Storage & backup solutions for Photographers.
On my last count, I have over 60,000 photos in my archives, that is roughly 650 gigabytes of images which I need to access, store, archive and backup. I need something that fitted my requirements:
- Easy accessibility. I don’t want to anything that could slow down my work flow. It also has to tie into Adobe Lightroom which I use to catalogue the photos. This rules out any online backup solution; if I am offline or need instant access then online is far too slow and inflexible
- Archiving & backups. It is HUGELY important my files are backup and that I know there are duplicates somewhere I can restore from should the worse happen. In all honesty I do not fully trust one system to backup my files for me. Call it paranoia but I know technology fails; it is not a matter of “if” but a matter of “when” hard drives will fail and become surrender monkeys!
- Simple process. The whole affair of access, archiving, cataloging and backups must be simple. I do not want to enter into a command line interface (typical of some Linux server solutions) when we live in an age of beautiful and functional User Interfaces.
- Cost effective. I am prepared to pay the price for the right solution but only if it offers something new, unique and reliable to the table. If not then it the price has to be comparable to everything else on the market.
So, that sounds easy enough. Below is my findings.
£380 for base unit not including hard drives + £180 for the network attachment
The small and silent box is elegant in it’s design and engineering. I think most people would not be ashamed to have this black beauty sitting on their desk. The lights are informative and simple without any distracting clutter. Installing drives is a very simple process; just open the hinged front panel and slot in a SATA drive into one of the slots. You do not have to turn the Drobo off to do this. Once again it scores points for simplicity. On Drobo’s website they have an online tool that works out how much storage space you will have depending on the size and number of drives you install; it looks like a similar storage system to Raid 5. You can remove a faulty drive anytime without turning the Drobo off, this means no matter what has happened you will not lose any downtime waiting for the replacement drive to be replaced or fixed. Also, you can mix and match different drives which is a very useful facility. It means you don’t have to find the exact match drives when you want to expand your capacity or if a drive fails. Finally the Drobo has an open operating system that allows for 3rd party plugins known as DroboApps.
You can view an informative video about the Drobo here:
There is no ignoring the price. When you consider you need to spend £560 just for an empty box without any hard drives you do have to look at your wallet and say “Noooooooo!” For that money I can buy a reasonably priced Desktop PC and attach a bunch of hard drives in there; I can assure you a full Desktop has more diverse functionality than the Drobo. There is no doubt the Drobo has one function, but it does that ONE thing very well. Although the DroboApps are being developed the number of plugins is a bit thin on the ground when you consider other systems offer that and more out of the box.
Easy accesibility – 9/10
Archiving & backups – 7/10
Simple process – 10/10
Cost effective – 3/10
The software is free which means the only thing you pay for is hardware. The cost of hardware is entirely dependant on you.
This solution is software based, the hardware can be an old PC you have collecting dust in the attic or it can be, a gaming PC that has been upgraded with more internal hard drives. If you already have the hardware then the actual cost will only be your time! The configurations are limitless. What FreeNas cleverly does is hide all the complicated stuff beneath a Web based User interface.
Watch this YouTube video with compares FreeNas to Drobo
It can take sometime to get the right configuration if are fussy about what you want, but if you just want a simple storage solution then it’s just a matter of download a file, burning it onto a CD and then install it onto the target PC. It is easy to use if you are remotely technical and comfortable using an Operating System outside of Windows, but it does lack the pure simplicity with a dedicated device offers like the Drobo. Drobo’s solution is a very simple mechanic; open front panel, insert or replace drive! That’s it! FreeNas is more involved. You have to switch your PC off, with any PC you have to dig inside the PC case and disconnect several drive cables, then boot up, configure FreeNas to recognize and format the drives and then wait for the drive to go online.
Easy accessibility – 6/10
Archiving & backups – 6/10
Simple process – 8/10
Cost effective – 9/10
Time Machine – part of Apple Mac OSX 10.5
Price: £86 for the Mac OSX operating system
Configuration is dead simple. Just nominate any drive (which can be internal or external), configure the folders you don’t want to backup then activate Time Machine and that’s it! Time Machine will do the rest. It will sit in the background archiving your files at frequent intervals. The best feature is you can go back in “time” to bring back files you may have deleted or written over so it’s not just a basic backup system, it is true archiving. The interface to go back to older files is very simple. Using what I describe as a 3D flying through space interface it shows the state of any folder you have archived at any given time so long as it is on your Time Machine drive.
Time Machine also scores points for being very accessible; at anytime you can backup, restore and even transfer your files to another Mac machine which is very handy if you are installing OSX onto a fresh machine. Also, once you have done the intial first backup then Time Machine only makes small incremental backups so it doesn’t hog your system resources. I hardly ever know its there!
The biggest pain for me is that it isn’t easy to configure Time Machine to backup to a network folder; I like having my files a central resource. It is limited to the Apple Mac family which alienates a large majority of Photographers, and there’s no way to limit the size of the archives; it basically keeps al your backups until your drive is full. That is not a bad thing, but I would like more control in how much of my disk space it uses up.
Easy accessibility – 9/10
Archiving & backups – 9/10
Simple process – 10/10
Cost effective – 8/10
It is difficult to fault Drobo because it is so damn easy to use that I could show anybody with no computer skills how to use it. Removing and replacing drives is just a matter of hold a bracket and pull out the drive. Expansion is also faultless; you can add any type of SATA drive you wish, they don’t have to match nor do you have to do any extra configuration to the hardware! However, the price is just too much to pay. Perhaps in healthier economical climates it would be something I could justify but at almost £600 without drives it’s way to steep so I chose not to go that path.
The path I have chosen is a combination of Time Machine and FreeNas. I have to confess I pursued the latter because of the Geek within me. I wanted to know how easy it would be to setup a File Server on a PC without disrupting the Windows XP Operating system already on it. Overall, after an issue with the Raid 5 installation, it works perfectly! And because my Asus A8N motherboard allows me to boot from a completely different hard drive I can still run Windows XP perfectly!
I use Time Machine mainly because it came with Mac OSX 10.5 and I like it’s ability to go back in “time” to older files. It works quietly and seamlessly in the background and I can use the 1GB Target drive for other Mac related files too!
Finally, I have to mention a recent resurrection to my backup solutions which is the tiny Linksys NSLU2 also known as the SLUG. It turns any USB hard drive into a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device that appears on the network. It was dead to me for years until I found it in my attic and the Geekiness overtook my sensibility once again. It serves no purpose other than just to see how it works in my network and how it copes. You can flash the firmware to turn it into a mini PC (yes really), I have done that but I’ve forgotten the root password to get into the the system.
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