Why Photographers should use a NAS System for Storage

In Gear by Brent Huntley5 Comments

Some photographers love being out in the field making images.  Some photographers love being on their computer making their vision come to life through their editing.  Some photographers even like the business side of it all.  No photographers like dealing with storage.  As photographers, we shoot thousands and thousands of images a year, or a month, or even just some days.  As camera sensors get more and more advanced, the storage limitations in most computers become insufficient to hold all your images.  Getting a decent external hard drive works for a while, but eventually, you have multiple hard drives scattered around and have lost organization or convenience.  At this point, you have three options: cloud storage, direct attached storage (DAS) or network attached storage (NAS).  Cloud storage is too expensive and slow for most photography uses.  DAS is great, but lacks capabilities and convenience.  NAS is my choice for storing my terabytes of images, and here is why.

NAS is perfect for photographers for the following reasons

  • It can store millions of images and videos given the capacity you get by combining multiple drives
  • RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) capabilities mean you won't lose your images if a drive fails
  • The inexpensive drives are easy and cheap to replace
  • The NAS acts as a centralized hub so files can be accessed easily by multiple computers
  • You can access your files from anywhere with internet access, including your phone
  • You can turn the NAS into a media center to access all your media on almost any device.
  • You can access tons of valuable apps that unlock all kinds of capabilities

What is NAS?

NAS, as the name implies, is network-attached storage.  It is a storage device that connects to your home or office network and can include one or more hard drives. Files on the NAS can be accessed using a computer, tablet, or smartphone that is connected to your local network or even over the Internet. Since NAS is not directly connected to a computer, it uses its own CPU and memory in order to manage its storage and, because of this, it is designed to run autonomously.

The Downsides of NAS

While NAS is my preferred back-up device, there are some downsides.

  • Compared to DAS, which can be directly ran through a USB 3.1 or Thunderbolt, the NAS is not as fast.
  • A NAS is a bit more difficult to set up because it does not just act as another folder when you plug it into your computer.  You have to set up the network and sharing folder to access through a web browser.
  • The cost of a NAS system can be expensive.  The NAS itself usually runs $300-$1,000, and then you have to fill it with 2-8 drives at $50-$200 a pop.  The system I am running right now will set you back over $1,000.

Recommended Back-up Method

I recommend following the 3-2-1 backup method for keeping all of your images safe.  Jeff Harmon published a very detailed article about this method, so I will be brief here and point you to that article for more details.  Basically, the 3-2-1 backup method says you should keep three total copies of each image.  Two of those copies should be in one location and one copy should be offsite.  Typically, the easiest way to accomplish this is having your computer be one copy, some kind of hard drive connected to your computer (directly or through a local network) is your second copy, and your third copy could be a hard drive kept off site, a second NAS set up offsite or cloud backup.

My personal backup system includes the 2 TB hard drive in my computer, my Synology NAS, which is set up in my house, and 3 external hard drives as a third copy, which I keep off site at my office.  Although, I may be switching my third copy to cloud backup as I have learned Synology partners with Backblaze.

What NAS do I recommend?

I have been using a NAS system for a couple years now, trying out a few different systems.  While I am sure there are many great options out there, I have been very impressed with the systems from Synology.  I started with the Synology DS416, which is a great entry-level system that is suitable for most photographers.  The DS416 can hold four drives, with a total capacity of 40 TB.  While that is more than enough space for me right now, I wanted to step up to a beefier system.  I am now using the Synology DS1618+, a six bay system that can store a whopping 72 TB of data or, with the addition of expansion units, as much as 192 TB.  I stock my NAS with Seagate IronWolf drives as I think they are the best performing and most reliable drives on the market, and I am willing to pony up the money after having my last Western Digital Red Drives fail very quickly.

The DS11618+ is a seriously powerful machine.  It boasts an INTEL Atom C3538 processor with four cores and 2.1 GHz.  This basically means your backup is going to be powered by a computer that is more capable than many entry-level computers.

