Storage

The SSD Hype - Why Pay More For Less Storage?

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INTRODUCTION

Along with all the exciting tech advancements in cameras these past few years, there’s also been some pretty nice advancements in the storage department. While it’s pretty easy to keep up with all the camera hype as a photographer, the less exciting advancements with storage devices typically get a lot less love. It’s definitely the red headed step child of the photography industry. I can ask any random photographer about the new mirrorless bodies that have been released in the past year and most will be able to tell me. I can ask the same photographers if they would rather have a 1TB SSD external drive or a 1TB HDD for a lot less, most either won’t know the difference or will simply pick the cheaper one.

 
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While I get it, it’s pretty amusing to see how many photographers still don’t have a solid backup solution or don’t know the difference between an SSD or an HDD. So, before we go any further, let’s just get part of that out of the way right out the gate:

SSD:

Solid State Drive (think flash drive)

HDD:

Hard Disk Drive (moving parts)

The first 4 external hard drives from left to right are HDD’s. The last one all the way on the right is a 1TB SSD.

The first 4 external hard drives from left to right are HDD’s. The last one all the way on the right is a 1TB SSD.

I’ve written a few articles now on good backup and storage practices to avoid data loss, here are two of them: My New 10G Studio Network & The 3-2-1 Rule. I’m not going down that road again with this article, instead focus on explaining why you really should pay attention to the SSD hype and why it’s important. I’ll also be giving an explanation as to what the differences are between SSDs and HDDs as well as the advantages/disadvantages of each in an easy to understand way.

 
 

Over the past 5 years or so, SSD’s really started making their presence known as an option over HDD’s as internal storage for the operating system in computers. Yes, they were around earlier than that, but it was roughly 5-6 years ago that they started making their presence known. Having an SSD in your computer offered more speed, less power consumption, and less noise due to there being no moving parts. But, it was a pricey upgrade. The good news is that the price has been dropping significantly over the past several years, even more so since early 2018. The forecast for 2019, from what I’ve read, is that they’ll drop close to another 50% more. The flip side of that coin is that so will the HDD’s which aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. In 2012, a 512Gb SSD cost $400. Now, you can get Samsung 1TB SSD for $147.99.


THE IMPORTANCE

Why is does this info hold any importance to those not looking to invest in a new computer or upgrading one? With the price drop of both SSDs and HDDs over the past few years, SSD’s have broken their glass ceiling and started making their way outside of computer housings and into external drives. Companies like SanDisk, Samsung, Lacie, and G-Tech are making portable external SSD drives. These drives are much smaller, faster, and more durable than typical external HHD drives that photographers have been using for years. Because of their smaller size, two of them can be stacked on top of each other in an enclosure the same size as a typical HDD external hard drive that we’ve all been used to using for years. Two SSD’s in an enclosure, with read/write speeds much faster, USB 3.1 Type C or even Thunderbolt 3 for Mac users, and the ability to run a RAID for even more protection. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty damn impressive to me and a sign of what’s to come in terms of protecting our data/images as the prices of SSD’s go down and the capacity goes up. No more having to feel like you might vomit after dropping an external hard drive that isn’t backed up anywhere else.

 
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SSDs vs HDDs

I’ve had one too many conversations with photographers who simply look at the total amount of storage, bus power (type of connector such as USB or Thunderbolt) and the price when shopping for a new external drive. To be fair, up until a year or so ago, that was basically all that did matter. Most know that if they have a Mac, Thunderbolt is faster than USB. After that, it’s simply comparing prices for the amount of storage they’re looking for. Well, times are changing and depending on your needs, it might be time to start spending more on a 1TB SSD external drive than a 3TB HDD external hard drive. SSD’s are basically replacing HDD’s and if you don’t know the difference, now is the time to start getting caught up. Below is a comparison of the two, and why some may want to spend more on an SSD. For me, I still use both.

