The Nearly Indestructible ioSafe is More Than Just an Awesome Server Array

The Nearly Indestructible ioSafe is More Than Just an Awesome Server Array

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.

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iosafe 214 raid 1 review

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.

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iosafe 214 raid 1 review 4

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.

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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.

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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.

synology app 5

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.

Jaron Schneider's picture

Jaron Schneider is an Fstoppers Contributor and an internationally published writer and cinematographer from San Francisco, California. His clients include Maurice Lacroix, HD Supply, SmugMug, the USAF Thunderbirds and a host of industry professionals.

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Not gonna lie... my entire body of work along with half my equipment was destroyed by a house fire in 2003 (except a binder of negatives I had at a darkroom and some film that was out to the lab) and I am seriously considering something like this now.

I want to know how these systems work with not Mac products... upgrading and adding equipment is a priority and I will be switching over to Mac but it will have to wait. Make no mistake, Windows 8 has sold me on Mac OS, but I have a PC computer and Andriod mobile devices.

Also, this is for anyone's knowledge... Waterproof things are great. In a fire the majority of the damage is actually water from putting the fire out. However, I spent a chunk of my accounting career in the water/fire/mold restoration industry, and that type of water is different than dumping tap water on your devices. The fire department uses a fire retardant that is black and difficult to remove and that is far more likely to damage electronics than water alone. Of course, having something like this is better than not having any back up, and there are issues with cloud storage as well, but these things can provide a false sense of security.

I don't think this has any issue with Mac or PC. The software is designed for both so your experience should be identical. Sorry to hear about the loss of your information Jennifer. Disasters suck :(

No issues. Mac, PC, iDevices, Android all supported. And disasters do suck - very much. It breaks my heart to hear about people loosing data. Way too much of that happening.

Hi Jennifer-
Thanks for your comment. ioSafe products are designed to withstand most any liquid exposure. We test in salt water, completely submerged, 10 feet for 3 days (we actually double that exposure and depth to be conservative with our ratings). Fire retardant, sewer water, most chemical exposures (at least any reasonably expected during a flood/disaster) should be no problem at all. The drives are basically hermitically sealed in an aluminum extrusion with silicon gasket around the aluminum access door. The motherboard, connections, etc. might get ruined in a disaster but all the data is designed to survive. Recovering the drives is as simple as putting them in just about any working Synology or ioSafe NAS (powered by Synology) product to get the data back. Hope that helps!
Robb Moore, CEO
ioSafe, Inc.

I'm curious. you said "Recovering the drives is as simple as putting them in just about any working Synology or ioSafe NAS". Does that mean that we couldn't put the drives into another system (like a Drive dock) to read the data? In the case of needing the data before another ioSafe could be purchased/delivered

Hi Mark-
The NAS is basically a purpose built Linux appliance based on Synology DSM (their NAS OS). RAID striping across the disks wouldn't permit you to necessarily place one of the disks back in any drive dock. It is possible but probably more technical than most would like to experience but it is possible.

The fastest way to recover the RAID is to put the disks back in a Synology based platform. There are several different ways to recover the data but post-fire, if the motherboard is ruined, this is the fast way to get back to the data. Some of our customers may buy a diskless unit and keep it on standby if they'd like to improve recovery time. We're also ready to assist with data recovery if you're under our Data Recovery Service plan. Hope that helps!

It does. I normally use RAID 1, so i'm used to being able to recover all of the data from one single drive. That's why I was curious :) Thanks!

The ioSafe N2 literally saved my photo/video business from
more than 14,000 gallons of water flowing from a burst water line in my
studio. In my experience, the ioSafe is everything
it’s represented to be in this article, and I found the company could not have
been better to work with after my flood.

The N2 is a versatile daily network drive loaded with many
features and available options, it’s a great daily driver. But when disaster strikes – and it always
does – the ioSafe is in a class by itself. Fire, flood, theft – the ioSafe buys you
time. I own two and would not hesitate in
recommending these to anyone serious about protecting their work.

