I'm dating a professional photographer that has been accumulating digital images at an alarming rate (thousands of high-res images per month).

Does anyone have any recommendations of external and/or remote storage solutions to effectively work with such large volumes of data? Managing burned DVDs seems a little scary.

  • 2
    Give us a ballpark estimate of your monthly data storage increments.
    – Alan
    Aug 7, 2010 at 3:54
  • 5
    I'm in IT and I've always said the most important data in the world is your wife's digital photo collection (ok, maybe your boss' wife's collection...) So while managing a backup process seems a little scary, its nothing like your girlfriend will be if you tell her, 'honey, the harddrive failed and all your pictures are gone...'
    – BillN
    Aug 7, 2010 at 15:46
  • also try asking this question on www.superuser.com
    – studiohack
    Aug 7, 2010 at 21:38
  • possible duplicate of What method is best to take backups of your digital photos?
    – mattdm
    Jan 21, 2011 at 4:24
  • 1
    I noted that the other older post might be a duplicate, but I actually like this one better because it's not just focused on backup, including also effectively working with the data.
    – mattdm
    Mar 28, 2011 at 2:10

9 Answers 9


To expand on what Nate has suggested you have the following options:

  • A dedicated server with RAID
  • External USB device as a secondary storage medium.
  • Network based NAS with RAID support
  • External USB based drive caddy that you could then use like a tape backup system and also ensure HDD stored offsite incase of fire

There is also some software that can create an ISO image (CD/DVD Image) that can contain recovery bits and store that inside the ISO or as a separate file. You can then use this to recover data from the medium as it becomes faulty.

Update: The software I have been searching for is called: DVDisaster

Oh, and the most important part, always have more than one copy! You should also be aware of bit rot that can occur in media so its always worth re-copying your entire catalog to another medium to ensure the bits are reset.


I've started generating a considerable amount of photography data myself. My main Lightroom library is well over 300 gigs, and there are also all of the backups. I tried out a couple Drobo RAID devices, which connect via USB (or possibly network, with an extra device.) The Drobo, while a simple to use device, is excessively slow.

After some research, I came across the NetGear ReadyNAS devices. These are small Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices that support 1-4 hard drives in RAID configuration. You can start out with a single drive, and expand as you need to. Once reaching the maximum drive capacity, you can swap out one of the drives for a larger drive, and the system will expand into the additional space.

NetGear offers a couple generations of their NAS devices now. The older generation, the ReadyNAS NV+, offers X-RAID 1, which requires being taken offline when a new drive is added or upgraded. The newer generation, the ReadyNAS NVX, offers X-Raid 2, which allows your NAS to remain online and usable while the drive expands into new space. I chose an NVX myself.

The total cost of a ReadyNAS ranges from $300-700 for the enclosure, plus the cost of drives. Buying a ReadyNAS with drives tends to be more expensive, as high speed drives can be purchased much cheaper individually. I recommend using Seagate Barracuda or Hitachi drives myself, as they have a larger cache (32mb for the 2TB) and higher density platters. The larger cache and higher density generally equate to higher speeds (a Western Digital Green or Blue runs about 20-30mb/s sustained, while a Seagate or Hitachi run about 90-130mb/s sustained.) My ReadyNAS NVX setup uses three Hitachi 2Tb 32mb Cache drives, and achieves a sustained 80-85mb/s read speed, and about 60mb/s sustained write speed.

Despite the cost, the investment is pretty sound. For about $400-$800, you can get a rock-solid, quiet, simple device that can store a tremendous amount of data, and can grow with you for many, many years. If you start out with 1TB, you can easily expand to 8Tb or more in the future. The performance is phenomenal, the device is flexible, and it should last.

  • but, one fire or water leak will destroy your whole backup? Mar 28, 2011 at 13:10
  • 1
    I also have backups on BluRay disk, which I keep in a fireproof safe. The ReadyNAS NVX is a live storage secondary storage system, not really a backup itself. You should always have "hard" backups of your critical data on a permanent form of media...any kind of live drive should never really be considered a true backup.
    – jrista
    Mar 28, 2011 at 20:54
  • indeed, I thought you forgot to mention it, but now I read the question again and the question was not about the back strategy. Mar 29, 2011 at 12:02

Storage and reliability are major problems for photographers. Chase Jarvis did a great piece on how he does it. His approach can be scaled down for smaller data sets but it gives you an idea of what to shoot for.



far more important than the storage media is the catalogue system used to actually know what's stored where :)

I've yet to find one that works for me, is both flexible enough to allow me to create the categories and subcategories I want, works across mediums (digital, slides, negatives, prints), and is easy to use.


