Data Storage Considerations (Part 2)

9/17/2012 9:01:15 AM

Using a small amount of solid state memory, USB keys can plug into the USB ports present on virtually any desktop, laptop, and even some tablets to act as an additional data storage drive. Transferring files between devices becomes as simple as dragging and dropping, and almost seamlessly fast. Their chunky physical presence means that they're robust in transit, and their large storage capacity means they can accommodate entire projects, not just one or two files.

A USB key with several gigabytes of storage space - more than enough for any school project, certainly - can set you back as little as $8, although anyone feeling extravagant can splash out on vastly larger models for only a few pounds more.

USB keys are, of course, not a good place to store the most up-to-date version of your work. Not only are they easy to lose or accidentally damage, they're also very easy for someone to slip away with. Assuming you don't want someone handing in your work as their own, keeping it on a USB key is a bad way to stop that happening.

Description: USB keys

For that reason, you should be careful to keep regular backups of any work stored on USB Keys. More than a few students have, in the past, fallen foul of a temperamental USB Key. Remember - they're designed for transport and portability, not primary storage.

The primary benefit of USB keys is their portability, although there's a fair argument to make that this is being supplanted by cloud storage. Even so, given that floppy drives (and their spiritual successors, Zip disks) have both been consigned to the dustbin of history, and optical media never quite managed to reach the same level of convenience, you'll need something to carry your files around.

The solid-state USB memory key is easily the front-runner in this category, and an absolute must for transferring schoolwork or even entire university projects from A to B. As an accessory, it's hard to overstate their usefulness, too. If there's a file you want to give to a friend, or take off an existing PC, or even transfer when the Internet is unavailable, a USB key is what lets you do it. Even if you barely use it, you'll be better off knowing that it's there.

Description: USB

As you might expect, USB keys by popular memory manufacturer brands like Kingston and OCZ are likely to cost you the most, though unlike with, say, monitors, these good-quality brands are unlikely to be noticeably better - the casing might be more modest or a little flimsier with a generic manufacturer, but the internal differences between those and the big-name brands will be negligible; you can safely go for the cheaper option.

It is possible to get USB keys which come with their own security encryption, up to and including access-restricting keypads stored on the device. If you're worried that your work might fall into the wrong hands, such hardware locks make a good choice, and are worth considering.

Cloud Storage

One technology that will arguably make everything in this list redundant one day, cloud storage allows users to upload files and documents to the Internet so that they can be accessed from any web-capable device. You get the benefit of industrial-grade backups, and the convenience of not having to remember to take anything out with you - it's all just there, on the Internet, whenever you need it.

Although a similar effect can be achieved by uploading files to an FTP server or emailing them to yourself, cloud storage also allows you to share documents with others and maintain a central storage area between multiple devices. Such features make it a good tool for collaboration, which is especially useful for group projects and co-ordination.

Of course, cloud storage isn't a magic bullet, and there are a lot of factors which explain why it hasn't instantly supplanted all other forms of storage.

For example, security is not particularly good. The fact that the data is stored online doesn't just mean you can get at it whenever you like - it means everyone else has the chance to as well. Should someone steal, bluff, or otherwise guess your password, they'll be able to get at everything stored in the cloud. Similarly, you have no choice but to delegate the responsibility for protecting it - if the service gets hacked, your data will be at risk through no fault of your own, and many people find that uncomfortable.

Description: Cloud Storage

Worse still is what happens if the Internet goes down. You may have local copies of your work on one computer, but if the site or your Internet connection fails when you need the data, there's nothing else you can do to retrieve it. The fact is that no matter how consistent the service, it's a bad idea to rely on access to it in the most critical circumstances. As 02's recent services topple reminds us, you never know when your Internet connection might stop working.

Finally, the limitations of upload speeds on most Internet Service Provides means that regardless of how much space a cloud storage service offers you, your Internet connection only has the capacity to get a certain amount of data into the cloud at any one time, and it's vastly less than what you could transfer to a USB key or external hard drive in the same period of time.

Even so, the cloud is a good place to store long-term backups - if your house goes down in flames, such a disaster could take out both a PC and a backup drive somewhere else in the same house, but the Internet isn't ever going to burn down!

Noted cloud services include Dropbox, Google Drive, iCIoud and Windows Live SkyDrive. Each have varying feature sets and they're all provided free at the most basic level, so don't delay in trying one out!

Description: Dropbox, Google Drive, iCIoud and Windows Live SkyDrive


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