DiskStation Manager is Awesome

Back when I first got my DS416, I struggled a little to learn how to use Disk Station.  When I got my DS1618+, I reinstalled Disk Station and had no problem setting everything up very smoothly.  I honestly think my earlier struggles had to do with the older laptop I was using then as it just had difficult mapping the drives from Disk Station. Disk Station has a shortcut on my desktop that opens it in my web browser.  From there, I can open the file station and just drag and drop folders or files I want to manually backup to my NAS.  It is super simple, but it is also surprisingly fast and intuitive.

Synology Boasts a Wide Range of Useful Apps

Synology offers over 125 apps that can be installed and used.  These apps are available for both iOS and Android.  These apps cater to a specific type of media such as DS Video, DS Photo, and DS Audio. There’s also a DS File app for accessing all files stored on the NAS and DS Download for specially accessing the download folder. Thus, users can back up their Android and iOS devices by using these applications wherever they may be

Some of the apps that are most appealing to me provide for video management that allows you to stream to certain devices or download to devices for travel (this is huge for us as we often take long plane rides with young children).  There is also a similar app for managing music.  Think of being able to access your entire library of movies and music from your phone to stream on Chromecast or Apple TV wherever you are.

Some other intriguing apps include those that let you manage your surveillance system, your mail accounts, your calendars and your WordPress website.

Using the DS1618+ as a Media Server

Another reason to consider a NAS purchase: it has awesome media server capabilities. Not only can you store music, videos, and photos, but they can be played on devices connected to the local network or streamed through your phone. For instance, if you have an Xbox One, you can load up the Media Player app and play any kind of media on your TV from your NAS. With Synology, you can also do this through any iOS or Android device.  The power of the DS1618+ makes this a breeze and it functions seamlessly.

Perhaps even cooler, you can download from your NAS to any device to play the media remotely, as discussed above.

Easy 3-2-1 Storage

The Synology DS1618+ is set up to easily enable you to backup your files from you NAS to an offsite drive or cloud.  You can easily set it up to upload files to a cloud-based backup service like Backblaze, with whom they partner.  This can even be set up to perform automatically so you don't have to worry about it.  You can also set it up to automatically back-up to a second NAS system that is set up offsite, or you can plug in an external hard drive to upload files to a drive that will be taken off site.

Cloud Station

Cloud Station from Synology lets you set up designated folders on your computer that back up the NAS instantly in your secure private cloud.  I love using this for my photo albums because they instantly back up whenever I add images or whenever I modify the images.

This is great because I don't have the problem I used to have where I put off backing up all my files and then I go six months without backing up any of my files, all of which are lost if my computer dies.

Even cooler, this works anytime you are connected to the internet.  So when I am on vacation and load images onto my computer and connect to the internet, those images automatically back up to my NAS from across the world.  I love knowing I have a safe copy of those images at home while I am walking the streets of Italy, where I could easily have my computer die or get stolen or something else.

Photo Station

Photo Station is a an awesome part of DiskStation Manager that is perfect for photographers, especially those paying a monthly fee for a third-party site like Zenfolio.  Photo Station is designed so that you can efficiently manage your photo storage, share and access files from any location with internet access, receive client feedback on images and so forth.

With Photo Station, you can build a personal gallery that showcases your photography online.  The gallery can then be shared with clients, or anyone else, through a secure link with custom permission levels.  The galleries can also be shared on a blog or various social media sites.  You can also protect the images you allow access to with custom watermarks.

The images can be organized similarly as done in Lightroom.  They match the structure from your local drives, but can be further organized into smart albums based upon customized criteria.  Synology also embraces metadata standards such as XMP, Exif and IPTC so you can use that metadata in your organization and searching.

With your shared links, you can get detailed feed back from clients or from the general public depending on how you set it up.  Clients can use label systems to mark images at your direction.  Clients can also add comments to the images.  Finally, my favorite part is that clients can highlight areas of the image and link those to a comment.  For example, a client could highlight a pimple they want edited out and highlight a freckle they want kept in the image.

For convenient viewing, a Photo Station app is available on android and apple devices, Chromecast and DLNA devices so you can easily show images on a large screen at any location.

Finally, with the app on your mobile phone, you can easily back up images from your cell phone as you take them.

