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Seagate pushes encryption for small form factor SAS drives

Seagate envisions a future of small form factor SAS drives with self-encryption. But that vision is not shared by all storage array vendors.

Seagate Technology is partnering with Dell Inc. and McAfee Inc. to deliver full disk encryption for its new second-generation 2.5-inch 15,000 rpm SAS drive.

The Savvio 15K.2 -- the second-generation small form factor (SFF) 15,000 rpm SAS drive from Seagate -- adds a 6 Gbps SAS interface, as well as a 146 GB drive to the product line. The Savvio 15K.2 is also the first drive of its kind to ship with Seagate's full disk encryption included. It's all part of the drive maker's three-pronged long-term vision for enterprise hard drives, which includes SAS, 2.5-inch SFF and self-encrypting drive (SED) technologies.

Dell laptops now include self-encrypting drive

Dell will now ship Seagate's Momentus line of desktop-class, 5,400 rpm and 7,200 rpm self-encrypting drives in its Latitude laptops, Precision Mobile Workstations and OptiPlex desktops.

Thanks to a new partnership between McAfee and Seagate, McAfee's ePolicy Orchestrator security

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management suite will be able to manage the drives from a central corporate location and offer authentication features for unlocking the encrypted drives, including support for biometrics and security tokens.

If someone breaks or steals the authentication code, they would still have access to the laptop's data. But according to Illuminata analyst John Webster, that's not how data is usually stolen from mobile devices. "Most thieves just pull out the drive," he said.

Seagate isn't the only disk vendor with drives that include encryption. Fujitsu Computer Products of America today launched a series of 2.5-inch, 5400 rpm SATA drives with what it terms full disk encryption (FDE).

SAS, SFF and SDE shape data center drives

Encryption is only one piece of Seagate's long-term drive strategy. Henry Fabian, Seagate's executive director of marketing and strategy, said that SAS, SFF and SDE will be the future for hard drives. "Storage convergence is underway," he said, "and Seagate is enabling a set of building blocks for a unified approach to building the data center."

Fabian cited IDC research that shows volume shipments of SAS drives have already overtaken the number of Fibre Channel drives shipped in the last year and that 70% of all enterprise drive shipments will be SAS by 2011. IDC also predicts that in terms of volume shipped, 2.5-inch drives will pull even with 3.5-inch drives in 2009 and surpass them by 2010.

However, IDC storage analyst David Reinsel said the forecast for SAS and Fibre Channel was for volume, not the total capacity of drives shipped. SFF SAS drives tend to top out at 146 GB today, while Fibre Channel offers 300 GB capacities.

The shift from Fibre Channel to SAS in enterprise storage will likely be a slow one. Most storage vendors envision 2.5-inch SAS eventually taking over in the next decade. EMC, Compellent, 3Par and Dell all told this week that they expect small form factor SAS to dominate the server and consumer storage markets.

But the storage vendors' outlook on the role of these drives in enterprise data centers was tempered a bit. They mostly expect a mix of Fibre Channel, SATA and SAS in the data center for the near future. A Dell spokesperson said the company expects small form factor SAS to also make its way into entry-level and midrange storage systems soon, but it won't really take off until 300 GB capacity is attained.

"HP is Seagate's lead partner in the small form factor and SAS transition," said Robin Hensley, Hewlett-Packrd vice president of entry storage. "We'll be the first OEM to ship [the new 15K.2] drives in our server and storage lines next year."

Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) recently released a midrange AMS disk array that substitutes SAS drives for Fibre Channel, but declined comment on small form factor and disk encryption.

SAS makes inroads in storage systems

According to a survey published in the October 2008 issue of Storage magazine, 63% of the respondents use SAS drives. Industry obsrevers also told after the ratification of the SAS-2 spec last month that the new 6 Gbps throughput and longer cable lengths that come with it will greatly help SAS in its challenge to Fibre Channel.

Self-encrypting disks, however, are a different matter. "It's one possible solution," Hensley said. "Work continues in this area."

According to IDC's Reinsel, self-encrypting drives make the most sense in mobile machines such as laptops, but in the enterprise data center the greatest data security risk arises when disk arrays are retired or repurposed. "Enterprise data center managers tend to feel they have the horsepower to manage data encryption at a higher level than the individual drive," he said.

However, a Seagate spokesperson said that about 50,000 drives leave data centers daily for service or retirement, and these drives are prime candidates for encryption.

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