Are you thinking of buying yet another lens? Can't wait for a new body? (In my case, reincarnation is the only option). This article covers the main reason why my Synology DS1821+ is the best purchase I made in 2020 for my photography business.
Where Did I Start?
I, like most I suspect, started my photographic career by storing my images on old hard drives, CDs, DVDs, and memory sticks (eventually). When I finally decided to switch to being a full-time photographer (way back in 2008), the thought that I need to consolidate my images into one location meant buying a large 2 TB hard drive. It cost a fortune back then, and I thought: "this is going to take me a while to fill up." Turns out I was wrong. It took approximately a year. Since then, backing up has gotten cheaper and more accessible with cloud storage and smaller credit card-sized hard drives of incredible speed, but the need for centrally accessible storage has never been greater.
Buying the Synology DS1821+ (We'll just refer to this as my "NAS" going forward in this article, shall we, for the sake of my word count!) was a big decision. It was an expensive purchase for me, and I'd already had the DS1815+ for quite a few years, which had never failed. The drives inside it were replaced individually a few times, but the enclosure kept on working despite many power cuts and surges. This was one of the reasons I've stuck with Synology over the years (I've tested lots of other makes and models in my job roles). Reliability and speed trump value and looks for me, although the NAS does look sleek and sexy as hell. Can a NAS look sexy? I say yes, indeed!
Why the DS1821+?
The previous NAS had two Gigabit Ethernet ports on the back and, whilse data aggregation was available, spreading the data across the two ports meant a global throughput of 2,000 Mbps. To break it down: if multiple people are using my NAS to access files, with one cable plugged into the back Ethernet port, it would have slowed down fetch access to the content on it, but with more cables plugged in, it spreads the requests across the multiple cables, a bit like having a computer processor with more cores. The new NAS has four Gigabit ports, giving a theoretical maximum of 4,000 Mbps, with an expansion port slot for a 10- or 25-GB card should I decide to install one when upgrading every other step in the chain at a later date. If I decided I needed faster access, I can add in two M.2 NVMe drives which cache the recently used files to be able to deliver faster and more efficiently.
Nothing worse than running out of space on a drive when you have to archive work, right? My NAS solves this by using SHR (Synology Hybrid RAID) in place of RAID 5 and SHR-2 in place of RAID 6. A traditional RAID 5 array won't see drives with higher capacity as their true size when installed after the initial array is created. SHR allows this with a few small caveats. Let me give you an example of how this works in your favor. I'm going to use 1 TB drive sizes as an example for ease of understanding. In a standard RAID 5 configuration 4, 1 TB drives give 3 TB of useable space, the same as SHR. Now, imagine if you will, that one of those drives fails and given RAID 5's ability to allow you to read from the drive whilst the array is in a failed state, you replace it with a 2 TB drive (they are now just as cheap as 1 TB after all, right?). This would only still show up as 3 TB of usable space, as RAID 5 would only recognize this as a 1 TB drive. The same goes for SHR until you replace another drive with a replacement 2 TB drive. Then ,SHR's hybrid ability allows you to increase the storage and take advantage of the extra space, giving you 4 TB of usable space. There's a RAID space calculator on the Synology website here if you'd like to see what different combinations give in terms of results. My point is that as your system fills up, you can plan to increase the storage either by buying an additional drive, slotting it in the extra space and expanding the array, or by changing the drives out one by one for higher-capacity drives (bear in mind you need to give them adequate time to rebuild). This means that for a system that you buy in 2020, for instance, as long as the enclosure is working (Synology has spare parts available for purchase should a fan stop working), then the capacity can be increased over time. Even if you manage to fill this up to 108 TB, which is the maximum single volume size, you can add additional expansion units in the way of the Synology DX517, which plugs in via the E-SATA 2 ports on the back, which are then added to the array. I use the Seagate Ironwolf drives in my array now, but have previously used the WD Red which are just as good.
The previous unit, the DS1815+, was reliable. It outlasted everything else that I had technology-wise, and the only real reason for upgrading was that there was newer technology that was faster and more compatible with the new DSM software version 7. The DS1815+ goes up to version 6.2, which still works and is great, but the newer version offers more features. Plus, thinking with my engineer head on, there's only a certain amount of time that a piece of hardware can work, and I was pushing the limits of what I might get out of it at five years. I did give it to my friend and fellow photographer, Steve, who is still using it with no problems to this day, technically making it eight years and still going strong. The newer NAS is compatible with more UPS, has faster RAM and NVMe compatibility, and just works better.
