Choosing Hardware and Image Storage: Chapter 5 - The DAM Book

by Peter Krogh

In this chapter, we'll look at how to set up your computer system to host your working image files and your image archive. We will first take a look at the fundamentals of storage technologies and get an understanding of how they work and how to choose the right one. We will then look at some different generic configurations. Finally, we will look at some specific configurations that I use. The methodology that I outline in this chapter will provide for a scalable system (one that can grow with you from a single hard drive of images up to many terabytes stored on a client/server network) that protects your photographs and provides you with quick and reliable access to your images.

The DAM Book, Second Edition book cover

This excerpt is from The DAM Book, Second Edition. This bestselling guide presents a solid plan for managing your digital images efficiently and effectively. Anyone who shoots, scans, or stores digital photographs is practicing some form of digital asset management (DAM), but few people do it in a way that makes sense. In the new edition of this book, photographer and DAM expert Peter Krogh offers new tools and techniques that have emerged in recent years.

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Uninterruptible Power Supplies

As you build a system to hold your image archive, you should pay attention to the power that's coming into the computer. A surge in power, such as one caused by a lightning strike, can kill the entire computer and all of the attached components. And a brownout or blackout can result in the loss of unsaved work or, worse, total corruption of the storage drive. Both of these problems can be addressed, to some degree, by using power conditioning equipment.

Surge suppressors (Figure 5-33) protect your equipment in the event of a voltage spike. They are relatively inexpensive and should be standard for all desktop com puters. While they can stop the damage, they're not a foolproof solution. A direct lightning strike to your building may destroy all electronics, regardless of surge protection.

In addition to surge protection, uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) have battery backups built in. The battery kicks in if power is lost, and gives you time to save files and shut down your computer properly. Some UPS units also have software that can intelligently shut down the attached computer before the battery power runs out. UPS devices are rated in terms of milliamperes per hour. The higher the number, the more power it can provide and the longer time it can provide. It's considered a best practice for all desktop computers to have a UPS attached. Check the specifications on UPS devices to find one that can power your configuration for an appropriate amount of time. You must replace the batteries in your UPS device periodically.

Laptop computers have their own batteries already built in, so the battery backup is probably not necessary unless it is needed to power external drive(s). Surge suppression is still advisable, especially if you live in an area with lots of thunder storms or voltage spikes.

System Configurations

Now that we've taken a look at the various hardware components you'll need to con sider for your image storage system, let's put together a few sample configurations to see how everything can work together. We'll start with some generic system configu rations, and then look at some specific implementations.

Basic System: Computer + Dedicated Image Drive + external Backup Drive + Optical Disk Backup

The system shown in Figure 5-34 is the cheapest way to get started—simply add a drive to your existing system for the image archive and back up your image files onto an additional drive and to optical media. If you're using a laptop or all-in-one computer, the dedicated image drive will probably have to be external. With a tower system, it could be an internal drive.

Further considerations:

# # Laptops can finally be used as primary image-editing computers, since processors have gotten faster. Currently, most laptops can only hold a single hard drive, and drive capacities are often insufficient to hold a photographer's entire archive. Additional drives must be plugged in externally.

# # You don't necessarily need a dedicated drive for your images if ther e is enough space on an existing drive, but I advise that this is the bes t arrangement .

# # Many all-in-one systems contain a 3.5-inch drive and can therefore hold significantly more data internally than laptops can.

# # Tower systems generally have space for several drives, and can accom modate large collections entirely on internal drives. If you've got a tower system and can use an internal bay for the dedicated image drive(s), you'll save money and increase performance over most external solutions.

# # You will want to determine which connection best suits your computer when configuring an external drive. In general, eSATA is best, if the com puter supports it. If not, use USB for PC and FireWire for Mac.

# # Most laptops (and many other inexpensive flat panel monitors) only dis play 6-bit color. If you want the best color fidelity, you should check out the specifications of the monitor. Most laptops can support an external moni tor that is larger than the laptop's screen.

Client/Server Configuration: Computer + gigabit ethernet Switch + Server + external Backup Drive + Optical Disk Backup

The configuration shown in Figure 5-35 adds multiuser access, as well as the ability to lock your server in a remote location in your house or studio (make sure the server area is vented to avoid overheating).

Profiled Offline Monitor Backups

Further considerations:

# # The server does not have to be any special machine. You can configure any known reliable machine as a file-sharing server.

# # The data storage device connected to the server should be configured for upgrade when it gets full. I suggest a JBOD configuration.

# # The offsite backup drives can be SATA drives that are put in removable drive bays.

Client/Server Configuration plus Location Laptop: Laptop + Workstation + gigabit ethernet Switch + Server + external Backup Drive + Optical Disk Backup

The configuration shown in Figure 5-36 adds a laptop to the system, which has its own backup drive(s).

