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Imation’s IronKey Workspace W200 is the company’s entry-level Windows To Go USB stick that gives buyers a cheaper alternative to the company’s more specialised products featuring military-grade encryption and certifications such as FIPS-140 that not every business needs. As with any Windows To Go product, it can be used on a standalone basis but was really designed for use in large enterprises looking for an alternative to PCs for teleworking, contractors, BYOD or PC sharing.

The ‘IronKey’ moniker is residual, referring to the product’s origins with the company of that name, most of whose IP was acquired by Imation in 2011. Why it hangs around today is unclear but it perhaps the brand was simply too well-established to drop.

The differences between the W200 and the more advanced products would require a marketing presentation to explain in detail but can be summed up as being about ruggedness (improved on the W300), hardware encryption and higher certification (W500), FIPS-140 3 certification and sophisticated management (W700/W200SC). Hardware warranties run from three to five years.

All of the drives are ruggedized to varying degrees (US DOD MIL-STD-810G/MIL-STD-810F), have strong encryption, run USB 3.0, and come in a range of storage sizes from 32GB, 64GBand 128GB. The asking price varies by storage size with the 32GB version looked at here costing around $100 (£90) as a one-off, less on a volume basis. This doesn’t include the cost of an Enterprise license, so that has to be added to the final price.

The claimed performance profile is, not surprisingly, a better than the commodity drives with read speeds of up to 310MB/second and write at up to 159MB/second. This isn’t top-of-the-range performance for USB 3.0 but it’s more than enough for everyday business use.

Windows To Go

For those unacquainted with Windows To Go – an it’s been a bit of a niche story since it launched in 2011 – it is a way of giving mobile or remote workers a secured Windows 8 or 10 PC on-a-stick without the need to provision and support a full PC. Another application is as backup in case of disaster or disruption on a company network, not these days beyond the realms of possibility when malware attacks are detected. Through the stick users get access to business applications such as SaaS or Citrix, a VPN, and anti-virus while the enterprise gets a practical solution to the issue of manageability for Microsoft environments.

The security is inherent to any OS booting its own workspace on an unknown PC from a separate drive – because the session runs its own image of the OS, any malware on that system is bypassed and can’t access the Windows To Go session.

The W200 uses Microsoft’s BitLocker full-disk encryption layer with 128-bit or 256-bit AES, which works transparently and will maintain compatibility with this technology’s use across an enterprise.

Imation IronKey Workspace W200 - setup

Run standalone in review mode, Windows To Go setup is pretty much identical to any Windows configuration, taking about 15 minutes including setting the PC to connect to Azure cloud or a standard Windows domain. Helpfully, the license on our test device was for Windows 10 Enterprise evaluation edition.

After that, inserting the drive into a compatible system and booting it will bring up the Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 desktop the looks and functions just as would any other Windows system. It is this familiarity that is the strength of a system that operates without any noticeable compromises including on Windows 10 being able to install apps.

One issue to note is the limited storage space available on the 32GB model: under NTFS this formats to 28GB, leaving around 17GB free to use. That’s probably fine for occasional use but might fill up for some workers. Although users will obviously be able to access network drives remotely, this is a hard limit on the device itself and can’t be expanded by accessing drive space on the host PC.

Boot configuration can be automated for a population of PCs using Imation’s Startup Manager tool which avoids manually having to set the BIOS to boot from a USB stick.

Compatibility

Because Windows To Go requires to be supported at BIOS level, it’s not a system that will work on every PC. Recent business PCs and Macs supporting UEFI will work, older systems possibly not. Boot managers (such as those found on some Linux systems) can also interfere with booting and might need manual modification. However, enterprises can embed their own security client inside Windows To Go as long as it is certified to work – Symantec, Sophos, and BitDefender are on the official list although others might work just as well.

As for Windows itself, Windows 8.1 and 10 install running under Windows To Go can’t be upgraded at a later point without re-imaging Windows from scratch. Windows 7 is also supported although that is now considered legacy.

Telefónica Deutschland – BYOD on a stick

According to a case study distributed by Imation, communications firm Telefónica Deutschland decided to start using the W500 and Windows To Go to meet several objectives that sit bang in the middle of the technology’s sweet spot - secure access for up to 400 different contractors, more PC sharing and a better fit for mobile and remote workers. Essentially, using this approach allows more hot desking and offers more control over third-party access as well as making it possible for these partners to work from their own premises.

‘The IronKey Workspace devices were the only solution on the market that met our strict security requirements. They are light, user friendly, and easy to manage. Our contractors appreciate the flexibility of being able to work securely from wherever they are,” said Telefónica Deutschland technical consultant Erdal Akkaya in the official case study.

The project had been successful enough that it was now being considered as a model for wider BYOD in the firm, he said. The latter underlines how these devices are now fast enough and secure enough that they function as working PCs in settings where that might not have been the case in the past.

Imation IronKey Workspace W200 - conclusion

The case for Windows To Go is compelling for some organisations. The question is what distinguishes one vendor offering compliant hardware from the other. In the case of the Imation IronKey family the answer is the comprehensiveness of the design. It ticks physical robustness, manageability and security as well as security certification for those that need this.

The W200’s strength is that it does this without the cost that sometimes comes with more highly certified drives, which can approach a PC for capex. This is probably where most non-government deployments should start. These devices have tended to be pricey and over=specified until now; the W200 might be the product to help take Windows To Go mainstream.

It doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses bar perhaps the issue of compatibility with some older PCs and the fact that putting Windows on a USB stick along with applications on a 32GB USB drive is probably tight for space. The 64GB drive might be a better bet. As a newish product it’s also not that well distributed in the UK compared to the US.

Specifications: 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, Windows To Go 7/8.1/10 USB 3.0 flash drive. Weight 0.56 oz. (15.8 grams), waterproof and shockproof to MIL-STD-810G, 128-bit or 256-bit AES encryption supporting BitLocker. Full datasheet.

Price: $90 (around £75 in the UK). Price excludes Windows license.

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