RAID is often times one of the most misunderstood topics that photographers don’t take advantage of. So often I hear horror stories of photographers losing images or irreplaceable data from crashed hard drives. I’ve made a video explaining a few popular RAID options and a strategy to ensure your files never get lost.
Photography and video have very different requirements when it comes to data storage and backup. In this article I will be talking about mixed usages for both jobs we are shooting photography and video and some strategies that we’ve found useful to ensure the content is backed up. I will take you through our entire workflow on how data moves through our studio.
Mobile Bus Powered Backup
As mentioned in the video we use Carbon Copy Cloner to ensure files are copied to an external device every 15 minutes. This ensure that no matter what happens to my computer, the files are in multiple locations. We just began using the new All Terrain G-DRIVE ev ATC drives from G-Technology because they appear to be the most rugged and only water proof drives on the market. Not to mention they are the fastest drives we’ve ever used that are 7200 HDD. In a perfect world we would have all SSD mobile drives but due to size/cost constraints this is the next best thing. Unfortunately they aren't yet offered in Thunderbolt 2, which is twice as fast as Thunderbolt 1 but they are still blazing fast. The last thing we want to do is wait for something to backup on set, or interfere with the job at hand.
If we are in a location indoors, we will often times also bring a smaller and faster RAID 0 solution as well, especially if we are shooting both photography and video. We are sometimes limited to the size of the 1TB drives so we always travel with two additional 6TB Thunderbolt 2 drives that act as mirrors of each other, both set to RAID 0. If we are shooting video, we tend to backup data every 30 minutes and copy cards to one of these RAID 0 systems, which is then cloned using Carbon Copy Cloner to the second RAID 0 system. These are great solutions for speedy backup but provide no redundancy so we have to travel with 2 to ensure redundancy. It's never worth risking having your data in just 1 location. Again for us, the G-RAID Studio drives have offered us the faster read/write speeds and also have enterprise class drives installed in the enclosure. When so much money and time goes into creating a digital file, make sure you have a rock solid foundation to back you up no matter what.
If you are unfamiliar with enterprise-class drives it means that they are rated at 2.0 million hours mean time between failure (MTBF), and receive additional manufacturing and testing at extended temperature ranges to ensure a target of less than one non-recoverable bit error per 1015 bits read (i.e. no dropped frames). It's a better build quality and better manufacturing. We've yet to ever have an enterprise drive fail (knock on wood).
Once we get back to the studio from shooting on-location we then copy everything from our mobile drives and RAID 0 systems to our 24TB RAID 5 G-SPEED Studio system. All live media that we are currently working on for both photo and video are kept on a RAID 5 system until the project is published, delivered, and ready for archive. In the video we demonstrate that a RAID 5 system is the perfect combination for both speed and also redundancy/security. As a rule of thumb you typically get 75% of the storage with RAID 5 systems but this depends on the number of drives the enclosure has. For live editing we typically use the G-SPEED Studio. Again, they are rated with Enterprise class drives and for us, have shown the fastest read/write speeds available. We use a 24TB drive for each workstation (18TB available) for video and a smaller 12 TB option (9TB available) for photography.
RAID 5 Archive
Once we finish and deliver a product then the library and working files are ready for backup. Once this happens we dump everything onto a monster 64TB G-SPEED Studio XL that has a total of 56 TB available. We have this drive hooked up to a Mac Mini server that everyone can access through the network. One thing to note is that when you have a RAID 5 drive with 8 drives inside, you are able to exceed the typical 75% storage capacity limitations. In this case we are able to have access to 88% of the total available storage in the drive itself.
As files in medium format get bigger and video files/quality become monstrous, we’ve run into a major cost consideration with Archive storage. We did quite a bit of research for thunderbolt 2 systems (Mac Only) and found that G-Technology was actually the most affordable option for storage of that capacity.
You really have to treat your storage and archive solution as a major line item when doing your purchasing for your studio so always project your size needs each year based on worst case scenarios.
Off-Site Storage RAID 5
At the end of every job archive we also have to take into consideration fire, theft, on-site destruction. Because of this we have an additional layer of security for off-site video storage. For this, we use another RAID 5 system from Other World Computing. The drives aren’t as fast as G-SPEED Studio drives, but for the price they are a better bargain as an off-site backup. With large capacity options of 24 or 32 TB, these are a great solution for off-site storage. You can also custom build these on your own with any drives you want, as long as they are compatible to the RAID requirements. These drives remain off and don't get a lot of use, so for us it's not important to have an enterprise class solution.
If you compare the OWC cost for a 24 TB RAID 5 Thunderbolt 2 drive for $1,959 against the $2999.95 price tag of the G-SPEED Studio, its a matter of what works with your budget. For us we love the speeds of the G-Technology system and the security of the enterprise drives included. In our initial tests we found the G-Speed Studio drives to be about 20% faster than the OWC drives for live video editing read/write in Adobe Premier. Even copying files makes a big difference in how much waiting you have to do if you are constantly moving libraries between team members.
If you are doing Photography ONLY and are on a tight budget, I think you could implement some of the cheaper OWC options into your fleet of backup devices. If you are doing video anything I would strongly recommend spending the few extra bucks for the G-Technology. When it comes to video capture, it’s essential that you have the proper tools to protect your data and that fastest options to increase your workflow.
In addition to this workflow I’ve outlined in the article, I strongly recommend you follow the workflow in the above video if you are just doing photography. Adopt the 3-2-1 backup plan and sleep better at night knowing your work is backed up no matter what.