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EMC squares storage with new rules

With a regulator-friendly version of one of its storage boxes, EMC looks to capitalize on new requirements for companies to archive their electronic documents.

EMC is launching a regulator-friendly version of one of its storage boxes in an effort to capitalize on new rules that require companies to archive their electronic documents.

The company on Tuesday is expected to announce the Centera Compliance Edition, which is storage gear designed to help companies and institutions meet a growing array of record-keeping regulations. For example, a new Securities and Exchange Commission policy requires public companies to keep their e-mail for several years. In health care, one law requires that certain medical records to be kept for the life of a patient, and another demands that information about a drug be kept as long as the product is for sale.

All these rules have helped fuel a new class of storage gear called content-addressable storage, where information is permanently stored in its original form on the device. EMC already had its Centera product for this market, but it has added software designed to help companies better comply with the regulations.

EMC Chief Technology Officer Mark Lewis likens Centera to a valet who parks cars. Those who want to view a document present the electronic equivalent of a claim check to see the data that has been stored. Centera adds another safeguard to make sure that, as it were, the valet hasn't tinkered with car. The claim check is actually a mathematical password generated by the content itself that can be used to show whether any information has been altered.

A key feature is the ability to set policies for data storage that cannot be altered, such as archiving all e-mail for a certain number of years. Another feature allows information that has passed its retention period to be "shredded." In doing so, Centera deletes information and overwrites the file with random new data enough times to meet Defense Department regulations for data destruction.

Earlier versions of Centera would securely store files, but were not as capable of guaranteeing that all files got stored.

"It guarantees not only the truth, but the whole truth," said Lewis, who joined EMC last year from rival Hewlett-Packard.

For storage vendors, all of the new rules offer a chance to boost hardware sales in a market that is experiencing only modest growth.

"There's not a lot of markets that are growing by leaps and bounds," Lewis said. EMC introduced its first Centera models last April and has been working on the added compliance software since then.

EMC said the Compliance Edition of Centera is priced, on average, 15 percent to 20 percent higher than prior versions of the device. The list price for the entry-level Centera system is $148,000 for a system with 4 terabytes of usable storage. Software accounts for more than half of that price. Commerzbank and Scottrade are among the early customers of the new product.

EMC is not alone in seeing a potential gold mine. On the software side, a number of companies have introduced products. One is KVS, which has also partnered with EMC to offer a software and hardware bundle to customers.

"Compliance with records retention regulations is becoming the hottest issue in IT," Enterprise Storage Group analyst Steve Duplessie is quoted as saying in an EMC press release. "Although regulated industries are the first to be impacted, it is only a matter of time before data permanence is mandated in every IT department."

As is increasingly the case, most of what differentiates the Centera Compliance Edition from other storage gear is the software. The hardware of the device resembles many of the disk arrays on the market.

Lewis said that the main competition for Centera is not new gear from rivals, but older technologies such as write-once optical discs, tape drives and even paper. Centera's advantage is that the information is automatically destroyed once it is no longer needed, he added.

The need to meet regulatory hurdles is prompting companies to buy storage gear such as Centera, but Lewis said he sees a broader appeal. Most data is written only once and viewed in its original form without being modified. "Right now, there is obviously a huge pull from regulatory side," Lewis said. "Over time we expect that to moderate."