Posts tagged storage
Being a photographer, storage is incredibly important; storage that can expand and offer protecting is crucial.
When it comes to direct access storage devices that offer built in disk failure redundancy features and multi drive capabilities the biggest name is Drobo by Data Robotics.
However, I lived with a Drobo V2 for just over a year. This version had the USB2 and Firewire 800 interfaces. In the beginning it was great. Drobo was small, quiet and kept my files safe and protected. But I was soon wanting more from the diminutive device. I needed faster random access, faster sequential data throughput and finally I wanted an transfer interface that wasn’t based on 10 year old technology (USB and FireWire). So it was time to move on and I sold it.
18 months later there was a Drobo shaped space next on my desk. I still wanted all those features which the Drobo couldn’t offer. I looked at the Drobo’s newer siblings; the Drobo S and Drobo FS but reviews slated them for the slow speed and their inadequate ability to maximize their eSata and USB 3 interfaces. Plus they were notoriously expensive.
The search continued for many months when I stumbled on a small device from MediaSonic for around £100 (approx $160 US).
The device has a very silly name, it’s called the HFR2-SU3S2. Even with the silly name it does have a lot features. It has an eSata and USB 3 interface, 4 drive bays and a choice of RAID 0, 1,5 and 10.
This is how I’ve configured it:
- Three 2TB Western Digital drive at 5200RPM
- USB 3 interface
- RAID 5 configuration giving me 4TB of usable storage
Using the USB 3 interface it’s as speedy as any SATA drive in my PC; I was hoping it would be faster since I have it configured in RAID 5. I was expected higher performance since the data is spread across the three 2TB drives I have installed but without doubt the results are faster than the Drobos.
There is no software provided and the instructions are short; however this was not an issue for myself as I have a lot of experience with these devices, but I can imagine it would be a bit intimidating for the absolute beginner.
I have read other comments about the HFR2-SU3S2 being quite noisy; I have found it to be very quiet. It is by no means silent. I would describe the noise level to be on the ‘very quiet’ scale. I set the fans on auto and it just does the rest!
In the box, you get a USB3 and a eSATA cable. Both are quite short so if you plan on having the unit on your desk and your computer is underneath your desk, then you may have to purchase a longer lead like I did. I got a 2m eSATA cable for only £2.00
The lights on the front are bright but not distracting. When the drives are being accessed the activity lights turn purple. There have been comments from other users saying it’s too bright but I disagree. While they are noticeable on my desk they don’t annoy me.
Overall, this is a magnificent little device that has little compromise when compared to the more expensive Drobo. The only limitation I see is all the drives have to be matched (you can mix up manufacturers and sizes on the Drobo).
Buy it, it’s cheap and offers an expandable means of storage with redundancy.
I do intend to write a blog about all the software tools I use to make my job a little easier, but for now I want to talk about a little utility I use daily called Dropbox.
Dropbox is probably the best file synchronisation and ‘cloud’ manager there is. I can work on any file on my Mac (or PC) and I know that file will be automatically saved online every time I change that file. Not only that, but the synchronisation is fully automated.
The free version starts off with 2gb so the it’s not massive. Even the biggest version of 100gb isn’t enough to hold all my photos which currently a stands at 2.7TB. But it’s not all about size, besides I wouldn’t want to hang around waiting for 2.7TB to sync!!
Dropbox is about simplicity and having your previous files up to date, always available and minimises duplication of projects.
Dropbox Case Study:
I’m a professional photographer, so that means I deal with thousands of photos any given month, but I don’t use Dropbox for all those files. I use dropbox when I’m working on larger single images like a Photoshop file of a large Magazine cover composition. These files are typically a manageable 100mb. I use Dropbox to keep that file always backed up every time I change the file by saving. Not only that, with Dropbox it stores previous versions of the same file so if I make an irreversible change in Photoshop I can go to the Dropbox website and retrieve the previously saved version up to a few days! Think of it like an online version of Apple’s Time Machine.
Another advantage is I can work on that file on my Macbook Pro when I need to work remotely, but when I am home I can work on the same UP TO DATE file on my Apple Mac Pro without having to copy from the Macbook Pro. Also because I’m working on virtually the same file I don’t need to worry about storing duplicate files; I just need to store and manage one file which is always up to date and backed up.
Once my Photoshop file is complete I can then use Dropbox as a delivery method. I simply move the file onto the Public folder within the Dropbox folder, right click, copy the unique dropbox link then paste that link to send to my clients as you would send any link; by email, online chat etc.
