This post is the second in a two-part series about sharing practical NAS tips and tricks to help readers with their own home or office NAS setups. Check out Part One where Backblazer Vinodh Subramanian walks through how he set up a NAS system at home to manage files and back up devices. And read on to learn how Backblazer James Flores uses a NAS to manage media files as a professional filmmaker.
The modern computer has been in existence for decades. As hardware and software have advanced, 5MB of data has gone from taking up a room and weighing a literal ton to being orders of magnitude more compact than what you would find on a typical smartphone. No matter how much storage there is, though, we—I know I am not alone—have been generating content to fill the space. Industry experts say that we reached 64.2 zettabytes of data created, captured, copied, and consumed globally in 2020, and we’re set to reach more than 180 zettabytes in 2025. And a lot of that is media—from .mp3s and .jpgs to .movs, we all have a stock pile of files sitting somewhere.
If you’re creating content you probably have this problem to the 10th power. I started out creating content by editing videos in high school, and my content collection has only grown from there. After a while, the mix of physical media formats had amassed into a giant box stuffed with VHS tapes, DVCPRO tapes, Mini DVs, DVDs, CD-ROMs, flash drives, external hard disk drives (HDDs), internal laptop HDDs, an Apple TimeCapsule, SD cards, and, more recently, USB 3.0 hard drives. Needless to say, it’s unruly at best, and a huge data loss event waiting to happen at worst.
Today, I’m walking through how I solved a problem most of us face: running into the limits of storage.
The Origin Story
My collection of media started because of video editing. Then, when I embarked on an IT career, the amount of data I was responsible for only grew, and my new position came with the (justifiable) paranoia of data loss. In the corporate setting, a network attached storage device (NAS) quickly became the norm—a huge central repository of data accessible to any one on the network and part of the domain.
Meanwhile in 2018, I returned to creating content again in full swing. What started with small webinar edits on a Macbook Air quickly turned into scripted productions complete with custom graphics and 4K raw footage. And thus the data bloat continued.
But this time (informed by my IT background), the solution was easy. Instead of burning data to several DVDs and keeping them in a shoebox, I used larger volume storage like hard drives (HDDs) and NAS devices. After all, HDDs are cheap and relatively reliable.
And, I had long since learned that a good backup strategy is key. Thus, I embarked on making my backup plan an extension of my data management plan.
The plan was simple. I wanted to have a 4TB NAS to use as a backup location and to extend my internal storage in case I needed to. After all, my internal drive was 7TB—who’s going to use more than that? (I thought at the time, unable to see my own future.) Setting up NAS is relatively simple: it replicated a standard IT setup, with a switch, a static IP address, and some cables.
But first, I needed hardwired network access in my office which is far away from my router. As anyone who works with media knows, accessing a lot of large files over wifi just isn’t fun. Luckily my house was pre-wired with CAT5—CAT5 cables that were terminated as phone lines. (Who uses a landline these days?) After terminating the cables with CAT5E adapters, installing a small 10-port patch panel and a new switch, I had a small network where my entire office was hardwired to my router/modem.
As far as the NAS goes, I chose a Synology DS214+, a simple two-bay NAS. After all, I didn’t expect to really use it all. I worked primarily off of my internal storage, then files were archived to this Synology device. I could easily move them back and forth between my primary and secondary storage because I’d created my internal network, and life was good.
Data Bloat Strikes Again
Fast forward to 2023. Now, I’m creating content routinely for two different companies, going to film school, and flexing my freelance editing skills on indie films. Even with the extra storage I’d built in for myself, I am at capacity yet again. Not only have I filled up Plan A on my internal drive, but now my Plan B NAS is nearing capacity. And, where are those backups being stored? My on-prem-only solution wasn’t cutting it.
Okay, New Plan
So what’s next?
