Cindy wants to know if she should use a thumb drive.
When properly used, a thumb drive is an excellent way to store important data. Unlike an ordinary hard drive, a thumb drive has no moving parts. This results in a longer life if the thumb drive is properly cared for. A thumb drive also has the benefit of always being available since it’s small enough to fit in a pocket or attach to a key chain.
Unfortunately, this mobility leads to the biggest risk when using a thumb drive: loss, theft, or washing machine related accidents. Because of the drive’s small size, it is easy to leave at work or in the pocket of a pair of blue jeans. Therefore, the thumb drive should only be used in conjunction with some sort of backup software or routine.
Cindy should definitely consider using a thumb drive. She can either use it as her primary school work storage while backing up to her local hard drive, or use it to back up important files on her hard drive. Because of the added mobility of the thumb drive, it makes more sense to use it as her primary storage. Again, without proper backups, this solution is highly risky.
Personally, I don’t use a thumb drive or my local hard drive. At one time, I used a complicated backup scheme that kept mirror images of my home directory on three different computers (server, desktop, laptop) to protect against accidental data loss. The computers synced up hourly, so I would never lose much work in case of an incident. This system was fine, but didn’t offer me the flexibility to use a computer that was not part of my synchronization program.
In the last year, I’ve converted all my documents, spreadsheets, and presentations to Google Docs. This solution addresses all my concerns. The data is secure thanks to SSL encryption, Google uses a distributed file system to ensure that data is not lost, and I can use this service anywhere with an Internet connection (Chang et al., 2006). The final piece to this puzzle has been the recent inclusion of Google Gears which allows you to keep a local copy of your data on your hard drive. This makes working on planes or other non-Internet friendly places possible.
Chang, F., Dean, J., Ghemawat, S., Hsieh, W. C., Wallach, D. A., Burrows, M., et al. (2006). Bigtable: A Distributed storage system for structure data. Retrieved July 18, 2008.