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Storage Buyer's Guide: Safeguarding Your Digital Creations

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From camera to computer to long-term safekeeping, we'll look at everything you need to know about today's storage solutions.

Whether you're recording a client’s wedding, your child's birthday party or have just wrapped the final scenes of your latest feature-length indie production, few things would be more disastrous than finding yourself with lost or corrupt files. There are no do-overs with events like weddings and birthdays. And while commercials and movies can be re-shot, it is very time-consuming, expensive and will seriously compromise your clients' and producers' faith in your abilities.

As with all things video, you have to look first at your needs. Will you always work on the same computer system or are you likely to carry your work from one system to another? Is your work of high commercial value and will it require a great deal of security and redundancy? It is very important to be perfectly clear on what you want the storage system to do for you, in order to be happy with your final decision.

Next, consider your budget. Storage solutions can range widely in price and archiving footage takes up space. Typically, what you'll end up with will be a compromise that lies somewhere between what you need and what you can afford. Understanding a few important points about storage components will assist you in making the most out of that decision. So let's take a look at several internal, external, and network attached devices, their uses and features.

Internal Storage

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Internal drives are those that mount inside the computer's case. How many drives is limited by your system's available room and the motherboard's capacity to support them. They come in two flavors -rotating and solid-state. Rotating drives have been the storage mainstay for quite some time now and work in a fashion reminiscent of the phonograph players of old, utilizing a spinning disc (or platter) and a read/write head attached to a floating arm. Rotational speeds vary from 5400RPM to 15000RPM for desktop systems. The faster the better, in this case, with 7200RPM typically at the lower end of the recommended range for efficient media work. The Seagate Barracuda XT 3TB hard drive is one such drive and is well suited for video work, with its large capacity and high spin rate. It utilizes three high-density, 1TB platters, rotates at 7200RPM and connects using the SATA 6Gb/s interface. Benchmarks clock read speeds of 155-166MB/s, with write speeds at 146-156MB/s.

The new storage technology on the block is solid-state. Having no moving parts, solid-state drives (SSDs) run cooler, quieter, require less power and achieve much faster speeds than traditional drives. The trade-off, however, comes in the form of lower capacities and higher prices. Verbatim solid-state drives come in both SATA II and SATA III interfaces. Their SATA II model comes in capacities up to 256GB with read/write speeds up to 270MB/s and 225MB/s respectively. For computers with SATA III interfacing, the Verbatim SATA III SSD is available in capacities up to 480GB with read/write MB/s speeds in the 500s!

External Storage

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External storage refers to any sort of drive that resides outside the confines of the computer's casing. This provides a distinct advantage, with fewer limitations on the number of drives one can have. The physical size of the case is no longer a limiting factor, numerous interface options exist and some drives can be daisy-chained together. There are two different types of external drive. Those intended for desktop use, and portables. Desktop units are larger and heavier than portables and require their own electrical outlet. LaCie's d2 Quadra USB 3.0 comes with capacities of either 2TB or 3TB and multiple interface options: FireWire 800, USB 2.0/3.0 and eSATA 3Gb/s - giving it a great range of compatibility. It features 7200RPM drives with transfer speeds up to 130MB/s using USB 3.0.

In addition to their smaller, lighter build, portable drives do not require you to carry around a power adapter. They receive their power directly from the computer they're tethered to via the connecting cable. Western Digital is the current champion in portable capacity with the My Passport 2TB portable hard drive. It interfaces using either USB 2.0 or the much faster USB 3.0. For even faster speeds, there's the Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt. A great companion for your Thunderbolt-enabled computer, Thunderbolt carries twice the bandwidth of USB 3.0. For those times when a Thunderbolt port isn't available, the Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt can also be connected via USB 3.0.

Another type of external drive solution is a RAID setup. RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. It uses multiple hard drives in various ways to achieve greater speed, capacity, data-preserving redundancy or some combination of these. Without a doubt, one of the best features of a RAID system (depending on the particular configuration) is that even if an even if an entire drive were to fail,, all of its data could be recovered from the remaining drives. A RAID array comes at an increased cost, and perhaps, some added complexity, but if you're working with high value projects it may be your best solution.

Many RAID systems exist in today's market. One of them, G-Technology's G-SPEED Q, is a four drive RAID, configurable up to 12TB. High-speed connectivity is achieved through eSATA, FireWire 400/800 and USB 2.0. 7200RPM, enterprise-class hard drives reach read speeds of more than 220MB/s, with write speeds of 200MB/s when connected via eSATA. G-SPEED Q's built-in RAID controller supports RAID 0 for speed and RAID 5 for data protection. For Mac editors, the CalDigit T2 Thunderbolt RAID is a dual drive unit configurable up to 8TB. Hot swappable drives can either be 3.5-inch hard drives or 2.5-inch SSDs with transfer speeds up to 630MB/s. The drives may be set to RAID 0, RAID 1 or Just a Bunch Of Disks (JBOD), which provides direct access to each drive independently. Two Thunderbolt ports allow for daisy chaining for maximum scalability.

