What is the best storage for video editing? Learn how to set up your RAID or NAS video storage with an effective backup and workflow strategy.
As a video creator your camera source video files are the most valuable thing you have. Project files are usually small, and easy to back up. Almost everything else can conceivably be recreated. But if you lose your source video files, you’ve lost everything.
Making sure you’ve got reliable, fast video storage to work from is the first step. However, it’s not enough by itself. It’s important to have an overall strategy and workflow for duplication, media management, and disaster recovery. This involves both hardware, and software that needs to integrate well with the way you work. There is a lot more to think about than just plugging in a hard drive.
The goal of this article is to break down what’s important, what things you really shouldn’t compromise on, and the simplest ways to implement critical best practices on a budget.
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- You can use a direct attached RAID, or a NAS for your primary working “online” storage. However, always duplicate your media to other “offline” storage. This can be pairs of cloned external hard drives, or LTO tape.
- Configure your RAID storage for redundancy using RAID 5. This protects your data from a single drive failure in the array. If you have a larger 8-drive RAID, you can consider RAID 6. This prevents your data from being at risk during a drive rebuild.
- If you ever lose all the data on your online storage and have to rebuild it from a backup, be aware that individual external hard drives are very slow. LTO tapes are the safest, and fastest way to back up high volumes of data. It’s also very fast to restore from LTO back to online storage.
- The most effective method to protect the data on your online storage is to mirror it to an identical secondary server. When two servers are configured as a high availability cluster, data is mirrored automatically. High availability offers seamless failover to the secondary server if the primary experiences a failure. There is zero downtime, and once the failure is resolved, the mirror will be rebuilt automatically.
- External SSD drives are a great portable online storage solution on location or when traveling. But remember to always keep duplicates of your media on other storage. Pairs of cloned USB external hard drives are ideal and don’t take up much space, but are slow.
- Cloud storage is becoming more affordable. There are options for personal cloud backup (including backup of external hard drives) and to back up an entire NAS.
The Best Storage for Video Editing, VFX, and Color Grading
The best storage for video editing and post production is not the same for everyone. This article is intended as a guide for individual video creators using up to 8-bay desktop RAID storage. Beyond this scale, all of the same principles apply, but you’ll be looking at much larger systems. Rack mounted enterprise shared storage, and LTO tape libraries are beyond the scope of this article.
What you’ll find in this article is an explanation of the different hardware options you can consider. I’ve tried to make this modular in the sense that you should choose a solution for online working storage, and a solution for continuous duplication and archive. Online storage alone with no continuous duplication of your files is not really a strategy at all. You can also add cloud storage to any kind of on-site workflow.
I also categorize the common kinds of files in video post production, and suggest what kind of storage is best for them. You’ll also learn about common RAID levels, and the best file system choices to format your drives.
A place to put your video files is only part of an overall strategy. Kyno is my favorite media management solution and I want to mention it before moving onto talking about hardware.
I’ve been using Kyno for the past few years to keep track of every shot, from every shoot around the world. I’ve added searchable tags to every video clip on ingest. This has given me a video library searchable by location, time of day, type of camera, (or app if it’s from my phone), who is in a shot, plus any other custom tags I want to use. Kyno also offers a powerful transcoding engine to create proxies or transcode any kind of video file to any other. It’s a real swiss army knife.
Kyno is an affordable, low overhead tool that goes beyond just keeping track of your files. It also integrates with FCPX and Premiere Pro, and has workflow integrations with frame.io and Archiware P5 for archive. Kyno are working on some exciting integrations with cloud storage providers also.
Kyno works by writing metadata to a hidden sidecar file that always travels with the file. So any time you copy or move the file, the metadata goes with it. This means your media always remains searchable no matter where it is. As long as the storage is mounted, you can search for any clip using any tags and keywords you’ve added metadata for.
Kyno is a great lightweight alternative to a full media asset management system that a larger post production facility or production company might employ. It’s far cheaper, maintenance free, and perfect for individual video creators up to medium sized teams.
Video Storage Strategy & Structure
Before you start shopping for video editing storage solutions, it’s important to have a strategy in mind, and know how you want to structure and work with your data. There are different risks associated with different types of storage and there is always the need to maintain duplicates.
