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 online 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.

If a file doesn’t exist in three places, it doesn’t exist.

It’s a common saying among IT professionals, and actually anyone involved in managing data. Our digital world is incredibly fragile. Hard drives fail. In fact there is a 100% chance that every hard drive you own and use will fail. That data will be gone forever if it doesn’t exist elsewhere, and just one backup is not enough. RAID arrays give you redundancy which helps, but doesn’t excuse you from making sure your data exists in two other locations.

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.

Key Points

This is a long article. If you don’t want to read through it, here are some key points.

  1. If a file doesn’t exist in three places, it doesn’t exist.
  2. Online Storage is high speed attached working storage for instant access to active video media and other files.
    Nearline Storage is attached storage for short term data that needs to be instantly accessible, but doesn’t require the speed of the online storage.
    Offline Storage is medium term storage of data that is not attached or instantly accessible. A backup is an example of offline data.
  3. Clone is for making data available to use in a different location.
    Backup is for recovery from hardware failure or recent data corruption or loss.
    Archive is for space management and long term retention.
  4. You can use a direct attached RAID, or a shared NAS as your primary working online storage. However, always duplicate your media to other offline storage. This can be pairs of cloned external hard drives, or even LTO tape using a desktop LTO tape drive.
  5. 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 adds additional redundancy (two drives) and prevents your data from being at risk during a drive rebuild.
  6. 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 a safe, and fast way to backup, archive, and restore high volumes of data.
  7. If you cannot tolerate any downtime to restore data, 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.
  8. External SSD drives are a great portable online storage solution on location or when traveling. But remember to always backup your media to other offline storage. Pairs of cloned USB external hard drives are ideal and don’t take up much space, but are slow to restore data from.
  9. Cloud storage is becoming more affordable. There are options for personal cloud backup (including backup of external hard drives) and to backup an entire NAS.

The Best Storage for Video Editing, VFX, and Color Grading

I’ll admit it, the title of this article, and this section heading is mainly for good SEO. There is no such thing as a one such fits all solution for video and media professionals. The best media 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 an 8-bay desktop RAID storage solution, regardless of whether it is a DAS (direct attached) or NAS (network attached). Beyond this scale, all of the same technical principles apply, but involve much larger systems. Nothing essentially changes at a larger scale. However, rack mounted enterprise shared storage, and robotic LTO tape libraries are beyond the scope of this article.

What you’ll find in this article is an explanation of the requirements to ensure your data is always safe, and 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, a solution for continuous duplication (backup) and also for long term archive. You can also add cloud storage to any kind of on-site workflow. Working from online storage alone with no backup of your files is not a strategy at all.

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.

Online vs Nearline vs Offline

I’m certain you’ve heard these terms used widely when discussing video storage. Here are some useful and simple definitions.

  • Online Storage is high speed attached working storage for instant access to active video media and other files
  • Nearline Storage is attached storage for short term data that needs to be instantly accessible, but doesn’t require the speed of the online storage
  • Offline Storage is medium term storage of data that is not attached or instantly accessible. A backup is an example of offline data.

Online Video vs Offline Video (Proxies)

To make things a bit more confusing, the terms “online” and “offline” are also used to describe source video files, and low resolution, compressed video “proxies”. This doesn’t really have anything to do with storage but I’ll explain here to help clarify the terminology and prevent confusion.

  • Online video files are full resolution, original source video files
  • Offline video files are low resolution, compressed proxy versions of the online video files that have been created (transcoded) directly from the online video files.

Offline video files, sometimes just called proxies, are sometimes created to enable easier and faster editing if the full resolution online video files are too large or too slow for a computer to play back efficiently. In this case an “offline edit” can make use the lower resolution, lower quality proxy video files for fast and fluid editing. Once the edit is locked, the sequence can be reconnected to the full resolution online video files (this process is called a conform) for color grading and export of final deliverables.

