In my recent article “Delete Your Sh!t: Why You Should Trash Most of Your Photos” I made a case to encourage photographers to permanently delete a large majority of their image files in order to minimize their data storage requirements (among the other benefits of a smaller catalog).
However, there seems to be an ongoing myth that data storage is inexpensive – so actively culling the data you choose to store is not necessary.
In this article, I though I would look at the actual business cost of data storage for creative professionals – because it adds up to a lot more than you may think.
Personal Data Storage vs Professional Data Storage
If you are just storing your personal home photos and video on a single hard drive – yes data storage is fairly cheap.
However, creative professionals and businesses need to store much more data than the average consumer, and they have to make sure their data is safe.
For the example I will use in this article, I am going to look at a fairly typical home office data storage setup:
- NAS primary data storage.
- External hard drive local backup.
- Off Site Cloud backup.
- Mobile access and file delivery service.
While the average consumer might be able to get away with one or two terabytes of storage space, creative professionals and businesses often need much more room – and enough latitude to continuously expand and add new data.
For an average home based low volume photography studio, eight terabytes of available storage space is a reasonable requirement – while video and high volume photography studios would require a lot more room than that.
NAS Primary Data Storage
Setting up network attached storage (NAS) is usually the first step most creative professionals will take when they realize that trusting their life’s work to the C:/ drive in their desktop PC probably isn’t a great long term data strategy (or even worse a portable hard drive, laptop, phone or other easily lost, stolen or broken device).
There are a number of advantages to NAS storage, but the main one (aside from network access which is extremely useful of course) is the ability to store your data on a device that has built in RAID redundancy – so when one (or more) hard drives fail (and they will fail), you don’t lose any data.
I personally use an eight bay Synology NAS (four bays are currently empty and reserved for expansion) with Synology’s Hybrid RAID (SHR) with two disk redundancy so that more than two hard drives have to fail at the same time before data is lost.
(I used to use only single disk redundancy – but I found that the time frame between identifying that a disk had failed and replacing it – while my data was at risk – was too stressful.)
So, lets say you wanted to get started with a good quality four bay NAS – the Synology DiskStation DS415+ lists at $600 on B&H.
Then, to reach your 8TB storage capacity (with two drive redundancy), you need four x 4TB hard drives.
Western Digital 4TB Red Pro hard drives are built for high performance NAS use and list at $211 each at B&H.
(You could opt for larger drives for a larger capacity – or a NAS with more bays – or both…)
The total purchase price to set up a high quality home office NAS storage unit is $1,444 plus shipping (and duty and exchange depending on where you live).
External Hard Drive Local Backup
Next you should have a local backup for your NAS.
Even if you set up a NAS with two drive redundancy, hard drives are not the only component that can fail.
If your NAS itself fails – or if your cat figures out how push it off the shelf – you’re dead in the water.
Ideally, you would have an identical second NAS that mirrors the primary – however this is a little expensive (if not obsessive compulsive).
For most home office photography studios, a simple large capacity hard drive is sufficient (although you might want to use two if you are like me and paranoid about relying on a single piece of hardware at any point in the chain).
I have been using Fantom drives for years and I really like them because they are built with a solid aluminum enclosure that acts as a heat sink – eliminating the need for a cooling fan – so they are both quiet and have less components that could fail.
You can purchase an 8TB Fantom G-Force USB 3 / eSATA external hard drive from B&H for $390.
There is an 8TB Fantom external hard drive model with USB 3 only (no eSATA) that is only $300 – however, if your NAS has eSATA ports (like Synology does), it is worth going with eSATA for the fastest backups possible – especially since we are talking about an 8TB drive here.
Off Site Cloud Backup
Next is off-site cloud backup.
With the above setup, you are fairly well protected locally – unless there is a local disaster – like if your basement floods, your office burns down or your computers are stolen (two out of those three have happened to me at least once).
The first choice for most creative professionals that I know is Amazon Glacier.
Amazon Glacier pricing starts at $0.007 per GB/Month – so if you’re looking at storing 8TB the total cost would be $56 per month.
There are a number of other cloud backup options available, but once you’re talking about more than a terabyte of space you often have to upgrade to a “pro” or “business” option with pricing that is not that much less than Glacier. (Many cloud backup providers also do not support network drives – so be careful if you’re using a NAS).
If you are using a Synology NAS, an added bonus is that you can backup your NAS directly to Amazon Glacier without an attached PC managing the backup – the NAS can handle it all by itself (headless backup) which simplifies your workflow and increases the reliability of your backup process.
I personally use SOS Online Backup because as a longtime customer I was able to negotiate three years of unlimited NAS backup storage for $450 ($12.50 per month instead of the monthly list price of $30 per month).
If you are thinking of using SOS, I suggest talking to their customer service department personally and let them know that you are only backing up one single device (your NAS), but you need unlimited storage.
Mobile Access & File Transfer
Finally, after all of your data is safe and sound, you need a fast and reliable way to deliver images and video to your clients.
I gave up on DVDs and USB drives a long time ago – digital downloads are so much faster and easier to manage – but when you’re talking about large amounts of data and large files – you can’t exactly just send it by email.
Or you can also configure your NAS to allow client downloads.
But personally, I prefer Dropbox Pro for $9.99 per month. Most clients are familiar with Dropbox so it is fairly painless to share very large files and very large folders full of files.
I also store all of my finished work and business documents on Dropbox Pro – full resolution jpg exports and rendered video so my work is always accessible along with contracts, model releases etc. While 1TB of storage space is nowhere near enough room for all of the original source files, it is enough room to store deliverables.
The Bottom Line
Hopefully this article has helped to explain some of the business costs of setting up a reliable home office data storage system and some of the options available to keep your data safe.
Based on the example outlined above, for a small business maintaining 8TB of storage space, you’re looking at an initial hardware investment around $2000 plus annual fees in the order of $800.
For creative professionals, 8TB of storage space is a relatively modest requirement, and costs go up the more space you need so I still maintain my original premise that all superfluous data should be permanently deleted as outlined here: “Delete Your Sh!t: Why You Should Trash Most of Your Photos”
And while this certainly dispels the myth that storage is cheap, the business cost of not investing in a robust data management storage system is certainly much much higher.
How Do You Store Your Data?
What do you think is the business cost of data storage?
How do you manage your business data?
What other options would you suggest for storing business data?
Leave a comment below and let us know!