Product review – Ironkey Workspace W500

One of the neat, often forgotten, features that was introduced with Windows 8 was Windows to Go.  Windows to Go is a fully self-contained Windows installation that can be run straight from a USB stick. The benefit is that a worker can take their personal settings and preferences with them on a USB stick, plug it into a computer, boot from the USB device and be able to work from any computer.

In effect, it's your Windows desktop on a stick.

One of the challenges with this is that if the USB stick is lost it's possible that whoever finds the device could access corporate or personal information.

Ironkey is one of just a handful of manufacturers certified to sell Windows to Go USB devices. The W500 looks like a regular USB memory stick. However, it's made with a robust aluminium casing and feels substantially stronger than the el cheapo USB drives you see sold at supermarkets.

The device is waterproof, dust-resistant and shock-resistant. The metal housing is tamper resistant so that the internal storage can’t be easily accessed.

The W500 comes in three variants – 32GB, 64GB and 128GB. Although many of us are accustomed to systems with significantly more storage, the proliferation of tablets running SSDs with less storage than traditional drives, and the availability of cloud services mean that most of us are able to work within the limits of these capacities.

The 128GB version has an RRP of $640 although the street price can be as much as $200 less if you shop around. That price does not include the cost of the Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 software license.
Configuration of the W500 can be carried out using Ironkey's Enterprise Server. This allows you to mass deploy these devices with your company's preferred configuration. The software supports data recovery, device re-provisioning, usage monitoring, policy enforcement, content updates, password resets and remote destruction.

It is possible to create your own bootable flash drive with Windows. However, Microsoft's support only extends to specific devices that they have certified for this purpose.

The Ironkey W500 is made by Imation – a very well known company in the portable storage space. In addition to making a physically robust device, they've added 256-bit AES hardware encryption to the deal. Although it's possible to use Microsoft's BitLocker to create software-encrypted installations of Windows, the use of hardware encryption makes the Ironkey a more secure choice for environments where security is of paramount importance.

Microsoft limits which versions of its OS can run using Windows to Go. Soo, if you're planning to use the W500 you'll need to ensure you're OK running Windows 8 Enterprise or Windows 8.1 Enterprise.
It's also worth noting that the default configuration for Windows to Go makes the hard drive in the host computer invisible. That means someone can use another person's PC with the W500 and not access the local system.

Once you plug in the Ironkey W500 to a PC for the first time there's an initialisation process to follow but once that's done you've got a Windows system that can hang off your keyring.
As the Ironkey W500 is a USB3 device, it delivers solid performance carrying out day to day tasks. We moved it between a couple of PCs and didn’t notice any annoying lag or performance issues.

The Final Word
We can imagine lots of environments where a portable operating system would be useful. Travelers, hot-desking environments, emergencies – these are all situations where a portable computer that can work just about anywhere would be useful.

Although the cost of the Ironkey Workspace W500 seems steep for a USB drive, the robust build, ruggedisation and hardware encryption mean it's not really a comparable piece of hardware to the cheap flash drives you see in local stationers and supermarkets.

For organisations where security and reliability are of paramount importance, the Workspace W500 looks like a robust solution that could alleviate some of the headaches associated with BYOD.

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

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