Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Security Built into Tape Drives

While I'm on the subject of security (see previous post), I did want to mention encryption and tape drives. Okay, I can hear lots of you out there (the few who read this anyway) saying, "who cares?" Tapes are going the way of Homo Neanderthalensis - a dead branch on the evolutionary tree. While it's true that disk-based backup systems are spreading like nuclear ambitions in the third world, tape is by no means history. If nothing else, there will always be the need to move data offsite, either to archive or as primary backup. Tape is, for the foreseeable future, the best way to do that. It's fast enough and cheap enough and for many, that's enough.

The problem with tape is that it has a tendency to, shall we say, wander off. Sometimes it simply gets lost in transit for a few days (thank you ABN-AMRO Mortgage for adding a special kicker to everyone's already heightened sense of paranoia). Other times it gets lost permanently. You can ask Iron Mountain about that. Tapes that go on walkabout often have help from us humans types as well. Sometimes it's just stupid human tricks but other times it's theft with a purpose.

So the obvious thing to do is to encrypt the data that goes on a tape. While I just finished railing about the need to do that, the truth is that encrypting data can slow down a system and for some people, that's unacceptable. Since everyone should be doing encrypting tapes, shouldn't it be a feature of the tape drive? Something, like parity checking, that happens automatically. Like breathing. And built into the hardware. That way encrypting tapes would be fast and ubiquitous.

Well, it's coming and none-to-soon. Chips that encrypt data quickly have been around for eons. It would seem that this is something that would have been stuck onto a tape drive before. I suppose it adds some small cost and tape drive vendors worry that it will become a checklist feature i.e. something people will expect but not want to pay extra for. Oh well. That's life in the technology game.

So to you tape drive folks. I know you are trying to make money pennies at a time but you are going to have to add this feature. As soon as one of does, all of you will have to. You'll have about a year when you can charge extra for it then, no more. Might as well be the first on your block and win new customers.

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