Let’s start by looking at three examples, starting with a simple one person setup, and gradually expanding in complexity.
Direct Attached Video Storage and USB Hard Drive or LTO Backup
The simplest video editing storage workflow is to work from fast direct attached external SSD or RAID. You can easily backup your media to pairs of cloned inexpensive USB external hard drives. A desktop LTO tape drive is an excellent idea for long term archive.
A good direct attached RAID enclosure is the popular Promise Pegasus R32 range of storage. If you need the best portable storage for video editing, use an external SSD such as the SanDisk Extreme or Extreme Pro Portable SSD. The Samsung T5 SSD drives are also popular.
NAS Video Storage and USB Hard Drive or LTO Backup
A more flexible post production storage workflow is to employ high speed shared storage using a NAS over a 10GbE Ethernet LAN. This way you can easily add more workstations to the network in the future. In the example below media is backed up to pairs of cloned external USB hard drives, or better yet, LTO tape.
NAS Mirrored Video Storage, USB Hard Drive or LTO Backup and Cloud Backup
For ultimate redundancy of your working online video storage, the below example uses two identical Synology NAS configured as a high availability cluster using SHA (Synology High Availability). These are mirrored and will failover with no interruption if one NAS experiences a failure for any reason.
I’ve illustrated the same offline backup video storage options here. Backup is to cloned pairs of external hard drives or LTO Tape. A setup taking redundancy as seriously as this would most likely be using LTO for backup.
I’ve also illustrated both computer backup and NAS backup to the cloud using BackBlaze.
Types of Files
As well as the actual hardware involved in your post storage workflow, it’s important to categorize the different kinds of data you need to deal with. Let’s break down the broad categories of files you’ll need to consider in post production.
Active Project Video Files
These media files are the camera source files you need for active projects. These files need to be on fast enough storage to support real-time playback of multiple concurrent video streams.
Project Media Files belong on fast, online storage that is either directly attached to your system (DAS… direct attached storage), or shared to it from a NAS server (network attached storage) via 10GbE (10 Gigabit ethernet). Additionally, all active media files should be duplicated elsewhere. Your method of backup will depend on how much downtime you can cope with if you have to rebuild your online storage in the event of an unrecoverable failure (see Disaster Recovery section).
Non-Active Project Video Files
These media files are the camera source files for completed or otherwise non-active projects. If your primary online working storage is limited in capacity, you may not be able to keep a library of all your camera source media forever instantly accessible. If capacity is not an issue, and you access older media regularly, or use it as a library, you can of course keep as much of it as you’d like on your online storage. Otherwise you should employ a method to sort through what camera media you want instant access to, and what can be left on backup drives, or LTO tape.
If your non-active media is kept on your primary storage, it should also be duplicated elsewhere. If you don’t have enough capacity to keep a library of all your non-active camera source media on your primary online storage, consider keeping it duplicated onto cloned external hard drives. Better still, consider investing in a desktop LTO tape drive for archive (or use both… see Disaster Recovery section).
Library Media Files
Library media files are video, audio, graphics, images, design elements, and any common files that you use regularly in all your projects. These files also need to be on your online storage.
Your library of common media files you use regularly for all your work should be kept on your primary storage, and also duplicated elsewhere.
Rendered Project Exports
You may want to keep a collection of all your final exported project videos readily accessible. These may well be compressed video files, so may not require much space, or bandwidth. However, you may also want to keep higher quality masters of your project exports, and also different versions. If you, or a client needs quick access to a copy of some previous project export, it can be worth having these on hand. You can also charge a client a fee for keeping their final exports on hand.
Rendered project exports may not need to occupy space on your primary working storage, unless they are large or uncompressed master files. You can consider keeping them duplicated onto cloned external hard drives if they can’t be kept on your primary storage.
Video Project Files
Project files are your actual editing, graphics, animation, audio and working project files. Depending on the software you use these may be individual files, or projects may be stored in either an sql database, or a hidden folder based database (as with DaVinci Resolve). You should keep all your project files, and it can be useful to have them readily available in case a need arises to reopen a previous project for changes or alterations.
