McAfee is to getting out of encrypted USB drives, handing the business to storage specialist Imation in a deal that can be interpreted as an exit, a takeover or a consolidation depending on which perspective it is viewed from.

Imation is already the OEM supplier for the McAfee business so in a sense the deal is best seen as a way for the storage company to get its hands on the software giant's high-end customer base.

The company will also be able to integrate the drives with the McAfee extension software linking each unit into the latter's popular ePolicy Orchestrator (ePO) management system.

What is clear is that Intel-owned McAfee sees encrypted drives as a business best owned by the companies that produce the core technology rather than itself.

The wider significance of the deal is that it is another small step up for Imation, which has been buying up the corporate end of the market with its acquisition of Encryptx in March 2011, followed by MXI Security in June. MXI’s StealthZone virtualised Windows system reappeared under the Imation brand earlier this year.

Imation also bought out IronKey’s hardware device division (leaving the software IP in a separate company of that name) in September 2011.

On the assumption that no money changed hands in the McAfee deal - and there is no indication that it did – the ‘acquisition’ is a way of expanding Imation's brand. Imation will brand the drives under its own name.

Notable USB encryption stick rivals now include SanDisk and Kingston Technology, both of which target consumers as well as businesses.

“We are very pleased that McAfee has entrusted our team to support its customers’ continuing needs for secure mobile storage. Imation plans to develop, enhance and advance the Encrypted USB platform to meet the needs of McAfee customers,” said Imation mobile security unit general manager, Lawrence Reusing.

A later statement to Techworld explained McAfee's exit decision in the following terms.

"McAfee has decided to withdraw from this market because McAfee trusts Imation to continue to support and provide an encrypted USB device to the McAfee client base and also to provide assistance to any McAfee partners involved in selling these devices as part of a security solution."