Part 2 of 4

This is always a hugely popular topic with photographers second only to cameras. Even before computers. It’s simple: we keep all our images on them. Whenever a camera comes out and it has more megapixels, photographers always complain about the images needing more storage space.

I’ve seen some pretty crazy setups and heard even worse. People with 20, 30 portable hard drives using some crazy storage conventions. It’s ignorance. Pure and simple. Listen, I was in I.T. for over 20 years and none of the systems I setup, maintained or managed were actually quite simple. And lasted, without incident, for years. And that’s how I work.

Internal Storage

I can’t believe it. I’ve never included this option in my Storage series. Simply because, it can be a very expensive option. Especially if, like most computers these days, you have an SSD in there. But you probably can deal with much less than you think. Especially if you’re not a full-time professional.

My Computer Setup 1 Generation Ago. Image: Ricardo Gomez Photography

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Before I bought my 2020 13” MacBook Pro with an internal drive of 2TB SSD, I had a 2013 15” MacBook Pro with 512GB SSD. You know what? In 7 years, I never ran out of disk space. Not even close. I was a very part-time photographer. I bought 2TB of space for my new computer because I’m full-time now and belief in Manifest Destiny. If you work towards something and do everything as if it’s going to happen, it will happen. I believe I need a 2TB internal drive because I believe I’m going to need it.

There are many factors. How fast you offload your data. Does your photography processing improve much keeping it local? That’s the big question. When you did to process and export 2000 event photography images, it certainly can.

External Hard Drive

Up until very recently, this is what I used and it worked great for years: an external hard drive connected via USB or Thunderbolt.

My Previous Storage Solution. WD My Book External Drive. Image: Ricardo Gomez Photography

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“WHAT!!! REAL photographers especially professionals don’t use external hard drives!” I’ve heard that argument more times than I’d like to count. It’s complete and total ignorance.

• I know professionals far beyond me in my status that use this kind of system.

• If you know how to use an external drive properly, it can totally work.

Two reasons to use an external drive:

• Archive Storage. Use the external drive to save files that you’re done editing.

• Work Drive. I know some videographers that use external SSD drives for editing. Which is totally fine. But even still, they are going to archive their data onto a traditional, external storage drive. But unless you have an external SSD drive, you don’t want to edit and export many files off an external drive. It’s just slow. It will work but it’s slow.

The main advantages to this system is primarily cost and simplicity. Connect it to your computer, format it if necessary and it’s ready to go.

I think the Western Digital My Book Desktop drives are really good. The read/write speed of them is around 115MB which is ‘okay’. For smaller projects, opening files is reasonably fast. A 400MB Photoshop file will open in about 4 seconds. Which is most of my Photoshop files if not smaller. Totally useable. But a 1GB Photoshop file will take about 10 seconds. But then again, how many Photoshop files are you working on at one time? Usually just 1 or just a few. So it’s really not a big issue.

Storage is just incredible these days. The price for a particular option is relatively cheap. Especially with traditional hard drives that connect directly to your computer. These days, you can get an 18TB drive for about $400. If you have a camera with 40MP+ sensor, you’ll be happy this is available. For this cheap.

Directly Attached Storage

Here’s where the systems start to become interesting. And confusing for some.

Directly Attached Storage (DAS) systems, are basically several SSD or traditional drives that are configured to look like one or more drives and still, connect to your computer directly via USB or Thunderbolt.

This system is used for two reasons: speed and/or capacity. When you configure multiple drives properly, you can gain incredible performance. Or, if there are no external drives that are large enough for your needs, a DAS can work. They cost more but not much more depending on how it’s setup. Usually, there is an enclosure where you install the multiple drives, connect the enclosure to your computer and then configure the drives usually through the Operating System.

The people who use DAS systems tend to be video and animation specialist. They need that speed AND capacity. And the system of this caliber is going to cost a pretty penny. You can get much less expensive systems if you don’t want to go up to the next level and keep things somewhat simple.

This kind of system is usually for that .05 percent of photographers and videographers. You really need to have a very good reason for it.

Network Attached Storage

This is where most people want to be eventually: Network Attached Storage (NAS) systems. Incredibly powerful. Configurable. And potentially very confusing. The options you have with a NAS are quite incredible. The more you spend, the more options and power. Where do I even start?

• Automated Processes. The biggest difference between a NAS and DAS is: brains. When you turn off your computer, the NAS can keep on going. A NAS can have dozens of applications that can automate parts of your business. And when you’re a small business, automation and productivity are huge.

• Shared Resources. While you can share the resources of a DAS, it’s hugely limited and requires the computer it’s connected to be on as well. A NAS can also have more methods to connect to it including Ethernet networking and Thunderbolt.

• Data Redundancy. A properly configured NAS will allow one or more hard drives to fail while keeping your data safe. Giving you time to replace the failed drive. You can do this with a DAS but this setup will slow it down and that’s not why you bought a DAS.

