RAID Arrays for Photography and Pro Video

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If you’re working with large media files, you’re probably going to need more storage than a single drive can provide. While you could just haphazardly put a bunch of drives together, a RAID array is a better alternative because it uses multiple drives together to increase speed, protect your data, or both. You can configure your own RAID array by using software, but an array with a hardware RAID controller will provide better performance. Also, you should try to stick to hard drives with the same size, speed, and even model so your RAID array can provide optimal performance. Read on to find out which popular RAID configuration may be right for your needs.

RAID 0

If you’re looking for speed, RAID 0 is where it’s at. RAID 0 stripes all the drives in the array together so a RAID 0’s read and write speeds will be nearly as fast as the combined speed of all the drives in it. RAID 0 also works with as few as two drives, so you’ll be saving money and space compared to more complex 4-bay arrays.

If you’re going with RAID 0, you better back up your media on another drive because it does not offer data redundancy. This means if you lose one drive in RAID 0, you lose everything. The upside is you get to use all the storage for both drives. RAID 0 configurations make for great scratch drives, but make sure you go the extra mile and back everything up beforehand.

The WD 2-Bay My Book Duo is a good place to start if you decide to go for hardware RAID 0. It comes in 4TB, 6TB, 8TB, 12TB, 16TB, and 20TB configurations, which can support data transfer rates of up to 360 MB/s. It uses WD Red drives, which are slightly slower than WD Black drives, but are more reliable. Also, USB 3.1 Gen 1 is still fast enough not to bottleneck a 2-drive array. A 4-bay array is a different story, though. You’ll need at least USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10 Gb/s) for that.

WD My Book Duo 4TB Two-Bay USB 3.0 Type-C RAID Array

If you’re on a Mac, you might want to try the G-Technology G-RAID 2-Bay Thunderbolt™ 3 G-RAID, which comes in 8TB, 12TB, 16TB, 20TB, and 24TB configurations. Optimized for Macs, it has a hardware RAID controller, dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, and data-transfer rates of up to 440 MB/s. This drive works with Macs running macOS Sierra or later. Got an older Mac with Thunderbolt™ 2? The G-Technology 2-Bay Thunderbolt 2 G-RAID might be a better fit. It also has a hardware RAID controller, dual Thunderbolt 2 ports, data-transfer rates of up to 480 MB/s, and works on Macs running Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks or later.

G-Technology G-RAID 8TB 2-Bay Thunderbolt 3 RAID Array

RAID 1

If you want to play it safe, RAID 1 is a better option. RAID 1 requires a minimum of two drives and only works with an even number of drives, but it completely mirrors half of the drives to the other half. This means that RAID 1 will not be faster or have more storage than a single drive, but it’s the only real option for complete data redundancy. You should keep in mind that because of the data redundancy, you lose half the storage in RAID 1. So, if you have a two-drive RAID 1, it will mirror one drive to the other. A four-drive RAID 1 will mirror two of the drives to the other two, and so forth. RAID 1 is a good choice for photographers who want to back up their photos, but not so much for video editors, unless you have the time, a ton of patience, and a lot of storage space.

The LaCie 2big Dock 2-Bay RAID Array Thunderbolt™ 3 supports RAID 0 and 1. It also has dual Thunderbolt 3 ports and is pre-formatted in HFS+ RAID 0 to work with your Mac computer, right out of the box. It is available in 8TB, 12TB, 16TB, and 20TB configurations.

LaCie 8TB 2big Dock 2-Bay RAID Array Thunderbolt™ 3

The LaCie Rugged RAID is a good choice for when you’re out in the field. It has a hardware RAID controller, which supports both RAID 0 and 1. It also has an orange bumper that protects it from bumps and drops, as well as an IP54 rating, making it water and dust resistant.

LaCie 4TB (2 x 2TB) Rugged RAID

RAID 5 and 6

Popular among video editors, RAID 5 is a good option if you want speed, but also some protection against drive failures. In RAID 5, you can have one drive fail without losing any data. It can also provide speeds significantly faster than a single drive, or a RAID 1, though not as fast as RAID 0. Unfortunately, RAID 5 requires at least three drives. That means RAID 5 has a higher cost of entry than something like a RAID 0 array. In RAID 5, you always lose one drive to parity. So, if you have three drives in RAID 5, you lose 33% of your storage. However, if you have four drives in RAID 5, you only lose 25% of your storage. Be careful, though. Adding more drives to RAID 5 increases your chance of having two drive failures, which will result in the loss of all your data.

RAID 6 is like RAID 5, but can withstand another drive failure, bringing its total to two. However, this means that it also requires an extra drive as a minimal requirement, so if you’re going to RAID 6, you’ll need at least four drives. So, if you go with the minimum requirement of four drives in RAID 6, you lose half your storage. It would be 33% if you go six drives, and so on.

