Are You Still Using Portable Drives?

It’s the holiday season and that means lots of promotions for various items to give as gifts. Black Friday took place recently and I had no shortage of advertisements that I saw for all sorts of things. From computers to televisions to headphones to any sort of tech gadget you can think of. Plenty of other types of gifts as well.

One item that kept cropping up for me was SSD drives. I saw an article in Tom’s Hardware about prices crashing to all time lows. That dovetailed with my part of the Data Community Summit keynote where I remembered Jim Gray saying 1TB would soon be US$10,000 in 1999 at the first PASS conference. I looked back at a few orders I’d made and saw I paid $150 for 512GB in 2017 and $125 for 1TB in 2020. Now I could get quality portable, SATA, or even NVMe drives for under $100/1TB. Incredible.

I thought about this recently as I packed for a trip. I used to carry 2 1TB drives in my bag, along with a couple of thumb drives. At a recent event, I realized I only had 1 thumb drive in my bag, which I hadn’t used for years. Packing for the next trip, I realized that my portable drives had been pulled out sometime during the pandemic and never returned. Despite almost 10 work trips in 2021 and almost 20 in 2022, I haven’t needed a plug in a drive.

In fact, I’m not sure the last time I used a drive with a wire. I’m used to getting everything through a network, even if it’s not a fast one. I wonder how many of you just live only on networks and never worry about using physical storage to transfer data. It seems that the idea of not really needing to use some physical medium to transfer information is becoming the norm rather than the exception.

I know there are still uses for physical drives. The Azure Data Box and AWS Snowball are used when large transfers will overwhelm a network. There are likely still some people who flip tape drives or mount and dismount disks as more storage is needed, but that seems to be a specialist role rather than something that many of us worry about. Especially with the cloud, it’s more likely that many of us may never need to touch physical storage again in our lives.

I don’t know if this is a good thing for the world, but I do think it is convenient. Knowing there is almost always a network around, and that we can make transfers between devices with wi-fi or Bluetooth without needing a physical cable is somewhat amazing. It’s a far cry from using multiple floppy disks or CDs to move data around. In fact, I had to search around for an optical drive as I realized I still have backups of pictures on DVD and none of the last few machines I’ve owned have a DVD drive.

The changing nature of storage still amazes me, someone that first dealt with tape storage as the medium for saving work. The world has come a long way, and I’m looking forward to what comes next.

Steve Jones

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