Should I Use A Flash Drive As My Primary Backup?

Anne writes:

Is it safe to use a Flash drive as a backup for data and photos? My mom wants to put all her photos on one instead of burning them to CD. I didn’t think a flash drive was a good idea for that kind of storage. What can I tell her?

Flash drives (aka, thumb drives or USB drives) are great devices for storing and transferring data, but as a primary backup system it doesn’t quite give your mom the level of protection that I would recommend.

For those who are still not using these little marvels of modern storage (about the size of a pack of gum), think of them as the new floppy drive on steroids. Even though they store data electronically, they are referred to as non-volatile memory, because you do not lose the data once it is unplugged (unlike RAM, or Random Access Memory).

In the Golden Era of Computing (was it that long ago?), one would copy files to a floppy disk in order to transfer data from one computer to another or to make backup copies. As data files became larger and larger, the floppy disk lacked the space to be of much value (1.44MB) and has pretty much gone the way of the dot-matrix printer.

Even the smallest flash drives (16MB) can store thousands of word processing pages and spreadsheets that will attach to your keychain. For those wanting to store larger files, such as pictures or music, storage capacities are now exceeding 4GB in this same small package and can sell for more than $200.

The very thing that makes these devices so convenient is also my biggest concern when it comes to being a primary backup system: they are fairly easy to lose.

Imagine how traumatic it would be to have copied all of your critical files to a flash drive and then it disappears, falls off the keychain, gets left on an airplane, etc.

If your choices are backup to a flash drive or do nothing, they’re much better than nothing. They are much easier to work with than burning a CD (especially for the novice), but they only provide a single layer of backup, unless the user knows how to create multiple folders for multiple backups.

If your mom uses the flash drive as a part of a bigger strategy, then it can play a most important role in securing her data and losing the device becomes the only Achilles heel.

If, for instance, she had several flash drives that she rotated as a backup plan, it would mitigate some of the concerns that I have for both the loss of a drive and multiple copies of data, but also increase the cost.

If you want a more secure flash storage device, you can use file encryption (built into Windows 2000 and XP Pro, but not XP Home) or purchase a device that has a biometric interface for accessing files. These biometric flash drives from companies such as San Disk, Lexar, and Kanguru use a fingerprint reader to secure data on a portion of the flash drive. If you lose one of these devices, the secured data is much harder to get at and will likely cause the person that finds it to wipe it out and start over.

[tags]security,backup,flash drive,ken colburn,lexar,primary backup,san disk,kanguru[/tags]