• Remote Access. While you can technically setup a DAS be remotely accessible, you have to leave the computer it’s connected to on as well. Again, the sharing options and security are hugely limited with a DAS setup to share files remotely. Even the cheapest NAS systems have remote access. With my laptop, I can access all my files anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. Anywhere.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. For photographic purposes, these are the biggest reasons, apart from storage capacity, why a photographer or any other professional, would by a NAS.

The Dream

I got one! A NAS! By the time you read this, it will be about a week since I’ve had it.

I purchased the QNAP TS-873. It’s key features are 8, 3.5” drive bays, a 4-core AMD processor and two expansion slots. I purchased 16GB of RAM and a 10Gbe network card with the system. I bought it largely for archiving data and not any real pro-active reasons. But even with its moderate and older design, I’m still finding it extremely powerful.

Years of Dreaming: The QNAP TS-873 NAS! Image: Ricardo Gomez Photography

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I’ll be honest. I have only one drive in it. Why? Because my external USB drive was acting erratically and spending another $200 - $300 for a replacement just to know I would replace that in 2 – 3 years didn’t sit well. I figured it was the right time to go with a NAS. I’m a full-time pro. I’ll need capacity and features. Every couple of months, I’ll buy an additional drive until I feel I have enough capacity. And just so you know, the first drive I have in it is a Western Digital Pro with 14TB. It’s damn nice. 50% faster in every way than your average external USB drive. And the performance I’ve seen from it confirms that.

So basically, I have a very expensive external hard drive. But I won’t have to completely replace it and transfer data every 2 – 3 years. I can keep this for a good 7 years and take advantage of its performance and functions fully during that time. You know how much downtime transferring data to new systems causes? The problem that can cause? This will save me money in the long run. And with equipment in a small business, you have to think that way.

I probably could’ve bought something more expensive or even cheaper. But I think I made the right choice. It feels right. I’m completely happy with the system.

The Players

The two big players in the NAS business are Synology and QNAP. I’ll make this super simple:

Synology. If you want a simple setup and very capable system, get Synology. If you’re not a techie or don’t want to tinker, get a Synology. When I worked with Synology, I thought support was good. Not sure if it's still that way. But I'm betting it's better than QNAP. When I contacted QNAP for support, the experience was very poor.

QNAP. If you want more value for your dollar and have a good computer-technical background, consider the QNAP. When setting up my own NAS, I was surprised at how little and badly QNAP helps you in setting up the system. I’ve managed Synology NAS systems and are completely easy to setup. Pretty hard to make a mistake setting up a Synology.

There are other players, but these are the big ones. Considering everything, I wouldn’t go with anything but one of these brands. The others just don’t offer enough.

Ahead of Schedule – Power Conditioning and Protection

I wanted to talk about this before I get to the official article: power conditioning and protection. How much do you pay in car insurance every year? Hundreds if not thousands of dollars every year. Why? Because accidents happen. Like power spikes. Protecting your equipment against power spikes is relatively cheap and unfortunately, most people don’t think about it. But as I was in I.T. power protection is so basic, I almost forget to talk about it.

Not only does a UPS help against power spikes but will supply power to whatever is connected to it to give you time to do a controlled power down of systems. So you won’t get corrupted data by your systems abruptly losing power. Data corruption can cause nasty issue. And wasted time and money.

The CyberPower intelligent UPS: Image: CyberPower

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I'll probably be picking up the CyberPower Intelligent LCD CP1500AVRLCD UPS. About $170 w/tax. With the power and wattage it can output, my NAS and dock can probably go on for 12 minutes before I needing to shut down. Which if the power was out, I certainly wouldn't wait that long. A full shutdown is about 4 minutes. The nice thing about smart UPS systems is that they communicate with NAS systems and other electronics. So when the power goes out, it will tell the UPS and based on how it's configured, can shutdown within a certain amount of time or immediately. Saving your NAS from data corruption.

Another brand, APS, has been around for decades. I like them. But those systems tend to be about 30% more expensive. Is it worth it? Maybe. But I doubt it. I personally think it's more about brand recognition than anything else. But the CyberPower has 3x the number of reviews on B&H Photo and 95% of those reviews are 4-stars and above. That's good enough for me.

Backup Systems

When you use some of these systems together, you can create a backup solution for your data. None of the systems here, on their own, are a backup solution. Backup is defined as when your data storage system fails, you can retrieve your data from another source.

A backup system can be another hard drive or NAS that has data duplicated on it. It can be that simple. As far as Apple systems, that’s pretty simple to setup. Or you can have another NAS at another location and schedule your primary NAS to send new data to it. So, if one of your NAS systems fail, you can easily switch over to another NAS or restore data from it onto a new NAS.

Another option and my preferred, for now, is an online backup. Where you can have your computer, external drive, DAS or NAS to be backed up onto the Internet. The only real downside to this is that restoration can take a bit of time. Basically, dependent on the speed of your Internet connection. But then again, you can download the critical data quickly and then have the provider send you a drive(s) with all your data and restore it that way. The great thing with this option is cost. Online backup can actually be quite inexpensive.

Don’t cheap out. Do it.

Next Article: Mobile Systems

Ricardo Gomez Photography

Originally from San Francisco, Ricardo is now a New York-based photographer specializing in editorial and commercial photography.
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