Often these offline video proxies can be generated as standalone files, and will always share the exact same filenames, and timecode as the source online video files. They will often have a different file extension (but not always) because the codec and format may be different. As long as the filename and timecode are the same as the parent online video files, it will be possible to easily reconnect (conform) a sequence back to the online video files.

Some software, such as DaVinci Resolve can create optimized media which it handles internally. These are effectively offline proxy video files that Resolve generates and keeps hidden away in a cache directory. It is the same with DaVinci Resolve’s render cache, which are temporary proxy video files rendered only from portions of online source video clips in a sequence.

There are many reasons to create, or use offline proxy video files if they help streamline your workflow or increase performance, but whether they are a standalone set of files, or a hidden cache, they can always be recreated from the original online source video files.

Copy vs Backup vs Archive

Before we can dive into different types of video storage, or even strategy and structure, I want to define the key differences between a copy, a backup, and an archive. It’s easy to blur the lines and think of these all as simply duplication of your video files, but each serves a different purpose.

  • Clone is for making data available to use in a different location
  • Backup is for recovery from hardware failure or recent data corruption or loss
  • Archive is for space management and long term retention

You may or may not need clones of your video files or project data as part of your workflow. The use of networked shared storage is intended to reduce the need to create clones for other machines you might be using, or other collaborators to work with. However, backups and archives need to be a part of every video editor, or creators workflow.

Backup

  • One of multiple copies of data in active use
  • Kept in sync with active storage
  • Should be fast to restore in the event of unrecoverable active online storage failure
  • Intended for short term data retention
  • Retained for as long as data is in active use

Archive

  • Usually the only remaining copy of data no longer in active use
  • Long term stability is more important than speed of data retrieval
  • Intended for long term retention
  • Retained indefinitely
  • Data cannot be altered or deleted once archived

Video Storage Strategy & Structure

Before you start shopping for video editing storage solutions, it’s important to have a strategy in mind. You should know how you want to structure and work with your active data, and how you plan to create and maintain backups, and long term archives. There are different risks associated with different types of storage and performance vs security vs price trade-offs.

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 a fast direct attached external SSD or desktop 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.

A simple direct attached storage workflow with duplication to cloned external hard drives or a desktop LTO tape drive.
A simple direct attached storage workflow with duplication to cloned external hard drives or a desktop LTO tape drive.

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 desktop 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.

A shared storage workflow using a NAS on 10GbE ethernet, with duplication to cloned external hard drives or a desktop LTO tape drive.
A shared storage workflow using a NAS on 10GbE ethernet, with duplication to cloned external hard drives or a desktop LTO tape drive.

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.

A shared storage workflow using two mirrored Synology NAS on 10GbE ethernet, with duplication to cloned external hard drives or a desktop LTO tape drive. Also shown is cloud computer backup and complete cloud NAS backup.
A shared storage workflow using two mirrored Synology NAS on 10GbE ethernet, with duplication to cloned external hard drives or a desktop LTO tape drive. Also shown is cloud computer backup and complete cloud NAS backup.

Types of Files

As well as the actual hardware involved in your post storage workflow, it’s important to think about 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 online 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 backed up to offline storage 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.

This media, which isn’t actively being used, but needs to remain accessible, and can’t be permanently archived is a good candidate for nearline storage. Otherwise you should employ a method to sort through what camera media you really need instant access to, and what can be moved to offline storage, or archived to LTO tape.

If your non-active media is kept on your primary online storage, it should also be backed up 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 a database or folder structure (as with DaVinci Resolve). You should keep backups of 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 functions and parts of your overall workflow.

  • Online Storage – RAID enclosures, either direct attached over Thunderbolt or USB, or NAS shared over 10Gb Ethernet. A fast attached external SSD can be considered online storage too if it’s being used for that purpose.
  • Offline Storage (Backups) and Shuttle Drives – Individual external HDD and SSD (Thunderbolt or USB) that are only attached when needed and stored safely when not in use.
  • Archive – LTO Tape
  • Cloud Storage – Off site backup

Online Video Storage

As I’ve defined previously, 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 backup your files somewhere else. You should always keep separate physical backups of all media on your working online storage, or, if you can budget for it, even set up mirrored online storage (plus offline backups).

