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Video Editing Storage Solutions

Johnathan Paul

We examine several popular video editing storage solutions and determine the best for professional use.

Before I begin any film project I like to take stock of my data capabilities (I currently run a RAID system). Below I’ll give some quick rundowns on the various video editing storage solutions for filmmakers that I have come across in my experience and research over the years. Remember there are no right or wrong solutions here, it all comes down to what will best fit your workflow.

Know Your Format and Space Requirements

First things first, you want to determine how much storage you will need based on the format you will be using during the shooting/capture process. Get this info and then head over to Digital Rebellion and use their handy video space calculator, or download Digital Heaven’s useful VideoSpace app. Either one of these options will give you the information you need.

Now, make note of the bandwidth of your codec, for instance the bandwidth for a Sony FS700 AVCHD that I use is 3MB/s at 1080 running at the standard 30fps. Another format that I often use, RED Raw, running at 30fps is 162MB/s at 4K. So you can see there is quite a jump in bandwidth. Lastly, remember that when you edit multilayer projects the bandwidth will increase quite a bit, so you need to keep this in mind as well.

The Time Tested 3.5 Drive Solution

3.5 drives are the gold standard when it comes to desktops, and they are also a decent solution for video editing storage. I’ve used 3.5 drives over the years with a lot of success, and now with some models achieving bandwidth speeds of 150MB/s in sizes as high as 5-6TB these drives provide massive storage at affordable prices.

Keep in mind that if you select this storage type you want to make sure they deliver a speed of at least 7200 rpm, which most high-end drives will.

Look into the Seagate Barracuda and Western Digital Caviar Black drives as solutions, as both are well reviewed.

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A Newer Kid on the Block: SSDs

SSDs (Solid State Drives) are ideal for internal hard drives to run your OS and video editing apps, but in terms of video editing storage but are they worth the price bump?

While SSD’s do operate quickly with tremendous speed, you need a drive that can sustain a continuous transfer rate. To purchase a drive that can effectively do this like the Samsung 1TB SSD, which runs at 540MB/s you’ll need to shell out more than double the money you would for the same sized 3.5 Drive. Now keep in mind with Solid State Drives there are no moving parts inside so the failure rate is substantially lower.

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The Mobile Route with External Hard Drives

External drives are especially useful when your on location and you need to do a quick footage dump. However with external hard drives you need to keep in mind the speed of the drive itself as well as the interface speed. You’ll find that many drive manufacturers will place the interface speed on the front of the box to make it seem as if the drive speed is faster than it really is, which in reality its not. External hard drives utilize several connection types such as USB 2.0, USB 3.0, Firewire 800, eSata, & Thunderbolt (each with varying transfer speeds).

The greatest aspect of external hard drives is its mobility. Being able to have a LaCie 500G Rugged Mini has been extremely helpful for me on documentary shoots when I’ve filled all my RED Mags and I needed to offload footage to make room.

Remember to pay close attention to the drive speed of the external hard drive.

Also refer back to one of our previous articles that gives a good rundown of external hard drive solutions.

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Bunch it Up and RAID with Arrays

This is the solution that I have used for many years now. I utilize the extra hard drive bays in my Mac Pro and filled those with 4TB 3.5 Hard Drives, which I then RAID together using RAID o. This mashes up my drives into one big drive, where the speed and space of those drives combine to give a large amount of storage, with fast transfer rates.

Another RAID system that many fellow filmmakers and editors I know use is RAID 5. This allows you to  have greater speeds and overal storage space, but the key addition is its ability to save you from drive failures. If one drive dies you don’t lose your work. The downside to this is RAID 5 requires at least 3 drives to work.

If your working on a small project and you just want a simple backup, then RAID 1 would work for you. Check out Geek Stuff and their diagram on the different RAID configurations.

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Mix the Network with the RAID and get a NAS

Take the concepts we just talked about with RAIDs, but now apply network access to it. If your working in an environment where you have several post production members working on various aspects of the film or video to get it ready for editing, and your working within the same location, then a NAS (network attached storage) setup might be the way to go.

Look at Drobo and Synology for smaller NAS solutions. If you want something more substantial then you’ll want to check out Dell or IBM, leaders in network storage.

The Future is in the Cloud

Cloud storage is becoming cheaper and cheaper with the storage size getting larger and larger. The top four commercial cloud storage providers are Microsoft, Google, Dropbox & Amazon. Each one offers up to 1TB of storage with Microsoft and Onedrive being the cheapest at $6.99/month. Amazon is the most expensive at $500/year, while Dropbox and Google are $9.99/month for 1TB.

Microsoft, Google & Dropbox also offer business solutions which provide 1TB of storage for each team member for a fairly low price. While these storage solutions aren’t ideal for housing full projects, they are good for offloading and backing up footage when on location (provided you have a wifi or network connection).

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LTO for Backup

Many professional video environments prefer to use LTO (Linear Tape-Open) to archive and backup their projects. Advocates of LTO claim that the LTO tape drives last longer than ‘traditional’ hard drives and file recovery is easier if the tape malfunctions. The downsides of LTO are many, namely that it is tape based and tape will deteriorate over time and is sensitive to the environment in which it is stored in. LTO drives are pricey, but the cost per tape is significantly less than a harddrive with similar storage capacity.

WolfCrow has a solid rundown of LTO and video backup that’s worth checking out.

LTO usage appears to be on the downswing, as other storage solutions are becoming cheaper and more reliable. If you’re an LTO user I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below.

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There Is No Right Or Wrong

Remember there is no right or wrong answer since solutions exist for any type of production workflow you need. Each one of the storage solutions above are viable for video editing, with the exception of possibly cloud storage (at least not in realtime). The key is to look at your upcoming production workflow and the storage requirements you will need, then determine which solution is the best for you before you get into the edit bay. If you are running single drives remember to backup, backup & backup again.

This is your work and your career. Protect it every way you can.

Do you have other storage solutions that you’ve successfully used that didn’t make the list above? Or have questions about storage? Let us know in the comments below.

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