Asset Management Essay 1 - Store Me A River

When you see old time photographers studios, they're usually floor to ceiling in storage boxes.  Print storage boxes and negative storage boxes up the wazoo.  In many ways, the digital photography revolution has helped in this manner.. at least as far as the negatives go.  We can now store a hundred thousand 'digital negatives' in the same space that a paperback book used to take up.

However, with great power comes great responsibility.  With digital you tend to take and keep more images, so the 100,000 that may have represented a photographers career a generation ago might now be one year's catch for some people.  In fact, I did some calculations and figured out that I shot about 100,000 frames over the course of my 365 portraits project last year.

When I started last year I had four 500GB drives in my desktop computer, setup as two RAID 1 arrays so I didn't have to constantly worry about a drive failing. For those of you who are unaware of what I'm talking about, RAID stands for 'Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks'.  And while there are several different, what are called, RAID levels, the one I'm talking about here means that the computer reads and writes the same information to two physical hard drives all the time.  So if one of them goes kapootsky, you've still got all your stuff on the other. Redundancy is good.

So there I was with a Terabyte of redundant storage.  Just as an aside, what's really crazy is that 5 years ago if I had told you I had a terabyte of storage you probably would have laughed me out of the room, but I digress. However toward the middle of November, I noticed that I was running low on space and something had to be done, and being low on cash-on-hand it had to be done reasonably cheaply.  I decided that as an interim temporary solution, I would buy a couple of 1TB drives and replace two of the 500's, there by giving my self a total of 1.5TB of space to work with. And that worked until recently where I started getting to about 200GB free, which sounds like a lot, but is a brick wall I'm driving towards pretty quickly.

As my career and jobs and projects progress, I'm trying to figure out the best way to store my work and I've got lots of options and none of them are ideal.

Here are my requirements:

  1. It's got to be able to store a lot of stuff.  I think 2-3GB would probably keep me alive for a while.
  2. It's got to be fast.  Fast enough that I can work off them with 500+MB Photoshop docs. and not have to take a coffee break when I hit 'Save'
  3. It's got to be expandable, as I don't want to go through this again in a year.
  4. It''s got to be redundant. So RAID 1 or perhaps 5.
  5. I'd really like to stay platform agnostic. My desktop machine is a Vista64 box but my laptop is a macbook pro.  So I'd like to try to not use any sort of software RAID if possible.

Ok, now that we've got that out of the way, let's look at some of the solutions that I have considered.

  • External HD's - your average USB2 or firewire drives are not going to work.  They're not the fastest things in the world and most of them don't do RAID, and the ones that do max out at a couple of 1TB drives, which is where I am right now.  Plus I don't want a stack of ugly mismatched drives sitting on my desk.
  • NAS boxes, or Network Attached Storage - Basically a server that you plug into your network that all your computers can talk to.  The best of these, like the Infrant ones, MIGHT be an option, but I'm very suspect about their real world throughput, even with gigabit LAN.  I've got two gigabit network cards in my machine so I COULD dedicate one to just this, which might help, but still, I'm suspect.  If anyone out there wants to try to talk me into or out of this solution please comment and share your experience.
  • Upgrade the Internal Drives - I could also just upgrade the other two drives in my machine to 1TB, and move all of the extra crap like movies and music over to an external drive where they're out of the way. But I feel like this is going to max out at some point too.  And I've have nowhere to go until they start making drives bigger than 1TB.
  • External Sata Enclosure - The most promising solution I've found so far.  Basically a box that sits outside your computer containing hard drives and a power supply, that talks to your computer on a eSata connection.  eSata is just the external version of how internal hard drives connect to your motherboard, so it's just as fast.  The problems are price, they tend to be expensive, and most of them use your operating system to do the raid stuff, which is not ideal if I ever wanted to stick with one platform or the other. 

There is a company called Sonnet that makes these external enclosures and eSata cards to go with them.  They seem high-end, selling to video people and such, and have gotten very good reviews, but I can't seem to take the plunge yet.

 If any of you out there have anything constructive to say on the subject, I'd love to hear from you.  There doesn't seem to be too much consolidated information about this issue, which I'd imagine a lot of people are dealing with. In my search, the only site I found that was really useful was Brian Smith down in Miami on his Brian Smith Photo Gear blog He's the guy who turned me onto the Sonnet stuff.

So, this is a call for opinions and comments.  Let's see what we can come up with.  Thanks.