Project files are usually small, and contain no media, so these can be stored a variety of ways. I would avoid keeping them on a workstation or laptop internal hard drive, unless you are also actively duplicating them elsewhere daily. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep copies of project files on cloud storage, such as iCloud or Google Drive.
Temporary Cache Video Files
Temporary cache files are often created by many software applications to speed up processes and ensure a smooth, fast user experience. For optimal performance these files should be on fast internal storage, and separated from your primary media storage.
However, cache files are temporary, and can be deleted, and recreated by the software at any time. They may however take time to regenerate, so if you are using render cache or generating optimized media in DaVinci Resolve for example, it may take time if the cache folder is deleted for any reason and you need to regenerate optimized media or cache render clips on the timeline before you can work.
Consider using an internal or external SSD for your temporary cache video files. These files do not need to be duplicated or archived.
Types of Storage for Video Editing
There are different types of storage you can use for video post production, each useful for different parts of your overall workflow.
- Online Storage (RAID enclosures, either direct attached over Thunderbolt or USB, or NAS shared over 10Gb Ethernet)
- Individual external HDD and SSD (Thunderbolt or USB)
- LTO Tape
- Cloud Storage
Online Video Storage
Online storage is your main working media storage. It is usually very fast, has high enough capacity to store all the media you need for currently active projects, any other projects that you may need immediate access to, and anything else you need access regularly. It’s usually a RAID array and should be configured for redundancy.
Just because your RAID can tolerate a drive failure doesn’t mean it replaces the need to duplicate your files somewhere else. You should always keep a separate physical duplicate of all media which is on your working online storage, or, if you can budget for it, even set up mirrored online storage (plus an offline duplicate).
Direct Attached or Network Attached (DAS or NAS)
The online storage solutions I want to look at are desktop RAID enclosures that either connect directly to a workstation over Thunderbolt 3, or can be shared to multiple workstations over 10GbE LAN. I would recommend a NAS over direct attached storage because of the flexibility of being able to share the same storage with multiple workstations. Even if you’re a solo operation, you may want to employ multiple workstations in your workflow at some point.
- DAS – Direct Attached Storage – This is a RAID enclosure that provides storage directly to the workstation it is connected to. Your connection should be as fast as possible, Thunderbolt 3 or USB 3.2 Gen 2.
- NAS – Network Attached Storage – This is a RAID server that provides shared storage to any workstation connected to it over a local area network (LAN). The network speed is critically important. Choose a NAS with integrated 10GbE ethernet ports. You will also need a 10GbE network switch, and your workstations should either have internal 10GbE NICs or an external 10GbE interface (Thunderbolt 2 or 3 to 10GbE).
Understanding RAID Levels
What is a RAID anyway? RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks.
An array of hard drives (or SSD) can be striped together as a single volume in a few different ways. You can prioritize capacity and speed at the expense of redundancy, or find a balance of both. A balance of both is what we need.
A RAID 0 array writes data evenly across all the physical drives in the array for maximum capacity and maximum bandwidth. However, it has no mirroring or parity. This means that parts of every file exist across all the drives, and if one drive in the array fails, all the data is permanently lost.
I would never recommend relying on a RAID 0 configured array for safe working storage of camera media. The only exception might be if it’s mirrored to an additional identical RAID 0 array, but even then it’s much better and safer to use RAID 5 for both.
However, small dual disk or dual SSD portable RAID drives are often configured RAID 0 because increased bandwidth and capacity is the priority, not the safety of the data.
RAID 5 also writes data across all the drives in the array, which increases performance, but it also provides parity. The contents of any single disk is also distributed among the others disks. If any single drive in the array fails, it can be removed, and a new replacement drive swapped into the array. The contents of the failed drive will be rebuilt onto the new drive from the parity data existing across the other drives.
Data is only at risk for the duration that the replacement drive is being rebuilt. However, all the data in the array is permanently lost if more than one drive fails at a time, or if a second drive fails during rebuild.
As long as you have your data either mirrored to an identical array, or duplicated onto other storage for safety, the risk of more than one simultaneous drive failure is acceptably low. However, rebuilds take time, especially if you are using large drives. A RAID 5 array remains in a critical state for the time it takes to rebuild.
