Any number of devices that hold digital information for later access. These can range from the internal hard drive on your PC to a smart card for a digital camera. Some common devices include: USB Flash Drives, External USB hard drives, DVD, CD, smart-media cards, ZIP Drives, and floppy discs. Some of these require media to store the data on while others are both the storage device and media.

Hard Drives

Hard drives are still one of the most popular methods of computer storage in use today. Devices from computers and servers to even digital video recorders (DVRs) use hard drives as a mean for relatively permanent digital storage. Hard disks were first used in the 1950s, known early on as "fixed disks" then later on as hard disks to distinguish them from floppy disk technology. Typically, these disks are designed as platters, with a set of tracks (concentric circles emanating from the center) and sectors (wedges evenly spaced throughout the disk).

From Howstuffworks, here is a graphic representation of a sample hard disk:


Hard disks have become very economical over the past five years. In 1997, an approximately 2 gigabyte (GB) internal hard drive would have cost approximately $300. Today, 300 GB hard drives are widely available for less than $150! Additionally, portable hard drives than can be easily transported have also dropped in price. These drives, which typically connect via Universal Serial Bus (USB) or IEEE-1394 ("Firewire") ports can be purchased for under $200 with ample storage space. Worse, in 1986 a 486 MB hard drive weighed 110 pounds and cost $21,000!

Hard drives are ubiquitous. Their comparatively low price for large volumes of data and our increased sophistication with images and documents means phones, MP3 players, iPods, cameras, scanners, copiers and printers frequently contain hard drives for intermediate storage. Increasingly, these devices themselves readily connect to computers with a USB interface and provide copious (presently up to 80GB in an iPod) portable data storage.

USB Flash Drives

According to wikipedia, these are "NAND-type flash memory data storage devices integrated with a USB (universal serial bus) interface." Known for being portable and having much higher capacities than a typical floppy disk, they have become staples of many students and professionals on the go. Most of these devices are formatted using FAT32, enabling them to work universally under different operating systems - including Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. While starting out at small capacities of 16MB and 32MB - they now have capacities of upwards of 16 GB.

Educational Uses:

It is the return of the "sneaker net." Students have compact, portable, large capacity media to save, transfer and backup digital files. Portable storage has been available in the past with floppy and zip discs, as well as CD and DVD technology, but with USB memory stick as stated above gives the ability to have cross platform files available to multiple operating systems. The added capacity allows for portable applications (office suites, web browsers, email clients as well as personal servers) to take files as well as applications where ever the student needs them. High capacity external portable hard drives have the same effect and many of these devices have been minimized to be the size of a wallet.

Educational Issues:

Data and host network security becomes an issue with these devices in use in the educational setting. Theft and loss of the devices create privacy and file management (backup) problems for students. The devices small sizes means they can be left behind with little notice and then the data is available to whoever finds the device.