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While 2TB portable SSD external drives are still on pricey side, 2019 will be the year you’ll see that change. 1TB sized drives have been the more popular choice. It makes more sense to go with a 1TB portable to carry with you while still utilizing the cheaper HDD drives in the studio to transfer your data to for safe keeping and backing up. I just picked up a few 10TB 7200rpm HDD’s for my NAS that cost $300. I picked up three individual 1TB SSD’s for $150 each. For me personally, if the drives are in the studio and aren’t in danger of falling or being dropped, total storage and going with a reliable brand is my main concern. For portable drives, I’ve dropped way too many external drives to risk having one of those internal moving parts get knocked around causing data loss. I typically don’t need anything more than 1TB when on the road traveling, although I’m looking forward to the prices dropping on the 2 and 3TB drives this year.

Two of G-Technology’s Dual HDD RAID Enclosures

Two of G-Technology’s Dual HDD RAID Enclosures


THE FUTURE

In August of 2017, Samsung released the first USB-C portable SSD available to the consumer. They had a couple previous models that were a different type of of SSD (I won’t get into the different types in this article), but 2017 was the year when portable SSD’s with both USB and USB-C interfaces hit the market. I purchased the SanDisk portable 1TB SSD Extreme when it came out last year and loved it. However, earlier this year, it grew legs and made a break for it. With prices dropping and seeing the trends in storage this coming year, I went a different route for my portable SSDs. I purchased a 4-Bay enclosure that is directly connected to my main workstation (2017 iMac Pro) so it can be added to the Backblaze Cloud Storage like the other external drives. The SSD’s are hot swappable which also makes it easy to pop one out, toss it into an enclosure like the one below to bring home or on the road with me. I also picked up the Mediasonic ProRaid USB-C 2 Bay enclosure that can run RAID1 for extra protection. Dual drives being a mirror of one another in case one was to fail.

SSD RAID Enclosures


LETS TALK SPEED

With one of the biggest advantages (if not the most important) of SSD’s over HDD’s being speed, let’s take a look at some of the speed tests I’ve ran. Hopefully, if you’ve read everything up to this point you have a much better understanding of why SSD’s have been receiving so much attention. You should also see the advantages that come along with a much smaller and robust drive that has no moving parts that can easily break if dropped, yet nearly twice the price. For most, speed is everything, it means less time spent sitting at a workstation in front of a monitor or a laptop and leaving more time for other things. Possibly, even time spent using an actual camera capturing your own moments with family or friends.

Personally, I’m willing to spend more money for extra speed. Time IS money after all, and the less I have to stare at a progress bar or spinning pinwheel the more I’m willing to dish out. I’ve upgraded the studio’s to a 10Gbe network and have now began replacing all my portable external drives with new SSD options. The plan is to also start implementing the faster SSD’s with our associate photographers making it much quicker for them to transfer their files over to our main server from their home RAID setup that we provide them.

[Twisted Oaks 10Gbe Network Breakdown]

I remember installing my first 2-bay HDD RAID setup just about 4 years ago and being happy and relieved to have that extra level of protection. Now, I have a portable external enclosure that holds dual SSD’s running RAID1 that’s overall smaller in physical size than most of my portable HDD drives. Most don’t even know these are out there.

So, if you don’t mind the longer wait times while uploading or downloading data there’s no need to go any further. Below, I’ve shared the speed tests I’ve ran to which show the the speed advantages of both the Samsung 1TB 860 EVO SATA III SSD and the SanDisk 1TB Extreme Portable SSD (the two 2.5” SSD drives that I personally have invested in) using USB3.1 (TypeC) over the popular HDD alternative drives with more storage at a much cheaper price per TB.


SSD SPEED TESTS


HDD SPEED TESTS

G-Technology GRAID Thunderbolt2

G-Technology GRAID Thunderbolt2

G-Technology GRAID Thunderbolt2

G-Technology GRAID Thunderbolt2


CONCLUSION

I’ve had had this blog post sitting in the queue basically marinating for the past couple months as I’ve been busy with other projects. I had contemplated on tossing it but in the two months that it’s sat waiting to be finished, I’ve had more photogs question the advantages of SSDs over HDDs and also invested more of my own money into SSD related products. So, after a 5-day long stint in the hospital last week I had a little time to spare. Time used to finally get this conclusion written up.

