Windows z/OS

500 Gbytes  

500 Gbytes

120 Mbytes per second  

104 Mbytes per second

Data: Sun and IBM
Not to be outdone, Sun last week introduced tape-level encryption for its StorageTek T10000 systems. The Crypto-Ready drive for the T10000 supports multiple operating systems, including Solaris, Windows, and IBM's z/OS mainframe system. In addition to the T10000, Sun plans to add the encryption capability to its T9840 tape drive system by mid-2007. While encryption adds about 20% to the system price, most businesses are willing to pay for the added security, says Dave Kenyon, Sun's director of product management, data protection, and archiving.

Kenyon expects government and financial customers will be the first to adopt the new technology. "It has been a hot topic in the past year with some very well-documented cases of agencies or businesses losing data on tape," Kenyon says.

Rip-Out ISn't An Option

But Sun and IBM may be late to the party with their enhanced encryption technology. Pressure has been mounting on businesses for years to improve IT security, and many have already invested in other products. Iron Mountain, which transports and stores magnetic tapes for business customers, made the decision a year ago to encrypt all of its internal tapes. The company uses an encryption appliance from NetApp's Decru unit. Iron Mountain CIO Kevin Roden says he's impressed with IBM's device-level encryption technology, but he's not about to rip out his existing infrastructure. "It wouldn't make economic sense for us to do a wholesale replacement now," he says.

That's poses a problem for IBM and Sun, says IDC analyst John McArthur: "It's relatively unlikely that someone is going to disrupt their entire tape operation to swap out one supplier for another."

Still, Monshaw says IBM already has surpassed its year-end sales goal for the TS1120, but declines to give specific numbers. The company also plans eventually to add the encryption technology to its disk-based storage systems. IBM's encryption-ready TS1120 drive systems start at $35,500. Sun's StorageTek Crypto-Ready T10000 starts at $42,000.

But both IBM and Sun believe there will be strong demand for the new encryption features from existing customers and potential ones looking to protect customer data better. In the long run, this approach probably will be cheaper than the cost of lost data.

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