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Wireless storage: Unplug your backups

Wireless USB addresses short distance cabling complexities

By Greg Schulz
November 9, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld -

Mention wireless storage, and people tend to think of accessing storage using network-attached storage (NAS) over Wi-Fi-based networks. It turns out that there are several other forms of wireless networks that can be used in conjunction with accessing storage or moving data on a local or remote basis. In addition to Wi-Fi, other wireless network transports to support storage applications include microwave, free space optics and WiMax, along with emerging wireless USB. Another technology that some may consider a form of wireless networking is radio frequency ID (RFID) technology.

USB cabling has become commonplace on PCs, laptops, cell phones, MP3 players, digital cameras, printers, flash drives and external storage devices, among other peripherals. Wireless USB is a purpose-built technology designed to operate at good performance for consumer and small office, home office (SOHO) environments while addressing cabling management issues as seen in Figure 1. Wireless USB is based on USB 2.0, which operates at up to 480Mbit/sec. at distances of 3 meters or 120Mbit/sec. at 10 meters.

Addressing cabling with wireless USB. Source: Jeff Ravencraft – Wireless USB
Figure 1: Addressing cabling with wireless USB. Source: Jeff Ravencraft – Wireless USB

Wireless USB addresses short-distance cabling complexities as opposed to being a general-purpose network like Wi-Fi. Wireless USB has industry heavyweights behind the movement including Agere Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp., NEC Corp., Philips Electronics NV and Samsung Corp. to leverage "Ultra-Wideband " (UWB) to reduce the number of radio transmitters (see Figure 2) and to reduce cost while driving up volume, which are essential to meet the mass market needs.

Jeff Ravencraft of the Wireless USB industry forum, who is a technology strategist for Intel Corp., sees the sweet spot for Wireless USB in consumer and SOHO environments for attachment of USB-based storage, MP3, digital cameras and other peripherals. Security features of wireless USB include encryption, along with mechanisms to ensure affinity between a computer and peripherals. Look for wireless USB to appear in PC, laptop, external hard disk drive, MP3 or other peripherals over the next couple of years, along with adapters to retrofit existing USB-enabled devices.

According to Rajeev Bhardwai, director of Cisco's storage product marketing, the reasons for using wireless networking transport technologies are varied and include cable management, last-mile issues or limited availability of other networking bandwidth. Bhardwai sees the flexibility of IP-based networks to support storage applications using NAS, iSCSI and Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) over various underlying network transports including wireless as a benefit to address different customer needs. For example, Bhardwai sees the operational flexibility of wireless storage to be deployed where a customer may not have access to dedicated fiber-optic or copper electrical cabling as an example of leveraging IP-based networks for storage applications.

Addressing cabling with wireless USB. Source: Jeff Ravencraft – Wireless USB
Figure 2: Addressing cabling with wireless USB. Source: Jeff Ravencraft – Wireless USB

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