The Promise Technology Pegasus3 R4 comes in two variants: the 4-Bay Mac Edition and the 4-Bay PC Edition. As the product names suggests, the Mac Edition is preconfigured to work with Macs out of the box, while the PC Edition is preconfigured for Windows computers. Both variants are preconfigured in hardware RAID 5, but they also support RAID 0, 1, 6, and 10.

Promise Technology Pegasus3 R4 Mac Edition 12TB 4-Bay Thunderbolt™ 3 RAID Array

RAID 50 and 60

RAID 50 (or more accurately known as RAID 5+0) combines the distributed parity of RAID 5 with the striping of RAID 0. Although overall read and write speeds are dependent on a number of other factors, RAID 50 usually provides faster write speeds than RAID 5 by itself. There is a cost, though. RAID 50 requires at least six drives. Also, as you increase the number of drives in a RAID 5 array, the chances increase that you will lose all your data if more than one drive fails simultaneously. In RAID 50, you can survive multiple drive failures… as long as the failed drives happen in the right places. RAID 60 (also more accurately known as RAID 6+0) combines RAID 6 and RAID 0. RAID 60 requires at least eight drives.

The storage you lose in RAID 50 and 60 is a little more complicated. For example, if you have 9 drives in RAID 50 split out into 3 separate sets, you will lose one in each set. This means you’ll have 6 drives for storage and lose 3 drives to parity. This also means you can potentially lose 3 drives, if they’re each in a different set. If you have 8 drives in RAID 60 split out into 2 different sets, you lose 2 drives in each set.

Areca offers the 8-Bay ARC-8050T3. It comes diskless for those who want to use their own hard drives. You can configure it in RAID 50, but it also supports 0, 1, 1E, 5, 6, 10, 30, and 60.

Areca ARC-8050T3 8-Bay Thunderbolt™ 3 RAID Storage

If you want to go all out, LaCie offers the 12-Bay 12big with dual Thunderbolt 3 ports. It is available in 48TB, 72TB, 96TB, and 120TB configurations. Using Thunderbolt 3, the 12big can potentially have write speeds of up to 2600 MB/s and read speeds of up to 1700 MB/s. The 12big supports RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 10, and 50.

Don’t take chances with your media files. Use RAID 1, 5, 6, 50, or 60 to make sure that you minimize your chances of having a drive failure. Use RAID 0 (after you already backed up your data) for fast read and write speeds. Are you using a RAID configuration we haven’t mentioned yet, such as RAID 0+1 or 10? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

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14 Comments

I have a MAC & a MacBook Pro. Neither have Thunderbolt ports.

Can any of the Thunderbolt options mentioned in this article be used in my environment?

Do I need to stay with the USB-only solutions?

If your Mac does not have any Thunderbolt ports, it's best to just look into a USB option...or firewire if you can find them.  You may be able to find a Thunderbolt to USB adapter for your Mac but this may or may not work.  And if it does, your speed will be limited to what USB is capable of anyway because of USB's bottleneck.  

What's the difference between RAID and JBOD?

Hi Otavio,

RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks, while JBOD stands for Just a Bunch of Disks. JBOD will let you use each drive in a multi-bay disk array independently, while a RAID will utilize some or all of the drives simultaneously, depending on how it is formatted, and provides performance, data redundancy, or a combination of both.

For example, a RAID 0 provides data striping, which combines all the individual drives into one big one. Data is read from and written to all disks at once, which provides a solid boost in performance, but provides no data redundancy. If one drive dies in RAID 0, you lose everything. RAID 1 provides the best data redundancy at the cost of performance by using half the array's drive bays for storage and the other half for backup. For example, in a four bay array, two of the drive bays would be used for data storage, while the other two drives are used to keep a 1:1 backup of the primary drives. Moving up to RAID 5, this provides a combination of performance and redundancy. RAID 5 reads and writes data using multiple drives simultaneously, yet keeps one drive reserved for redundancy in the case of a drive failure, so you can suffer one drive failure in RAID 5 and still be ok... so long as you can rebuild the array with a fresh drive without suffering any additional drive failures. So, if you have a four bay RAID 5 array, you would lose one drive for data redundancy, leaving you with three available drives for storage.

I hope this helps. I think the article should explain things pretty well from here, but feel free to write back if you have more questions.

I really appreciate you answer. I always learn a lot with the B&H articles, thank you very much!!

William,

My latest computer has an AMD APU and uses a Megatrends BIOS which incorporates RAID-5.  Equipped with three 1TB drives I expected, using logic similar to yours, that they would provide a bit less than 1.5 TB of storage as two copies are made of the actual data and the parity bits take up relatively little space.  I had read that my setup would provide 2TB and to my surprise it does.

