Back in February of this year, I began making a huge transition from the Drobo NAS system (now out of business) to the newer and far superior QNAP system. Back then I had just installed the two new NAS systems but had not moved any data.
Here I am about 6 months later and I have been using the system non-stop, but there was a lot to do between then and now. Some had to do with the data transition and some was just the back-to-back photo tours. Let me tell you what I have found, both the good and the bad.
Full disclosure: QNAP provided me with my NAS devices, but I have no financial relationship with the company, nor was I obligated to publish anything about the products in exchange.
Let me start with the installation of the boxes. I had two NAS systems to set up, one of which would be my main storage and one which would be my offsite destination. I had a whole bunch of the Seagate IronWolf 20TB hard drives to install, and I also purchased a couple of M2 SSD drives to increase the overall speed of the drive access. Installing the drives was simple enough, and powering up the QNAP boxes was a piece of cake. I did have to make some phone calls to the support team when I got stuck, and they were very helpful in getting me up and running.
My goal was to transition all 1.5 million photos (and other data) from the Drobo NAS to the new QNAP TVS-h874 NAS. This process took a REALLY long time. I would transfer one year of data at a time and I think it took me the better part of two weeks to complete the process.
Once I got everything moved over, everything appeared to be perfect, with one hiccup. When I attempted to search for a folder on the drive (using my Mac Studio), the folders could not be found. It turns out that the NAS was not indexed. The crazy thing is… there is no easy way to re-index a drive from a Mac, so I had to research a way to make that happen.
Once I figured out how to make that happen, it took another 5 days! And this problem has not been completely resolved. There are still times when the indexing goes haywire (when I search for a folder, it shows the folder, I click on it, and it opens a completely different folder) and I have to force a re-index.
This process generally takes a couple of days (in the background), which is a real nuisance since it slows the drive to a crawl. I have searched the Internet for answers and this seems to be an issue with the Mac and many NAS drives. I am hoping that someone at Apple can help me resolve this.
How I Work On My Files
Originally I had thought that I would use the QNAP NAS as my main working drive, but I have decided to use the new 4TB Crucial x10 SSD drive as my main drive. I chose to make this change for two reasons:
1. The Crucial SSD is incredibly fast, much faster than accessing the QNAP drive over Ethernet.
2. In case the indexing problem happens again, I can still work with the SSD without any delays while I re-index the NAS.
Setting Up Remote Synchronization
With my QNAP units side by side, my next step was to copy all of the data from the QNAP TVS-h874 NAS (primary drive) to the QNAP TS-832PX NAS drive (which would be my offsite drive). The QNAP support people helped me connect the two boxes together and start the synchronization. I knew that the synchronization had to first be done locally (on the same network) because trying to sync up 1.5 million images to a remote location over the Internet would take forever.
That process took another 3 or 4 days, but I did not have to do anything. We started the sync and I let it run.
At that point, I needed to drive the second box to my remote location, which is a couple of hundred miles away at my brother’s home. Once I got the second box powered up at my brother’s, I once again leaned on the QNAP support people to help me with the remote sync settings. This process was so simple and painless. I was amazed!
With the old Drobo unit (using their Drobo DR software), the user interface was terrible, the process was painstaking and it failed all the time. I have been dying for a reliable system for keeping my data safe in more than one location. Now I have it.
The User Interface and Features
The user interface for the QNAP is all browser-based and is very straightforward. I have not used most of the icons you see above, mostly using the HBS 3 Hybrid Backup Sync app for the remote synchronization. I do use the File Station application at times, but mainly use the Mac Finder to find what I am looking for.
This is what the File Station interface looks like. A simple interface for viewing the files and folders stored on the NAS drive.
There are numerous applications that can be installed on the QNAP NAS drive. I have installed a couple of apps (for the backup and remote access). I have been tempted to install the media streaming app (just for fun), but have not done so at this time.
The Control Panel is where I set all my settings for the NAS unit, with me generally using the “General Settings” more than anything else.
Within the General Settings, I can check the status of all the drives. In this screenshot, you can see the status of the two internal SSDs and all the Seagate IronWolf 20TB hard drives.
As I mentioned earlier, I am using the HBS 3 Hybrid Backup Sync app (no additional charge for this) for my remote synchronization. I have this application running on both boxes and performing a synchronization every morning at 1 a.m. It has been running for the last 6 months without any issues or failures. This means that I have all 1.5 million images in both places for extra security, and it stays up-to-date constantly. This is a huge peace of mind for me (and my clients).
When I was using the Drobo DR software, I would constantly bug the development team at Drobo to give me some sort of interface to show the progress of the synchronization. With the Drobo, there was almost no way to see if the synchronization was successful or how much data was transferred. They never fixed that issue, creating times when the sync process was broken for months without my knowledge.
With the QNAP Sync log, I have an easy way to check the status of my sync to make sure they are happening.
If I click on one of the items in the Sync log, I can see more details of that particular process. In the example above, I can see that on August 28th, 54GB of data was sent from my TVS-h874 NAS drive to the TS-832PX NAS drive hundreds of miles away. It took about an hour to synchronize the 4914 files.
Since we are on the subject of remote data, I have to talk about one of my favorite things about the QNAP NAS drives, and one of the biggest differences between the old Drobo system and these new units. I am talking about the ability to easily access ANY of my files from ANYWHERE in the world.
Drobo did have the ability to access their NAS drive from a remote location using a web browser, but it was painfully slow. There are many times when I am traveling and need to access images for a client. When searching for a file on the old Drobo NAS, it would literally take me 15 to 20 minutes to locate a file since the interface was brutally slow.
With the QNAP drives, I can now find that same file in less than a minute and I LOVE that! Not only can I check files on my local drive, but I can access the remote drive as well.
Oh, one more thing. There is another feature of the QNAP NAS that is not critical but which I really love. That is the auto backup of my camera roll from my phone any time I get in range of my WiFi network. This means that I do not have to do this manually, and I don’t have to rely on iCloud or other services to back up my photos and videos from my iPhone.
When Drobo started showing signs of their pending demise, I was in a panic. I had ALL my data on their boxes and both the company and the units were failing. I literally lost sleep worrying about this problem. I pride myself on having every digital image I have ever taken (the keepers) and having them in two locations. I even tell my clients about this setup so that they know I will have their images safe for years to come.
I can tell you now that the panic is gone and I am really happy with the new QNAP solution. I have not only replicated what I was doing with the Drobo units, but I have surpassed the functionality and usability by far! It is not an inexpensive solution, but it is something that is vital to my business. As professional photographers, our data is everything, and keeping those images safe is critical. I am now sleeping better at night.
About the author: Jeff Cable is a photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find more of his work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram. This article was originally published on Cable’s blog, where you can follow along with Cable’s photography (and data management journey).