While SSD’s are faster, more durable, and quickly dropping in price, HDD’s aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. The price per TB of storage with HDDs is also continuing to drop, making large amounts of storage affordable for those who need it. I recently purchased a 24TB G-Technology G-RAID with Thunderbolt3 for the same price that I bought a 12TB G-RAID with Thunderbolt2 just 4 years ago. Now, due to the price of HDD storage I’m able to afford two Synology NAS devices with a total of close to 100TB’s of storage. Storage that I can upload and download to at pretty fast speeds even with HDDs running in each NAS due to the 10Gbe cards and wiring.

If this article has piqued your interest in utilizing SSDs where speed is more important than the amount of storage, I highly recommend spending a little more time learning even more. With the rate at which SSD prices continue to drop, you’re gonna start to see some SSD’s cheaper than others. The reason for this is that there are different types of SSDs which offer even faster speeds depending on their interface. Read up on the differences between an SSD with an M.2 NVME interface, SATA, or PCIe. The SSDs that I’ve purchased and are using an external storage are all SATAIII, which as you can see above offer quite the boost in speed over your typical HDD. An M.2 NVME SSD can offer speeds of up to and even more than 7 times the speed of the SATAIII drives that I own. They also cost a lot more and offer less total storage.

No matter what, it’s exciting to see the new technology that’s coming out as well as the once unaffordable technology dropping drastically in price. Yes, I used the word exciting and storage in the same sentence, you read that correctly. The less I have to watch a progress bar is exciting. We now have a lot more options available to us at much more affordable prices. For right now, having a general understanding of SSDs and HDDs is enough to help you make smarter purchasing decisions based on your storage needs. That’s the reason I wrote this up and hopefully, it helps.


My Storage Solution

Back in early September, I wrote up an article on my storage setup while my office was still at home, which you can see HERE. Just a few short months after writing that up, I packed everything up and moved into a studio in downtown Hammonton, NJ. Moving out of the house and into the studio made things a little easier for me to keep copies of everything in two separate locations, and because of that, I made a few changes to my storage workflow. Since I got such a great response from the first article, I wanted to share with everyone the changes I made and how my new setup looks. 

[SLR Lounge article on my new studio]

WEDDING STORAGE

As I mentioned in the article from September, I made the decision last year to invest in the storage products made by G-Technology. I did a lot of research and decided to invest in two 12TB G-Tech Studio Thunderbolt Storage Systems. The advantage to using the G-Tech drives was the automation of backing up all my files, using RAID1, from one internal drive to the other. I added the 2nd Studio to completely mirror the 1st, backing it up in case something catastrophic was to happen (knock on wood) and the entire 1st Studio fails. This makes a total of two G-tech Studios mirroring each other, each with two drives, making a total of 4 identical drives. This only gives me a total of 6TB usable storage, which is plenty for the way I use them. Hopefully that makes sense. 

[Wedding Work: Twisted Oaks Studio]

I use the two G-Tech Studios for one full year of weddings. At the end of 2015, I moved everything onto a single 4TB Western Digital external drive and it sits in a fireproof safe at my house. All of the delivered images are online, so the WD drive holds the RAW files and Lightroom catalogs. For online storage and gallery delivery I use CloudSpot. With the 2016 wedding images and Lightroom catalogs, I copy everything to a new 4TB WD external drive as a disaster recovery copy which goes home with me and is kept in the fireproof safe

FILE SETUP

Something I didn't cover in the previous article was my file setup and how I organize everything. There are a few different ways you can organize your files, and as long as you have a system in place that works for you, that's all that matters. There really is no right or wrong way to do this, so it's completely cool if you are one of those photogs that load up a single LR catalog with years worth of images. I just have no clue how you do it :)

Some photographers choose to have one large Lightroom Catalog until it gets so filled up that it starts bogging down, while others have a Lightroom catalog for each year and categorize everything within LR using collections. I choose to give each and every wedding client their own LR catalog, which is stored in their own folder. I also store the client's RAW files and blog images in the folder as well. This has been my process for the past few years, and it just simply works for me. It makes it extremely easy for me to copy or move all of a client's images, both RAW and edited, from one location to another, as well as keep LR extremely clean and running nice and fast. You can see below an example of what it looks like:

PERSONAL WORK

Since I do a lot of personal work, as well as other shoots that aren't wedding related throughout the year, I have a separate setup in place for all of that as well. Unlike my wedding setup, where each client gets their own LR catalog and folder, I start a new LR catalog at the beginning of every year for all of my non-wedding work. At the end of 2015, I took my 2015 Personal LR catalog and folder, and moved it to two separate 4TB Western Digital drives that I use to store all of my old personal work and LR catalogs. I also added a 3TB G-Technology Thunderbolt Drive, the silver drive to the left of the 12TB Studios, and created a new LR catalog for 2016. This also gets backed up onto the 4TB WD drive that goes home with me from the studio. All of my edited images get backed up online as well, either on my Flickr account, or in a folder on a Zenfolio account. 

