Amazon Pulls the Old Bait and Switch With Their Unlimited Storage Plan

Last year Team Stuart was faced with a big storage problem. Our 9-plus terabytes of photos were a few weddings away from out growing their 10 terabytes of storage. This meant we needed to shell out a bunch of money for more hard drives to even think about storing more photos. Money that I didn't have, especially considering we'd need a whole new NAS setup. That is when I made the bold decision to forgo on-site storage and move to the cloud. In retrospect, it may have been a big waste of time.

Amazon is huge. They are so big that when they ran into a problem earlier this year, half the Internet ceased to work. They have also started to promoting and improving their photo-centric offerings. Prime Photos is offered as a perk with an Amazon Prime membership. It also advertises unlimited photo storage. What could go wrong?

I think the idea of unlimited storage is a fallacy. There was probably an internal chart showing the expected average user's storage needs versus Amazon's incredible array of cloud storage. This chart probably looked great on paper, but quickly started straying from projections. I'd imagine the people who were most attracted to the unlimited plan were people that simply could not afford to push their data to the cloud elsewhere.

I will be the first to admit we keep way too many photos. If you don't have a solid system to prune your shots and remove fluff on the go, you end up with a monumental task of going through them later. You know, the "later" that never really arrives. Not because you don't want to, but because it takes too much time that you simply don't have.

The truly hilarious part is the time and effort I put in to get the photos there, only to have the whole idea poof into smoke via an Amazon press release. Once I had made the decision to push half a million photos to the cloud, I made sure my Internet service provider didn't have an upload limit. I was assured no.

I quickly found out that my upload speeds were fairly mediocre. I could hit about 80 gigabytes a day. This meant it would take months for all the photo to get there. I would check every morning to make sure it was slowly filling. Although I've never done it, I would compare it to filling up a large pond, or even a lake, with a regular garden hose. There was even the effect of the rest of the water losing pressure. In this case, the "water" was our household bandwidth and was taking quite a hit due to the clogged up data pipes.

My monthly upload stats from my ISP. Screenshot taken in early February 2017.

Eventually, after exploring upgrading our Internet to business-class fiber, finding out if Verizon Fios would ever be in our area, and even looking into whether I could get an Amazon Snowball appliance to load the data onto, I sent my entire NAS home with a coworker who had 20 times my upload speed. This did the trick and tackled the last four terabytes in about a week.

So all was good. I had achieved what I thought was the best possible solution to my storage problems. For a very digestible $59 a year I could continue to push photos to the cloud and sort them out "later."

Then came a tip from a sharp Fstoppers reader, Rafael. He warned us that Amazon was discontinuing the unlimited plan. I just about fell off my chair. This cannot be true. I searched online and found zero references to the change in policy. At least for that moment, I held on to the idea that I would be fine. How could they do that so soon? They clearly have the room for my photos.

Well, not too long after that it started hitting the news outlets. This was actually happening.

Feeling a bit panicked I reached out to a group of trusted photographers asking what they thought about the change, and if they knew of better alternatives. One astute peer noticed in my screenshot that the photos didn't seem to count against my new required plan because of my unlimited photo storage offered as a Prime benefit. The only problem is this line in their terms of service:

Note: Prime Photos is for your personal, non-commercial use only. You may not use it in connection with a professional photography business or other commercial service.

Also, I now have some serious trust issues with Amazon. Why would I, even for a second, believe that the similar unlimited benefit will not find itself on the chopping block in the future? There seems to be little we as users can do to prevent things like this from happening.

To add to the problem I recently upgraded to a huge and fast Lexar 128 GB SD card. That should help me fill hard drives even quicker. I truly cannot even imagine how all you digital video people out there do it. Just thinking of the storage requirements for a full blown 4K video workflow stresses me out.

At the end of the day, I will probably continue to push photos to their service. But now it will only be a supplemental location since I could wake up tomorrow to find a new announcement from Amazon. Do I feel like I was taken advantage of? Not really. The price seemed too good to be true. And if I've learned anything while on the Internet, it is this: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. I do think it was somewhat dishonest of Amazon to shut down something that in some cases, would result in an insane increase in cost for people who should be appreciated for being early adopters and believers in the Amazon ecosystem. I would now call myself a skeptical former believer instead.