Harddrives can still

yep. RAID helps with HDD failure to a certain degree but's it not "backup". Human error is a huge factor as well as hardware. We're always preaching a minimum 3-2-1 Backup.

3 Complete copies of your data
2 Different devices
1 Disaster proof copy (ioSafe, offsite, public cloud, etc.)

This is a minimum. Ideally, you should be keeping and doing more than what's stated above. An inexpensive NAS + disaster proof external USB drive (as a backup target for the NAS) is the simplest way I know to get TB's of instant protection with no monthly fees or bandwidth issues. If you just have 10-20 GBs, then adding a simple cloud backup might be the answer depending on your comfort level. Once data is out in the public though, it's public forever imo. Layering multiple kinds of protection in addition to 3-2-1 only improves your situation.

The question to me is... Does the $700 price tag balance out with the cost of a RAID + cloud solution? Having backups at your house is fine, but having one on-site and one off-site makes you twice as safe (no pun intended).

Crash Plan Pro (as an example) is $60/year and unlimited storage.

The benefit here is you have direct plug-in access to your content, which is vastly superior in speed than trying to access data over any internet connection. At least right now, for 99% of the country the infrastructure doesn't make using a remote solution viable for most photo/video applications.

Oh and also one-time-fee for the system is preferable for many over a month-to-month plan.

I think I phrased it wrong in my original post. I was suggesting an on-site RAID and an off-site cloud backup. Work off of your on-site drives and then back that drive up to the cloud.

You could buy a 2-Bay RAID enclosure for $250 and that leaves you with $450 extra at the cost of the ioSafe. Thats 7.5 years of cloud storage at $60/year you could purchase. Just saying :)

Good points Mark. Every situation is slightly different. You can buy two RAID enclosures and sync. In fact everyone should be backing their RAID unit - any RAID system. Two RAID systems require 4 hard drives. If you're buying 3TB drives they'll be about $100 each so your total cost to buy 2x DS214's + 4 3TB HDDs will be about $1000 total. Plus there's bandwidth saturation and other factors to consider (OS imaging, speed of recovery, etc.). It really depends on your workload and data storage requirements. ioSafe isn't meant to be the only solution but more a disaster protection device you can use to instantly reduce vulnerability of data. Not sure if you've ever tried to push 200 GB across the cloud but it's tough let alone TB's of data.

"Unlimited" data storage is great until you'd like to get your 10TB back from Crashplan. good luck!

A great setup would be an ioSafe (bolted to the floor) + Synology NAS onsite (split in opposite corners of the building) + NAS offsite for syncing ultra ultra critical data (bandwidth permitting). This kind of setup checks off a lot of boxes for fire, water, theft, internet failure, speed of recovery, onsite speed, human error, etc. etc. It's not a "cheap" solution but it's certainly something a somewhat technical person can setup. You'll basically have the equivalent of TB's of Dropbox-like functionality for you and your clients plus an expectation of 99.99+% survivability and 100% control over your private cloud. my 2 cents!
Robb Moore, CEO

Hey Robb,

Thanks for replying. With the RAID cost, I was going by the bare (no drive) cost of the ioSafe 214 vs a bare 2-Bay RAID enclosure. WIth either system, you will still have to buy 2 drives.

And Very good point about bandwidth speed and retrieval costs from CrashPlan (or others). A very big thing to consider :)

aha - you're right. i interpreted it a bit wrong.
For your homework tonight, I'd like you to sign up for the Crashplan unlimited and then backup 1TB and bring it back (simulated recovery)

Call me in September with the update :)


lol so true Robb.

I did the math (just for fun) and with my 50/25Mb fiber connection, I could "theoretically" upload at 10.8 GB/hour. So about 1 TB in about 4 days. Download 1TB in 48 hours. Def not ideal..

