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Removable Storage = Enterprise Headache?

Removable storage is the latest technology making life easier for consumers. But while consumers may love these devices for their digital cameras, music players, and other PC-connected devices, they hold the potential to cause major headaches for enterprise network and storage administrators.

The devices aren't going to go away. Flash cards and USB flash drives nearly doubled in sales last year, according to a Gartner report. And prices are expected to come down even as capacity and speed ramp up. Flash drives (more of an issue here than flash cards geared to cameras or camcorders) alone saw a huge jump in sales, from $135.6 million to $613.1 million. Gartner projects the overall market to hit $3 billion by 2008.

But for every removable USB storage device attached to an employee's key chain, there's an increased risk of corporate data walking out the door without anyone knowing about it. The problem is only likely to get bigger: Linksys and Maxtor are already teaming up on a network-attached storage drive with a USB interface that can connect directly to an Ethernet network.

With capacities ranging up to a gigabyte or more, users can easily move a lot of files completely outside the confines of your storage system. That's a barn door that network admins can't easily shut. The best hope may be to amend corporate policy. One approach is an outright ban on the use of flash storage in the enterprise, but that might affect productivity. After all, some flash devices -- such as Key Computing's Xkey Exchange Edition -- are designed for corporate use. And given the size of these devices, a ban would be probably unenforceable anyway.

A better tack may be to think of key-chain drives as mini NAS devices (as indeed they essentially are); find out who has them, and try to monitor their usage -- perhaps with file checkout policies. Synchronization utilities, such as those found in Forward Solutions' Migo flash storage units, may also help monitor flash usage.

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