Do you have photos in the cloud or are you a believer in local storage? I'd love to hear some of the setups you guys either use or have heard people swearing by. Assuming I don't find a treasure chest full of money to buy whatever I'd like, I will need to start the whole process over of finding a spot for all our damn photos.

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50 Comments

Ryan Handt's picture

Try Backblaze

Adam Rubinstein's picture

BB is great for photo *backup*, but not for photo *storage*. You have to have a local drive that BB can mirror. Any files you don't keep locally they delete after 30 days.

Tommy Botello's picture

Be mindful, if you delete anything locally that BB is backing up, BB will delete it permanently after 30 days. Consider Crashplan as they do not delete files.

Oliver Kmia's picture

Yeah, I'm done with Amazon cloud. I had the so called "unlimited" plan for 2 years and the recent change in policy left me with a very bad impression. I cancelled my subscription right away.
I'm now saving all my data on 3 different hard drives kept in separate locations which is actually cheaper than paying was amazon asks me.
Since I only need cold storage I can live with that. I have another cheap cloud service with a small 100GB plan for current files transfer.
As for the amazon unlimited photo plan it won't last. Microsoft also stopped its "unlimited" offer.

Reginald Walton's picture

Well, you can't expect that unlimited space for that price would last forever. I use Idrive, and pay $70 a year for 1TB of space (1/2 price your first year). You can get more space if needed, but they are pretty good and they will even send you out an external drive for your initial upload so that you don't have to sit and wait and/or use up your bandwidth at home.

michael buehrle's picture

man you have a lot of pictures.

John Rogers's picture

I have both a physical backup on premise and use BackBlaze as a secondary offsite backup to the cloud.

M. Daniels's picture

I use the unlimited Prime Photos Plan that comes with my Prime membership.

Question: how could a host (e.g. Amazon) prove that you are getting paid for the images you're uploading to their servers?

Lee Morris's picture

They should have grandfathered people in

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Agreed! Even that is barely honored anymore. Kids today won't even know the term.

chrisrdi's picture

Look Into crash plan pro. We use it where i work to back up our servers. I'm not sure if it would work for your needs but I thought I would toss an idea out there for you to look at.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

CrashPlan is terribly slow

J J's picture

$60/yr for 30TB of storage sounds pretty good.

ron fya's picture

My take on cloud backup is that it is only useful for "final master files" of your projects, i.e. the final psd and jpg of the delivered photos ONLY. Same thing for video, ONLY upload the project file, a consolidated version of the library and the final master export. That is the most important data.

The rest might be ok to live on multiple hard drives you manage yourself. You should be fine with it ... and if the world crumbles your multiple copies ... AND your client ask you for an improbable file ... then so be it, you'll have to face some trouble. I think the probability for such a disaster is not worth the hassle though.

jason adair's picture

Expecting that deal to go on forever is pretty optimistic. Found it a couple of years back and have about 30tb of photo/video up there. Wish it was gonna keep going but I was shocked it went as long as it did. They can't possibly be making money on it and expecting unlimited space for $60 bucks forever is pretty crazy. If it's your business suck it up and buy a bigger nas. If you can't afford it raise your prices or/and don't expect to keep client photos forever. For that matter having photos in only one spot is asking for trouble. We have two Synologys one at home and one at the office that sync and then sync to the cloud. Anything less I would be pretty worried about loosing them. At the end of the day though I don't see this as bait and switch at all. It was a too good to be true deal there for a few years, and now it's over.

Joel Barrios's picture

Michael, I'm nowhere near your amount of files, but I am paying a very reasonable 10 dollars per month to Google Drive for an Unlimited Storage account, to which I have uploaded 50K pictures and also the backups of 3 different NAS servers for 3 different companies I do IT for. I used CrashPlan before and it is also an option I'd recommend, but their integration with QNAP (My NAS solution) was not 100% reliable, however their PC software version solution is fantastic

Alexander Petrenko's picture

By unlimited you mean 1 TB?