You can try out Dropbox for free with the standard 2GB, but if you click my referral link then we both get an extra 250mb for free!
It is shocking how many people still do not have a computer backup system in place. Fair enough, when it comes to complaincency I’m terrible at business administration (my filing is way behind), but in my mind backing up critical files is something that cannot be delayed.
If you are a Windows user, Microsoft has a nice robust system imaginatively called WINDOWS BACKUP AND RESTORE. It can be automated, and your data can be backed up onto a network location. I am currently archiving an old Windows 7 PC to my Synology DS1010 NAS. I hit a small problem when my PC went to sleep in mid backup, but I started it backup again without any hitches.
For Apple users there is Apple’s TIME MACHINE. It is a very simple and elegant archiving solution. But it’s greatest trick is the ability to go back to several different versions of the same file. What that means is not only can you retrieve the latest version of, for example, your Photoshop edit but you can retrieve various versions going back as only as several months providing you have the storage space.
These two products are free, easy, automated and should give some peace of mind. I could go on and on about this, but I believe everybody knows backing up your information is important but not everyone does it.
For home users, it may not be “critical” to archive, but with so many precious photos of family and friends stored on computers these days, there is nothing worse than your computer developing a virus or hardware issues.
For professionals, it is bad business to not have a backup solution for your computers. It’s irresponsible not to invest in hardware to store important data somewhere off the main computers.
Finally, we are at the very beginning Cloud computing. Storing your valuable data on the internet, as opposed to local hard drives, will become common place so perhaps the need for regimented archiving may not be necessary. But until that time, backup your work people! Don’t make me come over there and sort you out!!
I have created another dilemma for myself in my search for the best backup solution although secretly I love this stuff, any excuse to do something rally geeky.
With my recent purchase of the Synology DS1010+ I’m able to make it work in an apple environment (more on that later) so I’m selling my Drobo V2 which I have been very happy with but didn’t need it anymore since the DS1010+. So I will have four 1TB hard drives looking for a home in this case my brilliant Antec 300 case (best mid size case ever as far as I’m concerned). Housing the four 1TB drives is one thing but what operating system do I install?
My two options are Windows 7 or FreeNas. These are my pros and cons for each. Although the decision does seem simple I wanted the system to be primarily a backup solution:
MAC PRO (primary files) –> SYNOLOGY DS1010+ (backup) –> OLD PC (secondary backup)
I have played with FreeNas in the past. When it works it’s great but when it doesn’t it suffers from everything LINUX based, it’s a real pain in the neck to track the problem and fix. With Windows 7 it’s still not that clear cut. The system can be slow, it’s more demanding on CPU and I’ve not fully tested RAID 5 as a reliable backup solution. I could buy a RAID card, but I don’t see the need to spend another £100+ when I’m about to move away from the Drobo.
In the end, I felt all the advantages that Windows 7 had to offer outweighed FreeNas. I had already purchased a Windows 7 license anyway so the monetary factor was not an issue. The pros are heavy; websites, emails, editing, gaming as well as backup completely outweighed FreeNas in every other regard.
Right now, I’m archiving files off my Drobo onto this Windows 7 machine, it’s not superfast but it gets the job done. Once I’ve completed the copy I will remove the drives out of the Drobo and insert them into the PC; I shall try to configure it for RAID 5 but I have never tried it before so it’ll be a first for me! I will post transfer speeds when that’s done.
I received the Synology DS1010 less than a week ago. I’ve not really had time to put it through it’s paces, but I thought I would write about my impressions so far.
The unit itself is heavy for it’s size, sleek and does look the business in an understated fashion. I initially loaded it up with three 1TB drives; one Western Digital WD10EACS-65D and two Hitachi HDT72101.
The DS1010 took around six hours to build the Raid 5 volume, after that I decided to run some very short tests; I wasn’t impressed. The unit is attached to a gigabit Netgear switch, I made sure all the a cables were quick enough by testing it on other Gigabit capable machines. However when transferring files across to and from the DS101 the speeds were well below par, only reaching around 20mb/s. Sometimes it would burst to an unbelievable 100mb/s but only for short moments.
Since then I’ve put in two 2TB drives and as of right now it’s rebuilding the Raid 5 volume which does take a long time.
I shall post some benchmarks when I have a bit more time.
I received my Antec 300 case this morning, naturally I photographed the unpacking! At this time I can’t install the components yet as the server is backing up my files. Hopefully it’ll be done soon!! BTW, the top fan is HUGE!!
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.