RAID 6 is similar to RAID 5 but offers double distributed parity. This means any two drives in the array can fail and their respective contents can be rebuilt from parity data existing on the remaining drives. The likelihood of more than two drives failing simultaneously is incredibly low, but a RAID 6 configuration will protect your data while one drive is rebuilding. For small arrays the decrease in capacity and bandwidth compared to RAID 5 is not really worth the extra protection. For larger arrays, of 8-drives or more, RAID 6 is worth considering.
The best solution, if your budget allows, is to mirror two identical RAID 5 arrays and configure them for high availability. This doubles the cost of your online storage, but it means one entire array can experience a complete failure, and the second will seamlessly take over with no interruption.
One of the features I like about the Synology DS1817 is that two can be configured together as a storage cluster in SHA (Synology High Availability) mode. If one fails, the other takes over.
You should still have your media duplicated elsewhere, but this is the maximum level of reliability and safety you can employ for your online working storage. An unrecoverable loss of data would require two drives in each array to fail simultaneously, which is near unthinkable. Even while one array is rebuilding, your data is not at risk.
What is the Best RAID Level for Your Video Storage?
For any desktop RAID of four or more physical drives, it’s worth sacrificing the capacity of one drive for the redundancy provided by RAID 5. This will provide the best balance of usable capacity, performance, and redundancy.
As I have mentioned previously, you should always have your media duplicated to other storage regardless of how much redundancy your RAID may have. Even if it’s a high availability mirrored cluster, you should make sure all of your original camera media is duplicated to pairs of cloned external hard drives, or better yet LTO tape.
The Best File Systems for Video Storage
Not all file systems are created equally. You should always use a journaling file system. Your choice will depend on whether you are primarily running a Windows or Mac environment. If you’re a Mac user, the choice between HFS+ and APFS will depend on whether the storage is solid state or not.
ExFAT is a file system created by Microsoft to bridge the gap between NTFS and FAT32. ExFAT can store files larger than 4GB, and is natively supported by both Windows and MacOS.
I don’t recommend ExFAT to be used on any drives. It’s a non-journaling file system and is easily corrupted.
NTFS is a Microsoft file system that is secure, reliable and less susceptible to corruption. NTFS is a journalling file system that will withstand sudden interruptions even during write operations.
NTFS can be read by MacOS but write access from a Mac requires a third party software such as Paragon NTFS for Mac.
MacOS Extended (HFS+) is the standard file system used by MacOS from 1998 until today for mechanical and hybrid hard drives. APFS has replaced MacOS Extended for solid state and flash storage since MacOS High Sierra.
APFS is optimized for solid state media and has replaced MacOS Extended for solid state and flash storage. It will also work on mechanical hard drives. APFS is not compatible with MacOS El Capitan or earlier.
Which File System Should You Use?
If you’re a Windows user, and primarily operating in a Windows environment then NTFS is your best choice when formatting all your video storage media.
If you’re primarily a Mac user you should format any spinning disk hard drives, and spinning disk RAID arrays (direct attached or NAS) using MacOS Extended (HFS+). Solid state drives should be formatted APFS.
I recommend that you avoid formatting any drives with ExFAT.
Uninterruptible Power Supply
When you are using any size or configuration of RAID storage, it, and your workstation should be powered through a suitable capacity UPS. During a mains AC power loss for any reason, the batteries in the UPS will automatically keep AC power supply to your storage array and workstation, giving you enough time to safely save your work and power everything down.
10GbE Networking for Office or Home Studio
If you’re considering networked storage you’ll need a 10GbE switch and to run dedicated Cat6a cabling between the switch and storage, and to all all workstations you will have connected. You will need to make sure any PC’s or Mac’s you want connected to the storage have internal 10GbE NIC or an external Thunderbolt to 10GbE interface.
One of the most affordable small switches is the NETGEAR 8-Port 10G Ethernet Smart Managed Plus Switch (XS708E).
If you’re running a PC, you can get any single or dual port 10GbE NIC such as the Synology 10Gb Ethernet Adapter, or just about any 10GbE NIC you can find.