Brendan O'Morrow's picture

No, it's unlimited if you're using Google's G Suite, which is for businesses. You have to have a domain name to sign up, I think. I've used it for a couple of years hosting about 6TB of data. However, during signup they specify that it's unlimited for businesses with over 5 users...just doesn't actually end up that way in practice. I'm the only user, and my storage is still unlimited.

Simon Patterson's picture

I plan to never trust someone else with sole responsibility for storing my photos. Maybe I'm old fashioned but I just don't trust the cloud. Cloud providers can too easily lose or leak photos. Or hold me to ransom later on when I want them back.

Adam Palmer's picture

same thing happened to me. Took 10-12 days uploading 3 TB. I had a hunch it was too good to be true.

Ralph Hightower's picture

Of course. Amazon is so big that they can do whatever they want to do.

Dave Perry's picture

Unfortunately, "Cloud" is just a marketing term for "put your data on someone else's hardware". Which isn't a terrible idea, except that once done, that 'someone' gets a say in how much data you can store, how much it will cost, and how/when you can access it. The trade-off is too much for me. But then I have been down this road before and only have 4TB of images. So a small NAS still works for me.
Cable companies made me suspicious of cost modifications over time. You just don't have a choice and once you are locked in, it can be a pain to get back out. In fact that may be part of the business model. But then I might just be too suspicious.

Martin Strauss's picture

seriously 8-10TB of photos? do you really keep EVERY Raw-Shot? if yes, thats not the smartest.
change your workflow, that you only keep the files, your are actually sending your clients.

I do weedings as well: I start deleting the most crappy photos while shooting the wedding. you take 4-5-6 photos of each scene, you can surely delete 1 to 3 pics right away in camera.
while selecting the images, who may fit for the final package i also see 30% of images who can be deleted right away ... this will decrease the number of pics to around 50%.
mostly i shoot 1500-2000 images per wedding, only 200-400 are for the client. maximum.
"normal" photo shoots are nearly the same. from 500 images taken, my clients takes up to 20. the rest can be reduced to a 50 best.

and this doesnt take more time, than normal selection of photos. try it! :)

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Exactly my thoughts. I have 10% keepers max. And only these keepers are synced to Amazon.

As soon as Amazon stops the offering I'll buy a NAS+8TB hdd to have one more copy of the files somewhere.

Martin Strauss's picture

and to think of it:
people who upload TBs of "high resolution data crap" are THE reason why Amazon stopped their service in the first place.
so: thank yourself for that.

Robert Nurse's picture

Did Amazon stipulate file types that ran afoul of some internal policy?

Jeremy Strange's picture

No they didn't, but logically if you think about it if it were costing them less they may have offered it for longer. Not saying its right/wrong, just an observation

James Andrews's picture

wait, let me get this straight. You delete photos during the wedding, and potentially miss out on candid shots? I get deleting bad photos, but man wait until you're at the computer.

Michael Kormos's picture

Curious, why store all those terabytes of photos? Our studio photographs hundreds of portrait sessions each year, in addition to commercial work. Only the curated images are kept, and after 6 months, the rest deleted. Our archives go back to 2006. Zenfolio is a good resource which allows for unlimited file storage of JPGs and RAWs. One shouldn't need NAS storage unless you need constant, high-speed file access to photos from years ago (which, I presume, is highly unlikely for wedding clients).

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Loving the comments guys!
I used to stress about having too much fluff in our photo archives. The problem is simply that there have been different iterations of workflows, or lack there of. Unfortunately, this caused us to have folders of folders of dates without context. I've spent hours I'll never get back trying to go through and update this, only to find I barely scratched the surface. I finally drew a line in the sand and decided my time is worth more than anything. From here on I plan on just paying for the storage I need to back it all up.
In my opinion, my time is better spent with the family, getting some r&r, or working on other projects.
Someday I can task AI or Robots with deleting the bad ones right? ;)

C E's picture

If your file names stay the same between keepers and all the rest, you can use a program like Compare Folders to point to two folders and show you what's the same and then delete the rest. That's what I do with weddings. I keep everything for a year (usually a little more), then every 6 months or so I compare the selects folder to the raw folder and delete all the raw files for the non-selects. Saves a ton of space.