Personally, I can't imagine where I would need all of my files that quickly. Maybe a few jobs, but not everything. That's just me tho :) a Google search for "Crashplan throttling". No matter what your particular speed is, all the traditional cloud providers have to divide their total bandwidth by the total number of users using the service. Lots of stories of TB's taking month/years to push/pull due to throttling. "unlimited" storage for $60/year? Crashplan as a business still needs to buy hard drives to store the data on. Their, ahem...plan would crash if they actually allowed 5TB, 10TB, 20? TBs to be stored for $60/year. I think the public cloud is great for smaller data volumes containing data you don't mind being exposed in public. As soon as it's gets beyond 1 drive, it quickly breaks down for both backup and recovery imo.

Crashplan does not throttle :) Maybe you confused them with Carbonite? Crashplan user since over 3 years.

No. Not confused. They might not purposefully throttle but there are lots of bottlenecks possible between your location and the datacenter that Crashplan has little control over. Not all of us are a lucky as you living on an internet backbone at 320 Mbs! :)

My home line is 3Mbs down / 1.5Mbs up and we don't always even get that speed. There are only a few options as we live out in the countryside. It would be months or maybe a year to get my personal stuff online. Plus I have 5TB which exceeds their 3.5TB limit on the HDD service so I supposed I'd have to stream the rest if I wanted the entire volume back. Not sure.

Everyone's situation is different and there are several options to having a bulletproof backup system. What may not work for you, works well for others. I think we can all agree to this.

We seem to be bickering on minor points here. CrashPlan seems to work fine for Aniv and my strategy (I don't use the cloud) works great as well. Yours is another option to consider.

I think you really hit the nail on the head with those few words: "Everyone's situation is different."

What's best depends entirely on individual circumstances. How much data do you have? How often does it change/at what rate is it being created? How important is the data/what's your risk tolerance? How quickly do you need to be able to restore data? Is bandwidth a problem? How frequently do you need to access the data? What's your budget?

There's really no one-size-fits-all answer.


I was wondering if you knew the difference between Bytes and Bits? With a 50/25Mbs ratio, which translates too 6/3MBs would give you, if you were able to achieve your full speed through the whole time which would never happen, roughly translates to 1GB up an hour... 720GB in 30 days... and then just double that with your Download speed, so roughly 1.5TB download in 30 days.. Also, who wants their data filtered through a bunch of third party companies over the world wide web?? you really think your data is "protected" in the cloud?? you know how many hops your data is taking and is being eavesdropped on.. but to each their own :)

Yes, i do know the difference and my math is correct. 25 Mb/s = 3MB/s = 180MB/minute = 10,800/MB hour (or 10.5 GB). As for throughput, I did say "theoretically" :) I am well aware that bandwidth will go up and down.

And am I going to care if my images get filtered? not at all :) I have no idea what some 3rd party company would want do with my images or the data inside. But Backblaze and Crashplan both have very good encryption from what I have read.

I have multiple servers at home using RAID 6 or better for the data arrays and couple of slow Drobo's as well. I use crashplan on all of them. Backing up around 12TB of Data that I think is useful for me (documents, music, videos and photos). It took me around 4 days to backup everything. I would imagine it would take me the same time to download since my connection is symmetric 320Mbps. If I wanted it faster I could request them to ship it out overnight on physical drives.

Not saying your product is not useful though.

Sure. Appreciate the lively discussion. I love jousting!

So you have 12TB with a data set that's growing probably 20-40% per year on average. Crashplan gets $60/year from you but had to spend ~$400 upfront on day one just to store your data. Growing at 30% per year, they'd need $90/year just to buy more storage for you. With overhead, drive costs, etc. etc. something's going to give. Buyer beware.

