Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Safe Keeping

Dealing with the long-term storage challenges that every pro will face

Safe Keeping Network-Attached Storage

Network-attached storage drives provide one simple benefit: you can just plug them in and start accessing files on a network. With little software to install or configure, NAS allows any PC or Mac to store files on a remote drive. You need a router and either CAT-5 Ethernet cables running to the router or wireless networking capability to access the router over 802.11g. An NAS device plugs into the router using an Ethernet cable and becomes part of the network for storage, backups and sharing files.

The main advantage to NAS is that there's no server: there's very little administration and management involved. Once you connect an NAS unit to your network, you can start using all of those gigabytes right away. Many NAS devices work as a RAID 5, which means every image you transfer is stored redundantly across several hard disks. If a photo becomes corrupt, the NAS system will replace the damaged file with an archived image. You don't have to configure NAS for this process because RAID 5 is essentially automatic and self-configuring. Many NAS products do provide a simple method to archive files as well, usually through an automated backup.

Some NAS devices use two drives for RAID 0 (which stripes the drives for better performance) or RAID 1 (which mirrors the drive for better replication), but you end up losing total storage. For example, if you use drive mirroring on two 250 GB drives, your total storage is only 250 GB. There's also the single-drive NAS option, such as the Maxtor Shared Storage II, with 300 GB or 500 GB of storage. These drives use a 16 MB cache, connect to a router using Ethernet and run at 7200 rpm. There's also typically a way to automatically categorize files as video or photos using a drag-and-drop system. However, we'll focus on the higher-end mass-storage NAS products that are more suited to the needs of pro photographers for archiving. In this overview, we've highlighted the most impressive features of four NAS products from the leading manufacturers, at several different price points, and compared them to other storage mediums and technologies.

Safe KeepingBuffalo TeraStation NAS 1.0 TB. Buffalo Technology is well-established in the NAS market, having carved out a niche for more entry-level users with the LinkStation and for small businesses with the TeraStation. This unit is a behemoth at a little more than 16 pounds and with a styling that, perhaps coincidentally, looks like a small safe. Connections and setup were a breeze, thanks to a simple install wizard on CD and only one Ethernet cable to plug into a router. There are four USB 2.0 ports for a printer and USB thumbdrives (such as the SanDisk Cruzer Titanium), although any portable media has to be formatted as FAT32, not the more common NTFS. Performance was good over 10/100 Ethernet. As a RAID 5 device, the TeraStation has a nice “pop” when you move files around.

The unit ranked highest in our Photoshop CS2 test, saving a 65 MB BMP in 11 seconds. Disk-write speed was about seven minutes for a 1.5 GB file, and read speed was four minutes for the same file. Buffalo noted that, if you own a gigabit router, read and write speeds over a network will increase by about 30 percent, although you'll need a gigabit adapter for your laptop or desktop. Over a wireless connection, speeds dropped considerably, but we had no file corruption problems copying even large 2 GB videos from a speedy Acer Aspire 5670 notebook. Tech support for the device involves sending the TeraStation into Buffalo for a free drive replacement. The company advises not replacing drives after a warranty, because of safety issues, although some customers still do. It's easy to remove the enclosure and access the drives, so ongoing support is likely a breeze as well. Buffalo includes a backup program and supports an FTP server mode that allows you to remotely upload files to the NAS. The unit operated almost silently and didn't turn our office into a sauna like some NAS drives will.


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