When it comes to photography and storing photos on your personal computer, most of us experienced the pain and heartache when you lose some or in worst cases, all the images you've ever taken. It's undoubtedly one of the most unpleasant things we've all had to deal with in our career as photographers and probably the number one cause of heart failure for photographers. While it's easy to fall into the trap of just buying more hard drives as we fill them up, it's probably one of the worst decisions you can make as a photographer. So what exactly is the perfect solution to backing up your images?
I'm sure there are a lot of IT professionals out there thinking there is no such thing as a perfect solution, but you can get close to one by ensuring you have multiple copies of all your images stored away in safe locations off-site. As one of my lecturers back in the days of college told the class, he copies his backups on two drives and locks it away in a safety deposit box at the bank vault. Sure you can go that route, but it's quite tedious to have to drive to the bank every time you finished a shoot, isn't it?
The ideal alternative is to invest in a server as well as off-site backups. After Fstoppers announced they upgraded their office servers to new 10 Gbps Synology servers a while back, I knew I had to look into it as well. Servers are great because most of them allow you to store data while being able to work on them simultaneously and with the advances of technology these days, it's easy to monitor hard drives and be warned well in advance when one of them becomes faulty. At least we can give our blood pressure a break.
I've made the mistake of buying additional hard drives for way too long, and only after a decade did I finally make the switch of investing in a small sized server. While there are many options available on the market today, I chose the Synology Diskstation DS416. A compact, light-weight four bay Network-Attached-Storage (NAS) server. The DS416 is fitted with a 1.4 GHz, 32-bit processor, and 1 GB DDR3 and connects via dual Gigabyte Ethernet ports to your computer or router. It's capable of speeds up to 220 MB/s (read) and 140 MB/s (write). Furthermore, you have the option of connecting two external devices via USB 3.0 on the front and back of the Diskstation. Perhaps not a bad idea to keep my card reader permanently plugged into the front USB port. On a side note, the new 10 Gbps servers from Synology were not yet available in my country, so I had to opt in for a smaller server, and the DS416 seemed like a good fit.
On the software side, the DS416 uses the Synology DSM (Disk Station Manager) operating system, intuitive enough for people to start learning their way around the OS rather quickly and perform all the necessary tasks, such as RAID configurations needed to set up the server. There are also an array of apps available, such as anti-virus software, media server apps (such as Plex) and various other media apps one can easily download off Synology's website. Once I loaded up the web interface, I noticed the Diskstation automatically started setting up the drives in Synology's Hybrid RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) setup. SHR (Synology Hybrid Raid) acts like RAID 5. However, I was quite unsure of how this worked at the time of setting it up, and I opted to use the more common RAID 5 option instead. I later found out Synology has a handy tool on their website for those unfamiliar with RAID setups.
The design is sleek and lightweight and small enough to fit on my desk. The matte black box is contrasted with a glossy front cover, shielding the four hard drive bays and can easily be removed to insert or remove hard drives. The drive bays are tool-less and merely slides out by pressing a quick-release button above each bay.
I love all the features mentioned above. However, I've come to find the one thing I find lacking on this Diskstation is the ability to expand storage. Although I have enough space on the server now, having fitted it with three 3 TB Western Digital Drives and one 4 TB drive giving me a total of 8 TBs worth of storage. Unfortunately, the shop only had three hard drives, and I had to resort to using a spare 4 TB Western Digital black while I wait for stock. I'm sure I'll have to upgrade the storage capacity in the future, especially if I ever decide to switch over to film in 4K as the 8 TB worth of storage won't get me far. One solution would be to backup and replace all the hard drives with higher capacity drives, transfer over all my work and perhaps use the old hard drives for a new, smaller server. But that's a headache I'm willing to hold off on to for as long as possible.
All in all, I'm overly impressed with this Diskstation. I've been able to setup my Capture One catalog and edit rather large PSB files in Photoshop, as well as using Adobe Premiere to cut footage in full HD with no issues whatsoever. The $400 price tag is well worth the peace of mind. Just to be extra safe, I plugged the NAS into my UPS (in case the power dips or a thunderstorm knocks out my electronics and fries all the drives). These days one can also easily subscribe to a cloud storage service for as little as $5 a month. Services like Backblaze or iDrive makes it ideal to save your images in the cloud, just be sure to encrypt them if you're dealing with sensitive material. Cloud storage is great in case you want off-site backups stored in the cloud, and you're too lazy to drive to the bank to store another drive in your safety deposit box. However, with all the hacks and exploits these days, one should exercise caution and just keep a hard copy somewhere off-site in case of emergency.
If you'd like to see the Synology Diskstation in action, check out the video I created below detailing everything from the file system to operation.