Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Safe Keeping

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

Safe Keeping Apple Xserve. Think of an Apple Xserve as an all-in-one, network-attached device, similar to the Buffalo TeraStation, that also adds all of the server functions you'd expect, such as network user accounts. So Apple gives you all the power and flexibility of a server, but it's configured for plug-and-play access with any platform, including Mac, PC and Linux. Many pro photographers have told stories about how they bought an Xserve and had it up and running in a few hours, sharing files at high speed and enjoying the benefits of 99-percent uptime and network backups.

The Xserve achieves this high usability and high power in the same way that Apple makes a powerful and useable operating system: by superior, intelligent design. The Xserve uses a 1U rackmount design (each server is only 1.75 inches tall) so you can add more servers to your business as needed. The server uses an Intel Xeon processor that runs five times faster than the previous-gen Xserve G5 and is a true 64-bit platform for intelligent processing. Since a server achieves most of its bandwidth through the front-side bus, the Xserve uses a 1.33 GHz processor bus, 256-bit FM-DIMM memory and two PCI Express slots that run at 2 GB per second. There are also two FireWire 800 ports, one FireWire 400 port and two USB 2.0 ports for adding storage.

With an Apple Xserve, you also can add a SAN (storage area network) with RAID 5 and never edit a photograph on your local drive again. That's because a SAN works like the processor bus inside your computer. Files actually open faster in Adobe Photoshop when you access them across a SAN than they do locally. Editing files stored on a SAN also works faster. A SAN is incredibly reliable because of the intelligence of the technology, ensuring that files never become corrupt. The main drawback to using Xserve, though, even with the straightforward options available in an OS X Server, is that some options will take time to configure.

Linux Server. The primary advantage to a Linux server is cost. Once you've decided to dedicate a Mac or PC box as a Linux server and added all of your internal and external storage, the actual server software is generally free. For example, you can download Ubuntu Server (www.ubuntu.com/server) for free and run through a relatively painless wizard to configure your user accounts, add storage drives and get the network up and running.

Some Linux distributions, such as those from Red Hat and Novell, do cost a few hundred dollars or more, but come with technical support and a stronger “certified” user community that has been around for more than a decade in most cases. As with any server, the initial setup might be fairly routine, but configuring options in Linux is much more difficult than it is with Windows XP or Apple Xserve. For example, you may find that you need to run console commands to configure user groups for access to certain drives, something that's spelled out for you with a commercial product. It might mean hiring a Linux admin to help you set up custom options.

Linux has one clear advantage over Apple Xserve, Windows Server and an NAS: security. Most Linux distros use extremely powerful encryption, such as 256-bit AES, since the operating system was designed from the beginning to be secure and doesn't open ports on your computer for hackers to sneak in and steal your files. The server management system is usually highly flexible as well. So, if you use Ubuntu Server, for example, you can access the server admin from a Web interface on your Mac laptop running the client version of OS X.


Overall, network storage changes the way you do business. For example, mass storage is more readily available from any computer, safe from a PC and corruption that occurs in Windows XP and even on a Mac, offers you safe storage because the disks typically mirror your photos from one drive to another, and gives you that extra boost in productivity. And we all need that! Once you add network storage, you never go back.

Cost-Per-Gigayte Comparison
DVD Optical: $.08 per GB
(Based on a 100-DVD pack for $40)

External USB Hard Disk: $2 per GB
(Based on the average price for a 500 GB drive)

Flash Media: $32 per GB
(Based on SanDisk SD, CF and MS pricing at Buy.com)

NAS: $0.88 per GB
(Based on Iomega External Network Hard Drive)

Xserve: Starts at $10,000, plus storage



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