Multivendor Management Locked Up

Key management partnerships have yet to deliver the goods

September 28, 2006

4 Min Read
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NeoScale has teamed up with Symantec, Optica Technologies, and Entrust in an attempt to make good on its promise to manage encryption keys from different vendors. But whether this initiative can develop quickly enough to satisfy user demand remains to be seen.

Optica, which makes mainframe connectivity devices, and software specialist Symantec have agreed to share their encryption keys with NeoScale's KeyVault device at a time when users are clamoring for better key management from their technology suppliers. (See All Keyed Up With NeoScale and NeoScale Centralizes Management.)

At this stage, however, it is still unclear exactly when users will actually be able to make use of the key sharing features promised by NeoScale et al.

For its part, Optica will offer joint key management to its customers either later this year or in early 2007. Symantec has given no indication of when its customers will be able to store their keys on KeyVault, which handles the encryption keys associated with NeoScale's own CryptoStor appliances.

Back in March, NeoScale claimed to be the first vendor to open up its key management APIs to third parties, though archrival Decru (now part of NetApp) followed suit four months later with a similar initiative centered on its Lifetime Key Management appliance. (See Decru Picks Key Partners and File Security Gets All Cryptic.) At that time, Decru announced partnerships with Symantec and Quantum to share encryption keys -- but the vendors are still working to integrate their products.Meanwhile, faced with a slew of compliance pressures, firms are crying out for the ability to share keys across different devices. At the same time, they face a potential crisis regarding those keys. A recent Byte and Switch Insider report, "Storage Encryption: State of the Art," warned that problems surrounding the enforcement of encryption could, ironically, threaten the security of many organizations. If keys wind up being manually managed, which is increasingly common, gaps can arise that expose data to security holes and errors. (See Insider: Encryption Means Planning.)

Clearly, there is a pressing need for vendors to start turning their key management efforts from marketing hype into product reality. "Key management is a worrying issue," says an IT manager from a New York-based financial firm, who asked not to be named, adding that regulatory requirements are forcing him to encrypt more and more applications.

"A centralized repository would make it easier to manage keys," adds an IT director from a Connecticut-based HR services firm, who also asked not to be named. "If you need a key quickly, having [keys]in a central location will speed up that process."

Against this backdrop, both users interviewed by Byte and Switch said they want to see more than just a handful of vendors involved in key management efforts. "Ideally, we would want to see more offerings, because that increases the functionality [available to us]," explains the IT director.

"I would like to have multiple vendors involved in key management," adds the IT manager from the financial sector. "It's common sense, and it could even drive the price of key management products down."Key management is clearly a high priority in the data center at the moment, although multivendor key management is the real holy grail for many IT managers.

"For users, the more choices they have for [key] integration, the better," agrees Jon Oltsik, senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group. "There are millions of encryption keys spread across the enterprise."

Both NeoScale and Decru, however, haven't delivered the goods on announced partnerships, let alone unannounced ones. Still, both suppliers insist they are courting additional partners. (No names are offered.)

NeoScale VP of marketing Dore Rosenblum, for instance, claims the firm is working with "20 plus" vendors, including companies active in Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) and identity management. More partner announcements will be made "in the next quarter or so," he told Byte & Switch.

Over at Decru, Michele Borovac, the firm's director of marketing, says the vendor is "in discussion with many, many, other companies," around the issue of key management.At this stage, NeoScale has three announced partners to Decru's two. As well as the key-sharing deals with Optica and Symantec, NeoScale plans to import Entrust's digital certificates onto the KeyVault device as part of an effort to lock down users' internal security. "By working with Entrust, we're able to validate that the device connecting into KeyVault is the device that it says it is," explains Rosenblum.

In reality, however, the ability to validate network devices is still some way off. Although NeoScale customers can currently use Entrust certificates for authenticating users accessing the device via the Web, Rosenblum told Byte & Switch that authentication of other network devices will probably be available early next year.

James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

  • Decru Inc.

  • The Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG)

  • Entrust Inc.

  • NeoScale Systems Inc.

  • Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • Symantec Corp.

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