Figure 5-36. A professional photographer who works on location will generally need a laptop computer for downloading and field work. It can be added to the client/server system easily.

Further considerations:

# # The laptop should ideally have its own portable backup drives in the location bag. These are primarily for backups of the ingestion, as well as a backup of the full data on the laptop's drive.

Best Setup Without regard to Cost: Computer + Fibre Channel + rack-Mounted Server and rAID + LTO Tape Backup

The configuration shown in Figure 5-37 provides the fastest access times and redundant storage for a no-downtime storage solution. It's also really expensive.

Further considerations:

# # If you are looking at a system like this, you probably have enough money to hire someone to configure it properly for you.


Sample Configuration: Laptop

In this section, we'll look at a couple laptop configurations I have been using—a PC setup and a Mac rig. For me, these laptops are mostly for location work or for business, word processing, and web surfing back in the studio. The PC version is more powerful than most desktop tower computers you'll find, while the Mac has got less horsepower.

Either of these laptop computers would be a fine workstation for many photographers. The processors that now come in laptops will outperform the best desktop systems of a couple years ago with no problem. If you wanted to use one of these as a main imaging workstation, I'd suggest a couple of improvements. Each of these computers can accept an ExpressCard eSATA attachment. This would provide fast drive access, which would translate into significant improvement in performance for heavy-duty image-editing work.

I'd also strongly consider adding a larger and better monitor for critical color work. Both of these machines have video cards that can drive large monitors, which I have found to provide a significant boost in productivity.

PC laptop

I have a Lenovo W700 (Figure 5-38) for use as both a location processor and a studio workstation. This machine was built for the professional photographer, and includes such features as an integrated color profiling system, Wacom pen tablet, dual internal hard drives, Blu-ray writer, integrated media card readers, two core duo processors, and a video card with 1 GB of video RAM. Currently, it's configured with:

# # 4 GB RAM in the machine. Having lots of RAM will provide the best performance. If I were running Vista 64-bit, I'd have it filled with the full 8 GB.

# # Dual 320 GB 7200 RPM drives installed as JBOD (primary storage and a backup).

# # External backup drive connected with USB. The portable drives I use are ones I put together myself. They hold SATA drives and have connections for FireWire 400, 800, and USB. They also have a power input. The bridge board inside the drive is an Oxford 924.

Portable Download Devices

In the first edition of this book, I outlined the use of a self-contained portable download and storage device as part of a location workflow. I've discontinued use of these for a number of reasons. First, they slow down the process because they require a second download. And if you just use the device as an external drive, connected by USB or FireWire, you're generally not getting any added benefit compared to a simple external drive.

Many people like to use these devices, such as the Epson P-5000 photo viewer, when traveling instead of taking a laptop. Because it can read the embedded JPEGs, you can see what you have shot along the road and even view the images on a television. Keep in mind that the vast majority of these devices will only show you JPEG or embedded JPEG previews—almost none of them can decode a raw file. So just because the file displays properly on the portable, that does not mean that there is nothing wrong with the raw image data.

If you use an external device, keep in mind that it is storing the files on a single laptop-sized hard drive—the same kind of devices that routinely fail without warning. If the pictures are important to you, you'll need to have at least one, and preferably two backups of the files. You can back up the images a couple of ways. You could use the portable storage device to copy all the files to an external drive or you could delay erasing the media cards, or both.

Figure 5-38. The Lenovo W700 is built specifically for digital photographers. It has multiple hard drives, Wacom Tablet, multiple internal drives, and more.

My Mac workstation is set up as follows:

# # 8 Gigabytes of RAM (Yes, I'd like more.)

# # 4 hard drives:

# # The Mac boot drive is 400 GB. This holds the system and programs.

# # The PC boot drive is 400 GB. Using Boot Camp, I can make this a Win dows machine.

# # The working file drive is 1 TB. This drive holds all my works in progress. Sometimes I have more than 600 GB of working files.

# # The backup mirror drive is 1 TB. This drive holds backups of what's on the working drive.

# # External two-bay drive box. I use this to hold offline swapper drives that store backups of my working files. I'll outline how I use this in the next chapter.

# # Monitor 1 is an Apple 30-inch. This monitor provides a vast amount of screen real estate for image organizing, as well as for Photoshop work. While I am comfortable doing proofing work on this monitor, I don't like it for critical color.

# # Monitor 2. Alas, my trusty Sony Artisan CRT monitor is at the end of its useful life. I will likely have replaced it with an Eizo by the time you read this.

Sample Configuration: Server

Figure 5-41 shows the server that I am currently using in my studio. It's an Intel iMac that is connected by gigabit Ethernet to my workstation (and about seven other computers). While it's not the perfect setup, I've been very happy with its price and performance.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, buy a copy of The DAM Book.