Storage on the run

When it comes to portable storage media, you've got options

When files are pulled from a PC to use off-site or for a presentation, some form of portable storage is needed. Floppy disks, a staple of the personal computing scene a few years ago, don't have the capacity to store the larger files now commonly used. Fortunately, high-capacity portable storage options have expanded recently, providing users with products representing a range of cost, convenience and storage space.

Portable storage "has become very popular because the products have grown in capacity and speed," said Matt Martin, director of product management at GovConnection, although he added that security concerns are dampening enthusiasm for these products at some agencies.

The following pages provide information about some of the most popular portable storage options.

CD-ROM: The new old standby

The biggest advantage of CD-ROM is that you probably already own a drive and the blank disks are inexpensive. Most new computers today are outfitted with CD-Recordable (CD-R) technology. It's a rare machine that does not have at least CD-ROM technology, so you can be confident to use your disk on any off-site computer.

But the disadvantage of CD-ROM is the relatively small capacity of 650M per disk. Also, the optical disks can be damaged if not handled carefully.

Removable disk drives/pocket hard drives: Capacity and cost go up

Removable media drives, like the ones sold by Iomega, provide high capacities and fast transfer rates. For example, Iomega's new $400 Rev drive can store 35G per removable disk (90G compressed). The disks, which cost about $60 each, can fit in a shirt pocket. But you would have to carry the Rev drive with you or have one available at every location where you plan to access the data.

Alternatively, many companies offer portable external hard drives, which are about the size of a handheld computer and connect to a PC via the USB port. For example, Seagate offers portable hard drives that range from 40G to 100G. The 100G model costs about $240. Seagate plans to start shipping a 120G version later this summer.

Portable hard drives are less expensive than removable media drives. But once you purchase a removable media product, the cost of additional disks is much less than the cost of additional hard drives. The more disks you purchase, the lower your cost per gigabyte.

Pocket hard drives tend to travel better. The products are self-contained and smaller than the combined media and drive of removable media. And because they are sealed units, they are less vulnerable to dust or other contaminants.

If the product is to be used primarily for backup, removable media drives allow for multiple generations of backup. "Ideally, you'd want either three or five backup disks before you start to reuse them," said Wayne Arvidson, director of Iomega's professional storage products division.

Flash drives: Compactness perfected

The ultimate in convenience, although not in capacity, are USB flash drives, also called thumb drives. Basically a memory chip in a plastic case, they can fit on a key ring and plug in to a computer's USB port, providing up to several gigabytes of storage. Memina's Pocket Rocket line of flash drives runs from a 256M model for $46 to a 2G model for $240. A 4G version is scheduled to be released in July.

Memina is working on a 32G flash drive, which would allow the drive to be used for much more than just carting around files or short presentations, said Jon Jaroker, vice president of product development at Memina.

Another possible use would be to store and launch software applications from the USB flash drive. This would allow users to carry data and applications with them and run them on any available computer.

Many applications and operating systems are already available in versions suitable for this purpose, including the Firefox Web browser, Linux operating system, CryptoAnywhere encryption software and OpenOffice open-source office application. Iomega also has a proprietary Active Disk system for running applications from any of its removable drives.

Stevens is a freelance journalist who has written about information technology since 1982.

Smart Shopper Tip

Think twice about security

Despite the advantages of portable storage, product sales have not grown as quickly in the government market as in private industry because of security concerns, said Matt Martin, director of product management at GovConnection. Removable disks and portable flash memory devices can easily be lost or stolen. An agency can require its users to encrypt all files before loading them on portable storage, but it can be difficult to enforce compliance.

Portable drives: Know your requirements

When you're shopping for a portable hard drive, the differences matter. For example, some drives come with backup software, though you might not need it if your operating system has good backup software. Some portable drives also have utilities for diagnosing potential problems or encrypting data. And, of course, there are the inevitable trade-offs among price, disk size and speed.

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