PCR looks at external memory, from USB sticks to the cloud

Sector guide: Digital storage

When Sony announced earlier this year that it intends to stop selling floppy disks in March 2011, most of us shared a nostalgic smile, before giving a collective shrug and asking, ‘so what?’ The technology has become so irrelevant that many were unaware that the 3.5-inch disks were still being sold.

The obvious reason for floppy disks’ banishment to the world of defunct technologies – along with CRT monitors and cassette tapes – has been the rise of newer, more practical alternatives.

According to IDC, the external disk storage market experienced 18.6 per cent year-on-year growth in the first half of 2010, which the analyst firm believes shows ‘continued customer investment and importance’ placed on the external memory market.

While many consumers now keep an external hard drive at home for backing up important documents and media files, the most common storage product is undoubtedly the USB flash drive, with everyone from school children to professionals carrying one.

“The advantage of USB sticks is that they can be used anywhere. They are a small, safe and secure way to transfer data from one computer to another or simply to back up important data,” says Realtime Distribution’s product manager Daniel Bennett.

What if it gets lost? Here in the UK, the Government and public sector bodies seem to lose the personal data of hundreds of Brits on a worryingly frequent basis, with a lost USB stick being blamed more than once.

Bennett says that files on encrypted USB sticks are as protected as “paper in a safe”, but another growing alternative is cloud-based storage. The worldwide storage software market generated revenues of nearly $3 billion in Q2 this year, up 3.3 per cent on the same period in 2009, IDC figures show.

While this does seem like impressive year-on-year growth, it is a 2.3 per cent decrease from Q1 2010, perhaps representing a wariness from some customers.

Paul Turner, sales manager at Spire Technology, agrees that physical and cloud storage are likely to be used side-by-side.“Demand for storage size is increasing. With growing confidence in the cloud and storage limits keeping up with this demand, I feel the two will complement each other,” he comments.

“I think businesses are hesitant about posting confidential information in the cloud. This will change when overall confidence grows in security.”

“In my experience people prefer to keep a hard copy on a USB stick. This means they don’t have to go online to access the data, and ensures that the files are secure and not in cloud storage, which is open to hackers,” adds Lucy Newcombe, KMS Components’ purchasing product manager and memory specialist.

However, potential security threats are not the only drawback to some online storage services. “Certain cloud storage facilities have restrictions on file sizes,” notes VIP product manager Darren Jackson. “Until people have fibre access at home, and until they can truly benefit from super fast broadband, I believe storing data on HDDs or flash will continue.”

Storage products are not just for backing up documents and files. Memory cards are an invaluable accessory to digital cameras. Leading memory vendors SanDisk and Kingston believe the most exciting development in the sector has been the introduction of extended capacity SD memory cards.

“The big news in the card storage market is the SDXC standard, which breaks the capacity limitations of SDHC. With a capacity of 32GB, the limit for these cards is now set at 2TB. Big amounts of data require fast speeds to transfer it in reasonable time and to provide the ability to seamlessly capture extremely high quality content,” says Steve Hall, Kingston Technology’s EMEA product development manager.

“The new SD card is ideal for capturing and storing massive 1080p high-definition video files and transferring them quickly to a computer,” adds SanDisk’s regional marketing manager, Nikki Willcock.

The storage sector is also set to cash in on the tablet boom. “The ultra-thin tablet and mobile computer markets are expected to experience tremendous growth over the coming years, and advanced platforms will introduce new requirements for storage solutions,” suggests Willcock.

“The new embedded SSDs are smaller than a postage stamp and offer higher capacities and performance than existing storage solutions. The SanDisk iSSD is designed for use in tablet PCs and ultra-thin notebooks.”

As demand for more content and media grows, so too it seems, does the industry’s ability to provide new ways of storing it.

SRP: £26.99 (8GB) – £177.99 (64GB)
Distributors: Gem Distribution, Peak, Hama

They say: The first USB flash drive with a backup button. No wires. No fuss. Just an easier way to protect your favourite photos, videos, songs and more

Specs: Available in four sizes from 8GB to 64GB, password protection, AES hardware encryption and backup button

SRP: £31.50
Distributor: KMS Components

They say: Fujitsu Siemens HDD and storage device technology continues to push mobile PCs, automotive applications and consumer electronic devices to new performance heights

Specs: 500GB capacity, USB interface, 7200rpm rotation speed, 32MB cache

SRP: £7.99 (2GB) – £143.99 (32GB)
Distributors: Gem Distribution, Peak, Hama

They say: About a quarter of the size of an SD card, specifically designed for use with ultra-small mobile phones and other devices

Specs: Available in five sizes from 2GB to 32GB, can withstand a ten-foot drop, compatible with a range of devices

SRP: £39.95
Distributors: Gem Distribution, Interactive Ideas, CMS Peripherals

They say: Designed to make backing up and recovering files, folders, email, Windows 7 libraries, or even a user’s complete system, easier than before

Specs: Online backup, drag and drop shortcut, integrated with Windows 7, wizards and one-click protection to help users configure the best settings for their needs

SRP: £84.99 (32GB), £259.99 (128GB)
Distributor: Realtime Distribution

They say: Rugged, stylish, compact, and reliable – ideal for transporting MP3s, digital images, presentations and more

Specs: Available in 32GB and 128GB capacities, up to 34MB/s read speed, up to 28MB/s write speeds, rugged design, USB 2.0 and 1.1 compatible

SRP: £84.99
Distributor: Realtime Distribution

They say: Flash Survivor is an extremely durable, water resistant, drop-tested flash USB memory drive

Specs: 32GB capacity, encased in aircraft-grade aluminium, water resistant to 200m, vibration and impact protection, USB extension cable and dog tags included

SRP: £59.99 (320GB), £79.99 (500GB)
Distributor: Meroncourt, EntaTech

They say: Store, back up and transport digital images, music and other files without taking up space on your PC’s hard drive

Specs: USB powered, 320GB and 500GB capacities, automatic sync option and both PC and Mac compatible

SRP: £24.99
Distributor: Interactive Ideas

They say: A unique way of ensuring that only you have access to your personal data and information

Specs: USB 2.0 interface, supports 2.5-inch HDDs, aluminium material with plastic frame, fingerprint verification and backup button

SRP: £36
Distributor: VIP Computers

They say: Takes minutes to install, and works silently in the background to backup your files as you work

Specs: Online backup, no limit on storage space or bandwidth, secure web portal, military grade encryption, easy restore at any time, both PC and Mac compatible

SRP: From £79
Distributor: CMS Peripherals

They say: The world’s most secure, compact and affordable portable hard drive

Specs: Available in five sizes from 250GB to 750GB, 128 or 256-bit AES hardware encryption, PIN code access, USB 2.0 connection, brute force hack defence, allows up to ten passkeys

SRP: £116.60
Distributor: VIP Computers

They say: The ultimate portable storage solution with the world’s first hard drive docking station for easy access to all your stuff

Specs: 2.5-inch external HDD, 1TB capacity, USB 2.0 interface, automatic backup and encryption technology

SRP: £27.79
Distributor: KMS Components

They say: Easy installation and lightweight design makes the Mistral drive an excellent partner for all your portable storage needs

Specs: 250GB capacity, 5400rpm rotation speed, 8MB cache, includes over £90 worth of free software

SRP: £12.99
Distributor: Spire Technology, EntaTech

They say: For quick and convenient storage, sharing and transferring of data

Specs: 8GB capacity, plug and play, five-year warranty

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