PGP Corporation has become the first company to offer full disk encryption on a software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscription, which it claims brings the technology within the reach of small businesses for the first time.

Selling through Managed Service Provider Network (MSPN) channel partners in the UK and the US, enterprises will be offered PGP's Windows or Mac Whole Disk Encryption software on a month-by-month ‘pay as you grow' contract, increasing or decreasing the number of seats as they please.

The service includes the PC encryption software, a key recovery service should that be necessary, plus reports on the encryption status of each machine for compliance and auditing. Laptops using the software can only be accessed by providing a key, which means that should they be lost or stolen, hard drive data remains encrypted an inaccessible.

The costs themselves are comparable over a year to buying the software on a standalone basis, PGP admitted, but this removed the obstacle of deployment and ongoing management that has, up to now, put off many smaller enterprises with around 100 mobile users. Pricing is straightforward, with monthly billing in arrears and volume discounts.

Deployment is probably the biggest advantage of the SaaS model because it means that companies don't have to commit staff and infrastructure to getting full disk encryption projects off the ground. Using either one of the appointed partners - Gradian in the UK, and Aurora and ANI Direct in the US - it should be possible to get the technology into a small enterprise within days or weeks, instead of months as might otherwise be the case.

"Market data shows that customers, such as small businesses, branch offices and departmental groups, are becoming more comfortable consuming security technology as a service offering as it greatly simplifies set-up and ongoing infrastructure maintenance," said Phillip Dunkelberger, PGP's president and CEO.

"End-user customers and channel partners of the PGP Managed Service Provider Network can now more easily get started and quickly reduce IT expenditures by using PGP Whole Disk Encryption in a SaaS environment," he said.

Lost laptops containing unencrypted data have become an almost routine way for enterprises of all sizes lose sensitive data, a frequency IDC's Charles Kolodgy was quoted by PGP as having recently described as "obscene".

Monthly prices and volume discounts had yet to be confirmed at the time of going to press, but were said to be in line with the annual per-seat prices already quoted for standalone use. This is £95 (approx $160) per annum.