Backing up our files is the boring but crucial task we have to regularly complete. I have hard drives everywhere as well as cloud storage, and it's all a bit messy. Morro Data has come up with a hybrid all-in-one solution.
For most of us photographers and videographers, we run a NAS or RAID system in conjunction with cloud storage. What Morro Data aims to do is combine the two and then add a whole lot more functionality into the mix. Let's start with exactly what I am reviewing.
Before I go any further, it's worth concisely laying out what exactly the system does and why the word "cache" keeps being thrown around. You're probably most familiar with a cache due to your Internet browser, where the cache is a resource pool that speeds up load times and functions on websites you frequent. That is in essence what Morro Data wants to do with file storage in the cloud.
Morro Data have provided two constituent parts to this backup solution, the CacheDrive G40 (1TB) and CloudNAS, which is an improved type of cloud storage. I'll start off by explaining what each of these products does.
Morro CacheDrive G40 (1TB)
This little drive is the real genius of Morro Data's backup solution. It is a 1 TB external hard drive with infinitely more functionality. The CacheDrive is connected to your router and set up as local network location that all connected computers can access. That in itself could be useful to studios, but that's the tip of the iceberg. The drive is securely connected to their cloud service, which has unlimited storage, and files are automatically backed up. This eradicates the need for several of my current steps in backing up when I finish a shoot. I previously backed the images up on an external hard drive, then loaded them into Lightroom on my primary terminal, and finally stored the raw files in the cloud. With Morro Data, I simply copy the files into my CacheDrive via the local network location while I'm loading Lightroom. As soon as the files land on the drive, they are uploaded to the CloudNAS and therefore backed up immediately in three locations: my PC, the CacheDrive, and the cloud (which ticks the necessary "offsite" backup practice).
The CacheDrive offers up to 100x faster file access to those stored in the cloud due to recent files being stored locally, which means for all intents and purposes, you are accessing cloud files at local network speeds. This system also works well in the case of disaster striking. If you were to break your CacheDrive or it were to corrupt (or be stolen and tossed into a volcano), you can recover your complete file inventory from the metadata stored in the cloud. You just grab a replacement CacheDrive and sync it back up.
CloudNAS isn't to be confused with ordinary NAS (network-attached storage) for a number of reasons. Firstly, the storage device isn't the central hub for the data; the cloud is. The CacheDrives act as remote hubs that keep recent files on hand for anyone connected and for anywhere that has a CacheDrive on the same account. This means you can backup anywhere with your CacheDrive and can access important files without necessarily having to download them, which is invaluable in a myriad of situations.
The User Interface
The user interface can be split in two: one part is your usual operating system's folder navigation, as accessing the CacheDrive is like accessing any external hard drive. The second part is the administrator role of managing the account and device(s).
It looks intimidating, but it's a clean design and pretty intuitive once you get used to the layout. It reminds me of Google Analytics' UI in many ways, which was similarly intimidating at first glance, but straightforward enough once you know your way around.
So, I've discussed the value of the service, but what about the cost? Well, this is admittedly where it gets tricky. As you may have inferred from my review thus far, I think this backup solution is brilliant for multi-location businesses or projects and worth every penny. Is it, however, worthwhile for a one-man-band photographer? If you're being extremely careful where you place your pennies within your business, trimming the fat at every turn and not indulging in any luxuries, this won't be for you. But, let's break down the various costs involved in setting this up.
The clever little hard drive that acts as the middleman between cloud and computer isn't exactly cheap when compared to external hard drives. But remember, the drive capacity is the size of the cache, your cloud storage is separate and can be as big as you need it to be. So, comparing the price of the 1 TB G40 to a 1 TB external Seagate doesn't make sense to do.
For one photographer, I'd be shocked if you needed more than a G40 1 TB cache, but perhaps videographers might disagree. Either way, the CacheDrive is a one-time purchase and you then own the device.
Next up is the subscription-based model for Morro Data's service that connects to the CacheDrive and stores your files on the cloud.
So, for the solo photographer, you needn't have more than CloudNAS essentials, which means you'll be paying $499 one time for the CacheDrive, followed by a $69 per month subscription for CloudNAS with a default 1 TB Wasabi Hot cloud storage. For additional cloud storage with Wasabi, it's $19/TB per month.
What I Used for the Review
While I would most likely use a G40 1TB CacheDrive and CloudNAS Essentials, for the sake of the review I went for a more comprehensive package. Here's the breakdown of what it would cost if you replicated it:
G40 1 TB CacheDrive: $499
CloudNAS Business: $89 per month
5 TB of File Services: $75 per month
5 TB of Backblaze Bucket: $25 per month
Total: $499 up front, $189 per month
This of course far more than I strictly need to pay to achieve what I want; I only have one site and one CacheDrive, so the benefit of CloudNAS Business was purely so that I could bring my own storage via Backblaze B2. If I were to be as cost-effective as possible, it would be a total of $499 up front, then $88 per month for CloudNAS Essentials with an extra terabyte of cloud storage through Wasabi. This is of course more expensive than my current solution, which would be multiple external hard drives and then 2 TB of Backblaze B2 at $10 per month. But, I would lose all of the functionality, all the of backup process streamlining, and I would have to continue to buy external hard drives as they fill up. So, in many ways, it looks more expensive than it really is.
What I Liked
- Incredible if you work from multiple locations (for example home and a studio)
- Consolidating storage, no need for many external hard drives
- Streamlining backup workflow
- CacheDrive is well designed
- Offsite backup
- Hard drive disaster recovery in minutes
What I Didn't Like
- A few teething problems getting everything working smoothly
- It isn't the cheapest solution to backing up; you're paying for ease
- The UI could be intimidating for the less tech-minded
- Pricing system a little convoluted
- With the right leg work, you could create some similar yourself
I'll be honest, my first impression was lackluster; I wasn't entirely sure what the point of Morro Data's solution was or rather, how it was revolutionary. Then, I had some teething issues with getting it all set up. Some of these were my own mistakes, but some required Morro Data support intervention. Then, everything clicked and I did a shameless full 180. Suddenly, I'm just chucking stuff on the CacheDrive like it's an ordinary external hard drive, and letting it do everything else for me. I'm achieving the three-point backup standard I have and have access to everything from anywhere. Honestly, if I had a studio or any other location I split my working life between, I'd buy a second CacheDrive and the benefits would increase tenfold.
In fact, that's in many ways a criticism as well as high praise. Morro Data's backup solution get exponentially more valuable the larger your operation is and the more CacheDrives you have in more locations. You can have remote teams interacting with up-to-date files seamlessly and without huge downloads, all the while being safe from disaster. As a sole trader that is the only person working for my photography business, I feel I don't quite get the most out of the incredible functionality this system offers. However, I do prefer it to having a myriad of external hard drives scattered in different locations and then manually backing up to the cloud, so for me, it's worth it for that alone. It isn't the cheapest solution, but if you go through enough data to fill hard drives regularly, it'll be a financial rival. That said, Alex Cooke and I worked on a way of creating a similar setup at a lower cost and it is possible, albeit more complicated to set up. So, would I get a CacheDrive and use Morro Data's backup solution for my photography business? I have, and I am, but it's a luxury for a solo photographer.