Dell, Samsung ship encrypted solid-state drives (SSDs) on corporate laptops

Dell laptops, desktops and notebook workstation devices to ship with self-encrypting Samsung solid-state drives that can be remotely managed by an IT admin within an enterprise.

Dell Inc., along with partners Samsung Semiconductor and Wave Systems Corp., has begun shipping factory-installed self-encrypting multi-level cell (MLC) solid-state drives (SSDs) in its laptop, desktop and notebook workstation devices. The drives can be managed remotely and centrally by an enterprise IT administrator.

The 64 GB, 128 GB and 256 GB MLC solid-state drives from Samsung will ship with Trusted Computing Group's OPAL standard certified AES 128-bit encryption stored in silicon in the SSD hardware. Wave Systems' Embassy Trusted Drive Manager software will also be built into Dell's ControlPoint software for local, individual management of drives. For deployment in the enterprise, IT administrators would need to separately purchase the Embassy Remote Administration Server (ERAS) for centrally managing encryption authentication on the corporate network.

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Using this option removes all local administrative rights and access at the local level, and centralizes audit logs on the enterprise server. End users in this arrangement would be unable to access the workstation offline, according to Lark Allen, Wave Systems' executive vice president, speaking on a webinar held by the three companies Thursday afternoon.

According to Dell senior product manager Craig Durr, the cost of encryption should add between $50 and $75 per workstation. Brian Beard, SSD marketing manager at Samsung, also acknowledged that the battery life of laptops could be affected by a higher-performing solid-state drive. "The drives use significantly less power, but if the performance is higher, the processor has to work at a higher speed – sometimes you can get shorter battery life," he said. "But you can also get much more work done in that same time period with SSD."

With fewer moving parts than mechanical drives, the execs said solid-state drives are a more reliable alternative to the small form factor self-encrypting drives Dell and other PC makers already ship. But Andrew Reichman, a senior analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., questioned that idea given that the drives are consumer-grade MLC. "I would have to ask, why?" he said. "What's the purpose? For the majority of users, workstation performance is not an issue – and MLC drives raise questions about reliability as opposed to SLC [single-level cell] drives."

Centrally managing encryption on laptops "solves a significant problem in the enterprise – centralized key management and data loss prevention," Reichman said. But he predicts that in the long run more companies will do this by centralizing data storage and delivering it to mobile devices on-demand rather than encrypting the devices themselves. "Companies want some way to get control over their data," he said. "That's more important than offering higher performance."

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