Choosing Storage! DAS/NAS Options for Photographers

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After the camera, a photographer’s next closest friend should definitely be a hard drive. Think about it. For the modern digital photographer, hard drives are the new albums full of negatives. They hold all your work and, if backups are being performed regularly, they keep your images safe and sound for many years, letting you pull up archived images quickly with speedy searches, as opposed to spending days flipping through pages of negative sleeves. Storage is also an area of computing that’s tough to understand, so let’s look at some options that may work for you.

Scenario 1: Traveling or Beginning Photographer

If you travel a lot, or if you are just getting started in photography, you are looking for two things when it comes to storage: compactness and ease of use. We will get into RAIDs, networking, etc., later, but for many, a single portable option will be the best place to start. Direct-Attached Storage, or DAS, is what many of you are already familiar with and refers to drives that are plugged directly into your computer via a USB/Thunderbolt™/Firewire/and similar cable. You will want something small, rugged, and fast if you need to be able to toss it into your bag to travel, and some of the most common in photographers’ packs are the Rugged series from LaCie. A nice starter drive is the Rugged Mini Portable Hard Drive, available in sizes from 1-4TB, which has a common and fast 130 MB/s USB 3.0 port and a rubber bumper to protect against drops. Looking for something with a bit more speed? Try a Thunderbolt™/USB Type-C variant that is available as either an HDD or SSD.

LaCie 4TB Rugged Thunderbolt™ / USB-C Mobile HDD
LaCie 4TB Rugged Thunderbolt™ / USB-C Mobile HDD

Other serviceable, affordable options for users looking for more conventional desk storage solutions are hard drive docks. These are quite useful devices, especially once you start amassing a library of older drives from your previous computers/storage setups. They let you take standard 2.5 and 3.5" internal drives and quickly plug them in, when needed. The Xcellon HDD-1312 USB 3.1 Gen 2 Hard Drive Dock works with SATA drives while providing a maximum transfer rate of 10 Gb/s and supports hot swapping. If you are looking for drives to use, we would suggest exploring Seagate’s BarraCuda and IronWolf series.

Xcellon HDD-1312 USB 3.1 Gen 2 Hard Drive Dock
Xcellon HDD-1312 USB 3.1 Gen 2 Hard Drive Dock

Scenario 2: Video Editors and Advanced Photographers

Once you start capturing video or working professionally, you may quickly find out that simple DAS options aren’t giving you quite what you want. Here is where you can start upgrading to multi-drive enclosures. The benefits of multi-drive setups include added capacity, improved drive management, data protections, and, in some cases, improved read/write speeds. If you want to build your own, a diskless DAS such as the Drobo 5C with a USB Type-C connection is a good place to start. It offers five bays for 3.5" SATA drives and BeyondRAID for single- and dual-drive redundancy options. In case one or two drives fail, you are protected—a built-in battery helps minimize data loss during power outages, and more features keep your images safe. For maximum speed, however, you should check out the Drobo 5D3 with Thunderbolt™ 3, since it offers many of the same features plus the advantages of TB3 with power delivery, daisy-chaining, etc.

Drobo 5D3 5-Bay Thunderbolt™ 3 Enclosure
Drobo 5D3 5-Bay Thunderbolt™ 3 Enclosure

An alternative to these units would be the OWC ThunderBay 4 Four-Bay Thunderbolt™ 3 RAID 0 Enclosure, which supports four drives in a RAID 0 configuration. RAID 0 means that all the drives are being read/written to simultaneously, providing transfer speeds far greater than what a single drive can achieve; in this case up to a theoretical 40 Gb/s with speedy SSDs. This speed will be critical if you are doing real-time video editing with 4K+ footage, or need to be working constantly with 50MP+ image files. Recommended hard drives for this setup would be Seagate’s BarraCuda Pro and IronWolf Pro lines, both of which offer two years of data recovery for added protection.

OWC ThunderBay 4 Four-Bay Thunderbolt™ 3 RAID 0 Enclosure
OWC ThunderBay 4 Four-Bay Thunderbolt™ 3 RAID 0 Enclosure

If you don’t want to build your own array, there are plenty of premade units available, like LaCie’s 2big and 6big RAID arrays. Thunderbolt™ 3 and USB Type-C are present to support the latest systems and, depending on the unit, they support plenty of different RAID options so you can choose speed, protection, or a balance of the two. For additional information about RAIDs, be sure to check out our RAID Arrays for Photography and Pro Video article.

LaCie 6big 24TB 6-Bay Thunderbolt 3 RAID Array
LaCie 6big 24TB 6-Bay Thunderbolt™ 3 RAID Array

Scenario 3: Multiple Users and Remote Access

Working with larger studios or in editing environments with multiple users introduces a new set of storage problems to consider. The simplest of these has to do with giving everyone access to all the files they need, which is where Network-Attach Storage (NAS) comes to the rescue. The simplest explanation of these devices is that they are connected to your network via Ethernet and then can be accessed by multiple computers across your local network. Beyond this, they function in a somewhat similar manner to your DAS drives—they hold multiple standard hard drives, can be configured in RAID, and have built-in backup and processing options. Where they get separated is that NAS setups are tuned to serve files over a network (meaning in some cases you can access data remotely via the Internet), can be more power efficient, and generally have their own management software to control permissions and other network options.

