Photographers are constantly faced with the challenges of storing their ever-growing library of digital photography. If they shoot photos only in JPG form, they are able to make a 1TB external hard drive last a good while. However, shooting in RAW format and storing processed images increases storage needs exponentially, leading many to either amass a large library of external drives or to invest in storage servers.
Although storing data locally in external drives or on servers allows seemingly cheap and fast access, there are certain challenges that a user can run into:
- Data must be redundant. All shoots must be stored on at least two disks. And, a real backup strategy always includes an off-site location to prevent against things like fire, natural disasters or theft. This means triple the amount of storage necessary to store one set of data.
- Data must be organized. Working from memory to find files in different drives will eventually fail. It is important to keep an organized and up-to-date index of all content, ideally including a visual catalog (a good naming strategy goes only so far in describing photos).
- Hardware must be maintained. Purchasing a drive once and dumping files on it for good is not a good archival strategy. Hard drives are unsuitable for anything other than short term archival storage. The longer a drive sits idle, the higher the possibility that it will eventually fail to power up. In addition, fast-changing technology means that drives must be updated to keep up with newer connection types and hardware (SCSI, IDE, SATA, USB, FireWire, etc).
Quantifying the cost of maintaining an organized and up-to-date digital library is not an exact science, but we can estimate costs based on realistic assumptions. For example, a relatively busy photographer will generate about 500 GB of data each month, or 6 TB per year. With triple redundancy (18TB), 20% extra disk space for better performance and organization (3TB), and at $100 per TB, the upfront cost of storing this data on hard drives totals $2100. Assuming that the drives will be dependable for 3 years, the cost of storing 6 TB annualized over a three-year period is $700.
We can also assume that off-site housing of 6 TB will cost a certain amount. This cost can vary depending on whether the storage is at a friend or relative’s house or at an off-site storage facility. With very conservative estimation, we can assume a $20 rental cost per month, or $240 per year.
Additionally, we must account for the cost of maintaining an up-to-date index and a visual catalog of all content. Indexing drives requires some IT expertise (let’s assume 2 hours per month at $100 per hour), and some software updates or purchases (Adobe Lightroom or similar at $100 per year.) (NOTE: Cataloging will also require additional storage on the computer, but it is difficult to quantify, so we will leave it out of this cost analysis.) These mentioned IT maintenance costs total $2500 annually.
The most elusive of costs to measure, perhaps, is the photographer’s own time in maintaining an organized archive and verifying the integrity of existing data. As the library grows, the time it takes to maintain the library also grows. Assuming an hourly pay of $150 per hour for a photographer and about two hours per year for file retrieval, we can add $300 to the annual cost of storage.
In addition, we cannot speak of file retrieval without mentioning file delivery. A basic file sharing service subscription, such as Dropbox or Hightail, with enough storage to deliver large image files to clients will cost about $100 per year.
To sum up, the table below reflects the true annual cost of storing 6TB of data locally.
|Local Storage Cost Factors||Annual Cost of Storage|
|Disk Space (6TB)||$700|
|Storage Real Estate||$240|
|Indexing and Software||$2500|
|File Sharing Service||$100|
As an alternative to the above use case, DF Studio offers a type of “archival” cloud storage, called Cold Storage, which allows for storage of large amounts of data in a secure and ultra-durable way at $.02 per GB per month.
Since data is redundantly stored in multiple facilities and on multiple devices within each facility, there is no need for the end-user to make additional copies. Furthermore, all data undergoes systematic data integrity checks, providing an average annual durability of 99.999999999%.
Even with all original files in Cold Storage, all project information, metadata, edits, and previews remain within instant reach in DF Studio, providing for instant productivity without the need for original files. And file delivery is integrated into DF Studio without any file size limitation.
The table below shows the cost of storing 6TB data in cloud storage:
|DF Studio Cost Factors||Annual Cost|
|Cold Storage (6TB)||$1440|
|10% of Originals’ Previews in Active Storage||$252|
|Annual Subscription (Basic)||$240|
|File Sharing (Included in DF Studio)||$0|
Other than cost considerations, here are some more compelling reasons for any photographer to consider making the leap into cloud storage.
- Local storage is not scalable. More and more space and organization is required as business grows, and eventually the amount of data will become overwhelming for any small business to maintain. Cloud storage, on the other hand, is unlimited. A user can easily add data without ever worrying about infrastructure.
- Scaling up storage locally requires IT expertise. This has made many photographers dedicate some of their time to educating themselves in this area, taking time away from their creative endeavors, or it has forced them into spending money to hire IT help to manage their servers and storage needs. With cloud storage, adding data online is as simple as having a reliable internet connection and a computer to upload from. There are no additional IT requirements.
- Hardware updates are not trivial. Migrating data from old hardware to newer hardware takes time and money, and data can easily be lost or corrupted. In comparison, the cost for cloud storage is fixed and getting cheaper as demand grows. All maintenance is done in the background, protecting the end-user from the undue burden of having to invest in updated hardware.
- Perhaps the biggest reason to make the switch to cloud storage is file retrieval. In the cloud storage model, and in the case of DF Studio specifically, all data is available, searchable, and viewable all the time from any computer that is connected to the internet. Photographers, assistants, clients, and vendors can access images concurrently from anywhere. Local storage, in comparison, is inaccessible unless someone physically reaches for a drive and pulls files.
Skeptics will argue that the IT costs of offline storage in these types of cost analyses are always exaggerated, or that they are not hard costs, as most photographers do their own data management and thus save on their bottom line. By the same analogy, most people could save significantly on their commuting costs by taking public transportation, but in the interest of freeing up time to tend to more meaningful activities in life they happily live with car-related payments. For a growing business, there is always a tipping point when better tools and services must be purchased to help alleviate the pain of one’s own manual labor.
Another argument against cloud storage since the advent of the service circa 2006 has been the problem of bandwidth and latency. More specifically, the question has always been, “What if I need all my stuff immediately?” There is some truth in the fact that downloading large amounts of data, for instance a 350GB photo shoot, would take a long time and would depend significantly on the user’s internet connection speed. However, experience shows that most workflows surrounding a shoot involve a few rounds of approvals done on preview-size JPGs, narrowing down the selections, and eventually retouching and delivering only a handful of images. Furthermore, with improving technology and internet speeds, latency and bandwidth are increasingly becoming non-issues in the face of the many advantages to be gained with migrating to cloud storage.
Most photographers remain doubtful about the costs of carrying out a well-thought-out data management plan because most of the time their external hard drives work fine and they don’t mind putting in some extra work to manage their files offline if it means saving on buying asset management services. Cutting corners may indeed work fine, but only up to the point when faulty data management, or the lack of any management at all, give way to disaster. Costs of data recovery have not even been addressed here because most users would live with the painful reality of data loss, as they would not be able to afford paying for data recovery services. Following sound data management practices is the best protection against data loss and cloud storage is a safe and affordable option.