The Flash Drive Conundrum

I’m not always against progress, as such. Progress for the sake of progress, sometimes; “progress” for the sake of marketing or advertising, however, is something that really very much annoys me.

My general rule of thumb is that anything notably durable, well-made, or simply exceptionally well-suited for its intended purpose will be discontinued. Probably within a few months, certainly by the time that any reasonably attentive person would go “Huh, that’s really quite remarkable”.

This is depressingly true where flash drives are concerned. I kind of expect this for consumer products, but for quite a few years I’ve been buying “enterprise” or “corporate” drives which are encrypted and certified to meet FIPS 140-2 (and other, such as HIPAA and GLBA) standards. You’d think that stuff like this would tend to have a longer product life-cycle, but… nope.

More than three years ago, I wrote about the M-Systems X-Key. Not only has that been discontinued, M-Systems having been acquired by Sandisk, but they have since come out with two, maybe three, subsequent generations of products which are themselves discontinued.

Around the same time, I acquired a Kingston “DataTraveler Secure”, a waterproof aluminum-bodied encrypted flash drive that was not affected by a theoretical vulnerability in some of their other products. I’ve carried it ever since, and while it looks a bit battered from banging against stuff in my pocket, it still works fine. No real surprise; it’s well-made, and came with a five-year warranty.

Do they still make it? No. It was discontinued years ago, and it’s not immediately clear that they offer anything like a direct replacement any longer. Le sigh.

A year or so after that, I had a contract position where I was issued/given a Kanguru “Micro Drive AES”, a rugged little FIPS-compliant aluminum-bodied drive. It too is a bit the worse for wear after years of riding in my pocket, but still working perfectly well. It, too, was discontinued a while ago, and has since been supplanted by several generations of other drives, as I discovered recently when I tried to buy one as a Christmas present. Le sigh.

Yes, yes, “progress” marches on, sure. I just wish manufacturers would leave at least a few “enterprise” models in production for more than a year or two. Just by the time you realize that a drive is pretty decent – I tend to pick up or be given three or four drives a year, most of which are utter crap – and is probably worth (re)investing in… you can’t. I can’t help but think manufacturers are missing something, here; were I (shudder) in charge of technology acquisition for a company, I’d be much more impressed by a statement that, say, Boeing, had issued 3,000 of a product to its workforce, and had zero failures or issues in twenty-four months, than I would be by some hype-filled marketing sheet or some online “reviews” based on one week of use. Sadly, by the time twenty-four months has passed… everything will have been discontinued. Grrr.

This annoys me so much that, on those occasions I buy flash drives anymore, I tend to get two – one to use, and one to stash away. That way, if the first one proves to die after, you know, six or seven years of use and abuse, I still have a spare, tried-and-tested drive to replace it, and don’t have to go through the hassle of trying to shop for a new one.

Sadly, though, I’ve discovered something after a decade or so of flash-drive ownership: Good drives last forever (I have a working 64MB – yes, megabytes! – biometric drive from 2002 or so), while cheap drives (cough, Verbatim, cough) die or develop problems after a few weeks or months. So I have a drawer half-full of unused and long-outdated flash drives, half of which are great and half of which are, alas, crap.

There is a sort of upside,I guess: If a secure/encrypted drive has some sort of vulnerability, it’s probably going to be discovered within a couple of years. My battered old DataTraveler might be discontinued, and 512MB of capacity might not be anything to get excited about anymore, but the odds of it being as-secure-as-advertised may be slightly better than similar claims of any newly-introduced product, which hackers, crackers, and cypherpunks haven’t spent the last five years attacking. I wish I could claim that was part of my original plan, but, no.

I’m not that cunning, alas. Just (dubiously) lucky.

Published in: General | on December 29th, 2010| No Comments »

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