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How to Avoid Panic: A Creative's Guide to Storage Upgrade Bliss in 2024

Updated: Mar 5

Remember that time I bragged about my perfect photography storage setup with Drobo and iDrive? Yeah, well, let's just say it aged like milk. (That article pre-dates the invention of sliced bread, but for the truly curious, you can find it here. Trust me, your time is better spent reading this page). Turns out, my friend, a fellow photography enthusiast, wasn't quite as lucky. One day, she called me in a state that could only be described as "hyperventilating photographer." Apparently, her Drobo decided to play dead, and the company had vanished faster than a magician's rabbit - taking all support with them.

Now, I'm no tech whiz, so I couldn't exactly fix her situation. But let me tell you, the thought of losing all my work sent shivers down my spine faster than a haunted house breeze. My worst nightmare materialised: all those years of photos and artwork, gone in a puff of digital smoke.

So, I did what any self-respecting photographer with limited technical knowledge would do: I panicked. The internet, bless its confusing soul, bombarded me with options: NAS, DAS, RAID... acronyms that made my head spin faster than a ballerina on Red Bull. Before I knew it, I felt like I'd earned a doctorate in data storage, except I didn't actually understand a single word.

Synology, QNAP, Promise Pegasus32 - the names just kept piling up. Every YouTube video I watched was informative, but after a while, it felt like I was staring at the same alphabet soup in different bowls. My brain was fried, and my husband was starting to give me the "are you seriously still on this?" look.

Yes, it all sounds like gibberish, right? It definitely did to me. All I wanted to do was create art, not wrestle with tech jargon. But, as they say, sometimes you gotta grab life by the metaphorical hard drive and figure things out. So, I embarked on a quest to understand this storage mumbo jumbo, because let's be honest, until I cracked the code, hiring a pro was about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

And hey, if this sounds familiar, you're not alone. There are tons of artists and photographers out there feeling just as lost as I was. That's why I decided to share my journey, to break down the tech talk into bite-sized pieces, just like a layman (that's me!) needs it. So stay tuned, and let's navigate the world of data storage together, with a healthy dose of humour and a whole lot less panic.

Different aspects of storage upgrade architecture

What is NAS?

A Network-attached storage (NAS) is like a central filing cabinet, but for your digital stuff on your home network. It lets you and others on the network easily store and share things like photos, documents, and music. Think of it as a shared hard drive accessible to anyone on your home Wi-Fi, making collaboration and sharing a breeze.

Here's how it works: NAS connects to your router, the box that provides Wi-Fi. Then, any device connected to the Wi-Fi, like your computer, phone, or tablet, can access the files stored on the NAS. This is especially useful for teams working remotely or in different time zones, as everyone can access and share files anytime, anywhere.

However, keep in mind that using Wi-Fi can slow down your NAS compared to a wired connection using an Ethernet cable. For the best performance, consider connecting your NAS directly to your router with an Ethernet cable.

What is DAS?

DAS, which stands for Direct-Attached Storage, is another type of storage solution compared to NAS (Network-Attached Storage). Unlike NAS, which connects to your network and allows multiple devices to access the storage, DAS connects directly to a single computer via a cable like USB or Thunderbolt.

Think of DAS as an external hard drive specifically designed for one computer. It's a good option for:

  • Increasing storage space for a single computer: If your computer is running low on storage, you can use a DAS to add more space for files like photos, videos, and documents.

  • Faster data transfer speeds: Compared to NAS, which can be limited by network speeds, DAS often offers faster transfer speeds due to the direct connection to the computer.

  • Portable storage: Some DAS solutions are portable and can be easily disconnected from the computer and used with another computer, while NAS units are typically stationary.

However, DAS doesn't allow multiple devices to access the storage simultaneously, and it's not ideal for remote access or collaboration.

What is RAID?