If you’re a Mac user, and are using an iMac Pro, you’ve got a 10GbE port already. For all other Mac users, I’ve recommended and used the ATTO Thunderlink NT2102 interfaces for years. These are Thunderbolt 2 interfaces and provide two 10GbE ports. You can use a USB-C Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter cable.
The Sonnet Solo10G (Thunderbolt 3 Edition) adapter is a cheaper option and provides one 10GbE RJ45 port.
Buying Online Storage for Video Editing
There are many options for good DAS and NAS RAID enclosures and servers. Too many for me to mention or cover so I am only going to suggest a couple options that I’ve been recommending for some time, and know plenty of happy users.
Promise Technologies make arguably the most popular direct attached storage for video. The Promise Pegasus 32 series with Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.2 Gen 2 come in four, six, and eight-bay desktop varieties.
Keep in mind if you configure an R4 four-bay for RAID 5, you will lose one drive worth of usable capacity and 25% of the maximum possible bandwidth. With RAID 5 configuration you will always sacrifice one drive from the array, but the impact on usable capacity and performance is less the more drives there are in the array.
To be honest, I’m not sure the R4 is worth looking at for this reason because I would advise against using it in RAID 0.
- Promise Pegasus 32 R4 16TB (4x4TB)
- Promise Pegasus 32 R6 24TB (6x4TB)
- Promise Pegasus 32 R8 32TB (8x4TB)
A NAS will give you far more flexibility than a direct attached solution. One of the best entry level NAS solutions for video is the Synology DS1817 8-Bay NAS with 2x 10GbE ports.
I’ve created a table costing out the approximate price per TB for the Synology DS1817 with the Seagate Ironwolf 4TB, 6TB and 8TB hard drives. Nothing changes faster than the prices of IT equipment so check the links for actual current prices.
|8x 4TB 32TB (28TB)||8x 6TB 48TB (42TB)||8x 8TB 64TB (56TB)|
|RAID 5 Capacity||28TB||42TB||56TB|
|Cost Per Raw TB||$60||$48||$45|
Below are some Amazon affiliate links for the Synology 8-Bay NAS I’d recommend you take a look at, also an expansion unit, and some good choices of hard drives. The NAS enclosure itself doesn’t come populated with hard drives, so you’ll need to order 8 of whichever hard drive capacity you choose. It’s worth buying one extra as a hot swap spare.
- Synology DS1817 8-Bay NAS with 2x 10GbE
- Synology 5-Bay Expansion Unit DX517
- Seagate Ironwolf 4TB NAS Internal Hard Drive
- Seagate Ironwolf 6TB NAS Internal Hard Drive
- Seagate Ironwolf 8TB NAS Internal Hard Drive
Individual External Hard Drives & SSD
Common consumer external USB hard drives are the most affordable way to keep safety duplicates of your media files from your online storage. However, they do fail, and they are slow if you have to use them to restore data to your online storage for any reason.
I always buy these drives in pairs, and write data to them in pairs just in case one fails.
However, these cheap external drives are not suitable to work from directly, you’ll be lucky to get sustained read / write speeds of more than 80MB/sec. I’m also wary of putting them under much continuous stress.
External SSD Drives
If you’re looking for a portable working storage solution, perhaps when you’re travelling, or working on location, you can’t do much better than the Sandisk Extreme Portable SSD drives. There are other excellent external SSD drives but these are rugged, and great value for money. The SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD’s connect with PC and Mac over a USB 3.1 Type C connection, and offer up to 550MB/sec. The Samsung T5 SSD drives are also popular and offer a similar speed.
The below links are affiliate links.
- SanDisk Extreme Portable 1TB SSD
- SanDisk Extreme Portable 2TB SSD
- Samsung T5 1TB SSD
- Samsung T5 2TB SSD
External SSD drives are perfect portable online storage, if you need more performance, look for NVMe drives such as the Seagate Extreme Pro series of Portable SSD drives. The Sandisk Extreme Pro SSD offers speeds of up to 1050MB/sec over a USB 3.1 Type C connection.
If you are using an external SSD to work from, you should also duplicate your media to one, or a pair of external USB hard drives for backup.
Duplication & Disaster Recovery
The term disaster recovery sounds dramatic, but this is an apt description for the worst kind of media storage failure you might experience. This describes a total and unrecoverable loss of media from your online working storage. Here are some possible scenarios.