I'm still wondering how this can be…

Hey JAH,

Remember that in RAID 5, you always lose one drive for data redundancy, and that the minimum number of required drives is three. So, if you have a RAID 5 made up of three 1TB drives and you lose one drive for redundancy, you'd be left with 2TB of usable space. Don't forget that formatting the drives uses a bit of space, so you'll likely be left with a bit less than 2TB, but it shouldn't less than 1.5TB.

Wiliam,

 Still don't follow so perhaps you can find the flaw in my reasoning for me.

If I take your one 1TB drive for redundany, then It duplicates 1TB of data for a total of 2TB allocated.  In addition, there is the parity file, leaving rather less than 1TB for further data.  Allowing for redundany and parity file, this permits less than 0.5TB of additional data, for  a total of less than 1.5TB. Of course this oversimplifies matters in that the data and parity are striped across all three drives, but the principle of conservation of volume applies in the absence of compression and nowhere have I read that compression is used.

I look forward to your rebuttal,

John.

Hi JAH,

It sounds as if you're still discussing RAID 5, but are confusing it with RAID 1. If you are discussing RAID 5, remember that this mode does not provide 1:1 data duplication. It provides some protection against drive failures by striping data across multiple drives and reserving one drive for parity, but any redundancy with RAID 5 is contingent upon the array not sustaining more than one drive failure at a time. Thus, if you sustain two simultaneous drive failures under RAID 5, you’ll lose all your data. So, in RAID 5, there is only your original data plus the parity. There is no 1:1 duplication. If that’s what you’re looking for, then perhaps a RAID 1 configuration would be better suited for you. Or, perhaps you could benefit from a RAID 01 or RAID 10?

John-Paul Palescandolo wrote:

Hi JAH,

It sounds as if you're still discussing RAID 5, but are confusing it with RAID 1. If you are discussing RAID 5, remember that this mode does not provide 1:1 data duplication. It provides some protection against drive failures by striping data across multiple drives and reserving one drive for parity, but any redundancy with RAID 5 is contingent upon the array not sustaining more than one drive failure at a time. Thus, if you sustain two simultaneous drive failures under RAID 5, you’ll lose all your data. So, in RAID 5, there is only your original data plus the parity. There is no 1:1 duplication. If that’s what you’re looking for, then perhaps a RAID 1 configuration would be better suited for you. Or, perhaps you could benefit from a RAID 01 or RAID 10?

I GET IT (I think)

When reading about RAID  the diagram:

A  B  p
C  p  D
p  E  F, etc

is shown and I had interpreted this to mean in my case:

01 01 p
02 p 02
p 03 03
04 04 p
05 p 05
p 06 06
07 07 p
08 p 08
p 09 09
10 10 p
11 p 11
p 12 12
13 13 p
14 p 14
p 15 15

15 stripes of 1GB = 1.5TB of data
Each drive has 10 stripes on it for 1TB capacity

but reading today, XOR was mentioned and it suddenly clicked that successive stripes are XORd and the parity is an XOR block of the two successive blocks in that "stripe layer," they are not simple prity bit checks on the stripe allowing detection of which copy is bad.  What is meant is

01 02 p
03 p 04
p 05 06
07 08 p
09 p 10
p 11 12
13 14 p
15 p 16
p 17 18
19 20 p
again using 1GB stripes this fills out 3x1TB drives with 20x1GB stripes + 10x1GB parity stripes..
The p in the first layer is 01 XOR 02 so if drive #2 fails 02 can be recovered from 01.  03 and 04 are intact, 05 can be recovered from 06, 07 is intact, 08 can be revoverd from 07, and so on, using the XOR parity blocks of the respective layers to do the recovery.

Clever!  Thanks for your patience.

Great article overview! But I wish it were a little more prescriptive for home vs business users.

As the author noted RAID 1 is fine for photos and occasional, non-pro video, and it runs at normal single-drive speeds. For most home users that is sufficient.

The WD unit listed under RAID 0 can also be used as RAID 1. It would seem to be a great, affordable choice, except for one terrible design choice - proprietary, hardware-based, MANDATORY WD encryption on both drives that the manufacturer's info page says cannot be turned off, period. If you have a problem with the enclosure you simply cannot remove the drives and put them in some other enclosure, as the drives remain encrypted and enclosure hardware does the decryption. In other words, if the box breaks you can't get at your files!

Hi S. Go,

Thanks for pointing out this issue with the WD 2-Bay My Book Duo. B&H carries many other suitable two bay arrays, many of which support more than just RAID 0 and 1. Several of these are also listed in this article.

Please let us know if you have any more questions.

What happened to Raid 10?  Network managers use Raid 10 because the system of 5 drives can lose two without losing data.  

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