Since I edit at home on my Macbook Pro as well as in the studio, I also have two mobile external drives, also made by G-Tech. I use the little silver 1TB mobile thunderbolt drive for when I want to bring a wedding client's LR catalog and RAW files home to edit. I use the awesome rugged G-Tech 1TB ev ATC drive with Thunderbolt, which is an SSD, as my main storage for anything I start editing at home on the MBP. I absolutely love this drive since its durable and I don't mind if my son takes it and drops it or throws it. I keep it at home most of the time and then make sure I unload everything off of it at the studio every few weeks when I remember to. 

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to email me and ask. I know this may be confusing to some of you, but hopefully I explained it good. I invested in G-Tech for a reason, and after a year now, I couldn't be happier with that decision. Their Thunderbolt drives are fast as hell and the Studio drives are nice and quiet, I forget that they are even running. If you haven't invested yet into a storage system, I highly recommend their products. 

If you're in Vegas for WPPI, stop in at the Gtech booth #732 to see their products, that's where I was first introduced to them. Just be prepared, it will make you want to spend money on Gtech booth to see their products, that's where I was first introduced to them. Just be prepared, it will make you want to spend money on harddrives :)

Backup & Storage Setup

Since I've received a lot of questions regarding how I back up my data and files, I wanted to share a little peak into my setup. Backing up my files and storage is something I invested a little more money into this past year as my wedding photography business grew and I needed a more secure and reliable backup. I used to keep everything on multiple WD external drives, along with online storage using Zenfolio. Everything had to be moved from one drive to the back up drive manually, which I admit to not always doing right away. If I forgot to move the files from the first drive to the back up drive manually, or got lazy and didn't do it immediately and waited til the next day, I risked having that first drive fail and all my data would be lost. A couple years ago this wouldn't have been a huge deal, but now with 40-50 weddings a year at an average price of $6k, I needed to make some changes. 

After interviewing the Marketing Manager of G-Technology at WPPI this past year, along with a lot of research on the best products on the market, I decided to invest in 2 G-Tech Studio Thunderbolt Storage Systems. I also kept all my WD external drives that I had been using. The advantage to using the G-Tech drives was the automation of backing up my files by using RAID1.

I have two 12TB G-Technology Studio Systems, running RAID1, which mirrors the drives. So each studio has 2 physical drives, each are identical, or mirrored to each other, making it 6TB of available storage. The 2nd Studio is a copy of the 1st. This makes a total of 6TB only of storage, since its mirrored on the first and then an exact copy of that to the 2nd.

I do it this way for 2 important reasons. I use RAID1 instead of RAID0 so that if one physical drive fails, the 2nd one is an exact copy and has the same data. If the entire studio fails, I have the 2nd studio running as a back-up. Alot of people dont have the 2nd studio as a back-up, and they trust that if one physical drive fails, the 2nd is there. BUT, the entire Studio can fail, meaning both drives are useless, and all data is lost. Chances are very low that the entire Studio will fail, but you should never rely on chance. 

Under the G-Tech Studio Systems, I have two WD external drives, usually 3. These are for current RAW files for wedding clients that I havent delivered images to. These get put in a fire-proof safe every night before bed. Its only the undelivered images, because once I deliver the images, they are now backed up online. I then take them off the WD drives. 

I will get into my workflow and how I organize everything in a separate article, but as far as storage goes, each of my clients gets their own folder. I have a folder for each year which includes a separate folder for each client and my personal work. Each client folder contains all their RAW files, exported fully-edited JPEGs, and their own Lightroom Catalog. Many photographers choose to have a single Lightroom catalog for each year and categorize within Lightroom, but this is the way I have found it to work easiest for me over the years. 

If you have any questions let me know, thanks for reading!