David Mawson's picture

This really doesn't sound like bait and switch. It sounds like you got lucky, borderline abused a service, and then the provider got wise and now you are resentful.

Vivian B's picture

Exactly!

Dan Crowther's picture

So what is status of unlimited storage for Prime customers? The author indicates he can't use it because of the "not for business use" clause in the TOC, but is it still available? Or has that gone away now too?

Michael B. Stuart's picture

It's still available, but most likey won't be forever.

Mihnea Stoian's picture

8TB isn't that much for a simple NAS with RAID to handle. I got a Qnap and it works great - can connect to it from the iMac, laptop and even remotely with the phone to show people pictures. I also delete RAW files of anything that's more than 12 months old. You can create a simple search in mac to search by date and filetype to remove those files in bulk. That will reduce your 12 month and older file size requirements by 80% or so.
I also use Google Drive's unlimited photo option to store and share images - it keeps images in jpeg at the equivalent of 16MP, which is big enough for people to look at online.

James Andrews's picture

This is unfortunately a common business practice in the world of "Software as a Service" providers. Nothing is "unlimited" ever, if someone says it is, they are lying. It is only "unlimited" if it isn't abused. A friend and I managed a website for a segment of the world's largest star wars costuming group. We hosted the website on bluehost, which offers unlimited data transfer speeds, unlimited storage etc... The group built a large scale Jabba the Hutt puppet to bring to conventions. Our website got flooded by people wanting to see photos, and Bluehost shut down our account and told us that they didn't want us as a customer anymore, even though we were well within the guidelines of the account we paid for.

This experience has left me with the mindset of I will not put anything on the cloud that could disappear tomorrow. Trusting any company completely is a poor decision.

Jon Liebold's picture

They probably changed for the same reason Microsoft dropped infinite storage on OneDrive for Office365 subscribers... people abused it. But the do have a business plan that might suit you.

Matt C's picture

I'm dealing with the same situation. 7TB uploaded to ACD, gone. Well, technically gone 180 days after my expiration date. Anyways.

I'm currently looking at getting a rackmount NAS server off ebay. Old enterprise stuff is cheap.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

I like that idea! Geeky and OG. I do enjoy the Synology simplicity though.

Adam Ohrt's picture

I set up a frankensteined xpenology NAS that can be essentially hacked to add as many hard drives as you want. I have 6TB right now almost full with both of my computers files. That is running through decently quick cable connection and ran CAT 6 through the house to connect wired or wirelessly in the house. I have that connected to crash plan constantly uploading as I add. It does have slow upload speeds as someone mentioned but there are sys files you can fiddle with to speed it up quite a bit. My buddy actually helped me build the NAS initially and now I've done several improvements to it so it's faster and rock solid. I can add as many hard drives in the future as I want and it's protected on the NAS and crash plan. Someone on craigslist in my area was just selling 4 2tb hdd's which is what I have running right now for something like $100. That would essentially add 8TB for super cheap and all I would need is to add either another card to connect the hard drives or build another cheap NAS and chain them together. I think all of it with the HDD's I already had cost me maaaaaybe $50 as it was made from old parts laying around and I added a few things.

Bart Knobben's picture

TransIP.nl offers 1TB for free, even for non customers. I believe it's limited to customers from the Netherlands and Belgium, but you might be able to get around that with a VPN. see: https://www.transip.nl/stack/

Edward Collins's picture

Hi, All,
I'm reminded of an OLD Hagar the Horrible cartoon; " Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you." I would NEVER trust the amorphous "cloud" storage programs.
They WILL always be looking for a way to monetize their investment.
You (WE) are their pigeons.
I'll file on ANY medium that I can put my hands on; never in some greedy SOB's control.
CAVEAT EMPTOR!
Back to Hagar the Hortible!
Vote with our feet.
Cheers!
Mercere

Mark Laing's picture

Same thing happened to me. With my average wedding nettting maybe 60Gb these days I SEARCHED AGAIN. Then found the amazing Jottacloud. Superb. So good I almost hesitate to mention it to you data glutton fellow photogs. Upload speeds of 15Mbit/sec. I love it So far. Unlimited data plan. Fast and stable. I'd buy shares in this great Norwegian company.