- A single drive failure in a RAID-0 array (it’s only a matter of time).
- A (somewhat unlikely) simultaneous two drive failure in a RAID-5 array.
- Fire or natural disaster
In any of these scenarios it will take time to repair or replace your online storage, and it will then take more time to restore your media and data from a backup.
When deciding what kind of backup solution to use, cost is a big factor for most of us, but before buying a bunch of cheap consumer USB hard drives to use for your backups, ask yourself the questions below and consider these options too.
Some important questions to ask:
If your online working storage experiences a catastrophic failure resulting in permanent loss of data, how critical is the time required to restore your data from backup?
Cheapest and slowest offline backup solution: USB hard drives
If you can cope with the hours, and possibly days of downtime required to restore TB’s of data from a slow backup drive to your repaired and reformatted online working storage, then you can consider using cheaper consumer USB hard drives for your media backups. However, it’s worth noting that cheap consumer USB hard drives always come with their own risk of failure, even if they aren’t powered up most of the time. It is worth keeping two identical sets of backup drives rather than just one.
More expensive but fast, and most secure offline backup solution: LTO-8 tapes
If you can cope with hours rather than days to restore data from backup, you can consider using LTO tape. A great choice is the mLogic mTape Thunderbolt LTO-8 drive. LTO-8 tapes provide 12TB native capacity per tape, and up to 750MB/sec transfer rate. That’s fast enough to restore your media quickly.
The other advantage of LTO tape is a lifespan of more than 20 years. LTO tape drives are required to have read compatibility for two previous generations of tape. For this reason you might want to consider updating your drive and tapes every third new LTO generation. This requires transferring your older LTO backups onto the newer generation tapes.
Most expensive and fastest (zero downtime): Mirrored online video storage plus backup hard drives or LTO tapes
If you can’t cope with any downtime, the only solution is to maintain an identical mirror of your online storage. However, this is expensive, and doesn’t really count as a long term backup, or disaster recovery solution by itself. It needs to be paired with additional regular backup to offline hard drives or LTO tape.
The Synology DS1817 8-Bay NAS I’ve suggested supports a High Availability configuration that they call SHA (Synology High Availability). When two NAS servers are connected, they can be configured as a cluster. One NAS handles data operations while cloning data to the second passive standby server. If one NAS fails, the other automatically takes over data operations with seamless failover.
One of the best decisions you can make is to keep a secure offsite backup of your media on the cloud. Services like BackBlaze have made this more affordable. BackBlaze offers unlimited backup of your computer and external drives for only $6 per month, or $60 per year per computer. External drives have to be mounted at least once every 30 days.
This is an excellent way to maintain an offsite backup of media on your external hard drives. BackBlaze can also ship you a physical hard drive if you need to recover your data as quickly as possible.
BackBlaze also offer Business Backup plans for multiple computers, and offer NAS backup at $5 per month per TB for storage, and $10 per TB for download. This makes BackBlaze B2 Cloud Storage far more affordable than Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud.
What’s more you can sync your Synology NAS directly to BackBlaze B2 cloud storage using Synology Cloud Sync.
The Best Storage for Video Editing
The best storage for video editing is not the same for everyone. You need to assess your needs, against your budget. It’s also important to be aware of how your workflow may expand in the immediate future. This is why I prefer recommending investment in a shared NAS rather than direct attached storage. It works perfectly when networked to only one computer, but gives you the option to add more.
I also highly recommend LTO tape for backup and archive over external USB hard drives. LTO tape is fast, reliable and has a long lifespan. You just need to keep the drive required to read your generation of tapes as they age, or transfer your archives to the latest LTO generation every third new generation.
Lastly, cloud storage is becoming more affordable and is really the ultimate offsite disaster recovery strategy to protect all your video and other files.
- Read more about DaVinci Resolve Minimum System Requirements
- Read more about the The Best Budget Laptops for DaVinci Resolve In 2020 with Thunderbolt 3
- Read more about using an eGPU in my article The Best DaVinci Resolve eGPU Options
- Read more about Resolve monitoring in my article The Best Low Budget Resolve Monitoring and Video Color Management