I recently helped deliver a very conversational webinar on Windows To Go (WTG). The event was fantastic and well-attended. You can catch the replay HERE after a short sign-up. The session covered everything you want to know about WTG, including security, best cases, customer usage scenarios, and licensing. Even though I already knew a lot about WTG, there was still so much more to learn.

I've always been interested in WTG and I know many of you have, too. When WTG was first introduced conference sessions (MMS and TechEd) were flooded with attendees interested in what the technology could do.

If you don't know what WTG is exactly, here's a quick (very quick) description:

WTG is a feature of Windows 8.1 Enterprise that allows booting to a full version of Windows from a USB thumb drive.

That seems pretty simplistic, but to understand the huge, powerful value WTG offers, consider just a few use cases:

  • Contractors – hand a contractor a WTG device that is configured for you environment, allowing them to login and function on your network without potential security intrusions.
  • BYOD – allow employees to use their computer of choice (any PC that can boot from USB) and still function normally.
  • Light travel – at the other end of a trip, the business user only needs to locate an available PC to boot into their work environment.
  • Disaster Recovery – when disaster strikes, full working environments can be distributed to employees so they can keep working.
  • Reuse Old PCs – don't throw away those fossils. Reuse old computers to run today's software. Most WTG devices will run on hardware that is certified for Windows 7 and above.

There are a myriad of other use cases and really the things you can think up are endless. WTG is as flexible as you are and can fit a gazillion business scenarios.

If you'd like to dig deeper, check out the webinar replay linked above, or visit Microsoft's WTG site: Windows To Go

I've been testing the WTG IronKey W500 from Imation for the last few weeks and wanted to finally post my findings. There are several WTG thumb driver providers on the market so I won't jump into each and every feature since they all are pretty close in function. However, I do want to highlight the areas I believe makes the most difference and why the IronKey W500 could be the top choice for WTG hardware.

Ease of Use

Setting up WTG on any compatible device can be a complex task, but Imation makes it almost error proof. The steps go like this:

  1. Configure the computer to boot from USB. Remember, this could be a Mac, PC, or any other computer that supports booting from USB.
  2. Configure IronKey Startup Assistant to set boot order.
  3. Restart and enter your supplied IronKey password (you can change the password at any time).
  4. Reboot and install your Windows 8.1 instance.

See, pretty simple. The most time intensive step in the process is installing Windows 8.1. However, for those with Enterprise-class management systems in place, the IronKey can also be provisioned using an image or host PC, making the process hands-free and less resource intensive.

Of course, once you're able to boot into your Windows 8.1 instance, it runs exactly as you would want. Bringing us to…

Performance

You might think that because the OS is running off a USB thumb drive that performance would suffer. The IronKey supports both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0. I found that running it from a USB 2.0 port did cause some performance lags, but running it from a USB 3.0 port improved speed almost tenfold. In fact, using the IronKey with USB 3.0, my Windows 8.1 instance ran just as fast as a locally hosted OS.

The IronKey W500 offers sequential read performance of up to 400 MB/second and sequential write speeds of up to 316 MB/second.

Security

Security is a big factor. When you think about BYOD and employees carrying around corporate data everywhere on personal devices, it makes you shudder and causes some to wake up sweating from nightmares. IronKey provides 256-bit AES hardware encryption and built-in password protection. In addition, if you use proper provisioning practices you can control access and limit user access to sensitive data and critical applications.

If a user loses or misplaces their IronKey, no big deal. I mean, yes, it's a big deal to lose a valuable piece of technology, but the headache of worrying about giving corporate data access to hackers is the bigger issue.

And, that brings us to…

Manageability

I talked earlier about provisioning, which is an important management piece for any Windows-based device. If you want to dig deep into learning provisioning, check out Peter Daalmans' (IT/Dev Connections 2014 speaker) series starting here: Windows To Go, Ironkey and ConfigMgr 2012 R2 better together.

But, what good is a Windows device (thumb drive or otherwise) if it can't be managed? Remember, one of the primary requirements for WTG is an Enterprise license of Windows 8.1.

To start with, Imation provides their own Enterprise-class management and provisioning solution. So, if you're not a System Center customer, you can still utilize a very robust system build just to manage IronKey devices. Imation's server offers central administration for device access and usage policies, enforcement of device-specific policies, scalability (manage thousands of devices from a single interface), and security.

And, for those Microsoft System Center customers, Configuration Manager works directly with the IronKey W500, allowing you to utilize every built-in Configuration Manager feature. You treat the IronKey W500 just like any other computer in the organization.

Construction

One of the most incredible features of the W500 is its construction. Being an avid TV guy, I'm reminded of those TV episodes where a Sheriff's badge was the only that that saved the show's star. The way the W500 is built, I imagine it stopping bullet with ease. Seriously, this thing is solid.

As IT Pros, we're constantly faced with end users who attempt to tell fantastical tales about the totally unique way they broke their laptop: It was unprecedented; Could never happen twice the same way; Is the stuff of legend.

The W500 is a formidable foe to those lackadaisical end users, and I dare anyone to figure out how to trash this thing. Sure, it can be done, but it's going to take some serious effort. I've seen videos where the W500 survives being run over by a truck. Seriously – this thing is built to last.

Summary

WTG is an awesome technology. I'd really love to see more people get interested and more businesses take advantage of it. There's a huge cost savings factor that I've not even touched on, but since this is a review, I'll not delve into it. If you're interested in the cost savings, check out the WTG ROI Calculator:  http://resources.imation.com/roicalculator-demo

Recently, I started traveling with only the Surface Pro 3. And, while the Surface Pro 3 supplies all my computing needs (read about that here: Surface Pro 3 Diary), there's also the "breakable" factor that concerns me. What if something happens during travel? What if the Surface Pro 3 breaks or just stops working? So, to ease my fears, I've started carrying the IronKey W500 with me – just in case. If something does happen to my Surface Pro 3 during my travels, I have the assurance of carrying my duplicate working environment with me on a very capable thumb drive. All I need to do is locate a qualified PC and I'm good to go.

If you're looking for a solid WTG performer, the Ironkey W500 is the way to go.

You can read all about the IronKey W500 on the web site: IronKey WorkSpace W500

The IronKey W500 comes in 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB sizes. You should connect with your hardware provider for proper pricing, but Amazon does also have them available if you'd like to snag one for testing:

IronKey 32GB Windows To Go W500 USB Flash Drive ($144 US)

IronKey 64GB Windows To Go W500 ($228 US)

IronKey 128GB Windows To Go W500 ($372 US)