Corrupted files? Hard drive failed? Welcome to that gut wrenching feeling in your stomach that doesn’t go away for days, even after you get lucky enough to run recovery software and it works. Every professional in the industry that has been around for more than a few years has experienced this, and it never gets easier.
Backup Suggestions? There are 10,000 ways to do it correctly. Which one is best? Which one is decently priced? I am here to say there isn’t a right one for everybody. This is 2016 and we can be specific to our needs, so why find one that works for everybody else? Find one that works for YOU!
This blog post is focused on what I have found to work best for my studio and my employees. Is there a better method? Not sure, but this one is working and I haven’t had a problem yet.
So many people are discussing RAID solutions. To over generalize and over simplify what a RAID is… its basically a way that your hard drives interact together. Here are some of the more popular RAID types:
RAID 0 – Two hard drives required and the information is striped across the two disks. This is useful when you have two smaller drives and can combine them to act as one drive. If one drive fails… all data is lost.
RAID 1 – One disk is copied twice on two different hard drives. For example… you have two 1TB hard drives. You create a RAID 1 and it acts as only 1TB, but mirrored on both hard drives. It is awesome because if one drive fails you just replace the bad hard drive, and still have all of the data intact. Downside, you have to buy so many hard drives to accommodate the amount of space you may require.
RAID 5 – By far the most popular version of raid used in business solutions. This is basically combining hard drives and striping data across several hard drives while creating a fault tolerance that allows data to be saved if one of the hard drives go bad. For example… if you have five 1TB hard drives… you RAID 5 of them all together which gives you a usable 4TB of space with a one drive fault tolerance. Basically if one of your 1TB hard drives goes bad, you replace it and the data stays intact. The downside (which is rare but does happen) if two hard drives fail… all is lost.
RAID 6 – Is exactly the same as a RAID 5 except you have the fault tolerance of two hard drives going bad instead of one.
RAID 10 – This is a combination of RAID 1 and 0 hence the name is sometimes referred to as RAID 1+0. Essentially you are striping two hard drives and then mirroring those RAID 0 combinations. This requires a minimum of 4 hard drives. This is by far the most expensive option and also the best performance.
So which one is best for you? That is entirely up to you and your needs. Let me explain what I have done in my situation and you can decide how to implement something similar with your own unique changes. Or tell me I’m crazy and it doesn’t work for you… either way I’m cool with it.
After a few months of research, RAID 5 sounded like the perfect solution for my situation. Now I needed to find how to implement it into our network and computers. The first problem is, I need a computer to store the hard drives AND a method that the 6 computers in the studio can all access them simultaneously. I did the typical photographer thing first; I searched amazon for the cheapest solution.
I found the Mediasonic ProRaid H8R2 (Amazon Link). It’s an 8 bay enclosure that allows for a RAID 5 across the installed drives, and it wasn’t too difficult to setup. Just put the hard drives in and select the raid from the buttons on the front and viola! It worked like one hard drive, but I was always nervous not knowing how reliable it was because there weren’t any checks or tests I could easily run. I’ve never had a drive fail, so I don’t know how hard it is change out a drive in a degraded RAID on that box. I got it working, connected the computer to my main computer, and had to share the drive with the rest of the network. Needless to say, on my computer accessing all of the information was decently fast (as fast as USB 3.0 can go), but for anyone else trying to use the files across the network, it was PAINFULLY slow, like sloth in mid-day Australian sun slow.
I immediately started looking for another solution that is an upgrade from that. I ran across a few solutions and one seemed to stand out above the rest. It was the Synology Diskstation 1817+ (Amazon Link). The first thing I noticed was 4 Ethernet 1Gb Ports, which means it is connected to my network 4 times. This essentially means FAST connections to the data. Secondly it offered an onboard setup environment and data surveillance method. They refer to this as DSM (Disk Station Management). Basically you log on to your diskstation and can look at everything as it’s happening. You can also install different “apps” or packages on your diskstation to serve different purposes and tasks. For example you can host your website off your disk station, or you can use it as a media server for your house. But my two favourite packages I use daily are Surveillance (I attached 2 network cameras and it controls and records them to my server) and CloudStation, which essentially serves as a dropbox. However, this allowed me to no longer need to pay dropbox for additional storage, because I was using already existing storage on my existing server (saving me $12 a month). Bam!
