Imation’s IronKey brand has announced two new encryption drives aimed at enterprises that want to use encrypted storage but don’t fancy the heavy expense of buying FIPS-compliant hardware.

The biggest news is probably the H80 external hard drive, which features transparent ‘always on’ 256-bit AES, a rugged design, capacities of 500GB and 1TB, and automatic data destruction after six failed logins.

Superficially, this spec sounds similar to the FIPS-140 2 Level 3 Defender H200 drive announced two years ago, but the subtle differences are important.

FIPS-140 2 Level 3 compliance means passing NIST’s stringent testing of the firmware, controllers and software inside the device so that the encryption can remain secure under any circumstances. The H80 drops this absoute guarantee.

The enclosure for the new drive is described as “tamper resistant” but that will still be to lower standards than the that demanded by the FIPS regime.

The second new drive is a USB flash drive, the D80, which performs the same trick of lowering the compliance spec offered by the outwardly similar Defender F200, which has been around since 2010. As with the H80, the drive can support up to 10 users.

D80 buyers are promised the same enterprise management and key security as on the more expensive drive but without the extreme tamper resistance and certified internals.

The concept of lowering the spec for encrypted drives that are still suitable for enterprise use is an interesting one which Imation sees as being ideal for enterprises that want to distinguish between different types of employee.

“Organisations now have the flexibility to select the IronKey hardware encrypted drives that best balance their specific security, compliance and budget requirements,” said Imation’s mobile security general manager, Lawrence Reusing.

“These companies are looking to equip their workforces with portable data storage tools at the right security level for their organisations and users.”

That spells out the bottom line – expense.

FIPS drives are invariably pricey from any vendor and the new IronKey cuts that back to more reasonable levels that still provide enterprise-level management and compliance.

The H80 hard drive will cost $199 (£130) and $250 for the 500GB and 1TB units, respectively. The D80 comes in 4GB, 8GB, 16GB and 32GB capacities than range in price from $49 to $240.

Although this about three to five times the price of non-encrypted commodity ‘pro’ drives of the same capacity and flash spec, this is perhaps a third the cost of an equivalent FIPS models. No UK pricing has yet been announced by the channel.

Imation acquired the IronKey line of secure drives in September 2011 as part of a strategy in which the company has built a portfolio of  storage and security products after buying several smaller vendors, including Nexsan.

The remaining part of IronKey not acquired by Imation has focused on software development and services.