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Emulex encrypts data before it gets into the array

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Emulex is offloading encryption to its HBAs and working with Compellent, EMC, HDS and Big Blue to integrate them with storage arrays and key managers.

There is some data, Emulex and IBM say, that is so sensitive and precious it has to be encrypted and made secure before it passes out of the server, goes across the wire and rests on a storage array. They're talking about some Wall Street financial trades, banking data, national security information and that kind of thing.

Encryption gobbles up CPU cycles and the best way to do it is with a hardware offload processor so there is no application performance hit.

Emulex has come up with its OneSecure host bus adapter (HBA), an 8Gbit/s Fibre Channel HBA, which uses HBA real estate and processing power to do the job, just as a TOE (TCP/IP Offload Engine) does the TCP/IP processing job on an Ethernet card.

Emulex OneSecure encrypting HBA

One problem is that encrypting data tends to weaken deduplication effectiveness. Brian Peterson, Emulex's VP for International Operations, said customers need to make a trade-off between storage efficiency and security. Where high-risk data is concerned, security wins over storage efficiency.

Emulex also recognises that mere use of its encrypting HBA is only part of a security scheme as servers can use directly-attached storage for swap files and these would hold data in clear, unless there was some systems software scheme preventing that happening. It was pointed out by a user at the Emulex announcement that attachments of Exchange emails, even secure emails, are stored in a flat file outside the Exchange database, and this would need to be taken into account when designing an overall data security scheme.

Also, and obviously, server access needs to be secured – since the server application is dealing with unencrypted data and access to the server can get you access to that data.

Emulex is working with IBM on OneCommand Key Manager, the rebranded Security Life Cycle Key Manager. Emulex OneCommand Guardian software integrates with this and supports the management of eLUNs (encrypted Logical Unit Numbers) - blocks of storage allocated to an application. In general, it works with key managers that support the KMIP standard.

EMC plans to integrate this OneSecure encryption hardware offload processing into its PowerPath encryption with RSA, for key management, as well as in Fibre Channel-connected CLARiiON and Celerra storage arrays for host encryption.

Compellent is working with Emulex and its arrays will support the encrypting HBA, with Compellent's automated data movement functioning exactly as before. FalconStore and HDS are also working to integrate their offerings with the encrypting HBA.

Emulex says its encrypting HBA is 50 per cent less expensive than encrypting arrays and 70 per cent less expensive than having encryption switches take place in the wire between servers and storage arrays. Its use can negate any need to shred disks removed from arrays that hold sensitive data. Its use also complies with the SNIA recommendation to encrypt data as close to the host as possible.

The encrypting capabilities of the HBA will be extended to support the iSCSI protocol in Emulex's Converged Network Adapters (CNA) in 2011 and then FCoE in 2012. It doesn't support filer access as the encryption works on block data and not file-level data, but Emulex may eventually extend its ambit to include files. ®

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