Flash drives have had a long-lasting relationship with Linux distributions. These portable storage devices are among the most reliable for out of the box hardware support on the Linux desktop. Clearly, using flash drives to run Linux has its benefits for various types of users.
As luck would have it, I was told of a company that is apparently running individual installations of Linux on flash drives for each of their employees. Apparently cost was a major motivation, but so was the need to VPN into the office from home without needing to configure a separate piece of software for each person.
It seems there's something inherently valuable about being able to take your "computing profile" with you, even when you're away from work.
Taking your user profile with you
One of the greatest advantages of using a flash drive to run a Linux distribution is that it's like having a computer that fits into your pocket without relying on your smart phone as an alternative. This means that you have everything you need right there on the flash drive itself.
Completely independent of any one single workstation or using a thin client box at work, the end-user is free to hop from computer to computer as they see fit. Any needed network settings, secure access to company servers, etc, is made possible due to the network settings stored on the flash drive. So there's no need to worry about consistent settings being mismanaged as one person logs off and another logs on. Differing user permissions travel with each user.
Another advantage that potentially goes beyond what thin client hardware will offer is how easy it is to take your "computer" home with you. Just plugin the pre-configured flash drive into your computer at home, satisfy the necessary login to the company VPN and get to work.
Best of all, critical data that isn't allowed to be accessed from outside of the workplace can be restricted via network policies. So there's less of a security hassle by using a flash drive over a company laptop.
For less security-conscious situations, one could VPN into their workplace and then send whatever they're working on directly to their email account. This would allow the end-user to work on the document in question, locally. Which means if the network suddenly died, no harm is done.
Best of all, you get to choose which computer you use, rather than working from a clunky company-assigned unit.
Because everything that is needed for company work is handled by the flash drive, this allows the end-user to have the freedom to run the computer of their choosing. An even better option would be a company payed "hardware allowance" to apply toward a notebook purchase. This would go a long way towards ensuring that the laptop being used is one that is best suited for the user in question.
A company compatible flash drive policy allows the typical employee freedom from being shackled to specific company hardware. It's a really helpful approach to handling the annoyance that happens when things get lost, as well.
One other item to consider is the benefits of keeping things green. Instead of dropping money for new hardware, a company using flash drives would be able to use existing workstations even longer. This means company revenue stays with the company, instead of being shelled out for redundant workstations through the office.
Lost flash drives with security in place
While I can't speak for every workplace out there, I've found that, yes, it's generally frowned upon to lose a company-issued notebook. Even though you may have had a password protecting your data on the operating system, chances are pretty good your stored data is still at risk of theft. It doesn't take a genius to remove the hard drive and see what can be recovered from it.
On the flip side, the potential for data loss is brought way down by using a flash drive policy. Obviously, this provides some allowances for the user being bright enough not to leave the drive plugged into the computer when it's not in use. Unfortunately, despite these obvious benefits, this might not be a match for all businesses out there.
Argument against using a flash drive
There will be circumstances where a standard thin client is going to be more functional for a company's needs. Examples might include where company policy dictates that flash drives are banned for security reasons. Another possibility is that a flash drive is used to handle authentication only, so using one as a desktop OS wouldn't fit into a company's needs.
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