Anonymous's picture

Had the same thought and tried Amazon unlimited. To keep my data "mine" I sent everything though GPG and packed into smaller chunks of 100MB. All via script of course to keep it maintainable. As a backup this would have worked just fine. But I got worried that Amazon would not accept it. Just common sense really. So I cancelled the account before the trial was over and ordered a bunch of HDDs to build a file server instead. No encryption needed, no worries about a 3rd party pulling the plug on the service, etc. I'd go with a local storate solution anytime.

winston worrell's picture

Is this really a 'bait n switch', as somebody said, it's not supposed to be used for business, by which I assume means not sending links to customers for proofing or am I missing something? I've been slowly uploading my 3 TB disk as a backup and I haven't hit any 30 day issues yet (I don't use 'sync' or the amazon drive folder), but then again I have amazon prime. I checked my zenfolio site and you only get 2 GB of RAW file storage before you have to pay and addition $50/yr. My plan is for Amazon for offsite backup and zenfolio for finished images (TIFF/PNG/JPG), customers etc.

Anonymous's picture

Unfortunately, there is no two ways about it. A reliable backup/archive strategy costs money.

One tip I would give you right away to reduce cost is to cull your images and DELETE the ones you are not using. There is simply no reason to keep every image you have ever taken. That will result in headaches and expenses in so many different ways - it is simply a waste of resources!

With the remaining images, you need a good onsite redundant system and an offsite solution.

Onsite: there seems to be an obsession today with NAS systems. Everybody wants to have a NAS so they can access every file they have on their phone from anywhere! Really??? Is that actually somekind of new requirement in 2017?

Just because they make these things doesn't mean we necessarily need them. You can get a great, very reliable RAID 1 USB 3.0 system and put 8 or 10 TB drives in it. When it is full, either get a second RAID 1 system or some more drives and reload.

In the meantime, for offsite backup, CrashPlan is excellent and gives you various configuration options! Sure, you can back up to their cloud, which is currently unlimited. However, you can save that cost if you want and put another RAID 1 Box at a friend or family member's house - plugged into their computer. You can then run offsite backups to that box as long as their computer is on.

Obviously this is not a CLOUD solution, however it is a less expensive way to create an offsite backup! Probably not a great idea if they have kids or others who may be tampering with your device, but in some situations this can provide a much less affordable solution.

This is certainly not the most elegant solution, but if you are trying to find ways to stretch your backup dollar, there are some alternatives!

Vivian B's picture

"A reliable backup/archive strategy costs money." Right on the money, no pun intended!

Ryan DeMont's picture

I experienced the same issue when Amazon offered unlimited storage for everything, including videos, for $60/year for prime members. It seemed the only catch was that it was truly just storage, and that you'd have to download any videos that were longer than 20 minutes in order to play them. Fair enough, I thought. So I uploaded about 7 terabytes of movies and videos. It took me months. Just as I got all my movies uploaded they announced it was no longer offering the unlimited plan, and was retracting the offer to those who were already using the service. Completely bummed, just as you said, there's nothing that can be done about it, and when it's to good to be true, it's too good to be true.
Though this article was written a year ago, I'm still offered free photo storage with no limit, and currently have 2 terabytes of photos on there. I'm starting to veer into the professional arena and when I actually do, and begin to make money on my photos, I'll expect that Amazon is watching. I'm sure they have some algorithm that bounces interent searches against Prime Photo users, and if they see something for sale by someone with the same name as an unabashedly large library using unlimited Prime user, they will rescind their offer of unlimited.

As it stands, I don't understand the whole concept to begin with. Sure, maybe they get some extra prime contracts by attracting photographers to their cloud, but it can't be many, and it's not sustainable when they rescind the offer if you're making money. I mean, server space and the means for those servers to serve isn't free, and to offer unlimited space to anyone for any length of time isn't sustainable.

Not sure why I responded to this, now that I'm done. Ha. Sometimes I just like to hear myself type, I guess.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

I enjoyed hearing your story, Ryan! And I feel your pain. I can tell you I'm back to storing things on my local NAS instead of the cloud. Thanks for commenting.