From there you can make different size volumes for the hard drives. I started out using 4 of the hard drives for a wedding volume, and the other 4 were used as a portrait volume. The reasoning behind that is that essentially two hard drives can go bad of the 8 and I still wouldn’t lose anything. Let me explain though… using RAID 5, only 1 hard drive from each volume can go bad. With the unlikely event that 2 on my wedding volume did crash, I would be screwed. That is an ever so small chance, and even though I am more likely to get booked for a wedding in Antarctica or win the powerball, it still existed and made me nervous. So I purchased the Amazon Prime Cloud Backup Service for a whopping $60 a year, and synology had an amazon cloud sync package available. In 10 minutes it was connected and took the server the next 3 months to upload my 16TB of weddings to the cloud. Now that it is all uploaded into the cloud, it doesn’t take long to sync when I come back on a Saturday night and upload the recent wedding to the server.
I am making it sound MUCH easier than it really was to setup, but in all honesty, it wasn’t more than a few hours total of setup. The nice part about it is the DSM walks you through all of the installation of the hard drives and asks you several times before making any important decisions with the data. The one thing I did learn the hard way and my best advice to someone considering this is – you cannot add a drive to your volume that is smaller than your largest drive. So if you are going to use current drives you have, start with your smallest drives, make a volume and then add the bigger drives after. I made make this mistake and had to start over.
The best part about the Synology option is… if you are a nervous nelly and want the option of a two disk fault tolerance, they have that option also. They have named them a little different because of changes they have made and the way the DSM uses them but they are essentially the same thing: RAID 5 = SHR / RAID 6 = SHR-2.
What if you want to increase the size of your volume? You have reached the max and need to expand? NO PROBLEM. Pull one drive out… insert a bigger drive, login to the DSM and hit expand and the DSM does all the work. Once your volume gets to be a larger size it could take a day or two to expand but you can continue using the drives as normal in the process.
I do understand that 8 bays is a lot for most photographers. They have an amazing 5 bay drive also that is perfect for mid-range solutions. Here is a cost breakdown do get you up and running with a 5 bay. The great thing about the Synology system is its upgradeable, you can purchase extension units that add on to the existing server to extend another 5 drives (up to two extension units a total of 15 hard drives). And with hard drive space becoming so cheap these days, 15 hard drives at 6TB each drive is a TON of space. The cost breakdown is as follows starting with only 3 hard drives and allowing you to grow into more:
5 bay Synology DiskStation 1517+ (link here): $789
(3) 4 Tb Seagate IronWolf NAS Level Hard Drives (Link Here): $387 ($129 a piece)
Amazon Prime Cloud Backup Service (Link Here): $60/year
(Black Friday did a $20 sale this year on the Amazon Prime Cloud Backup Service)
Total Said and Done: $1236
Just for a small comparison I called a few data recovery companies. And to fully recover one 4TB hard drive I was quote $800-$2000. For almost that exact price (or less) you can avoid that all together, and how much is peace of mind really worth?
All that being said… I have had this system in place and running smoothly for 2 years. I have had 2 hard drives fail on me. And when you come into the office and hear that beeping, your heart still drops just a little. I still drive like a bat out of hell to the nearest computer store to buy a replacement hard drive. And when I plug it into the server and the light turns green, I feel like a champion that has just solved the most elaborate data issue known to man. And as I yell “THIS IS SPARTA!”, I throw the bad hard drive in the trash, and I am so thankful I found this solution.
As I previously said before, this is not the end all say all of backup and storage. But for me and my studio, it’s a DAMN GOOD ONE.