Backup for Office 365

In June of this year, Synology released two major backup applications in the Active Backup suite of packages, the official version of Active Backup for Office 365 that supports SaaS cloud backup, and the beta version of Active Backup for Business that provides data availability for workloads in physical and virtual environments.  I was excited about the potential of the backup for Office 365 because we use Office 365 for everything at my law firm so the built-in backup provided by Synology could be a game changer for how things are backed up.  Even cooler, each Synology NAS that supports Active Backup for Office 365 comes with 10 free licenses.

“More and more companies and organizations are operating across physical, virtual, and cloud platforms. This phenomenon presents a tremendous challenge to IT departments for ensuring the safety of the growing data in this cross-platform environment.” said Jia-Yu Liu, Director of Application Group at Synology Inc. “To tackle this problem, Synology provides a new, all-in-one solution that closely integrates software and hardware for businesses of varying scale.”

Active Backup for Office 365 employs single instancing technology to not only help with the management and availability of Office 365 data, but also significantly lower the space occupied by backups. The content search function is particularly geared toward combing through content in mail and attachments, enabling users to find the mail in need of recovery in the shortest time.

Key features of Active Backup for Office 365 include:

  • Support multiple Office 365 endpoints: Office 365, Office 365 Germany, Office 365 operated by 21Vianet.
  • Centralized and comprehensive protectionBack up OneDrive for Business, mail, contacts, and calendar data to a Synology NAS and manage the copies efficiently from a single interface.
  • Granular restoration, search, and export from the self-service recovery portal: Efficiently filter by keyword with the new content search feature. From there, users can find the right email and restore or download a single file, mail, mail attachment, contact, or calendar event from the self-service recovery portal.
  • Backup and storage efficiencySingle instancing ensures efficiency by transferring and storing files with unique content only. Block-level deduplication helps you keep the most data using the least storage space by only saving a file's blocks that are changed compared to its previous version.


In contrast, Active Backup for Business integrates multiple technologies adopted by DiskStation Manager (DSM). For Btrf file system, Synology has developed the Global Deduplication function to greatly reduce the required storage for backup. The integration with Virtual Machine Manager allows NAS backups of physical servers or virtual machines to directly run on DSM, maximizing the availability of data and applications.

Key features of Active Backup for Business include:

  • PC and server protection: With the Active Backup agent utility, users can perform image-based backups to protect their Windows PC or Windows server workloads. Depends on the scenario, users could choose to restore a single file from the recovery portal, bare-metal restore the whole system, or directly run a backup image on Virtual Machine Manager to retrieve the application data and provide application availability.
  • Virtual machine protection: Users can protect their virtual machine workloads without an agent just with VMware vSphere info. It supports multiple restoration methods, ranging from individual file restore, instant VM restore to NFS, full VM restore and running on Synology VMM.
  • Faster Backup: Changed Block Tracking (CBT) technology performs incremental backups instead of a full backup every time.
  • Storage efficiency: Built-in global deduplication greatly reduces storage consumption
  • Better restore reliability: Verify backups on Synology VMM to maximize backup reliability and minimize the burden in production environments.
  • Run on VMM: The unique feature, integration with Synology VMM, allows users to create the same IT environment as the product site, serving as a temporary Disaster Recovery solution, export / import objects and an upgrade testing environment.


 


About the Author

Brent Huntley

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Brent Huntley is a 32 year old partner at a litigation-focused law firm. He is a hobbyist photographer focused primarily on landscape and travel photography. He also writes articles and shares his work at photographyandtravel.com and is active on instragram @brentdhuntley.

Comments

  1. Suggest you proof read this. You’re going to need more than XXXX storage for your photos :-))

  2. Thanks for the article Brent. Though one question. “I am now using the Synology DS1618+, a six bay system that can store a whopping XXXX??” Did you forgot to circle back and add that number?

  3. Ivor and Scott,

    Thanks for bringing that up. It is fixed. I meant to go back and double check that information before I put it in, and then somehow missed it.

  4. Thank you Brent for the article. I’ve been putting off getting a Synology NAS for some time. I think it’s time to dive in and get one.

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