Stocking-Stuffer Gifts for the IT Crowd

Opinion: Forget the funny ties, warm socks and holiday CDs. Here's a list filled with practical "gifts" of tools and tchotchkes for the heroes who mind the data center and storage infrastructure.

The gift-giving-and-receiving time is heading toward us pell-mell. And as is so often the case, the joy of the season fades a bit when it comes to the receiving part. We must admit it: we IT and storage folk are part of the hard-to-shop-for demographic.

So, I looked around for some large and small gift-sized useful high- and low-tech items that will be welcome in almost any IT tool kit, workbench or desk drawer. A few are items that could be lifesavers (or jobsavers) in the data center. And Ive tossed in a couple of fun gadgets that may spark some technological and social debates around your water cooler.

Making the right connections. After a while, the old drives start stacking up on the shelf and so do their replacements. There are all kinds and all sizes of mechanisms. But what about a fast and easy way to connect them to a host and check them out?

For the past few weeks, Ive been using a kit that is designed for the purpose: Granite Digitals USB 2.0 High-Speed Bridge Adapter. This small dongle provides an array of connectors for 2.5-, 3.5- and 5.25-inch IDE (integrated development environment) or SATA (Serial ATA) mechanisms, letting you mount and transfer files via a USB port.

I attached a 2.5-inch drive to the Bridge Adapter (one pin needed a bit of realignment, sorry to say), plugged the USB 2.0 connector into my laptop and the drive mounted straight away. I was copying files over in less than a minute.


Now, this notebook drive gets its power from USB, but the kit comes with an external power supply for larger drives, including the familiar 4-pin IDE and the 15-contact connector used for powering SATA drives.

The connectors for the various sizes of IDE mechanisms are built into the molded plastic housing of the Bridge Adapter; however, the short unshielded, SATA cable (just a few inches long and uses the internal L-type physical interface) can be swapped with a longer one, Granite Digital representatives said. The kit lists for $39.95, and a carrying case is an extra $9.95.

CSI-style storage. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for eDiscovery went into effect at the start of the month, and vendors are lining up to pitch solutions. These rules tell companies what information needs to be collected and then produced in federal legal discovery proceedings (both in terms of its subject and the formats the data might exist in) as well as how it will be archived.

Its one thing to search through records stored in a database or in an archive and another to look through a notebook or desktop machine yourself. Its not the technology implications Im thinking of here but rather the legal implications of opening live records.

Enter drive vendor WiebeTech with its Forensic ComboDock v4 "field imager." The device lets you attach the "suspect" IDE or SATA drive to a host system and then copy a complete image of the data over USB 2 and FireWire 400/800 without the risk of anything being written back to the drive.

The kit comes standard with the write-blocked connector for a 3.5-inch mechanism. However, you can upgrade it to connect notebook and SATA mechanisms with a range of adapters that are sold separately. There are even adapters for 1.8-inch mechanisms and smaller drives, such as those used in an iPod. While sized for a stocking, the system isnt cheap: The base unit is $399.95, and the SATA adapter is another $100; the other adapters range in price from $49.95 to $149.95.

In November, WiebeTech introduced Redport, a new line of write-blocked connectors, this time for enterprise-level storage. Versions for SCSI (SCSI Ultra320) and Fibre Channel come as PCIe cards with driver support for Red Hat Linux (2.4 and 2.6 kernel) and SUSE Linux (2.6 kernel), and Windows Server 2003, XP and 2000.

A note on flash drive gifts. A lot of flash drives are winding up in items you wouldnt expect: from pens to plastic fried shrimp. One maker of promotional items lists more than 50 different flavors, colors and capacities. However, I dont care for the ones housed in other useful items, such as pens, since its easy to mistake them for a standard pen.

At the same time, I like the versions in colorful or crazy housings for the opposite reason: Its hard to miss a plastic model of a tuna sushi on your desk. If your desk is covered with plastic toys and sushi, then maybe consider a more standard enclosure for USB flash keys.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about Microsofts ReadyBoost and Intels Robson flash cache technologies that can give Windows Vista a speed boost.

Certainly, you will want to make sure that any flash drives you buy have a USB 2.0 interface and can be used as a ReadyBoost memory cache when running Vista. A flash drive compatibility list can be found on Grant Gibsons blog.

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