The LTO Consortium is adding encryption to its LTO 4 tape drive specification.

Encryption is not in any current tape format specification. Some backup vendors have it in their software but that means the server CPU does the work. With Quantum (Certance), HP and IBM in the LTO Consortium it means that all LTO4 tape drives, autoloaders and libraries will have encryption in their drives. This is a major development.

The drives will write encrypted data to generation 4 Ultrium tape cartridges. The drives will decrypt data when reading encrypted tapes if the correct key is supplied. Key management services will also be provided.

This move is in response to recent losses of backup tapes and the rise of encryption devices from NetApp's Decru, NeoScale and DisUK.

Adding encryption to the LTO spec means that all LTO drive suppliers will ship encrypting LTO 4 drives and should be able to read each other's tapes. It also means that LTO tape library suppliers, such as ADIC, will automatically offer encrypting libraries. This is a sea change in the tape market.

SpectraLogic has previously announced it is adding an encryption facility to its tape libraries.

Quantum also has its DLT Sage tape security initiative which puts a security code into DLT-S4 tape headers. Unless the code is known the tapes cannot be read. It has a partnership with NetApp's Decru for full-scale encryption of tape contents.

Encryption is a totally new aspect of a tape format which, until now, has been just about how you store bytes on tape. LTO is the leading mid-range and enterprise Windows/Unix/Linux tape format and sets the tone for the market.

Other formats will probably have to follow its lead and add encryption to their next generation tape. We might now expect encryption will be added to the DLT-S5 tape format (previously known as SDLT 2400).

It will be an acid test of Sony's commitment to the supertape market if it decides to add encryption to its SAIT format or not.

The LTO 4 format will offer 800GB raw data capacity and a transfer rate of 120MB/sec and is due for release later this year.