03 Jun Photo Storage

Source: Fuji vs Fuji

I’ve been pushing up against the limits of the internal storage in my MacBook for far too long now. The lack of free space on my boot volume was starting to make my MacBook slower, and resulted in files having to be shuffled to smaller external storage.

I’ve been doing almost as much agonizing over my storage challenges as I have trying to decide what gear to bring on my African adventure. My trip will also leave me with even less space available, so storage is a problem that has to be solved soon. Here’s my thought process.

NAS vs. DAS

The choice is between a NAS (Network Attached Storage) or a DAS (Direct Attached Storage). I like the idea of being able to access my files from anywhere in the house (or world, for that matter), and I really don’t like plugging external hard drives into my MacBook, especially when I’m sitting on a couch, or just want to be mobile.

I’ve been hearing all kinds of good things about Synology products, and almost bought their DiskStation DS716+ → with a third party RAM upgrade, but decided that if I was going to get a NAS, it should have more than 2 bays.1 At the time of my research, Synology didn’t have a unit with 4 or more bays that I was interested in, and being a bit uncertain of how a NAS would impact my workflow, I decided to look at direct storage again.

I had settled on a Promise Pegasus2 R2+ →,2 but I was still struggling with two key aspects:

  1. External RAID arrays are expensive, considering the functionality you can get for similar money with a NAS.
  2. Too many options for direct storage ship with drives pre-installed, and they don’t make information about the manufacturer or the quality of those drives readily available, and if they’re from a less reliable manufacturer, you’re out of luck.

There are diskless options, but to get an enclosure I liked, I was sort of stuck, and without the markup the enclosure manufacturers get on drives, I could end up spending more on the same amount of storage.

Synology to the Rescue

As luck would have it, Synology announced their new DiskStation DS916+ →, which is pretty much exactly what I was hoping for. Better still, the cost for 12TB in Synology’s latest 4-bay NAS is only $20 more than a Promise 8TB Storage Array →. More storage (or equal storage with RAID 5), and way more functionality for $20 more. I’ve since done a bunch more research and a NAS is looking more and more like the way to go.

What I’d Lose

Network attached storage is slower, there’s no getting around that for now. It’s going to hit me particularly hard as the aging MacBook Pro I’m still working on is 802.11n. I have an upgrade planned within the next 6 months, however. I’m also looking into ways of getting more Ethernet access in my home.

Because of the (potentially temporary) slowdown, I’m going to have to make some adjustments to my workflow, setting up more of an archival strategy with my asset management. Once photos have been dealt with, they’ll move off my local storage, and onto the NAS.

I’ll also lose automatic remote backup of my storage solution by opting for a NAS. Backblaze will happily accept whatever files are on any direct attached storage you have hooked up to your computer, but a NAS is off limits without some trickery that I’m not interested in, will cost me more money, and is apparently flakey at best. I’ll likely sign up for CrashPlan on the NAS, and perhaps move my entire cloud backup to them unless Backblaze figures out a way to support NAS (not holding my breath on that).

What I’d Gain

I won’t regale you with the many, many benefits of a Synology, but on the photo side of things, it looks like I’ll be able to log into my NAS while on vacation and upload my RAFs for an on-the-fly backup strategy, provided I don’t blow through anyone’s bandwidth limits. Backups while on vacation has been a bit of a concern. In the past, I’ve pretty much just shot pics until my cards were full, then tucked them away somewhere safe, and hoped for the best. I’ve been fortunate up until now, and always made it home from vacations with my photos, but this is not a good strategy. It would be pretty upsetting to visit a game park at the beginning of my trip, then somehow lose the photos towards the end.

I’ll need to give the NAS backup strategy a try before I go to see just how realistic it is. It will be dependant on the speed my my internet connections.

Conclusion

I went ahead and ordered myself a DS916+ with 8GB of RAM along with four 3GB HGST Deskstar drives,→ which Backblaze reports as consistently having the lowest failure rates.3 I missed ordering when the DS916+ was first in stock, but I’ll be sure to report back on how these things can work in a photographer’s workflow if there’s interest.

  1. I would set my NAS up as RAID 5 to give myself a one drive failure tolerance. ↩︎
  2. I decided to go with a 2-drive array to save some money with the intention of getting a NAS in the future.

    I also would have considered something from OMC, but I’ve had a couple not so good experiences with their products in the past so I’m hesitant to try them again.

  3. Fun fact, Promise Technology use Toshiba hard drives in their arrays. They have pretty low failure rates, but it’s still 3× as many as HGST. ↩︎

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