Traveling Storage

Storage to go: The phrase conjures up images of those tiny disk drives that fit in a compact flash slot, or SmartMedia that provide almost a gigabyte of storage in a unit the size of an Express Mail postage stamp. While useful for personal digital assistants and some laptops, what many of us would really like is a traditional storage drive that performs like the disk originally delivered with our systems.

If you’re like me, you bought a laptop a year ago with a hard disk that seemed to have enough disk space for yourself and three other users. Six months later -- after an installation of Windows 2000 Professional and a complete installation of Office 2000 -- what looked like disk space for a lifetime suddenly became spatially challenged. Some people pay the premium to buy notebooks with swappable and upgradeable disks, but what about the majority of us?

The size of files isn’t getting smaller either. As I share MP3 and computer-aided design files, I find that older technology, such as Iomega’s ZIP drives, have the haunting characteristic of seeming too small. Projects no longer seem to fit on those drives meant to replace floppies. What we need is a real drive with real portability.

The delicate nature of hard disks make them poor companions on the road, but I’ve come across one that seems to signal the coming of a new generation of high-performance, rugged, portable storage.

IBM Corp., the same group making the 340 MB Compact Flash disk drive, is now marketing a rugged traditional disk with a PC Card interface. Weighing in at three-quarters of a pound, IBM’s Travelstar disk is a traditional, 8-GB drive that connects to any computer supporting the PC Card standard.

I had a chance to try the unit on a recent business trip and, as a self-confessed storage junkie, I really enjoyed working with it. It gives the traveling business user a significant disk without the compromises of similar technologies. For instance, the unit draws its power from the PC Card. A bulky, annoying AC cord and adapter are unnecessary. On an airplane I put my laptop on the miniscule fold-down tray, plugged in the PC Card, and simply curled the cord around the back. Just that easily I had 8 GB of addition storage stuck in the usually useless magazine storage pocket in front of me.

When I got back to the office, I gave the unit and the cable to a colleague, and her computer instantly recognized the new hard disk.

IBM, a company that I took every opportunity to bash in the 1980s, has developed some real momentum for innovative, thoughtful storage concepts. In another column I’ll reflect on IBM's miniaturization research that led to the amazing 340 MB Compact Flash drive. IBM has also pushed the envelope in higher density drives -- research that will inevitably affect the strategies enterprise managers use for the ever-increasing storage requirements in corporations and large organizations. --Mark McFadden is a consultant and is communications director for the Commercial Internet eXchange (Washington). Contact him at Check out Mark McFadden's Web-only, bi-monthly column, "Nothing but 'Net" at ENT's Web site: