If you're like me (and basically every photographer I know), you're a little bit paranoid. Your heart skips a beat when you hit "Format" on your memory cards. You don't trust a source unless it's backed up. ioSafe was not originally built for photographers, but it certainly caters to them with a fireproof, water proof and basically life proof design. With the addition of specialized apps, ioSafe looks to be a the way to store and monitor your precious images and video.
So you might have heard of the personal cloud before, which puts all your information in a server that you can access much like DropBox, Box or Google Drive except without their privacy policies and threats of data mining. There are a few options for a personal cloud out there, but ioSafe is the only one that really feels safe, in quite a literal sense. As I mentioned, the ioSafe is wicked tough to destroy. It's waterproof (for a time), fireproof and nearly crush proof. It comes with "the ultimate safety net" for hard drives, a $5000 standard data recovery loss service standard with every ioSafe. So if your home is subject to a fire or a flood, know that Synology will be there to recover your data out of your ioSafe at no extra cost. That's mighty kind of them.
For this review, I was supplied the ioSafe 214, a fireproof and waterproof, network connected, multi-drive NAS/RAID storage device capable of holding and simultaneously backing up terabytes data. The ioSafe 214 is powered by a Synology DSM motherboard and operating system. It allows for fast access on your local network and remote access from nearly any device connected to the internet. So if you plan to back up a truly massive amount of data, you can do it much quicker by connecting to the ioSafe directly and then access the data easily from anywhere. This is far superior to the other fully-cloud methods which require you to upload that data through an internet connection, which is (for most of us), painfully slow.
So let's talk build quality. I'm not going to spend a ton of time here because there are many other reviews out there that already cover how truly amazing ioSafe is at protecting information. Check this out:
Like. Dang. That thing survived considerable punishment. Though you can't expect to just plug the safe back in and use it, the data inside was safe and the folks at Synology would be sure to save it for you after you sent it in to them. That's more than any other service I can think of can say, save for anyone using redundant drives through Amazon servers. I'm pretty satisfied in knowing that if I put my data on my ioSafe and my house burns down, my data will still be safe.
The ioSafe is mostly the housing, with the actual storage options up to you. Mine is equipped presently with 2 terabytes in two drives, one mirroring the other in RAID 1. This gives me a backed up solution to my backup. You can never be too backed up in my opinion.
So how does it function? There are two ways to get information on to the ioSafe: you can use their Synology DiskStation (which is a proprietary browser-based software that you can access once you connect your ioSafe to the internet) or you can just mount the ioSafe like you would any other typical hard drive.
Firstly, mounting the hard drive isn't difficult and can be done through a physical connection to your computer or though a WiFi connection. I opted to set my ioSafe up through WiFi. This took a few minutes but was pretty easy. There are no added benefits to using the ioSafe this way and it will continue to function like any other drive you probably already use.
If you want to use the Synology DiskStation, it's probably because their set of apps were of interest to you. This is where it seems Synology really wants to put greater usability in their system. Unfortunately, setting up the ioSafe through this kind of connection is not exactly user friendly. Once you get it installed it's awesome, but getting there is a bit of a bear. You can't just fumble your way through this; you have to read the instructions. What I mean is that the setup itself has no built-in guidance system on how to get it going. You need to have the PDF of instructions open while setting it up or you won't get very far.
Once you have the system installed and you are actually in the Synology DiskStation, the platform does a better job of walking you through what it can do with a setup wizard, but it again isn't as effective as I had hoped. They have a lot of information they want to cover and in order to keep the number of pages in the tutorial short, they hide more information in clickable areas of the pages. This is a good idea, but what it ends up doing is actually helping the user get lost in a rat's nest of settings and side options.
The best way to describe the Synology DiskStation is a desktop within your browser. It looks a heck of a lot like a Mac or PC desktop but with specialized functionality for your ioSafe. It's a bit weird at first, trying to navigate a hard drive array with a dedicated and proprietary secondary desktop, but you get used to it.
Through it all the trouble of getting it installed and put together, I have to say it was totally worth it. More than worth it. The app options are nice, with many first and third party options. But what I was most excited about were Synology's video and photo apps that go along with the ioSafe: DS video and DS photo+. With DS Video, I can watch all my videos on my phone or tablet while I'm on the move, which is exactly what I want to do when I'm traveling. It's basically what you get out of Dropbox, but at on more storage and a lot faster of a connection.
I chose to dump my copy of The Art Behind the Headshot on my ioSafe and watch it on my phone. The transfer to the safe (through WiFi) took about 4 minutes, and I was able to watch it on my phone immediately. There is a bit of a load in the beginning, but scrubbing to anywhere in the video happened much faster than I was anticipating- faster even than scrubbing a YouTube or Vimeo video on mobile. If you have a Samsung Smart TV, you can get the DS Video app on your tv and use your ioSafe as a DVR. Upload videos to the ioSafe or record television using the app. I don't have a smart TV, but I can imagine how awesome this would be.
The DS photo+ app is also extremely useful. You can organize all your images in any way you like, with standard albums or what Synology calls "smart albums," which organize content with other like-content. The system is very reminiscent of Adobe Bridge (think Lightroom without the photo editing capabilities). You get all your EXIF data and you can tag the images based on location, people or "general" tags for whatever else you feel like. The app looks great and works extremely well on the web app, and that is no different on the iPhone app. It's fast and easy to use, mimicking a lot of the good things about DropBox and putting them into a very photo-focused system. You can even share public links with the content, something we all do with DropBox files. The system is laid out in a pretty consumer-friendly style, but that wasn't a turn off for me. It does what it needs to, and that I like.
What is weird is how difficult and not-consumer-friendly the setup of the ioSafe and Synology Diskstation was when compared to the relative ease of the interface in the mobile apps. It's like the two ends of the company working on each didn't really talk to each other, and only the mobile division really "got it."
What I liked:
- Basically indestructible
- Is very quiet, despite a built-in fan
- Interchangeable disk array lets you put whatever you want in the ioSafe and know it's truly safe
- Useful apps, with good additions specifically for photographers
What could use improvement:
- Nothing they can do about it, but the speed of the system is proportional to the speed of your home internet. The ioSafe will be frustrating to those running less-than-optimal internet at home
- The setup was gnarly. It's not user friendly for a system full of apps aimed at consumer-level users
- Expensive, as the array with no disks is just under $700. However, useful and worth it for the home business
The ioSafe is the ultimate in secure backup home/business solutions. Though the setup is really unpleasant, once you get it up and running it will be worth it. If you wanted to give up DropBox, you could easily rationalize such a decision with the ioSafe and associated Synology apps. I now no longer fear any disaster, my data is backed up and I have a set of nifty tools to keep connected to that content. I can't really ask for much more.
The ioSafe would be a pretty easy sell as a standalone, but the addition of the nifty apps put it over the edge for me. I'm a sucker for a connected workflow, and ioSafe and Synology brought that to my storage solution.