Hi-Tech Studio: Cloud Storage Basics

The art of backups. Yes, there’s an art to creating a viable backup strategy, and it involves identifying your needs, then coming up with a plan that meets those needs without becoming the main preoccupation of your life. There was a man obsessed with keeping a diary. He spent hours on it every day of his life, and when he reached a certain age and started pondering the inevitable, he and his heirs offered the diary to museums for posterity. But here’s the thing, instead of a chronicle of one man’s place within a changing world, if you looked at the entries from any particular day, an awful lot of his diary entries were about writing in the diary. Backup can become the same thing. You can become so overwhelmed by the possible loss of data that you obsess over redundancy plans.

Backing up your data is critical, but know your limitations, and come up with a system that works for you. Keep it as automated as possible, and make it part of your routine. In a recent episode of his Trey’s Variety Show, Trey Ratcliff of the Stuck In Customs website and a panel of experts discussed strategies for backing up. It was geared to photographers, some of whom are extremely tech savvy and some of whom aren’t. As the panel delved into error rates resulting in file corruption in one file system versus another, one of the panel broke into the conversation to say that the reason people don’t back up their data is because of conversations like this one. If you have a dedicated server that manages your image files over a pair of 20 TB NAS boxes that automatically pushes files to an S3 data center, you don’t need to read this article. If you subscribe to the "pray and hope for the best" backup strategy, read on, and we’ll help you come up with some cloud solutions that can become part of your routine.


As a rule of thumb, a sound backup strategy is to have your data backed up on at least three devices in at least two locations. That can be a pair of large hard drives configured as a RAID at your studio and a copy of the RAID on a third hard drive that’s kept at your home. That’s about as simple as it gets, and if you have about 5 TB or less of data to back up, you can do it all on a few relatively small single-enclosure drives. Western Digital, Seagate and others all make 6 TB drives (that actually contain two physical hard drives) that are the size of a couple of hardback books.

If you’re dealing with more than 5 TB, things get a little more complicated because you can’t just physically move hard drives around, at least not easily. So now you’re looking at the need for some kind of cloud storage to maintain that two-location guideline.

Is There Safety In The Cloud?

Cloud-based storage has become viable for large archives in the past couple of years as the cost per TB has gone down and bandwidth for transmitting data has increased. Cloud storage has gone from being useful for your most valuable images—sort of like a virtual safe deposit box—to being a solid choice for backup of your entire archive.

On the upside, you can access your cloud files from just about anywhere as long as you have a fast Internet connection. On the downside, you need to organize carefully, and the storage can get expensive if you plan to archive everything. The costs, however, continue to fall, and we’re at a point now where a cost-benefit analysis will show cloud storage being well worth it for most pros. It’s simply a matter of how much you want to store in the cloud.

There are a few different classes of cloud storage. There are file-based services where the images are never seen or displayed in any way. There are services that cater to photographers’ needs for image delivery and e-commerce. And there are services that offer both storage and display/social networking/self-promotion opportunities. There’s value on all three types, if you have the personal capacity and interest to stay active across the board.

File Storage, Archiving And Delivery

Adobe’s Creative Cloud has been rather controversial, but the Creative Cloud concept clearly has benefits. For one thing, you automatically get the latest versions of the applications you sign up for, with all-new features and upgrades as soon as they’re available. For another, you can work on your files from any device anywhere, whenever you want, and collaborate with anyone you want. You can sign up for an annual Single-App Plan (full version of one desktop application, presumably Photoshop for DPP readers) for $19.99 a month, or a Complete Plan (full versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat and more) for $49.99 a month. Both plans require a one-year commitment, and include 20 GB of storage for file sharing and collaboration; the Complete Plan includes full access to services to help create mobile-ready content and apps. www.adobe.com. Amazon‘s Cloud Drive provides 5 GB of free online storage, and you can add more from 20 GB for $10 per year to 1,000 GB for $500 per year.
Just install the Cloud Drive app on your Windows or Mac computer, put your desired files into the Cloud Drive folder, and File Sync makes sure all devices can access the most recent versions of your files. You can access files online via any Web browser. There’s also Cloud Drive Photos for Android and iPhone, and you can even access your files on a Kindle Fire. You can save and access photos, documents, videos and music. Amazon recently added file-syncing, so when you make changes on one device, they’ll be available via any device. www.amazon.com.

After killing MobileMe in 2011 and iDisk in 2012, Apple moved to make iCloud a multifaceted storage and backup system that’s accessible from all of your digital devices. You can get 5 GB of space for free and 50 GB for $100 per year. That’s attractive pricing for maintaining a backup of your most important images, but iCloud really isn’t designed for professional photographers looking for a full archive backup. www.apple.com.

The Bitcasa Infinite Drive enables you to store, access and share your files—photos, documents, movies, songs, etc.—everywhere, on your home computer, work laptop, smartphone or tablet. Infinite Drive appears on your desktop, and you use it just like any external hard drive, but your files are encrypted then stored on Bitcasa’s cloud servers. Never run out of space, no more external hard drives, no more backing up. Two versions are available: 10 GB for free or $99 a year for infinite storage/backup, infinite file-version history, and chat and email support. www.bitcasa.com.

Box is an access-anywhere cloud-based service that offers 50 GB for $19 per month (a 5 GB account is free). The 50GB "personal account" limit makes it viable for cloud storage of your most precious portfolio pieces, but if you want to store a full archive, you’re going to need to consider a business or an enterprise plan. The business plan is really centered around multiple users, but it does offer 1 TB of space for $45 per month. www.box.com.

With 2 GB of free space (boostable to 18 GB if you refer other users), Dropbox has gained a following as a simple image delivery system for large files, both still and video. Users can designate single or multiple clients for sharing folders conveniently. For temporary storage and delivery of selected images, 2 TB is workable, but it’s not going to cut it for archiving or delivering video files. Unless you have a lot of people you can get to sign up (you get 500 MB per person you recommend), you’re going to want to step up to a paid account. You can get 500 GB for $500 per year. That’s
sufficient for storing most, if not all, of your most important image files. You can upgrade to a business account for $750 per year, and that gives you up to five accounts and "as much storage as you need." www.dropbox.com.

Google Drive provides "one safe place for all your stuff," and allows you to access them from anywhere and share them with others. It comes with up to 15 GB of free storage. You can purchase additional storage from 100 GB ($4.99/month), 1 TB ($49.99/month) to 16 TB ($799.99/month), which can be shared among Google Drive, Gmail and Google+ Photos. As you’d expect from Google, there’s a powerful search engine that can even recognize objects in images. Google Drive allows you to work offline, chat inside documents, and leave comments on files and images. You can also create new documents, spreadsheets and presentations. www.google.com.

We expect to see many more cloud storage options becoming available in the future. Also, this article doesn’t examine the services of companies like PhotoShelter and SmugMug, which are oriented around the delivery of images and e-commerce solutions for professional photographers. As storage becomes less expensive, these photography-centric full-featured services will probably become good options for full image archive storage. Lastly, in the social arena, there’s some crossover between image storage and "photo sharing" amid sites like Flickr, 500px and Google Plus. Check out "Move Forward With Social Media" by Jim Goldstein in this issue for more information about how these services might fit into your overall business plans.

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