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.

RAID 0

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

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

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.

Mirrored Storage

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.

Offline Video Storage

The best offline video storage solution to use for backups are common external USB hard drives. They are cheap and available in high capacity as single drives. They should always be bought in pairs, and backups created as two identical cloned drives. They should be kept updated periodically when necessary and stored safely. Offline backups are intended for use only when needed to restore data.

LTO tapes can also be used to backup data that won’t change, such as source camera media, but is better suited to long term archive. That said, it’s not uncommon to see individual portable LTO tape drives on a DIT cart for backup of camera files on location.

Archive

The best solution for long term archival of data are LTO tapes. With an expected lifetime of over 20 years LTO will outlast and outperform any hard drive or solid state storage technology. I discuss LTO in more detail in the disaster recovery section.

Cloud

Cloud storage is becoming more affordable at the capacities required for the backup of large video files. Internet bandwidth is the main limitation of how quickly data can by uploaded and downloaded. However, some services accommodate shipping a physical hard drive if the data is required urgently.

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.
  • Theft
  • 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.

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

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

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

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

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).

10GbE Interfaces

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 a DAS or NAS 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.

DAS

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.

NAS

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 HDD8x 6TB HDD8x 8TB HDD
8x 4TB 32TB (28TB)8x 6TB 48TB (42TB)8x 8TB 64TB (56TB)
Raw Capacity32TB48TB64TB
RAID 5 Capacity28TB42TB56TB
Cost Per Raw TB$60$48$45
Mirrored$120$96$90

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.

Buying Individual External Hard Drives & SSD

Common consumer external USB hard drives are the most affordable way to keep backups 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.

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.

Buying Cloud Storage

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.

Further Reading

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9 Comments

  1. Richard,
    Thank you for such a helpful and detailed guide. It is sooo hard to find good information from someone who isn’t just a “product reviewer” putting together a list of “Top 10 RAID drives for video editing in 2020!”. Youtube can be just as frustrating, not enough detail. It’s been a good 8-10 years since I needed to have my own workstation for projects at home. And it seems one big change I’ve noticed today, NAS RAIDs seem to have replaced DAS RAIDs. I can’t figure out the advantage of NAS RAID vs DAS RAID if you only have 1 workstation. What am I missing? Anyway, I couldn’t tell how old your article was, but I noticed your recent comment above where you mentioned that you wanted to update it. In trying to figure out the best storage solution for my upcoming projects, I’ve come across several posts/articles claiming that RAID 5 is no longer a stable/safe solution today. What’s your take on this? They were mostly speaking in maths so I was lost but it scared me from considering RAID 5. Here’s an example: https://www.digistor.com.au/the-latest/Whether-RAID-5-is-still-safe-in-2019/
    I had already bought the HDDs (Seagate Exos 8TB 7200) but figured safest option without having to buy more HDDs was to go with 2 RAID 0 arrays so that I could have a backup of the camera originals and have maximum capacity/speed. Would you recommend something else? JBOD instead of RAID 0? Any real benefit from RAID 0 with only the 2 HDDs? I would either use a USB 3.0 connection or a TB 2 connection. My footage will be a mix of formats from HD- 4K between 28Mbps all the way up to 500Mbps (Mostly the latter). Anyway if you do update the article soon, it would be helpful to discuss the current state of costs per GB per type of drive and whether RAID is still as necessary these days with SSDs and NVMe drives being fast enough for 4K workflows. There seems to be a pretty big gap in SSD performance depending on the brand for example. If you’re trying to save money can you RAID some cheaper, “slower” SSDs and get the most bang for your buck and more than enough bandwidth for a 4K workflow? I agree that the data rate of your codec/footage is important to consider in order to answer that question.
    Anyway look forward to seeing your updated version to this article.
    best,
    Josh

    • Richard Lackey

      Hi Josh, Thanks for the questions. This article is actually only a month or so old, I should really add a “last modified” or “last updated” date showing because I agree with you, it’s hard to find depth of information, but also information that is relevant since these things change so quickly.

