A Network Attached Storage (NAS) can be a vital part in any photographer’s workflow so I thought I would detail some things to consider when building your own NAS setup at home.
This setup contains products that were provided to me for review purposes, however, the opinions expressed are completely my own. This review is also not meant to detail the specs of the hardware, but relay back my findings while using the NAS and HDDs.
As a photographer it’s exciting to be able to create precious moments for yourself and for your clients. And with increasing features available on more recent cameras, we are given more tools to express our creativity. With this comes the necessity to keep our computers and storage solutions up-to-date so that we can continue to work with these tools. Video work is one such example for me. Over the last couple of years, video features have been popping up on cameras, enabling everyday photographers—myself included—to experiment with this medium. However as we soon found out, video takes up a lot more hard drive space, and requires a much more demanding workflow when editing.
Before I go into what my current setup is, it’s important to know what my prior setup was as a photographer who never had the need to deal with videos. So let’s see what I initially had to work with for the last few years.
My home network setup was a little bit of a mashup of hard drives scattered all over the place. I had two Synology NASs running concurrently—a Synology DS 218+ and a Synology DS 918+. The two-bay DS 218+ NAS had two Western Digital 4tb RED hard drives running 5400rpm, while the DS 918+ had four Western Digital 4tb RED hard drives, also running at 5400rpm. The total NAS storage was about 16tb with just about 90% of it being used.
In addition to this, I had a few hard drive enclosures that I stored my older archived files on for backup and in case I needed them for any reason. More recently I was using a Glyph 1TB external SSD drive for current working files—it was connected directly to my laptop which made for a really seamless workflow.
I would more often than not work directly off of this SSD while keeping my NAS as a storage solution for all other files. Periodically I would copy my files off of this drive and onto my NAS.
I was also using a 2018 13″ MacBook Pro for most of my editing.
Here’s a summary:
|NAS 1: DS 218+||1||Synology DS 218+ to store all of my event photography; two 4tb WD Reds|
|NAS 2: DS 918+||1||Synology DS 918+ to store all of my other photography; four 4tb WD Reds|
|External HDDs||2+||Multiple older external hard drives used for archival purposes|
|External SSD||1||External SSD to store current working files on|
As you can see, it was a solution that was built up over the years by means of just adding on hard drives to my existing solution without much thought as to the overall performance.
With the upcoming release of Nikon’s Z 9 that is capable of filming in 8K and 4K resolutions, I knew my current solution wasn’t going to be able to handle all the files that I would be making, so I was looking for possible upgrade paths.
I don’t know the exact specifications for the Z 9 but with specs like 120gb/minute of 8K RAW footage being thrown around for other 8K cameras, it was clear I didn’t have nearly enough space to handle any respectable video workflow.
It was at this time that I received an email from Asustor asking if I wanted to try out their latest NAS solutions. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect!
I admit the Asustor name wasn’t familiar to me so I had to do some research to find out what kind of company they were. As it turns out they are a Taiwanese-based NAS company which is a subsidiary of the more well-known Asus brand. They are a household name in the NAS industry although they admitted that their Canadian presence isn’t as well known as they would like it to be.
I told Asustor what my issues were and what I was looking to upgrade to for future-proofing my workflow. They made the choice quite easily for me and suggested I get the Asustor 6508T 8-bay NAS which is scalable should I need more HDs in the future.
My initial thought was to fill all eight bays with 8tb or 10tb drives using a RAID 5 solution to yield a total storage solution of about 54tb or 70tb. They recommended, however, that I could start with using four bays, leaving the rest for scalability should I need more space.
The NAS also has slots for two NVMe SSDs, which can further improve performance for reading and writing.
On the back of the NAS are two 10GbE ports and two 5GbE ports, however my connection to my MacBook Pro will be limited to 1GbE as I do not have the proper adaptor for 10GbE on an M1 chip.
So what do I fill this new NAS with? Asustor partnered with Seagate for my use-case, and ultimately I ended up with four 10tb Ironwolf Pro drives, running at 7200rpm in addition to one Ironwolf 510 NVMe 480gm SSD for read caching. If you installed two SSDs, you would have the ability to read and write directly off the SSDs, which could further improve the overall performance of your workflow.
What’s great with these Seagate drives is that they automatically come with data recovery services should their drives fail under warranty. That’s pretty sweet if you ask me.
My workflow overall hasn’t changed much in terms of hardware, but the speeds seen from working on the Asustor NAS and Seagate HDDs has improved significantly. Just this alone makes the upgrade worthwhile in my opinion.
I have also upgraded my laptop to the 2021 14″ MacBook Pro using the M1 Pro chip, which allows me to work seamlessly with 4K and 8K files.