RAID, or Redundant Array of Independent Disks, is a technology that combines multiple hard drives for improved performance, reliability, or capacity in storage systems. Here are some common RAID configurations:

  • RAID 0 (Striping): Divides data across drives for better performance but lacks redundancy.

  • RAID 1 (Mirroring): Duplicates data on multiple drives for fault tolerance, sacrificing some capacity.

  • RAID 5 (Striping with Parity): Stripes data with distributed parity for improved performance and fault tolerance, with a slight capacity hit.

  • RAID 6 (Striping with Dual Parity): Similar to RAID 5 but provides greater fault tolerance by using dual parity.

  • RAID 10 (Combination of RAID 1 and RAID 0): Merges mirroring and striping for both performance and fault tolerance.

RAID configurations are chosen based on specific needs, such as performance, redundancy, and capacity, in storage environments

Right, so after a bit of thinking, I realised NAS wasn't the one for me. It needed a cable to work properly, which wasn't ideal in my rented flat, and the whole setup seemed a bit much for what I needed. I wanted something simpler, more hassle-free, and DAS seemed like the perfect fit - plug it in and away you go, simple! 

Don't get too excited yet, we've only just cleared the first hurdle. Now comes the whole "which product is best?" chatter.

As I mentioned, NAS wasn't for me, so I won't bother with those products. If you think NAS is your cup of tea, then feel free to scarper off and check out other blogs. But if you're after a simple, no-nonsense solution, keep on reading! Oh, and just so you know, these are just the products I looked into, there's plenty more out there. But hey, why keep looking if you've already found something you like, right? See, I'm practically a genius!

Anyway, back to the techy stuff. I found a few promising options, but some were too big, some sounded like a jet engine taking off with their cooling fans, some were slow as molasses, and some just didn't tick all the boxes.

Here's what I was after in this mysterious system:

  • Basically idiot-proof (that's me!)

  • Not too bulky

  • No slowdowns when I'm using Lightroom

  • Expandable storage

  • Easy to set up and use

  • Simple maintenance

  • Fits my budget

I was almost sold on the Pegasus32 Series R4 16TB drive system. It ticked all the boxes for storage, redundancy (keeping my data safe even if the drive goes kaput), and speed. My thinking was simple: if Apple sells them, the company must be alright, right? But the choice was limited on the Apple Store, and they wouldn't answer all the million questions I had before buying one. So, I thought I'd head to Macshop in Singapore - they apparently do full transfers and setups from Drobo to their drive, but turns out that would have cost an arm and a leg, not including the actual drive itself. I wasn’t keen, obviously.

So, swallowing my pride, I reached out to my brother-in-law, a tech whiz in the USA. He listened to what I needed and advised me to approach my problem in two steps: solve my immediate worry, then find the right long-term storage solution that's stress-free.

My biggest fear was losing decades of work if Drobo died. To solve that, he suggested a super compact, plug-and-play, travel-friendly external hard drive with expandable storage card capability. It was smaller than the Samsung 1TB external drive I was using with higher storage of 4TB. He recommended I purchase the following 2 items

There are SSD cards available with higher storage capacity than 4TB, so you can choose what works best for you. 

I just took a simple backup of the Drobo on this drive. Now half my worry of completely losing the work was solved, but this kind of backup meant while the data was safe I will have to start rebuilding my Lightroom library and also might lose the edits. Trust me, managing tens of thousands of photos is a whole other level of stress (photographers will understand!). Though not perfect this surely allowed me to go for my holiday in peace. (P.S.: this drive later would act as my second backup).

Upon return from the holiday we started working on the solution for the replacement of Drobo. My B-I-L promptly trashed all the storage systems I'd shortlisted. Apparently, QNAP (NAS) and Pegasus32 (DAS) are a bit old hat now, and way more expensive than other options. The Promise Pegasus32, without even considering technical support, was a whopping SGD 2,500! Adding tech support would've cost several thousand more. Yikes! The high cost and limited choices of the Pegasus32 were down to its use of Hardware RAID. Earlier, I mentioned RAID, but you might be wondering what's the difference between Hardware RAID and Software RAID?

