Fast, Redundant, Fail-Safe Photo Storage Solution

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Camera sensor resolution and raw file size are ferociously increasing as is the need to store years-worth of precious images. Because of this, creating an efficient and reliable photo storage solution is a complicated and fairly-technical problem to solve. Manually moving old photos to an external USB drive is cumbersome and most of these external drives do not come with built-in redundancy. It’s not a matter of if a USB drive will fail, it’s a matter of when it will fail.

Which begs the question… how can we set up a cheap, fail-safe, fast, and expandable photo storage system?

The solution lies with a Network Attached Storage (NAS) platform along with hard disks that can be plugged into it.

Cathedral Caves, New Zealand

NAS-Only Solution

You could argue that storing all images on NAS is the simplest and most efficient solution. Unfortunately, storing all images on a network’s NAS platform may be too slow for day-to-day editing. Additionally, when you are not connected to the network, you do not have access to any of your NAS images. So… you must put some thought into dividing digital images between your computer’s hard drive and your NAS.

Hybrid NAS/Local Storage Solution

The key to making this hybrid storage solution work is effectively dividing your photos between your computer hard drive and NAS. Here are key points to remember for an optimized hybrid storage solution:

  • Lightroom catalog must be on your computer’s hard drive
    Unfortunately this is a technical limitation built into Lightroom. But remember, this local storage is NOT safe from time-to-time failure. To protect your work on the NAS drive, fully-automate backups and possibly hourly snapshots of the catalog.

    • LR catalog on your local drive
    • Backup LR catalog automatically saved to NAS drive
  • Store the most recent images on your computer’s hard drive
    I store my most recent images on same computer hard drive that I use to store the Lightroom catalog. When I return from traveling with new images on my computer’s hard drive and connect to my home network, the same program that backs-up my LR catalog automatically backs-up these images to the NAS.

    • Most recent images on your computer’s hard drive
    • Back up your most recent images to the NAS drive using a back-up program
  • Store older images on your NAS network drive 
    Older images only live on the NAS (and not locally on any computer). Although access is slower, it frees up space on your computer’s hard drive.

The solution above provides a cheap, fast, reliable, redundant storage solution that you can expand by swapping out the hard disk on your NAS. However, you must remember to manually move new images to the network drive for permanent long-term storage using Lightroom.

Redwood Forest National Park, California

Make it Fail Safe

While the above hybrid solution may seem ideal, it’s not completely fail-safe because all of your files reside locally. In the case of a natural disaster, all your work may be lost. To make it fail-safe, you must move the files stored in NAS and your computer’s hard drive to a cloud storage service and/or a USB drive. I highly recommend that this backup is automatic and continuous without user intervention. This ensures that the files are transferred to the cloud at the first available opportunity.

 

What is your optimal image setup like? Feel free to share your set up in the comments below.

About Author Francesco Carucci

I'm a landscape photographer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Outside of my (pretty cool) daily desk job, I'm spending most of my spare time chasing the Light and printing it; the rare glimpses of it I manage to capture are in my gallery.