Why storing important information on a USB drive exclusively is a bad idea

The inventor of the USB removable hard drive should be loved and vilified. While the portable USB hard drive has made it easy and cheap to store and move around large volumes of data, it has also caused a great deal of grief.

A majority of the data recovery scenarios we run across are clients who have personal data stored on USB drives that have malfunctioned.

I have noticed an alarming trend as well: people saying to me “I keep it on the backup” referring to data they keep on portable USB drives.

Another trend that’s even more alarming is that people are storing data on the external drives under the false impression that it is safer to do so there than to keep it on their computer’s internal hard drive. Au contraire mon frère!  Data store on external USB drives is more likely to get lost!

Here’s why:

1. Hard drives are meant to be stationary. Hard drives inside computers usually are stationary. Portable drives, on the other hand, get picked up, put back down, knocked over and occasionally dropped. Even when padded, movement (especially during operation) can lead to damaged data.

2. Portable USB drives have additional components that increase their likelihood of failure. These drives use power supplies and daughter boards that allow their native SATA interfaces to communicate with a USB port. These additional electronics represent more complexity and more points of failure.

3. USB drives are pluggable. This is probably the most detrimental aspect of USB drives. Users plug and unplug them all the time. Disruption of data flow between the drive and the host can lead to damaged data. Also, cables get loose, corroded, dirty and intermittent connections are like plugging and unplugging the drive frequently and randomly. If the connection is lost during read/write to the USN journal or to the file allocation tables, data files or even the entire drive could crash and serious data loss can occur.

Using USB drives as a backup is fine, as long as the data is stored both on the computer’s internal drive as well as the external USB drive. Don’t use USB drives as main data repositories. Otherwise, you may be asking for trouble!