My total NAS storage space has now doubled to about 30tb, which hopefully will last me a little while longer. If it doesn’t I have the comfort of knowing that I have extra bays available in my NAS to insert additional HDDs.
|NAS: Asustor Lockerstor 8||1||Asustor AS6508T to store everything! The one Ironwolf NVMe SSD is used solely for reading cache. 4 10tb Ironwolf Pro HDDs.|
|2+||Multiple older external hard drives used for archival purposes—left as is.|
|1||External SSD to store current working files on—used as a backup in case laptop HDD runs out of space|
My testing isn’t scientific by any means, nor was it done with any third-party software solutions to time the actual read/write performances. I was doing real-world scenarios where I would simply copy and paste large files and folders across my network, timing them with my stopwatch.
Wifi speeds are always unpredictable as it may depend on how many connections there were at any time, but these were all tested with relatively the same amount of connections to my network and at same distances to my router.
- Wired simply means I connected my 14″ MacBook Pro (2021) directly to my router using a Belkin ethernet adaptor.
- 2.99 gig refers to one Photoshop PSB file being copied from the HD of my laptop and being pasted on to a folder in each NAS separately.
- 20.23 gigs refers to one folder with multiple Nikon NEF files and .MOV files in them, using copy and paste to transfer the files over.
My wired times are pretty much the same, which is expected since I’m directly connected to the NAS via the router. My transfer rate is approximately 90mb/s.
On 5GHz wifi my transfer rate equates to roughly 60mb/s on the Asustor, which is much more than the 30mb/s I was getting with the Synology. Just a simple act of copy and pasting on to the NAS has cut my time in half which is huge.
One interesting caveat to this is that deleting files on the Asustor seems to be slower than on my Synology DS 918+. Deleting both the above file and folder at once took about 3 seconds on my Synology but a comparatively longer 9 seconds on Asustor.
I can’t figure this one out—can you?
All HDDs make noise. Whether it’s a subtle rumbling of the drives or a louder one, they are normal behaviour. I am finding that these Seagate drives are a little noisier than my WD Reds. It isn’t too big of a deal but if you’re sitting right beside the NAS, you may encounter occasional rumbles now and again. It took a few days but I got used to this as I was concentrating on working anyway.
If the noise is of issue, consider putting the NAS under your desk, or somewhere else where you can’t hear it at all.
Overall the Asustor Lockerstor 8 was easy to set up and get going. The initial synchronization process took a day to complete but after that, I was up transferring my files from my Synology NAS.
I am not a heavy user of mobile apps for the NAS but I am happy to know that if I needed to, I can download Asustor-specific apps that allow me to see the files on my NAS, right on my phone. For those that use apps extensively on other NAS solutions, you should research first to find out if the same or similar apps are available on the Asustor NAS.
It’s a small thing but I appreciate the fact there is a screen right at the front of the Asustor NAS. It tells me what process is running and I can select various tasks by going through the menu buttons located right beside it.
On the other side of this screen, there is also a programmable button that you can use to program various options like one-touch backup options to back up files in a specific folder.
RAID vs. Backup
A RAID system is not the same as a backup system. RAIDs are meant to protect your data on a HDD in case one of them fails. If one HDD fails in your RAID, you can easily replace the affected HDD and it will use the other HDDs to rebuild the data without interrupting your work.
A backup, on the other hand, will store your information on a separate drive (ideally not at the same location as your computer) protecting your data from viruses, theft, fire, flood damage, etc. A RAID system should not be considered a replacement for a backup system.
The next step for improving speeds would be to get a 10GbE to a Thunderbolt adaptor to connect my computer directly to the NAS. This should theoretically enable 1.25Gb/s, which is much faster than what I am getting right now.
SMR vs. CMR
The underlaying architecture of HDDs can differ and even affect HDD performances when compared with each other. I wasn’t aware of these differences at first but here’s a short primer in case you’re interested.
Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR) and Conventional Magnetic Recording (CMR) are two different architectures behind hard drives that can affect their performances. SMR offer higher data densities per platter as each data track is partly laid on top of another much like roof shingles. However because tracks overlap one another, writing to these tracks means you cannot affect just one track, requiring the drive to scan multiple tracks to rewrite them, slowing down the overall performance.
On the other hand, CMR writes tracks one beside another on the surface of the drive without any overlap. This allows for a more efficient processing of data and is more often preferred.
BTRFS vs. EXT4 File Systems
There are a number of resources online stating advantages and disadvantages of BTRFS and EXT4 so I won’t go through them here, but suffice it to say that because BTRFS is a newer file system, it is currently not as stable as EXT4, but offers more features like snapshots and data checksums throughout file transfers. Because of the added feature-set of BTRFS, its performance can be slightly slower than that of the EXT4 file system.
If you use your NAS for database or surveillance camera data storage where data is constantly reading and writing on the drive, EXT4 is highly recommended in this case.
Ultimately I ended up sticking with EXT4 since there were references online to the developer of BTRFS saying that its file server is still unstable for RAID5 use. Duly noted!
When working with hardware, always be sure to upgrade to the latest firmware for compatibility with the rest of your hardware. I found this the hard way when the firmware on my router wasn’t updated before using the Asustor NAS, resulting in very slow file transfers. They were taking more than double the amount of time it took on my Synology and I couldn’t figure out why. After upgrading to the latest firmware on my router, I was seeing the speeds mentioned above.