Storage – The Unappreciated
Everyone always talks about how important your storage tech is and keeping it safe blah blah blah… But you never really appreciate how good your drive storage is until you lose something. Like I thought I did. I bought a new external drive and simply misplaced some data. It’s all backed up. Still, it was a bit heart-wrenching.
The Single, External Drive
Wait? External hard drive? Yes. Quite simply, it suffices. For now. It’s really just for archiving purposes and as long as it’s backed up, that’s fine. It doesn’t need to be super-fast. Unfortunately, while the whole setup works, it’s not a very elegant setup.
That’s the problem with using simple external drives for your workflow. They can work but can slow down your workflow. Plus, on a per data-bit basis, it’s more expensive than other options. Money is money though and you can only do your best. The nice thing about external drives is that with the limited funds, you can get quite a bit of well-performing data capacity. You can get an 8TB drive for $200! An 8TB NAS is going to cost you 4x as much.
So if you’re not rolling in cash as a photographer, like 98% of us, if you need space, you do the best you can. Let’s look at it this way, you can buy 2 of these 8TB monsters. Use one as your regular archive drive and the other as Time Machine to backup your computer and the archive drive. For $400. That still at least half the cost of a NAS.
While the single, external drive can do some great work for a long time, there is a tremendous number of features you gain with a NAS. Redundancy, performance, capacity and automated software functionality. It’s a bit from going to a point-and-shoot camera to a fully-featured DSLR camera. It can be overwhelming.
The great thing about NAS systems is that, with patience, they can incredibly easy to setup and manage. The software systems basically walk you through the whole process of setting them up. The only real thing you should do is plan what you want to do with them. In case you need to setup certain directory structures and partitions. It really isn’t a big deal.
The two things I’m really going to focus on is capacity and features.
Capacity wise, they absolutely dominate the single drive. Once you buy all the drives to fill your NAS, if you bought enough capacity, you pretty much forget about for the next few years once properly setup. Seriously. I know I’ll get at least 3TB for a five-bay NAS which would give me a total of 12TB once the drives are formatted for a total cost of about $1000. Some people would say “You can get FOUR 8TB drives for $800!” You could have two drives in RAID 1 and then have the other two drives mirror the first two. Not too shabby.
Speaking on a purely physical basis, it’s a bit of a mess. Cables running all over the place and four separate enclosures. One cable issue can damage the entire setup. We’re not even talking about the lack of functionality a system like lacks compared to a NAS.
I keep harping on this and for good reason. Capacity is capacity. With a NAS though, it’s a huge jump in what you get:
- Drive Redundancy. When a drive fails, everything keeps running. No data loss. Simply buy a new drive, pull out the failed drive and insert the new one and tell the NAS to use the new drive for RAID. Heck, if you have enough drive bays, you can even setup your system to support the failure of two drives. It’s insurance.
- Software functionality. How about automatically uploaded your NAS data to a cloud-system? Without any intervention from you? How about running a virtual Windows computer in your NAS so you can run applications in the background? How about accessing all your NAS data anytime, anywhere? Doing Time Machine backups of any connected computers? Synchronizing your cloud storage system on the NAS? Just the tip of the iceberg.
- Most photographers would use a NAS for archiving purposes so performance isn’t as huge a necessity, it still matters. As fast as a single drive can be, it’s still going to be about 1/5 the read/write speed of a decent NAS. True, data is travelling over a network what is most likely 1GB. About 1/3 the speed of a USB 3.0 connection can handle. But, you’re doing lots of internal data creation that goes within the drive, the performance is major. But 10Gb networks is right around the corner.. If your NAS and network switch supports this, bottleneck no more!
Synology and QNAP are the big boys on the block. I think Synology has a better user interface while if you’re a little more tech savvy, a little more, QNAP could be the better choice. But don’t count out Drobo, Western Digital and others. Lots of options.
Direct Access Storage. RAID connected directly to the computer. This is the system you usually see videographers use. It’s all about speed because their data is measured in 100’s of gigabytes. These systems are usually configured in RAID 0 connected via Thunderbolt or USB 3. It should be all about Thunderbolt with its superior bandwidth. If you’re doing lots of 4k video, you’ll need a NAS AND A DAS. Did I mention with the DAS, you’d probably use SSDs in them? Yes, doing video gets expensive!
The Hybrid NAS
Probably the biggest thing that’s happening in RAID this last year: more Hybrid NAS systems. QNAP started this with the network and Thunderbolt connected systems a few years ago. You can have the NAS connected on the network and directly to the computer at the same time! You get the best of both worlds with this setup. Unfortunately, these systems can be 3x the cost of their comparable NAS systems. Though if you’re a full-time, well paid videographer, it might be worthwhile. Though I think a separate DAS and NAS system might be a better system for a videographer. I can’t see even a highly paid, busy photographer using a Hybrid.
Storage, it’s a lot. Literally.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s one of the lower cost items a photographer has to deal with. Even if you get a damn nice 8-bay NAS with 3TB – 4TB drives, that’s about $1500. What can that buy you. Maybe a lens? Not a camera. Not a computer. But it does a lot of storage and will last you many years and save you lots of time!
Now, onto the first category: Mobile