A Storage Container?

Let me start with a funny story that took place just recently as I was chatting with a USAA rep who was helping me get business insurance for my photography endeavors. We were discussing the coverage that I’d need for my computer equipment above and beyond my actual camera gear. I started rattling off the costs of my computer, displays, and accessories, tallying up the total as I went. I finished the audit by saying that I also have two huge storage containers for my photos. There was a pause and then the rep asked for the size of my storage containers, which confused me for a second but then I answered, “they’re 16Tb each.” Now we were both thoroughly confused. A moment later, it dawned on me that there actually is a more literal definition of a “storage container for my photos.” I immediately clarified that I wasn’t referring to a container room to store physical photos, but rather a container of hard drives that stored all of my digital photos. We laughed and carried on with the insurance application process.

But this anecdote is laced with a lot of truth. Namely, I firmly believe that storage does not get nearly the amount of doting and attention that a new camera or lens does… and yet it is possibly the single most important piece of equipment next to your camera. Once you return home after a shoot, every photographic record you took will be destined for a storage container either inside, or connected to, your computer. I think we can all agree on this universal truth of the modern day photographer. I’ll also go on a limb and say that the photos you’ve just taken are very important to you, as are the ones you’ve taken every day before this one. Finally, if you agree that the most appropriate word to describe the total and unrecoverable loss of your photos would be catastrophic, then you need to be serious about how you store them and back them up, and it is the very impetus for me writing this article.

What Is Your Storage Strategy?

Before I dive further into my story, let me clarify that this is simply a recount of my experiences and decision-making processes as they relate to my storage strategy. You may have totally different experiences. However, I urge each of you to at least take a good look at what your storage strategy is and determine whether it’s reliable and supports your production needs.

As far as my production workspace goes, my primary computer is a 27″ Apple iMac 5K with a 4.2 Ghz Intel i7 processor, 64Gb of RAM, an AMD Radeon Pro 580 graphics adapters, and a 512 Gb internal SSD drive. I use Time Machine to backup my system volume and Chronosync to backup my entire photo/video library.

The thing about a storage strategy is that it doesn’t need to be complicated… it just needs to suit your needs. For me, five things are critical for my storage strategy:

  1. I need a scalable storage solution to hold my entire catalog of photos and videos while growing with my needs.
  2. I need to have a storage container that can leverage the fastest possible bus speed of my computer. In this case, it is Thunderbolt 3.
  3. I need my storage container to have fail-safes in place to protect it from possible hard drive failures
  4. I need to have a fast and reliable on-site, mirrored backup of my entire photo and video library.
  5. I need to have ready access to a local off-site copy of my library with an incremental backup loss of no longer than two weeks.

The First Step to Recovery Is Admitting You Have A Problem

5bay-right-headerFor a little over four years now, the photo storage of my on-site production and backup containers were a pair of Drobo S units followed by an upgrade to twin Drobo 5D storage containers daisy-chained to my computer via Thunderbolt. My primary container had 5 x 3Tb Seagate hard drives and my backup container had 5 x 2Tb Seagate hard drives. In the time that I’ve owned Drobo units, you could say that I’ve experienced my share of issues…. each of which cost me time and money thanks to the added price of Drobocare, Drobo’s solution to an extended warranty.

In my lifetime as a Drobo user, I’ve had four units, two power adapters, and a faceplate replaced and have still struggled with a slew of performance issues and the incessancy of a chassis that randomly rattles and buzzes. This is in addition to the six(!) Seagate hard drives that have died on me and had to be replaced. To illustrate the ridiculous amount of support calls I’ve placed to Drobo, here is a synopsis of each case opened since 2010.


Click to enlarge

It wasn’t until one day in late October that I finally had enough. I was working on an important photo project and concentration was at a premium that day. As I sat at my desk—Wacom stylus in hand—I was in the zone with editing. Things were going well. Too well. And then, naturally, my Drobo began making an awful vibrating sound. It was all too familiar and it was at the exact frequency to snap me out of my zone. That was it. I was absolutely done with this nonsense. A change had to be made at a fundamental level.

Now, you may think that I’m being melodramatic but there are two things that I’d like to point out. First, there are few things more precious to an artist than being in the zone. It is creativity’s warm blanket and the place where all muses live. When you find yourself in the zone, you never want to leave or get pushed out, especially when it’s because of the crap machining of your photo storage containers. Second, please refer back to the laundry list of cases that I’ve had to work through due to the fiesta of hardware issues with my Drobo units.

