External drives a smart option for SMBs

Got storage space? You probably need it. Storage is not just an issue for big organizations. Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have the same needs for storage space: You need to make room for files, documents and other day-to-day information that collect on hard drives.

One quick way to add storage or an alternative to traditional backup is to use external drives.

External drives used to be available only with USB 1.0 connectivity. But times and technology have changed, and external drives now offer USB 2.0, FireWire and Ethernet connectivity. Some models come with software that allows you to schedule automated backups and feature one-button backup capability. A few models even have card readers that can access many types of flash memory.

One of the big advantages of using external drives is that they don't require a hardware guru to open the computer case for the installation. Their portability also makes them convenient to use with multiple computers. Using external drives as additional storage is one option, but I particularly like the idea of using them for backup. I am not advocating these devices be used as primary backup, but they would work well for performing periodic backups on laptops or other mobile devices that may not be on a regular backup schedule. This can provide a good safety net by keeping critical backup data separate from the primary drive. At prices between $100 and $250, it's certainly an affordable insurance policy.

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External drives do have their shortcomings. They used to suffer from slow access time when compared with internal drives. Manufacturers have addressed this issue by updating to USB 2.0. Some of the newest external drives have even added Ethernet. This allows more than one user to access and use the drive. You can even set controls on these drives to limit user access. And if you're using these devices for backup, it's important to remember that they are mechanical devices. Unlike CDs, DVDs, tapes or cartridges, your data can be rendered useless by a power surge, glitch or mechanical failure. The weight, performance and capabilities of external drives will vary, so check their specifications carefully.

External drives have come a long way. They are much faster and robust now, and they come in a variety of sizes -- units up to 500 GB are not hard to find. While they are not a replacement for internal drives or traditional backup, they can fill a niche in the network administrator's toolkit. They're a good alternative to internal drives and worth looking into.

Michael C. Gregg is president of Superior Solutions Inc., a security assessment and training firm. His current responsibilities include performing security assessments and evaluations for corporate and government entities. He has served as the developer of high-level security classes and study guides, and taught classes for many Fortune 500 companies. He has also contributed to several books, including his most recent Que publication, CISSP Exam Cram 2.

This was first published in March 2005

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