Since I’m already set up for it, there’s a good argument to expand the NAS. But is that really scalable? In an office full of film equipment, a desk, a lightboard, and who knows what else in the future, do I really need another piece of equipment that will run all day?
Like all things tech, the answer is in the cloud. Synology’s NAS was already set up for cloud-based workflows, which meant that I got the best of both worlds: the speed of on-prem and the flexibility of the cloud.
Synology has its own marketplace with add-on packages which are essentially apps that let you add functionality to your device. Using their Cloud Sync app, you can sync an entire folder on your NAS to a cloud object storage provider. For me that means: Instead of buying another NAS device (hardware I have to maintain) or some other type of external storage (USB drives, LTO tapes), I purchase cloud storage, set up Cloud Sync to automatically sync data to Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage, and my data is set. It’s accessible from anywhere, I can easily create off-site backups, and I am not adding hardware to my jam-packed office.
I Need a Hero
This is great for my home office and the small projects I do in my spare time but how is this simple setup being used to modernize media workflows?
A big sticking point for media folks is what we talked about before—that large files can take up too much bandwidth to work well on wifi. However, as the cloud has become more accessible to all, there are many products today on the market designed to solve that problem for media teams specifically.
Up Amongst the Clouds
One problem though: Many of these tools push their own cloud storage. You could opt to play cloud storage hopscotch: sign up for the free tier of Google Drive, drag and drop files (and hope the browser keeps the connection going), hit capacity, then jump to the next cloud storage provider’s free tier and fill that up. With free accounts across the internet, all of the sudden you have your files stored all over the place, and you may not even remember where they all are. So, instead of my cardboard box full of various types of media, we end up with media in silos across different cloud providers.
And you can’t forget the cost. Cloud storage used to be all about the big guys. Beyond the free tiers, pricing was designed for big business, and many cloud storage providers have tiered pricing based on your usage, charges for downloads, throttled speeds, and so on. But, the cost of storage per GB has only decreased over the years, so (in theory), the cost of cloud storage should have gone down. (And I can’t resist a shameless plug here: At Backblaze, storage is ⅕ the cost of other cloud providers.)
Using NAS for Bigger Teams
It should be news to no one that COVID changed a lot in the media and entertainment industry, bringing remote work to our front door, and readily-available cloud products are powering those remote workflows. However, when you’re storing in each individual tool, it’s like when you have a USB drive over here, and an external hard drive over there.
As the media tech stack has evolved, a few things have changed. You have more options when it comes to choosing your cloud storage provider. And, cloud storage providers have made it a priority for tools to talk to each other through APIs. Here’s a good example: now that my media files are synced to and backed up with Synology and Backblaze, they are also readily accessible for other applications to use. This could be direct access to my Backblaze storage with a nonlinear editing system (NLE) or any modern workflow automation tool. Storing files in the cloud is only an entry point for a whole host of other cloud workflow hacks that can make your life immensely easier.
These days, you can essentially “bring your own storage” (BYOS, let’s make it a thing). Now, the storage is the foundation of how I can work with other tools, and it all happens invisibly and easily. I go about my normal tasks, and my files follow me. Check out the diagram below to see what I mean.
With many tools, it’s as simple as pointing your storage to Backblaze. When that’s not an option, that’s when you get into why APIs matter, a story for another day (or another blog post). Basically, with the right storage, you can write your own rules that your tools + storage execute, which means that things like this LucidLink, iconik, and Backblaze workflow are incredibly easy.
Headline: Cloud Saves the (Media) World
So that’s the tale of how and why I set up my home NAS, and how that’s naturally led me to cloud storage. The “how” has gotten easier over the years. It’s still important to have a hard-wired internet connection for my NAS device, but now that you can sync to the cloud and point your other tools to use those synced files, you have the best of both worlds: a hybrid cloud workflow that gives you maximum speed with the ability to grow your storage as you need to.
Are you using NAS to manage your media at home or for a creative team? We’d love to hear more about your setup and how it’s working for you.