A good place to start is with Synology’s DiskStation NAS Enclosure series, which offers the two-bay DS220+, the four-bay DS920+, and even an eight-bay model, the massive DS1821+. Many RAID options are available for each model, mobile apps allow remote support and the ability to set up as many as 2048 users, and integrated processing helps get everything set up and running smoothly. Gigabit Ethernet connections facilitate fast transfers, as well, while larger units can accept expansion cards to improve overall performance with ease, making this a solid pick for photographers working with many files and needing to back up and access various libraries. Seagate IronWolf and IronWolf Pro hard drives are recommended here because these series, in combination with Synology NAS, offer support for IronWolf Health Management (IHM) to ensure all your drives are functioning properly. Thanks to IHM, which operates in popular NAS operating systems, you can prevent external disturbances from affecting the NAS or drive health, proactively intervene and back up your data when the system notifies, and access available rescue and recovery services, should a catastrophic event occur.

Synology DiskStation DS1821+ 8-Bay NAS Enclosure
Synology DiskStation DS1821+ 8-Bay NAS Enclosure

Scenario 4: Multiple Users and Real-Time Video Editing

NAS is a great thing if you want to keep everything accessible, secured, and backed up. However, you will need to upgrade if you desire faster speeds from your network. Going to a 10GbE network is not a small task, but the added speed advantages are well worth it. Also, if you want many more expansion options, looking at drives with multiple inputs, such as Thunderbolt™ 3 connections, will let you hook up other drives, NAS arrays, and more, so that you can get everything on your network.

Seagate 12TB IronWolf 7200 rpm SATA III 3.5" Internal NAS HDD
Seagate 12TB IronWolf 7200 rpm SATA III 3.5" Internal NAS HDD

For a couple of highly capable NAS options that will help support real-time video editing in ultra-high resolutions, you should look at QNAP and the four-bay TS-453BT3, or the 12-bay TVS-1282T3. Both offer 10GbE connections, along with Thunderbolt™ 3 and HDMI, for use as a video server. They have built-in encryption to keep your data safe while being optimized for tiered storage, application-based partitioning, and network traffic distribution. Also, for maximum speed, you can connect the array directly to your computer via Thunderbolt™ 3 and access files that way, if needed. There is seriously a lot to talk about when it comes to advanced NAS units such as these, so make sure to check them out if you are looking for something for a large team producing quality video content. And as with the other NAS arrays, we would recommend Seagate IronWolf and IronWolf Pro hard drives.

QNAP TS-453BT3 4-Bay NAS Enclosure

Did this quick overview help guide you toward a type of drive that may work for your editing setup? If you have any more questions, or a specific setup you were considering, make sure to log in and let us know in the Comments section, below!

Don’t forget to check out all of the hard drives and storage solutions available at B&H. Click this link for more information.

4 Comments

What Peter says is true but I think its important to restate that RAID / NAS IS NOT A BACKUP! Just because you have a raid 5, 10 or even 1, that is not a backup. RAID arrays do fail. A best practice scenario is off site backup. However I would go further and say that business critical data needs geography dispersed backups. E.g. your friend on the other side of the country or one of 2 external disk that are sent back and forth every month/quarter/whatever. If you can afford a cloud solution, that works too. Cloud solutions can be expensive depending on the amount of data. FedEXing an external disk to a friend can be A LOT cheaper.

I would urge a few cautions in these recommendations:
1) While RAID 0 absolutely has high performance, it is also increasingly risky as you add more drives. If any one drive fails, you lose ALL data, and in general it cannot be recovered even by a recovery service. THUS: A four drive RAID0 is 4x *less* reliable than a single drive! That's fine as long as you're only using it for temporary working storage.

2) In saying "two years of data recovery for added protection" people need to understand, this is NOTHING like having a RAID1 mirror or RAID5 "spare." With RAID1 or RAID5, if a drive fails you still have your data. If data recovery is needed, you are rolling the dice. I am a very experienced storage professional, and have performed many many recoveries. I have about a 75% recovery track record -- for individual standalone drives. RAID0? In general forget it (unless there wasn't actually a hardware failure, in which case good undelete software is all you need.)

The CineRAID CR-H116 USB 3.1 Gen 1 Dock is only sold in multiples of twelve and is a special order on the B&H website. What is the alternative for both drives sizes?

Hi Lawrence,

Sorry about that. You can find a lot of alternatives here (https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/search?ci=8413&fct=fct_type_5019%7cdock&N=4294542361&) but CineRAID specifically does offer a dual drive dock that we do have in stock as of this post.

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1151006-REG/cineraid_cr_h236_standalone_duplicator_and_usb.html

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