      Between DAS and NAS, there really isn’t any particular advantage of a NAS over DAS other than it gives you the option of sharing it to more than one workstation. Whether you need that or not, now or in future, is the question. There’s also the obvious difference in connectivity and bandwidth. Any NAS for video will need to be using 10GbE ethernet to each connected client, which means your laptop or workstation needs a 10GbE NIC. For a workstation that’s as easy as adding a card inside, for a laptop it’s a bit more complicated as it requires a Thunderbolt 10GbE interface, which are external and can be bulky. Some high end workstation class laptops are coming with integrated 10GbE connectivity now, and I think we’ll see more of this. Connection to a NAS is usually through a switch, or, some NAS servers come with multiple 10GbE ports that can accommodate a few direct connections. A switch is going to divide whatever bandwidth it gets from the server to the connected clients, so one thing to keep in mind when using a switch, is that if the switch only has a 10GbE connection with the server, it can’t magically multiply that bandwidth. It will divide 10GbE up across however many clients are connected to the switch. In larger shared storage installations the connection from the NAS to the switch is often far greater than 10GbE for this reason.

      It’s more straightforward to get the high bandwidth you want between storage and connected computer with a DAS, over Thunderbolt, or even USB 3.2 gen2, but then you can’t easily share it. So, there are pros and cons of both. One is not necessarily “better”, it depends on what you need.

      I’m not sure you mentioned what enclosures you are using? You mentioned they are two drives each? and I assume you have two of these enclosures since you mentioned the option of mirroring.

      Anyway, I’ll come back to that. First, about RAID 5. There’s nothing wrong with RAID 5. It just comes with more risk than RAID 6. With RAID 5, there is redundancy for one drive failure in the array. So if one drive fails, you don’t lose data. But, if you lose a second drive, your data is toast. With one failure your data is “critical” (zero protection) until you replace the failed drive, and it has time to rebuild. So that’s the risk, your data is not protected even during the rebuild to the replaced drive, and a large capacity drive can take quite a while to rebuild.

      With RAID 6, you have redundancy for two drive failures. So if one drive in the array fails, your data is still protected against a possible (unlikely) failure of a second drive. This means your data is still protected while the new drive you’ve swapped in is rebuilding. RAID 5 costs you one full drive worth of capacity out of your total storage capacity. RAID 6 costs you two full drives worth of capacity.

      You need at least a four or five drive array for RAID 5 to make sense, and in my opinion, an eight drive array for RAID 6 to make sense.

      Now… regarding mirrored RAID arrays. Mirroring two RAID arrays isn’t really a backup, it does offer data protection of course, because if one array experiences a unrecoverable loss of data, the other takes over, and as soon as the first is repaired (but now empty of data), the data can be rebuilt from the second live array. It’s more about making sure you have continuity and zero downtime. Also a mirrored system should still be a mirrored pair of RAID 5, or even RAID 6 arrays, so that each array has its own redundancy. If you mirror two RAID 0 arrays, and one fails, the second has your data, yes, but it’s still very much at risk because it has no redundancy. If even one drive fails in a RAID 0, you lose everything with no possible recovery.

      Backups are super important, and a backup is a physically separate copy of the important data from your working storage, whether that’s a RAID or an SSD. In fact, your backup strategy should include not just one, but two copies of the important data from your working storage. These can be pairs of cheap consumer USB hard drives, but the point is they aren’t used for anything other than rebuilding data to your working storage (your RAID) in the unfortunate event of an unrecoverable failure. So backups are not left connected, and most of the time they live somewhere safe. You plug them in to update the data on them whenever you add new media to your working storage.

