Iomega, the anchor company in the Consumer and Small Business Products division of storage giant EMC, last week introduced an External SSD Flash Drive designed for business and “prosumer” users. Boasting USB 3.0, built-in encryption, and a suite of backup and security software, the drive is the vanguard of a new breed of rugged and compact external storage. Although expensive by consumer standards, business and pro users will welcome its combination of features and performance.
What Exactly Is This Thing?
Flash memory-based solid state drives (SSDs) are nothing new, of course, but neither are they as compact and portable as thumb-sized USB flash drives. Further, portable hard disk drives, including those made by Iomega, are hot sellers at retail for consumers looking to add capacity to their PCs. But every one of these products entails a trade-off in terms of usability, performance, and price.
SATA SSDs are fast and capacious but difficult for end-users to install and use. External drives are easier to connect, but their performance is limited by the USB 2.0 bus, although multiple companies, including Iomega, have recently launched USB 3.0 portable and desktop HDDs for use with high end desktop computers and laptop models now shipping with USB 3.0 ports. This has led to the development of two distinct portable device categories: Small and cheap flash drives and large and slow portable hard disk drives.
Iomega’s new USB 3.0 SSD attempts to combine the best features of both device categories in a single package. Their SSD drive line features generous capacity points (64, 128, or 256 GB) and high performance (USB 3.0 is roughly 10 times faster than common USB 2.0 ports.)
Although pricey compared to portable flash drives and hard drives at $229, $399, and $749, respectively, this new external device is competitive with internal SSDs plus it offers the same capacity and performance as an internal SSD without the hassle of SATA or PCI installation.
A New Market Niche
This new drive is, as they say, neither fish nor fowl. It is a new category of storage and will therefore carve out a new market niche. Iomega clearly believes that it will be attractive to businesses, creative professionals and early adopters, as they have bundled it with their corporate-friendly Protection Suite features:
- “v.Clone” disk imaging
- QuickProtect and Roxio Retrospect Express backup software
- Trend Micro Internet Security
- Mozy Home Online Backup.
This feature set is similar to Iomega’s existing eGo portable hard drive offerings, and shows that the company expects to attract similar business and upscale individual customers. The built-in 256-bit AES encryption is a critical feature for a portable device, especially a fast SSD priced at hundreds of dollars. Loss and theft of portable drives is common, and this expensive device will be a tempting target.
Anyone spending this much on an external drive will be storing valuable and sensitive data on it. Although the loss of such a drive will be disappointing, the fact that the data it contained is secure will be reassuring to buyers. The AES encryption, though a hardware feature, requires installing a client application on the PC for access.
Portable hard disk drives are susceptible to physical damage as well, and this is another area where Iomega’s SSD shines. Solid state flash storage is almost impervious to shock, and the company claims the drive and its metal case will survive a drop of 10 feet. A generous 3-year warranty demonstrates their faith in the product, and experience shows that SSDs are exceptionally rugged.
Apple Macintosh users are left out in the cold at this point, however. The bundled software, including the encryption client, is Windows-only. One cannot fault Iomega for this, however, since Apple has not yet released a computer with a USB 3.0 port. Although the drive is backwards compatible with USB 2.0, the performance will disappoint.
It’s too bad that Apple is lagging, too, since their customers are exactly the sort upscale professionals that would be interested in (and could afford) a portable SSD like this. Demanding applications like video editing would fly with over 300 MB/s of real-world read and write performance, but only PC users will be able to use the drive. For those without a USB 3.0 port, Iomega does offer USB 3.0 adapters for PC users (an ExpressCard for laptops or a PCI Express card for desktops), priced at just $39.99. These adapters are Windows-only as well, however.
Although expensive, Iomega’s External SSD Flash Drive combines portability, performance, capacity, and durability unmatched by existing SSDs, flash drives, and portable hard disk drives. Corporations looking to equip their mobile professionals with a rugged and reliable external storage solution should consider investing in drives like this rather than constantly replacing failed mechanical hard disks. The built-in AES encryption is a huge benefit for these organizations, as is the rest of the software bundle. Mac users will just have to wait for Apple to get on the USB 3.0 bandwagon.
Disclaimer: I was paid by DCIG to write this, and it was posted first on their web site. I received no compensation from Iomega, though they offered to send me a review unit after their briefing.