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Automated data classification drives security, storage convergence

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Security has never been a high priority in the storage market, but that's changing. Regulatory requirements and potentially catastrophic loss or theft of customer information are driving corporations to get control of petabytes of information.

Data classification products from a fistful of startups such as Kazeon, Mathon Systems, Njini and Scentric, and storage giant EMC herald the increasing convergence of security, compliance and storage management. These products crawl file shares, drawing metadata and, in some cases, content information, so enterprises can make intelligent decisions about storage and security. This is a security technology you can sell to management as a money-saver.

Unstructured information in Office documents, .pdfs, email messages, attachments, log files, even image and CAD files is the biggest pain point. "One of our customers calls it the 'Wild, Wild West of IT,'" says Sheila Childs, a software director for EMC.

"Information started to grow beyond capacity in terms of time needed to control, access, determine sensitivity and protect it," says Scentric CTO and cofounder Hemant Kurande.

Storage savings was the initial business rationale for most of these vendors. Placing files in the appropriate storage tier according to content, sensitivity, age and other categories can save a large organization millions of dollars.

But potential customers also saw the potential for security

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and compliance. Based on metadata and content, enterprises can fine-tune access controls and file privileges, and decide which files to encrypt and where to apply DRM controls. Coming up, look for integration with tools that inspect outbound content for unauthorized sharing and dissemination.

These drivers are enticing enterprises toward data classification projects, but it's a daunting prospect without automated tools.

"A few large companies already had initiatives," says Michael Marchi, vice president of solutions marketing at Kazeon. "They have something in place, but it's manual; they use grep commands and free utilities. That's good for tactical applications, but not for terabytes of information."

"Companies have a vast number of people whose only job is to find files and reconstruct audit trails," observes Angus MacDonald, CEO of Mathon Systems.

Kazeon builds high-end appliances that can be clustered for performance and high availability. Another startup, BitArmor, includes data classification as part of an end-to-end data security lifecycle product.

This is a young market, and it's too early to know how it will shake out. EMC's entry validates the market, on the one hand, but also has the potential to dominate. The company has already built on the acquisitions of others like Documentum, Smarts and Legato, so chances are that, if any of the newcomers get snapped up, it will be by someone else.

This was first published in December 2006

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