      Restoring data from a USB hard drive backup can be very slow, so your strategy really depends on how much time you can accommodate not working if you have to completely restore the contents of your working RAID. Of course, this isn’t very likely, especially if your working RAID is a RAID 5 or RAID 6 array but it can happen.

      I don’t think a mirrored pair of two drive RAID 0 arrays is better than a four drive RAID 5. If you have two mirrored RAID 0 arrays, neither has protection against a drive failure, but a four drive RAID 5 does, and you get the working capacity and bandwidth of three drives rather than only two.

      I’m not sure exactly what enclosure you have, but if it has four drives, I’d configure it as RAID 5, you’ll lose one drive’s worth of capacity, and throughput, but you’ll have protection against one drive failure. Then use pairs of cheap USB hard drives as cloned backups of your media. Your only real risk then is if a two drives in your RAID fail at once, or a second drive fails while rebuilding one failed drive. Even if that happens, you have your pair of USB backups. All you lose is working time.

      If you have a larger RAID enclosure, like eight drives, you can consider configuring it RAID 6. Then it’s much more protected, but you lose two drives worth of capacity and two drives worth of bandwidth. You should still keep cloned pairs of backups but it’s very unlikely you’ll experience downtime at all, because the likelihood of losing everything from a RAID 6 array is so low.

      What enclosure do you have exactly? How many drive bays?

      As far as sufficient bandwidth for real-time playback of the media you’re working with, I would avoid a two drive RAID 0 also, you’re better off with a four drive RAID 5, but again, all of this depends on what enclosure you have and how many drives it can accommodate.

      The main advantage of RAID over SSD is certainly not bandwidth, but sheer capacity. You can’t build SSD based storage at anywhere close to the cost per GB that you can with a spinning hard disk based RAID. That said, if you don’t need huge amounts of capacity, then SSD is great as an alternative to a RAID for your working online media storage. It’s capable of much higher read/write bandwidth, is far more compact, uses way less power, and obviously doesn’t have the liabilities of mechanical magnetic hard drives. Just remember to always maintain backups no matter what kind of storage you’re working from.

      So if you only need a few TB capacity, then SSD (either NVMe or even SATA SSD) is probably the way to go. If you need tens to hundreds of TB capacity, then spinning disk RAID is still a total no-brainer.

      I hope I haven’t confused you even more.

      • Really appreciate you responding Richard. I really want to get this right.
        Thank you for elaborating on the NAS vs DAS system.
        When you talk about bandwidth for NAS systems, as far as working with video files while editing, isn’t it still limited to the speed of the drives and the RAID config in the enclosure, or would a 4 bay RAID 5 be faster read/write in a NAS?

        Regarding RAID 5, the things I was reading is that for reasons I couldn’t understand, with larger capacity drives of today, if a drive fails in a RAID 5, the likelihood of getting an error during the rebuild thus losing it all is now “too high”. However I trust you, and thank you for reassuring me on that.

        The storage workflow I had originally planned on:
        *Offline storage: 4 bay QNAP USB 3.1 gen1 RAID 5 (24TB usable). *I didn’t think it would be fast enough for online 4k workflow. Am I wrong about that?
        Online storage: project specific footage and project files: SSDs 6-12TB (either in a RAID or not, depending on if I need to boost read speeds from slower/cheaper SSDs). I had planned to back up project files to an offline USB backup drive I already have.
        I still have the HDDs but returned the QNAP enclosure after reading about RAID 5. I was in the process of researching 2 bay enclosures when I came across your article.
        After reading/thinking about your response though, I think I could have saved some money just going with USB drive backups for offline and the SSD RAID (or JBOD) for online option. I didn’t need the HDD RAID if I couldn’t use it as online for editing right? Essentially I’ve just paid for very expensive albeit robust and a little faster-though not fast enough, version of the paired USB backup drives right, or am I still not getting it haha? Anyway, thanks again for all your help!
        Josh

        • Richard Lackey

          Hi Josh, yes, you’re right, whether DAS or NAS the maximum bandwidth will always be limited by either the interface, or how much data can be read/written to the disks, depending on the disk speeds and RAID configuration. So the total throughput is limited by whatever is the slowest in that equation. I see what you’re saying about RAID 5 now, yes, with large drives there’s more risk of another drive having an issue during the rebuild. However, with a four bay enclosure, you’re limited with RAID options.

