iTwin Review @itwintweet #edchat #windows #usb

iTwin USB drive

Update: Read the follow-up to this post.

An education colleague asked me, "How can I easily move files from work to home?" At the time, I didn't know about the iTwin, a "reinvented, limitless capacity, secure USB drive." I can't tell you how many times I've had folks walk up to me and say, "Have you found my flash drive? It has all my documents on it." Instead of recommending some form of cloud storage (e.g. Dropbox), I could have presented the iTwin as a possible option. 

When I arrived at home earlier tonight, I made it to the swimming pool before the kids told me the news--
"Dad, the iTwin arrived!" At that moment, I recalled that the iTwin folks had been kind enough to ship a unit ($99 value) at no charge for evaluation and review (Disclosure). Of course, I could barely contain my excitement as I drove home from the pool after getting my laps in. My curiosity had certainly been piqued by a "limitless capacity USB drive!"

Given that has had security problems, not to mention changing its Terms of Service (which has resulted in an exodus by top techies), some are questioning the wisdom of using cloud storage sites. 
These sort of consumer-friendly cloud services are still relatively new, and there are bound to be growing pains as expectations—from both the user and business perspectives—get worked out. Until they are worked out, you probably shouldn't store anything in Dropbox (or SugarSync or Live Mesh or SpiderOak, etc.) that you don't feel comfortable "licensing" to that service. For some, that might mean not using these services at all. For others, that might mean storing your less sensitive files.
What if you could skip the hassle and just use something that was encrypted and facilitated transfer of information from one computer to another? iTwin may be a possible alternative solution. 

Have two Windows computers, one at home and the other at work? Plug in the iTwin to your home computer. On your work computer, copy files you want to share onto second half of the iTwin drive and they are "shipped" over the Internet to your home computer. There are obviously LOTS of applications for this. 

Here's a concise summary via PC-World:
The iTwin is a unique networking and peer-to-peer file-sharing gadget from the company of the same name. Out of the box, it looks like nothing so much as a USB flash drive with a connector on each end. It's not. Upon closer scrutiny, you'll find that the iTwin ($99, price as of 2/7/2011) separates into two units. The two halves, each one plugged into a different PC, form a network connection that allows you to securely share files using hardware-based 256-bit AES encryption...If the service or company goes belly up and kills the service, you'll have a pretty, but useless device. 
Some of the intriguing features:
  • Secure access and encrypted file transfer
  • Remote editing of shared are connected real time to your files.
  • Transfer files from your remote computer to your home computer without storing them on your remote computer.
  • One-time cost. (this is a great feature!)

Some of the questions I had in my head when I asked for a preview copy are listed below:
  1. How hard is this to install?
  2. Are the files encrypted during transfer?
  3. Is there a space limit?
  4. Do the files "stop off" somewhere on their way from one computer to another?
  5. Are there any recurring fees or is it just the one-time $99 investment?
  6. What happens if the company goes belly-up...will iTwin continue working?
The questions are answered below...

QUESTION #1 - How hard is this to install?
To install, just plug in the iTwin drive into your Windows computer...and then follow the instructions:

Sure enough, I received an email with the disable code almost immediately. The disable code allow you to take advantage of one of the security protections available--turning off your remote USB drive if it has been lost. Of course, you can always unplug your USB drive. 

QUESTION #2 - Are the files encrypted during transfer?
The iTwin arrived in a nice little box. Inside the box was a Getting Started Guide that made it easy to know what to do. On page 14 of the book, it boasts that iTwin provides "robust, AES-256 encryption." 

But then, for even more security, it provides you the option of adding more protection in the form of these methods:

1-Password Protection: From the booklet, "With both halves of iTwin connected together, plug iTwin into an online computer. Click on the iTwin tray icon and select 'Security Options' followed by 'Set iTwin Password.' Once set, your password will be required to use your iTwin."

These second two methods have already been discussed earlier.
2-Remote Disconnect - Use the disable code sent to you via email upon registration.

3-Disconnect iTwin drive from original computer - This is a kind of obvious approach. If your drive is disconnected from the original computer, there won't be any content to store.

QUESTION #3 - Is there a space limit?
Nope, there isn't! A follow up question might, how fast is the transfer speed through the portal? I don't know but in my tests, it was fast (about 20 seconds for two exe files, Clamwin and Firefox 5.0.1 or >3mps). Unfortunately, downloading from the original computer was...slow. Over 60 seconds for one file:

QUESTION #4 - Do the files "stop off" somewhere on their way from one computer to another?
Although I searched the web site, I couldn't really find an answer to this question! Apparently, there is a portal site that passes the content through...can the iTwin folks access my content that gets stored on their server? How long is my content stored there?

These are questions I'm not sure of the answer to. Perhaps, iTwin folks will respond in the comments.

QUESTION #5 - Are there any recurring fees or is it just the one-time $99 investment?
You have to love the answer to this recurring fees. It's a one-time investment.

QUESTION #6 - What happens if the company goes belly-up...will iTwin continue working?
Although I didn't find the answer to this on the iTwin web site, it did appear in the PC World review...essentially, since iTwin relies on a portal site to transfer your data, if the company should go belly-up, the portal site will stop working...and you'd be left with a worthless device. As the Company points out on the web site, " iTwin doesn't store any data on itself.  It just enables a secure connection between your two computers."

I'll be trying this out over the next few weeks and reporting back. Since I'm an avid user of Dropbox, SugarSync, I'll be sure to give you an idea of how well iTwin works! My only regret so far, though? I wish it worked on Mac and GNU/Linux!!

 Read the follow-up to this post.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


Cool idea but my basic belief is that if either computer is connected to the Internet the data is still at risk. Besides, nothing stops me from putting encrypted data in DropBox on those days when I feel the need to wear my hardhat in the shower. I'll be curious to see if this catches on.

Patricia Startz said…
I just read the -uh-oh...
If the data is going through an offsite storage center... it isn't really any different than the other "storage clouds." I still have major concerns about storing or transfering files that way, but I would really love to hear how it works in practice. Thanks Miguel for keeping us up to date!
Anonymous said…
Hi Guys,

When you transfer files using iTwin, if you are on different networks, the data is relayed via our server but not stored. Since the data is encrypted and the encryption key lies only on the two pieces of hardware, so even if the data is relayed via our server, we will not be able to read it. The encryption key is generated every time you plug the devices together and initialize them. The data only resides on your computer. Since it is end to end encrypted, there is no risk of the data even when transferred via the internet.

Akash, iTwin.

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