Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Dealing with the long-term storage challenges that every pro will face
Yellow Machine Terabyte Class FailSafe Media Server P410T. The Yellow Machine is a standout in this overview, for good reasons and bad. The good reasons are the most obvious: the bright yellow paint on the unit probably fits better in a photo studio or back office with a trendy Mac laptop or brand-new Dell than the clunky, PC-centric metal boxes of the other units. And the Yellow Machine has an internal router, a connection for a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) and a WAN port that you can use to connect directly to your cable modem. Though the internal router (and the unit) supports only 10/100 Ethernet and not gigabit networking, the main advantage to the all-in-one approach is that it's somewhat portable. Yellow Machine even offers an optional carrying case, so you could conceivably bring this NAS with you to an on-location shoot and connect your equipment to the NAS directly or offload easily. We question the logic of carrying a $1,000, 14-pound add-on; of course, part of our routine is transporting gear worth thousands of dollars, so maybe it's doable.
One specification on the Yellow Machine is quite impressive. The unique FailSafe technology adds to the redundant archiving capability of most NAS devices by ensuring that your files are always safe and secure, even if one image becomes corrupt or if your computer gets infected with a virus. The system appeared faster on the network, probably because of the internal technology that manages disks and network connections.
If the portability, design and extra features of the Yellow Machine were hot, the performance was somewhat cold. Write time for the 1.5 GB file was 17 minutes; read speed was 10 minutes. Meanwhile, the 65 MB file saved from Photoshop took 37 seconds, at least three times slower than the other NAS products tested. At press time, Yellow Machine hadn't returned e-mails asking for an explanation about the slow performance, although we received one confirmation from a competitor that they knew drive performance was an issue. The Yellow Machine makes the most sense for its FailSafe protection and design, as well as its high storage capacity, but we can't recommend it if you rely on your network for storing files quickly.
A server is similar to an NAS device in that it provides some of the same benefits, such as always-on disk access, storage for a workgroup's sharing files, long-term archiving and speedy throughput. However, a server also gives you more control over what you share, with whom and even when. For example, you can configure a Linux server for both internal and external access so you can access files using a remote client. And you can restrict access to time of day and even configure levels of access for clients, employees and potential customers. With this flexibility comes another benefit: a typical Apple Xserve runs much faster than an NAS device because of how the system is designed from the ground up to provide the fastest network access possible.
A server is also much more configurable, so you can add additional drives, replace parts inside your Linux box to provide more capability (such as tape drives for archiving or optical disc access) and provide “soft” benefits, such as better disaster recovery, media streaming, an e-mail server and remote Internet access. These are soft benefits only because, for the most part, pro photographers are looking for a place to store their 50 MB high-res photos.
While servers may provide distinct advantages over NAS units, there are two major roadblocks: price and administration. An Apple Xserve, for example, can cost anywhere from $10,000 up to $25,000 or more. Management overhead means tweaking a number of settings for performance, archives, client access and even subtleties, such as Internet filters and security controls, something a hired admin might have to do.
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