          So your online working storage will be SSD based? That’s a good idea, no issues with bandwidth there. You would have relatively limited total bandwidth from a four drive RAID 5, probably around 350MB/sec or so, write speed would be less. If that’s enough, you could use it as online storage. I’m not sure how much your total budget is, you could look at a six or eight bay RAID enclosure and get two or four more drives. Then you could configure it RAID 6 and use it as online storage. You’d have two drive redundancy and more throughput than the four drive RAID, plus more total capacity.

          • Yeah I could not find anything in a 4 bay enclosure that offered RAID 6 and now I know why. I need more drives for RAID 6. I may ultimately go that route if I can get fast enough speeds for online, just need to research a bit more the answer to that question. Thanks again Richard!

  2. Matt Zeeser

    Thank you for your response Richard. I look forward to reading about your favorite workflow tools. I have come to realize I need to improve on my overall workflow and have never taken advantage of tools outside of the Adobe suite. I plan to start picking up on Davinci and eventually making that my tool of choice for editing and color correction/grading since this is something my new manager has been pushing for. I’ve used Premiere all my career, but I also come from a graphic background where I use primarily Adobe apps and 3DS Max.
    So, to answer your questions, the largest video files I work with would be coming from Black Magic Pocket Cinema and a Canon 5D. I have only worked with 4K at this point and don’t really foresee working with 8K anytime soon. As far as codecs, it’s usually the BMPCC’s RAW, .mov, .mp4. Then I am working with 3DS Max .max files and CAD/Pro-e files + large graphic print files (large format Photoshop files) at times. I don’t believe there’s a bandwidth concern with 3D files because I believe they’re loaded into the software and that’s that…not streaming from file per say (getting out of my comfort zone of what I’m saying…so I’m not confident of my answer). I need to better wrap my head around how it works with these files and bandwidth. I’ve worked with this software for many years, but never concerned myself much with server related questions and things since I just accepted what the employer handed me!
    If I understand correctly, if I were to go with the Pegasus 32 R4, it sounds like the bottleneck would not be the connection, but the hard drives themselves along with choosing RAID 5 configuration would be. So, the only way that could change is if you had hard drives that spin at 10,000 rpm (granted I realize the Pegasus is not designed or those drives, but hypothetically speaking)? Changing the drives from 4TB to 10TB drives does not affect the bandwidth, if I understand correctly.
    Nonetheless, I think I’m coming to the conclusion that this system would be ideal for me. I’d love to go with at least the R6, as you suggest, but the budget isn’t allowing for it at this point. I think this little RAID system would have as fast a connection as any server I worked on at my employer (again, I don’t really know since I never concerned myself with it). Now to find one in stock someday!!

    • Richard Lackey

      Hi Matt, sorry for the delayed reply. Small files, and project files don’t require a lot of bandwidth at all, and are mostly loaded once. Higher RPM drives do have a higher read/write speed but since as far as I know Pegasus only ships those units with drives in them, I’m not sure it makes sense to swap them out. You could buy an empty enclosure from QNAP or similar and populate it with your own drives if that’s what you want to do. I also think you’d probably get on well with the R4 by the sounds of it.