The ways to access this thing are awesome. I can get files anywhere in the world over cellular or Wi-Fi on my mobile phone, tablet, or computer. The Synology quick connect service (free with a Synology login) is epic. I put my username in, and it's like I'm there in front of the thing. This means if I'm in outer Mongolia (I've never been, but if someone is willing to fund me, I'll go test this in real-time) and I have an internet signal, I can get access to my files and share them with clients. There are apps for my phone I can use, and it's just awesome for me to be able to get my stuff anywhere.
Aside from the obvious, there are a few features that make this a great purchase. The apps that are included are excellent. Cloud sync allows me to connect to many different cloud-based backup services (I use BackBlaze, but there are many others available). It allows for scheduled, incremental syncing to not take up valuable resources when I'm working from it. My kids have movies stored on there that they can watch in any room in the house. (Remember, I mentioned lots of people using the NAS at the same time. Did you think I meant my colleagues? I meant my little people!) There are four USB-3 ports on the unit as well, meaning I can plug in a drive and transfer the contents over to it in rapid time, which is great if I'm transferring wedding files to the main drive quickly too. The ability to rebuild and expand quickly is crucial for me, and with the speed of my internal network, I can edit directly from the drive if I create previews in Lightroom, with zero delays or slowdowns.
This is the piece of kit I use daily. It wasn't cheap, but it is going to last me a long time. My father used to say: "buy cheap, buy twice," and that's the best piece of advice I've been given. I'd add to that and say plan well, save hard, and buy specifically. Thanks for reading.
If you liked this article, you may like to read an article I wrote about managing your photography files here.
If you're in the states, B&H has this at the time of writing for $999. This enclosure is a bargain, as it's well over a grand in the UK.
Completely agree. Although my DS1813+ is updated to 7.1, DS1815+ should be able to, too.
Currently waiting for the new DS1823xs+ to become available, and get the DS1813+ to replace my ancient DS1511+ as remote backup.
If you don't mind the massive price premium over a DIY NAS build, then Synology NAS products are extremely simple to use. Only issue is you have a more restrictive firmware and hardware restrictions such as forcing you to use their overpriced m.2 SSDs. With a PC, you can have a motherboard with 3 m.2 slots and 8 SATA ports, and then at 2-3 10 port SATA cards and run 38 hard drives in a ZFS pool.
If you are fine with the limitations, then there is no open source solution that really matches the simplicity of the synology and their hybrid RAID function.
Do you have any info on a "how to" for building a system such as you describe. As well as getting RAID software to run it?
I've got a Synology DS213j which I've had since 2013. Still working like a champ with zero problems. I am planning on buying a newer Synology NAS later this year as I'm getting low on space and 10 years is a long time for a piece of tech with spinning disks.
Those are huge. I'll probably go with a little nas. x.
look at the ds1523
Great article storage is the forgotten part of photography
Until an HD dies... :^(
That's the point though. You replace the broken drive and shr rebuilds it
I'm a big fan of the ioSafe implementation of Synology's setup - fireproof and waterproof!
If you are okay with cold backups (backing up important data to bare drives), then a cheap alternative is to just store drives in a fire/water resistant safe. For example dedicating a shelf if your safe to having 4 or 5 8TB hard drives, and then gradually cycle through them with manual cold backups using SATA dock to dump files onto an encrypted volume on them.
I used to do that several years back, but once you go this route ... it's hard to go back.
you have to do that yourself though right? The point of this is that its a hands-off type backup system.
Yep, it is a very manual process. Basically using a SATA dock (cheap $15 USB 3.0 ones work well), and then connecting a drive, then mounting the volume using veracrypt, then copying any important files to it manually, then unmounting, and placing it back in the safe. It is not good for large amounts of data, but it is useful for a smaller amount of the most important data. Also works as an extra line of security to mitigate harm if the NAS is ever compromised in a way that corrupts some data as well as any cloud syncs.
Not very convenient but it is cheaper, especially if you already have a safe for important documents and other stuff.