I run a photography studio with 3 Mac Computers and 3 users all having to access RAW photos at the same time. Currently, all RAWs are on one Mac Pro and shared over a gigabit network.

The problem is that Gigabit is too slow, and I can't figure out an elegant solutions that is faster?

I know thunderbolt is fast, but Thunderbolt drives can only be accessed by one computer at a time.

My only idea that I have not been able to try yet is to daisy chain Thunderbolt Cables together to make a Thunderbolt Bridge network between all the macs, and then plug one computer to an external Thunderbolt enclosure, mount the drive on 1 computer and then try and share the drive to the rest of the network. I don't know if it's even going to work, and it would be an expensive experiment!

What do other people use when they need faster than gigabit ethernet networks?

How do other studios set up their network to be fast, reliable and backed up?

  • 9
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about networking. You'll get better and more helpful answers on a different site in the Stack Exchange network.
    – mattdm
    Feb 12 '14 at 8:57

How are you sharing the images? If you're running straight Mac OS X and using the default file sharing, that's probably a big part of the speed. If you want high performance file sharing, you need to either look into OS X Server on the Mac Pro, or look to add a dedicated file server like a NAS. Fast local disk for processing and significant work-in-progress plus a NAS for storage of most of the files should work.

I did the NAS upgrade a few months ago. My notes on it are here:


that might give you some hints on how to move forward here. gigabit should be fast enough, I'd suggest the performance problem is likely elsewhere in the chain of things moving bits around.

  • Thanks for the info. I never realised the file sharing differences between OSX and OSX server. Your answer half helps me, and half hurts :) I do have a NAS (Synology DS411+ii), which I tried to get working as my central data store, but the speed was still terrible. Just this morning I copied a 160GB folder over to a firewire drive, it took 40 minutes. I copied the same to the NAS, it says 5 hours! I've purchased a new Gigabit router, but I still feel like I'm not getting gigabit speeds! How do I test this? Or find the bottleneck?
    – Dylan
    Feb 12 '14 at 7:37
  • maybe a stupid question, are the machines attached to the network using cable? Or is it wireless?
    – Yao Bo Lu
    Feb 12 '14 at 7:56
  • Ok... problem found. I replaced all my cables, double checked all my settings and as a last resort pulled out the new "gigabit" router that I was sold 10 days ago. It turns out, its not a gigabit router! I took the sales guys word on it, and didn't think he to double check him. What a fail! I'm off to swap it out now, but I'm sure it will solve my problems. Thanks for all the help, I learned a few things along the way!
    – Dylan
    Feb 12 '14 at 9:25
  • awesome. networking hardware would have been my next thing to verify... good luck!
    – chuqui
    Feb 12 '14 at 16:01

Daisy chaining thunderbold cables will not work. There is a maximum effective distance for those cables and you would well exceed it by trying to make a network over them. This would also sap all your speed.

Additionally, gigabit networking should be more than fast enough for pulling over the files. Even a 100MB raw file should take under a second to transfer over a gigabit network if everything is properly configured. (Gigabit is 1000 megabits a second or 125 megabytes. About 20% of that goes to network overhead, but that still leaves 100MB a second of transfer.

I would suggest that for working with the files, you should setup some kind of a caching system though. Use the network to load the RAW files on to each of the remote systems in the background. As long as you are editing those RAW files non-destructively there should be no version conflicts. If you use SSDs in the Macs and have the transfer to the SSD run in the background, it should go pretty quick while you start working with the files that have already come over.

  • Thanks for the help. I've been running on a true "Gigabit" network for a day now and its made a big difference. Ideally, I'd like it to be faster, but I can see this being acceptable for now. I'm intrigued about the caching option. I'll be looking into that, although I know nothing about caching on a Mac. The main operation I'm doing now is the "culling" of +-6000 weddings pics down to +-1000 with PhotoMechanic before editing in Lightroom. I dont feel that the gigabit is fast enough yet for this purpose, so I'm copying them to my local machine first.
    – Dylan
    Feb 13 '14 at 11:34
  • Yeah, I almost mentioned rating as the one time it would still fall flat on its face. Honestly though, you'll notice that even on an external drive. I copy all the photos for wedding shoots to my local ssd array so that it can keep up with the speed at which I'm reviewing. Also the local cache I mentioned would either be manual or require special software to do. It isn't some feature, just the best process I could think of for maximizing performance. I personally do something similar by archiving to a large external array that gets only slightly faster than gigabit speeds and then copy
    – AJ Henderson
    Feb 13 '14 at 13:32
  • Assets locally to work at speed on my solid state drives.
    – AJ Henderson
    Feb 13 '14 at 13:33

There are a few things you may do to speed your network:

  • you may activate the "jumbo frame" option of your network cards. This is sensibly faster that "normal" gigabit, but has the disadvantage that any non-gigabit computer will no longer be able to connect to the "jumbo frame" ones. That's why it's most of the time not activated by default.

  • you may add a second network card to your macs. It won't double your transfer speed, but it would add a good 60% (that's not very convenient, i agree, but you may consider adding one to the files server. It will increase performances when many macs are trying to access raw files at the same moment (most nas servers have two network cards that can be used in "team up" mode)). Note that you may need to explicitly configure the macs to use both cards together (in not a mac expert)

Also, if you don't have terabytes of raw files, did you consider local replication? (I'm making the assumption that nobody will modify the source raw file). You could have a script that copy to your 3 macs every raw file added to your server. That won't slow them down, and whenever they'll need to access the file, it will be already there.

  • The Mac Pro has 2 Network ports. The NAS only has 1. I will investigate the option of using these in "Team" mode on the Mac Pro server. Unfortunately, we do have terrabytes to work on so only the Mac Pro and NAS can handle the volume.
    – Dylan
    Feb 13 '14 at 11:36
  • You may wanna get a real gigabit router. That will definitely change the speed. Using two Ethernet port will help, but 2x100MB is far slower from 1x1GB. Is your NAS a "Home/Small office" NAS. You may be a "small office" (only 3 workstations) but your bandwidth needs are above typical small offices.
    – LeFauve
    Feb 14 '14 at 0:45

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