Okay, so I know a lot of readers may disagree with me on this and have different opinions. My writing here isn't intended to cause any offense, but more to offer an opinion and start a discussion on the matter. My evidence here is based on having worked in the IT industry for over 30 years and working in the photographic industry with creatives. Hopefully, after reading this you'll come up with an understanding which may help your next (or first) computer storage purchase.
The Cheapest Way
The cheapest and most convenient (but least reliable) way to store your images is on the internal drive of the computer you are editing on. There's no need to buy any extra equipment and you might think that this is a good place to start. On import from a camera or memory card, an editing program such as Adobe's Lightroom copies it to a location on your hard drive. This is an incredibly bad way to store your images so I'm now going to set out my reasons why.
Your internal drive contains the files needed to run your operating system and the programs you use on this hard drive. An internal hard drive will slow down as it gets filled with more data and as such slow your computer's access to the files it needs. Think of the files being like books in a library. Isn't it easier to find the book you want in a smaller library than in a library with a million books? Ideally, you shouldn't be filling your computer more than half full of data.
- Access to the files. Unless you're using a remote access program such as Teamviewer or Google remote desktop or a cloud-based archive system like Dropbox or Google Drive, you aren't going to be able to access the contents of the computer whilst away from the office, home, or place of work. Getting access to these files can be problematic sometimes and you'd normally have to log on to your computer to access files on your desktop.
- Failure of the computer system. If you have a problem with the computer system. Unless it's a catastrophic hard drive failure. Getting the files back can be a pain but generally, it can be done. It might mean taking the hard drive out of the computer and inserting it in a caddy or another computer or getting the computer repaired first.
- Archiving the files. Storing the files on the internal drive doesn't really give you the option to archive the files and store them for future reference in an alternate location.
The Most Expensive Way (Long Term)
External Hard drives are cheap and convenient. Products such as the WD 2TB Elements Portable USB 3.0 External Hard Drive are cheap and portable. Even by buying rugged drives such as the LaCie 2TB Rugged Mini USB 3.0 External Hard Drive you're not completely protected.
- Small drives are easy to misplace or get stolen if it's something you're carrying around with you. Ones that aren't rugged are likely to break when dropped.
- The data can only be accessed when they are connected to a computer or plugged into a device that has the ability to share the contents. For example, some routers have the ability to plug in a USB drive and allow access to this across the network.
- Single drives can fill up quite quickly and even if you're buying larger drives. File sizes on photos increase over the years and the longer you keep the drives plugged in and working the more chance of failure. If you're going to go down this route look at smaller drives that you repurchase every year or when they fill.
- There's zero redundancy. Once a drive fails, you're looking at a hefty bill for recovery of data or worse still lost data.
My Recommended Solution
A Network Attached Storage array such as the Synology DiskStation DS1821+ 8-Bay NAS Enclosure is definitely the way to go. This particular model is the one that I personally own and has 8 bays and allows a variety of RAID configurations. A RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) configuration gives the ability to spread files over multiple drives allowing for redundancy should one of the drives fail. RAID comes in 2 types and multiple configurations. The types are Hardware Raid and Software Raid. Hardware RAID uses a physical controller chip and is in general a little more reliable than Software based RAID systems. The most common RAID configurations are 1, and 5. The DS1821+ has also the advantage of including Synology's SHR (Synology Hybrid RAID). This allows you to use drives of different sizes to create your array as opposed to RAID which only allows for drives of the same size. SHR comes in 2 configurations with SHR being the same as RAID 5 and SHR2 comparable to RAID 6.
The system is incredibly easy to set up thanks to Synology's included software and it's very self-explanatory making it easy to set up your first array. You can start by making your SHR array with just 3 drives and then add and increase the size of the array as you add more drives at a later date. This is one of the reasons for buying the 8-bay drive. Expansion is just a matter of adding extra drives and then clicking into the software and allowing it to rebuild.
Speed is also a factor with this device which has 4 network ports on the back allowing you to combine all the cables together and create a data aggregation bond making the transfer of data 4 times quicker than a single cable alone. If you connect your computer to your switch or router via an ethernet cable then editing directly from the drive is entirely possible.
Another reason why this is an ideal device is the ability for you to access the contents of your share via your phone on an app that is created by Synology and available for download on the play store and the app store. In fact, they have numerous apps that allow you to do multiple things including looking at your photos remotely.
Lastly, this device allows connection via the included app Cloud Sync to multiple, online data storage sources for cloud-based offsite backup. It's easy to synchronize different folders to different cloud-based systems.
Hopefully, this guide will give you an alternative option if you're considering your backup and editing solution. Synology has a RAID calculator on their website that will give you an idea of the type of array you can create with different-sized disks. https://www.synology.com/en-uk/support/RAID_calculator