Network Attached Storage

For larger operations, such as commercial production houses, where multiple workstations require access to the same data, a Network Attached Storage (NAS) unit may be the answer. A NAS is a data storage unit connected to a network that makes data accessible to all the systems also connected to that network. More than just a storage unit, a NAS may also function as an file transfer protocol, Web, print and multimedia server. Many NAS units include multiple hard drives set up as RAID arrays. One such unit, the Ciphertex CX-5000NAS, with AES 256-bit hardware encryption, is a business-class server with up to five hot swappable drives and capacities of 5, 10 or 15TB. RAID levels include 0, 1 and 5. More affordable for the home user, Buffalo Technology's LinkStation Pro offers a single high performance drive NAS device with 1-4TB of capacity and remote access to your data over the Internet.

Users at all levels require more and more storage today as we continue to create digital assets at an ever-increasing pace. Consider carefully your needs, match them against your budget and you'll be sure to find the storage solution that will provide the security, recovery and accessibility you require, at a price you can afford.

Sidebar:Typical RAID Configurations

RAID 0, also known as disk striping, writes data across multiple disks. At least two drives are required and since two or more drives are reading and writing data, performance improves. The big gotcha' here, though, is that if a single drive fails you stand a significant chance of losing your data.

RAID 1 "mirroring" also requires at least two disks and copies data from one disk to another, creating a perfect copy. If one drive fails, the other still contains all the data. The downside here no speed increase and reduced capacity, as half the total disk space is used to create the copy.

RAID 5 is very popular in the business realm. As prices reduce, it's finding its way into the home as well. RAID 5 requires a minimum of three drives, provides better performance and capacity than RAID 1 as well as the fault tolerance lacking in RAID 0. It's more costly than the other two, but if a disk fails, it can be swapped out, without having to shut the system down and the data will be re-built to the new drive from the remaining disks.

Other RAID levels exist, such as RAID 10 (aka RAID 1+0), which is a combination of RAID 1 and RAID 0. RAID 10 gives the best performance but is also more costly. RAID 2, 3, 4, 7 and 0+1 are specialized variations of RAID 0, 1 and 5, these three main configurations are the best options for home and most small to mid-size business use.

Sidebar:What Will It Cost Me ?

While prices vary widely depending on features, this will provide a rough idea of what to expect when you pull out your wallet.

  • Internal: Rotating $55 - $245
  • Internal: SSD $100 - $460
  • External: Desktop $100 - $500+
  • External: Portable $70 - $215
  • RAID/NAS $120 - $1,000+

Click here to download a PDF of Videomaker's Storage Buyer's Guide

Colin Marks is a video producer and trainer.

Tags:  January 2013
Colin
Marks
Wed, 12/05/2012 - 8:30am

Comments

Steve Young's picture

Good article. You show a photo of a Drobo device, but don't mention anything about it.

How does it compare to standard RAID solutions?

Cost?

Reliability?

Speed?

 

I hear the name mentioned a lot.

 

Cheers

axg's picture

The title of this article was "SAFEGUARDING Your Digital Creations".  However, this article was primarily about storing data.  I own a technology firm, so I understand all of this, including the fact that RAID 5 will safeguard you from a single hard drive failure.

 

However, what I'd really like to know is how do small production companies professionally backup their data both on-site and off-site?  Uploading to the cloud can be pretty expensive and slow, particularly for hi-def video files that are pretty large.

 

Thanks!

Stodds's picture

Ooh, the cloud is most definitely out! I live out in the sticks and to back up HD data would take forever...  I use a NAS to backup the RAID0 disk set in the PC and then an additional offsite backup at the end of the day...  It is a bit of a palaver but far less than the consequence of losing data :-)

Happy New Year from the UK :-)

 

 

Stodds's picture

I read with interest the post about using RAID level 5....

 

With the advent of hard drives with capacities of 3TB or more, the use of RAID5 has given rise to concerns... If a disk in a NAS configured as RAID5 was to fail, the length of time taken to rebuild the RAID will be dependant on the size of the disks that make up the set.  If the larger capacity disks (I.E. 3TB) are present, rebuild time can take many many hours. 

 

During this time, your precious data is at risk.. another failure now means total loss...

 

A NAS that uses smaller disks still has the same risk during a rebuild but for a shorter time..

 

RAID6 is the new(ish) kid on the block.  Think of it as RAID5 with extra marbles... A NAS configured as RAID6 can withstand two concurrent disk failures but as you may have surmised, the downside is more of the total capacity of the RAID is reserved for recovery data.

Happy New Year from the UK :-)

 

LarryR05055's picture

We only use a RAID (DROBO, in my case) for personal work. All jobs are backed up to LTO tape. The saying goes,'If it isn't on tape, it isn't backed up.' It's not a perfect solution but it seems towork pretty well. Tapes arenot always easy to access and  care must be taken to log them accurately and thoroughly. Costs less than $.50 per gigabyte. In our case the editor now provides this service. We then store tapes at a storge facility. Off-site from where the jobs are edited. Client pays for backup.  Client also pays ongoing fees for storage on commercial jobs - films and commercials.