Here's what I found out: 

As mentioned earlier RAID is a powerful technology that combines multiple disks for redundancy (data protection) or improved performance. But choosing between hardware RAID (using a dedicated controller card) and software RAID (leveraging your computer's CPU) can be tricky.

Hardware RAID:

  • Pros: Blazing-fast performance thanks to dedicated hardware.

  • Cons: Higher cost due to the controller card, and potentially less flexible for upgrades or switching systems.

Software RAID:

  • Pros: Cost-effective and lets you move your RAID setup between compatible computers.

  • Cons: May experience slight performance slowdowns, especially during data writing, due to CPU usage.

Choosing the right option depends on your priorities:

  • Prioritise top speed? Hardware RAID is the way to go.

  • Budget-conscious and need flexibility? Software RAID is a good choice, especially if your system has a powerful CPU that can handle the workload.

Bonus tip: If you opt for software RAID, consider using a program like SoftRAID. It simplifies setup, management, and offers additional features like volume migration and broader disk compatibility.

For my requirement I went for Software Raid. I purchased the following items

Picture of OWC Express 4M2 4-Slot SSD Enclosure in black colour

  1. OWC Express 4M2 4-Slot M.2 NVMe SSD Enclosure w/ Thunderbolt3 Ports with SoftRaid XT (Note the software is included)  Price: USD 349 | SGD 469 

SAMSUNG 970 EVO Plus SSD 2TB SSD card and it's packaging

  1. SAMSUNG 970 EVO Plus SSD 2TB (purchased 2) Price: USD 162 | SGD 217 (for one)

The installation was really simple and intuitive. I found OWC customer service extremely helpful and prompt. In No time the setup was ready for the data transfer from Drobo to OWC Express M2. For all my non-photography files I just used the normal copy and paste command, due to the large volume it took a little time for this activity to finish, however, I was pleasantly surprised how fast it worked compared to my old Drobo. Yes, I do not have any complaints about my computer slowing down. 

Transferring your photos from Drobo to OWC Express M2 (or any other drive/location)

BIG FAT WARNING! Don't even think about using the method mentioned earlier to transfer your photos. Trust me, the aftermath will have you tearing your hair out. Logging into Lightroom would be like entering a warzone: photos missing, folders in disarray, and those precious editing data files vanished – like ghosts! You'll be left picking up the pieces, eyes watering and muttering under your breath about that one bad decision. Remember, we photographers know the power (and pain) of Lightroom. So, let's do this the right way, shall we?

In Lightroom, locate and load your new drive. Once you see it listed under "External Drives" on the left, you have two options: transfer your entire main folder (if manageable), or move everything in phases if you have a complex folder structure with many subfolders and photos.

My tech-savvy brother-in-law even wrote a nifty program that automatically backs up the OWC to the UGREEN drive, eliminating duplicate nightmares! Talk about a lifesaver! If you're lucky enough to have a tech whiz in the family, consider cherishing them like gold. With this setup, I've established a reliable system for storing and backing up my photos locally. But to truly fortify my digital fortress, adding a cloud backup was crucial. Stay tuned for the next post, where we'll delve into the world of cloud storage and explore the best options to keep your precious memories safe in the digital heavens. 

 I have summed up all the above storage upgrademumbo jumbo in one graphic to explain my workflow.

An infographic showing the workflow of how all the data is stored, and which technology is used

In the midst of this storage overhaul  (it wasn't exactly fun, but necessary!), I figured it was high time I tackled my photo organisation. Luckily, since I've been fairly organised from the start, it wasn't a monumental task (trust me, I've seen enough artists and photographers lose their way in the digital jungle!).  But that's a story for another post, as this one's already getting long and technical, despite my best efforts to keep it simple.  


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