One of the server rooms in Strato's storage facility
File storage is a perennial problem for photographers, whose future livelihood often depends on a system that provides both a secure archive and the ability to quickly locate and share their images with clients. Anthony Dhanendran takes a look at an affordable solution that appears to deliver both, focusing on Strato’s HiDrive cloud storage.
Author: Anthony Dhanendran
27 May 2011 Tags: Photo accessories
If you had asked photographers 15 years ago what they thought might be one of their biggest challenges today, data storage would probably not have been at the top of the list. But with the advent of digital capture, the safe storage of image files has come to be at the forefront of any photographer’s mind.
In the days of film, you had the added worry of controlling the environmental conditions of your cellulose-based negatives, so in theory, digital should be easier. In practice, however, it can be hard to figure out which storage method is the correct one to choose. Many people turn to CDs or DVDs, which have the advantage of being quick and easy to create, but can degrade easily. Similarly, Blu-ray discs offer good value per disc, given how much they can store, but Blu-ray burners are an expensive investment and the discs will suffer the same problems as CDs and DVDs. External hard disks are a better choice, with good value and ease of use, but you need to check the disks every so often to make sure they’re still working. With external hard disks it’s also necessary to copy the data entirely to a new hard disk every few years to ensure data integrity.
Vorsprung durch Technik
With all these methods you also need to make sure the physical storage media are kept properly so they’re safe from theft, fire or accident. And that’s where online storage comes in. Instead of storing your files on your own physical products, you can store the files online, delegating the storage itself to a company that can be trusted to keep it properly.
HiDrive from German-based web-hosting company Strato is an excellent choice of host. With HiDrive, all you have to do is upload your files and they will be stored securely but still easily accessible.
Several options are available, with the cheapest being the HiDrive 100, which is £9 per month. This basic package includes 100GB of storage, which could handle around 7000 raw files shot on a 15-megapixel camera (with 12-bit sensor shot at ISO 100).
In technical terms, the service includes access through all the standard protocols, meaning it can be used from any modern computer, no matter what operating system it’s using. You can even access your files from a smartphone or tablet computer: Strato has apps for Apple iPhone and iPad coming soon, as well as for Android phone and other tablet devices.
You can get to your files using the Strato online file manager or through any number of programs. It works with standard access protocols and you can get to your files using industry-standard methods such as FTP (and secure FTP). It also supports WebDAV access so that the HiDrive can appear to your computer to be a standard disk connected to it. There’s no need to treat it as a separate storage: you can treat it like another disk and copy files to it as normal.
Because it can act like any other computer disk, HiDrive can be used with workflow-management programs such as Lightroom, Aperture or more advanced software. Using those programs you can set the HiDrive to be the disk on which your library is backed up, and the programs will do the rest automatically.
Upload and share
The more advanced HiDrive 250 increases the available storage to 250GB, but that’s not everything. For one thing, it adds user accounts so that not only can you access your storage area, you can give access to staff members or partners as well, using their own accounts so there’s full accountability of who uploaded what and when. Each user can be given their own area of the storage or just upload it to the main storage area.
The HiDrive 250 service also adds to the number of shared links: if you’d like to give someone temporary access to a part of your storage area, you can do so with any of the HiDrive versions, by sending them a temporary link that gives access to a particular section. On the cheaper version there can be 20 shared links, whereas with HiDrive 250 this increases to 30.
If you opt for HiDrive 500 for £10 extra a month for the 250 or the 100 packages, the amount of storage increases to 500GB, the number of user accounts increases to five, and up to 50 shared links are allowed at once. Two “Pro” accounts are available too, aimed at photographers with larger archives. HiDrive Pro 1000, priced £49 per month, provides 1000GB of storage, along with a host of additional benefits, such as the ability to have five admin accounts (instead of one), along with many more user accounts, shared links and longer storage of backup files. HiDrive Pro 5000 delivers half a terabyte of storage, and the lowest price per gigabyte of any of the packages (at just under three pence per gigabyte per month, it’s a third that of the HiDrive 100).
With any of the accounts, there’s no limit to the amount of bandwidth you can use, so there’s no limit on the number of times a file is transferred or accessed.
You can quickly and easily share files with clients using HiDrive’s web-browser based interface. You can set up a public folder so that high-quality copies of your images (which might be too large for download from a standard website) are available for download directly from the archive. And HiDrive is unique in also enabling third parties, such as retouchers or labs, to upload images to your storage area.
A common complaint against online storage is that it takes a long time to upload your files in the first place. Certainly, camera picture files can be large, but if you have a modern broadband connection the transfer can be made quite speedily. But Strato has an extra option that can make storing your files even easier: for £2 per disc you can burn the files to a DVD and post this to the company, and it will copy the files into your storage area, meaning you don’t have to use your internet connection at all for uploading.
It’s not limited to photographs: HiDrive can be used to store any file that can be stored on the computer, so you can even create a part of your storage area for important business documentation, for instance.
Safe and secure
If you’re going to outsource the storing of your photography archive – which after all is a professional’s most important asset – you need to be sure of the company with which you’re entrusting it. Strato has been in the business since 1998, when it started out in Germany offering internet domains and hosting. The company now operates in the Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy and the UK along with its native country.
It has two data centres in which your files will actually be stored, along with those of Strato’s other customers. The data in the centres is stored just as it would be in a bank vault – Strato’s data centres are certified to the ISO 27001 standard. The data is mirrored between both centres, and each is backed up by uninterruptible power supplies, which vastly decreases the chances of your data being temporarily unavailable. The data centres are equipped with diesel generators so in the event of a longer local power blackout, you’ll still be able to access your archive.
The data centres are directly connected to fast nodes, which means that there’s no bottleneck at the storage end when it comes to the speed of upload. Your data itself is secured inside the data centre so that it can’t be accessed by anyone else who doesn’t have the password. That means that even if you’re uploading an archive that’s commercially important, its integrity will be assured. It’s covered while in transit between your computer and Strato’s servers by the SSL 256-bit transfer technology.
The BackupControl service allows you to retrieve files that have been lost through accidental deletion or anything else. It automatically creates backup copies of your files that are kept for a certain amount of time (this varies depending on the chosen package) and you can also select a point at which to create backups of your archive. For a one-off postage charge of £6.90, Strato will send you a copy of Paragon Backup & Recovery 10 Suite with advanced backup technology for saving backups to anywhere including the HiDrive.
As a German company, efficiency and economy are important to Strato – its systems are designed to be both energy efficient and climate friendly while performing well under pressure. In terms of support, there’s a free technical support hotline as well as free email support for customers and an extensive online database of frequently asked questions.
Regardless of which package you might opt for, a free 30-day trial is available – if you don’t wish to continue after this time you can cancel online and you won’t be charged. Otherwise your service will roll on at the set fee for the contract period of six months.
For a small photography business, online storage can be a vital way to make sure that your archive is stored safely and securely but is also easy to access. Strato’s HiDrive needn’t cost very much either, and depending on the size of your archive you can choose which storage level suits you, and upgrade later if necessary.
Strato is offering an exclusive introductory price for BJP readers and our sister title, Computeractive, giving 20GB of storage for just £5 per month.
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