Storage Hardware Overview
Digital photography creates a lot of data that needs to be stored, retrieved and backed up. This page outlines the basics of digital storage and points to more in-depth discussions.
Your primary storage device(s) should be fast to read and write, since they are, by definition, the primary place to store the images. You may also want fault-tolerance, such as the protection provided by drive-spanning devices like RAID. There can also be a distinction between the primary storage for working files, as opposed to the storage for archive files. Here are some quick recommendations:
- For laptops, a 7200 RPM internal drive can speed up everything you do if you are upgrading from a 5400 RPM drive.
- For laptops, you might also consider a Solid State Drive (SSD), however, these are currently lower capacity and significantly more expensive per gigabyte.
- For desktops, big internal storage drives help with speed and capacity.
- For those who work with large images, certain types of RAID can speed up the reading and writing of files.
- RAID (redundant array of independent disks) can also help protect work by offering fault-tolerant storage. Be warned that not all RAID is created equal. You can get yourself in a lot of trouble if it's not installed and administered correctly.
- Primary storage for Archive files doesn’t have to be as fast as the storage for Working files since it's likely you won't need to get to them in a hurry.
- Using multiple hard drives almost always offers a significant speed boost. For laptops, it’s often possible to remove the optical drive and add another hard drive or SSD.
FIGURE 1 A 3-2-1 backup plan the recommended configuration for backup of archived images.
You must have dedicated storage for backups of your files. Ideally, you should have a total of three copies of any files you want to keep (a primary and two backups). Here are some quick recommendations for backup storage.
- There should be three total copies of your image or footage files.
- The files should be stored on two different media types, such as hard drive and optical disk, particularly for Archive files.
- Ideally 1 copy of your backup lives off-site.
- Removable drive enclosures can let you add more backup storage at a reduced cost.
- Working files often require additional backup for full protection, compared to Archive files.
A hard drive can be formatted as a single volume or as multiple volumes. It’s also possible that a multiple drives can be “spanned” to act as a single volume.
- Mac drives should be formatted as GUID for Intel Mac, Apple Partition Map for G5 or earlier Mac, or potentially as FAT32 if they must be shared with Windows users.
- PC drives should be formatted as NTFS drives, or FAT32 if they must be shared with Macs.
- You can buy utilities such as MacDrive and work with AFS or GUID drives on Windows.
- You can buy utilities such as NTFS for Mac to write Windows NTFS drives on Mac (this can be important for BootCamp users).
- Digital camera media cards are formatted to FAT32 because it is almost universally supported.
- The newer exFAT format allows you to read and write on Windows and Mac (10.6.5 and later). It is the native format for some high-capacity SDXC media cards. It is patented and proprietary, so it is less universal than the other volume schemes listed above.
Multiple drives can be formatted to act like a single drive, most often by using some form of Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID). This is done to add speed, reliability, or both. A different kind of RAID is available in proprietary form from a company called Data Robotics. The Drobo brings drive spanning to the market with the ease of an appliance.
READ MORE ABOUT DRIVE SPANNING IN THIS SECTION
FIGURE 2 Multiple drives can appear to the computer as a single drive through some form of drive spanning. Multiple drives may also appear as individual drives.
Drives can live inside the computer case (internal drives) or they can live in some kind of external enclosure. Internal drives on modern computers will generally connect by Serial ATA (SATA) protocol. This is a fast and modern connection. External drives will generally connect by eSATA, FireWire (IEEE1393), Thunderbolt, or USB.
Internal drives offer certain advantages, but may be insufficient in either speed or capacity for some tasks.
Internal drives connected by SATA provide a fast and easy connection that can typically support the full speed of a single drive. They are also cheaper to implement than external solutions. It’s possible to create a RAID volume of internal drives, if the computer supports more than one internal disk.
External storage typically provides for significantly more expansion capability, using one of the common connection types. Stripped RAID can allow for very fast data throughput, if the connection type is fast enough, typically eSATA, USB3 or Thunderbolt.
For many photographers, an image collection will exceed the capacity of a single drive and may be stored on a multiple drive external configuration.
External drives will often be the best choice for backup storage, since they can be moved away from the primary storage, and even taken off-site.
Hard drives are delicate electronic mechanisms, and they should be protected from electrical and physical shock.
READ MORE ABOUT HARD DRIVE STORAGE AND HANDLING IN THIS SECTION
Hard drives should also be periodically inspected with drive utilities that can validate and repair any glitches to the volume or directory structure. The operating system can take care of this to some extent, but additional utilities, such as Disk Warrior on Mac, or System Mechanic on PC can help spot and repair problems before they become too serious.
Data validation process, as outlined in the data section of this website, can help you verify the heath of both the storage media and the files themselves in a single easy process.
Some media types are particularly well suited for use in backing up files rather than for primary storage. Optical discs, such as CD, DVD and Blu-ray, offer inexpensive, reasonably reliable and forward-compatible storage capability as part of a comprehensive backup strategy for image files
Digital tape is another medium that is well suited only to backup storage. It's mostly used as a backup medium for large institutions, but some high-volume photographers use it as well. It's expensive to implement but once installed, it does not cost much to add more capacity.