Enter G-Technology

g-speed-studio-hardware-raid-quarter-2Shortly after deciding to migrate away from Drobo, I began my research as to which company I should invest my storage needs with. I did my share of reading reviews and comparing benchmarks but it wasn’t until a fateful conversation I had with my friend and travel photographer, Ken Kaminesky, that I decided to invest in G-Technology. While I enjoy reading reviews as much as anyone else, I find that listening to real-world accounts by actual users are infinitely more useful. Ken told me all about his experiences with G-Technology, their products, and the people who work there. In full disclosure, Ken is a member of G-Technology’s G-Team, along with other notable photographers and friends like Lindsay Adler, Lucas Gilman, Jeremy Cowart, Colby Brown, and Vincent Laforet.

g-dock-ev-quarter-openI explained my situation to Ken and asked him recommend specific G-Technology hardware for me to consider purchasing. I was prepared to shell out some money but was hopeful that I could recoup some of it after selling off these Drobo units. Little did I know that Ken would go way above and beyond, being instrumental in helping me establish a partnership with G-Technology, which directly led to me being able to take possession of twin 16Tb G-Speed Studios and a G-Dock ev to house my travel drives.


The Great Migration

It took a lot of restraint to keep me from tearing open these new units once they were delivered to my house. However, I wanted to make sure that I had a sound strategy in place to safely migrate all of my data from my old storage system to my new G-Technology system. I also thought the process would make for a useful article—which you’re now reading—and I wanted to capture as much relevant data pertaining to this process as possible. After spending some time figuring things out, my migration plan would be laid out like this:

  1. Run a final incremental backup from my production Drobo 5D to my backup Drobo 5D using Chronosync
  2. Unmount, shut down, and disconnect the backup Drobo 5D
  3. Unpack, connect, and power up my new production G-Speed Studio container
  4. Create a new, 1-time Chronosync synchronizer job to migrate the entirety of my production Drobo 5D to the G-Speed Studio
  5. Unmount, shut down, and disconnect the production Drobo 5D
  6. Unpack, connect, and power up my new backup G-Speed Studio container
  7. Create a new, permanent Chronosync synchronizer and schedule to run incremental backup jobs nightly at 2AM
  8. Execute an ad-hoc job of the newly created synchronizer for the initial backup of all my content from my production G-Speed Studio to my backup G-Speed Studio

Now, I currently have 4.77 Tb of data which amounts to approximately 265,590 files. Part of me expected that step 4 would take some time. So, I waited… and waited… and waited. And then I went to sleep. When I woke up, I immediately checked my computer and was first relieved to see that the backup job didn’t stall or crash. I admit that there was a part of me that was expecting my Drobo to crap out. Still, I was shocked, and a bit appalled, that it took 14 hours and 56 minutes to complete this backup job. I didn’t crunch any hard numbers but the Drobo 5D leverages the Thunderbolt bus and the G-Speed Studio leverages the newer, faster Thunderbolt 2 bus. I figured that between the two, the process should only take 5-6 hours. Sadly, I was wrong. Here is the snapshot of the great migration job from step 4:

Screen Shot 2014-12-20 at 9.48.21 AM

With all of my data now safely stored on my new G-Speed Studio production volume, I began the process of migrating the data over to the backup G-Speed Studio. The job itself was virtually identical with the only differences being the source and destination volumes. So, I kicked off the job and went downstairs. A few hours went by when I heard my computer make a tone. My initial reaction as an abused Drobo owner was one of panic and frustration. “Something must have crashed,” I thought to myself. But when I got to my computer, a totally different reality presented itself. Behold, the final migration job had completed… in 3 hours and 38 minutes! That’s just about four times faster! Here is a snapshot of the final migration job:

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 9.45.41 AM

There was still one more test that I was dying to conduct. With my previous Drobo setup, I timed the launch of Lightroom from a cold boot up to be 98 seconds! Over a minute and a half to launch Lightroom and get it to where I could navigate folders. When I conducted the same cold boot launch test with my G-Technology system, it took <drumroll> 12 seconds. [Drops mic – exits stage left]

After A Week of Use

Listen, I expected to see some performance gains after moving from an all-Drobo system to an all-G-Technology system but nothing quite this dramatic. Every single aspect of my new system is far superior and you have to understand that I’m not just saying this because I am partnering with the company. I would never vouch for a product or service that I do not use and enjoy myself. My new G-Technology system is whisper quiet and blazing fast. What’s better is that I finally have peace of mind thanks to the enterprise-grade hard drives that ship with these units and the awesome warranty that is offered.

The bottom line is that my former storage solution was loud, clearly slow, and unreliable. These are attributes that you typically want to avoid when describing your storage container solution. I am not sure why I let myself go this long before taking a hard look at how my most precious photos are being stored but I’m glad that I finally did. I hope this article provides the push and inspiration for you to seriously ask yourself, “Do I really feel comfortable with how my photos and videos are stored?”