Just like there was a stock bubble in 2000. Real Estate bubble in 2007. I think there's "cloud bubble" now. There'll be a day of reckoning where the market corrects for it. Just have your data in multiple locations on multiple devices when the music stops. But for!! :)

Yes sometimes I do wonder about the same but I take solace in doing the math that not all users will be as aggressive on storage as me. I would suggest people purchasing the iosafe which seems to be an excellent NAS unit to also use some kind of offsite backup mechanism. Doesn't have to be on the cloud. Could be anything depending on the data pattern and what is critical.

I re-evaluated my backup/storage processes last year and decided to go with an ioSafe N2 rather than using the cloud. For the setup I wanted, it worked out to be no more expensive.

First, let me say that I wanted a local copy of my data - and a local backup of that data in addition to the working copy (even if I decided to use the cloud). In other words, I'd require the exact same amount of local storage capacity whether I decided to cloud my data or keep it local. Why? Well, I just don't have much confidence in the cloud. Service providers can and do go out of business. It's happened before - remember Nirvanix? - and there's little doubt it'll happen again, especially as Amazon, Google and Microsoft continue to slash their prices. Carbonite has been bleeding money for years and has actually ost about $120,000,000 in the last decade. And if and when one of these companies do go bust, you'll not necessarily have sufficient notice or time to pull-down your data before their doors permanently close. Further, if my NAS/DAS were to die, I really didn't want to have to try to restore 5TB of data over the internet or pay CrashPlan $150 to ship me a recovery hard drive.

So, for me, the choice was #1:

Standard NAS/DAS: $300
Backup hard drives: $300
CrashPlan: $300
Total: $900

Or #2:

ioSafe N2: $600
Backup hard drives: $300
Total: $900

Going with CrashPlan would mean that I'd have an offsite copy of my data and one less device to maintain - but the cost would be subject to change depending on CrashPlan's pricing. Going with ioSafe would mean that backups and restores would be speedier and provide a fixed cost - but I'd have no offsite copy of my data (fire and flood may not be a problem, but theft could be).

Neither option was perfect, but in the end speed/business continuity considerations made me go with the ioSafe N2 - especially as I was able to mitigate the possibility of theft by bolting the thing down!

I've always kept my drives in Pelican cases locked in my safe but its about as convenient as making butter from scratch.

Hi Jason-

Thank you so much for the thoughtful review. DSM 5.0 has a bunch of enhancements that may address some of your concerns. At the time of shipping you our system, we hadn't quite completed the transition to DSM 5.0.

As with all Synology updates, it's free to install and you can update the system via the web admin interface. Don't hesitate to let us know if you have any questions.

Robb Moore, CEO
ioSafe, Inc.

Thanks Rob, I'll take a look. It's Jaron btw but it's a very common error :)

ah shoot. Sorry! You can call me Bobby once if you like :)
fixed. thx.

Years in the IT arena, I assure you the safest place for data is "Off Site." As stated, with companies like Crash Plan Offering unlimited data backup's for $60 a year, I could never justify the cost of this system while still having my data on-sight....And Yes I have even had high-end RAID drives fail. Also with many locations having ISP speeds of 20-50mbps, transfer rate also has not been an issue, since, the data just keeps transferring in the background. Last but not least, I can access my backup anytime anywhere with a ISP connection.

The problem with online backup/storage is speed, especially in relation to restores times. If I were to lose my computer equipment in a fire or flood and had my 5TBs+ of data backed up with CrashPlan, it would take more than 50 days to pull it down over my 10Mbps connection. In other words, I'd be without access to my data for more than 2 months - and after that amount of time, I probably wouldn't have a business! With my ioSafe, on the other hand, I can restore my data in a matter of hours.

This factor alone more than justifies the cost of my N2, IMO.

Yes, CrashPlan will ship out a recovery HDD, but they'll only do that for backups smaller than 3.5TB. If your backup is bigger than 3.5TBs, you'll have no choice but to restore over your internet connection - which can take months.

Sure, online backup can be a great option if you're only dealing with relatively small amounts of data or do not need to be able to access and restore your data quickly. However, if you're dealing with larger datasets and restore times are important, you need to be looking at other options.