  3. Matt Zeeser

    First, this is a great site with very well written articles. I only just discovered your site 2 days ago and will be continuing to explore and reference it. So thank you for taking the time that you have invested and sharing your knowledge!
    I’ve been researching a DAS RAID solution for a few weeks now and have been all over the map (thought I was set on Dobro, but realized that was not the way to go after much research). I was finding myself landing on the Promise Pegasus 32 R4 configured with RAID 5 after heavy consideration of Synology NAS solutions. I’m currently working for a large corporation as a videographer/3D motion artist and this would be more for home organization and storage (with plans for backup), using it for video and 3D projects with a high-end PC. I’d like to keep the budget lower at this point as well.
    I’m writing because I see your point on the Pegasus R4 not being worth purchasing due to the loss of one drive’s worth of storage and 25% of possible bandwidth when using RAID 5 (which you helped me to understand better). Yet, wouldn’t this change if you later needed to expand and could just daisy chain say another R4 or an R6, etc.? Doesn’t that also expand the bandwidth? Also, does it matter much to lose 25% bandwidth if connected via Thunderbolt 3 (40 Gb/s) or USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gb/s) due to having such a fast connection anyway? I guess I don’t quite have my head wrapped around the bandwidth part of it. Also, can you switch to larger drives, such as 8TB drives if you choose? Do you have to buy the drives from Pegasus (is it proprietary)? Last question, I don’t understand the need for the display port. If you connect to it via your PC, what’s the use for this?
    Thank you, again, for sharing your knowledge in a way for all skill levels to be able understand and to make use of it. It can be difficult to find current, up to date information!

    • Richard Lackey

      Hi Matt, first of all, thanks so much for the kind words. I actually still feel this particular article needs some more work and I will be re-writing it at bit in due course. I’ll also add some separate articles looking at my favorite workflow tools more closely like Kyno, Hedge, and Frame.io. I work full time, so it takes me a while to write these things.

      There may be nothing wrong with a 4-bay DAS like the Promise Pegasus 32 R4, it all depends on the bandwidth requirements of your media. This is one thing I need to add to the article because it’s important in calculating just how much data bandwidth you need. What kind of source video files are you most often working with? What codec, resolution, and/or camera(s) are they?

      To answer your question about daisy chaining another R4 unit. That would increase your overall attached storage capacity but they would still be two separate RAID arrays, and mount as two separate volumes. So that would not increase bandwidth of the data coming from either of the arrays, regardless of the data throughput of the interface.

      You can think of the interface between your system and storage like a water pipe. The bigger the pipe, the higher volume of water can pass through it. The thing is, no matter how big that pipe is, the volume of water that will flow through it depends on how much water can flow out of your storage, not really on the size of the pipe (unless the pipe is too small, then the pipe itself becomes the bottleneck). Your RAID storage is like a group of small water containers. If you dump the contents of one coke bottle into the pipe, it won’t come close to filling the capacity of the pipe, but the more coke bottles you open and pour together at the same time, the more it begins to fill up the capacity of the pipe. At some point the pipe can’t handle the amount of coke bottles being poured into it, and you need an even bigger pipe.

      I hope that makes sense as a crude analogy. A 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 connection is a pretty big pipe. It would take more than an R4 or even an R8 to dump enough data to reach the capacity of the interface (depending on the type of storage… an SSD RAID could very quickly fill up that pipe, but that’s a different story). Two R4’s or R8’s daisy chained together are separate volumes, and so will only dump twice as much data into the pipe if you’re accessing data from both of them at the same time. They can’t be striped together as a single volume.

      As far as I am aware it’s not possible to buy the empty Promise Pegasus enclosures without drives. I’m also pretty sure they ship in configurations with 14TB drives, so I am sure 8TB drives are not an issue. There are other enclosures that come unpopulated however if you want to build your own. Take a look also at the QNAP enclosures also.

      As for the DisplayPort, this has to do with the fact that Thunderbolt combines, or multiplexes PCIe and DisplayPort data and sends it through the same cable. So you can plug your displays into the provided DisplayPort if you want to. You don’t have to of course.

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