Drobo offers interesting attached storage devices (USB, Network, etc). They aren't cheap but RAID-based storage seems like a good idea.

  • 2
    WARNING: I recently tried a couple Drobo RAID devices. I absolutely do not recommend them. They are the slowest devices I have ever used, topping out at about 19mb/s read speed and 11-12mb/s write speed. A simple $15 16Gb USB thumb drive is faster than a Drobo. Switching to a NetGear ReadyNAS NVX took me from 11-19mb/s speed to over 85mb/s speed. I would take pretty much anything over a Drobo.
    – jrista
    Aug 7, 2010 at 2:46
  • @Jrista - the first iteration of Drobo was not great (though those speeds are the lowest I've seen quoted - owch). They are much improved currently; certainly haven't ever had any problems here.
    – ex-ms
    Aug 7, 2010 at 5:39
  • I tried them recently, about a month ago. I believe they were the current generation. Its possible I just got some bad ones, or perhaps their USB interface is just poor, or something. Either way, the ReadyNAS screams, and I'm happy with it.
    – jrista
    Aug 7, 2010 at 8:18
  • @jrista - When using a ReadyNAS, what would happen 5 years from now if a drive in the RAID fails and you are no longer able to get a matching drive to replace it with? It is my understanding that a drawback of using a RAID is that all drives in the RAID must match. Mar 28, 2011 at 14:37
  • @Dave Nelson: The ReadyNAS does not require identical drives. It uses X-Raid, a proprietary adaptive RAID system. I am not sure about how well it would work mixing platter drives with SSD's, but there is nothing that would prevent me from dropping in a 10TB drive alongside my current 2TB drives. It is also possible to remove one drive, put in a larger capacity drive, and the X-Raid system will restore all the data from the removed drive via parity to the new drive. That was why I decided to invest the money (which was hefty) in the ReadyNAS NVX/
    – jrista
    Mar 28, 2011 at 20:52

What about simple, external hard-drives?

  • 1
    Good answer. A nice thing about external hard drives is their longevity and portability. They are simple, and their interface is unlikely to go away for years.
    – jrista
    Aug 7, 2010 at 21:52
  • 1
    Make sure you have real back-ups, too, though.
    – mattdm
    Mar 28, 2011 at 12:31
  • 1
    and for the long term backup, tapes and/or dvds stored in a remote controlled location (IronMountain offers such services, for example. Expensive of course).
    – jwenting
    Mar 30, 2011 at 13:50
  • I have to disagree re: Longevity. Portability is great. Reliability, not so much.
    – voices
    Nov 11, 2018 at 2:14

Assuming that this question is about ensuring that the images are backed up properly, I'd highly recommend an online-backup as mentioned in my answer on this question:

What method is best to take backups of your digital photos?


I'm a big fan of using Cloud based online storage for my images (DropBox, Amazon S3, etc).

Personally, I use JungleDisk to sync all my "keeper" images to Amazon S3 IN ADDITION to having multiple local copies on external harddrives.

Notes: 1. I only archive JPG's (not RAW images) online to keep the storage costs down. 2. I rate all images as part of my normal workflow, and then I export JPGs of all 1+ star images to the directory structure that gets backed up to Amazon.

  • Ditto here - I chose to go with an 'unlimited' plan at CrashPlan, which takes care of automatically backing up everything as it gets around to it. No hassle with manual processes and it costs about the same as a large, external hard-drive. May 19, 2011 at 13:29

The pain of DVD could be mitigated with Blu-Ray, but I wouldn't recommend it, it's actually a pretty expensive option especially when considering the media size vs cost. I think Wayne has a pretty good list, disk is cheap.

One option, not covered, is the external SAS option. You can get RAID configurable enclosures that can be attached to your machine and offer far superior speeds to the USB or NAS options. Writing gigabytes of files across USB or the network can be tedious...

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.