Magazine Article


Storage Solutions
An internal discussion of external hard drives

Buffalo Tech
Data Robotics
Western Digital

With the popularity of digital photography growing stronger every day, photographers have more images than ever to store. The question is what to do with all of these images. External hard drives are the most popular storage solution. With that in mind, Studio Photography asked representatives of some of the top external hard-drive manufacturers for their input on several topics to help our readers choose the product that best suits their needs. Our panel of experts included: TOM LOVERRO, director of product marketing at Data Robotics; NATHAN PAPADOPULOS, corporate communications, Seagate Branded Solutions; JENNIFER SERFAS, senior product marketing manager, Branded Products, Western Digital; OLIVER KAVEN, senior product manager at Buffalo Technology (USA), Inc.; CHRIS HAEFFNER, events manager and product marketing, Other World Computing (OWC); and GRANT DAHLKE, marketing manager at NewerTech.

SP: How have external hard drives changed in the last 10 years regarding size, storage capacity, etc.?

Tom Loverro, Data Robotics: Storage capacities of hard drives have been growing by leaps and bounds. What hasn't kept pace is the ability to manage that storage and keep it safe. For instance, RAID technology today has just as many limitations as it did 10 years ago. Data Robotics invented Drobo to take advantage of ever-increasing drive sizes, while also removing all the limitations of traditional RAID.

Nathan Papadopulos, Seagate: The demand for hard-disk drives has exploded. With nearly every piece of media and information turning into a digital format, there is a high demand for storage and capacity. The dot-com crash resulted in many companies leaving the industry or becoming acquired. Whereas at the height of the PC era there were more than 120 different hard-drive manufacturers, today there are only six key players—only two of which are U.S.-based.

JENNIFER Serfas, western digital: The biggest change has been the increase in available interfaces. Previously Western Digital offered USB only, but today we offer USB 2.0, FireWire 400/800, and eSATA interfaces. We also offer smaller portable devices that use our 2.5-inch mobile WD Scorpio drives. In addition, our desktop My Book product family use GreenPower drives to reduce power consumption by up to 33 percent. Capacity has also increased dramatically, with up to 2TB of storage now available.

Oliver Kaven, Buffalo Technology: Storage capacities have increased dramatically. For example, just in 1998 IBM announced a 25GB hard drive; today we're at 1TB per drive. RAID systems for the consumer and small-business markets have now increased to 4-plus TB.

Chris Haeffner, OWC: Physical drive size continues to get smaller. Once, 5.25- and 3.5-inches were the standard choices, but with notebooks/laptops replacing the traditional tower as the preferred computer configuration, 2.5-inch hard-drive sales are growing rapidly. Despite these dimension changes, the storage capacity of hard drives continues to get larger to handle today's larger digital file sizes. Ten years ago storage was commonly defined by megabytes. Now gigabyte is the common measurement, and terabyte is slowly becoming that standard.

Grant Dahlke, NewerTech: When discussing external hard drives, offering multiple interfaces so the drive can be utilized in the highest performance manner among multiple operating systems has been a key development. With FireWire 800 introduced in 2003 and eSATA in 2004, many external drives need to provide Triple Interface and even Quad Interface connections.

SP: What changes have you seen in the external hard-drive industry in the past year?

Loverro: In the past year, we've seen a pretty quick transition to 750GB and 1TB drive sizes. People are installing four 4TB drives in their Drobos. It's being driven by an accelerating move to larger sensor sizes for photographers and rapid HD adoption on the video side.

Papadopulos: Demand continues to drive capacities up. As of 2006, the home has surpassed enterprise as the largest consumers of storage, and this trend is showing no signs of slowing. User-generated video and pictures, as well as the affordability of HD video, will continue to drive the need for more storage.

Serfas: We have seen growth in the overall market, including very strong growth in portable storage. There have also been improved industrial designs, more intuitive software, more and better focus on consumer needs for backup and storage, and FW interface on portable drives

Kaven: Consumers and small-business customers are identifying the need for multi-drive solutions that offer redundancy. Especially in the SMB and medium-sized business markets, it's apparent to administrators that they cannot trust their mission-critical data to a single HDD solution. RAID 1 (mirror) and RAID 5 (striping with redundancy) are the most popular solutions to preserve data.

Haeffner: Size again is the biggest change. Where 100GB 2.5-inch drives used to be the big portable drive, in the last year 200GB, 250GB, 320GB, and most recently 500GB 2.5-inch drives were introduced. OWC recently was the first to market with a 500GB pocket-sized, bus-powered (no AC adapter needed) external hard drive called Mercury On-the-Go. Plus, the speeds are going up to traditional desktop drive 7200rpm speeds, as opposed to the typical notebook or portable 5400rpm.

Dahlke: On NewerTech's external solutions utilizing 3.5-inch drives, we went from 750GB being the largest drive available to 1TB drives being the top capacity. We're planning on 1.25TB and 1.50TB being offered later this year. And there's a growing movement in lower-powered "green" drives.

SP: Which product of yours offers the greatest storage capacity?

Loverro: Drobo can accept up to four 3.5-inch SATA I or SATA II hard drives. That means you can have 4TB of raw storage or 3TB of protected capacity—and as drive sizes expand, Drobo supports up to 16TB on a single volume.

Papadopulos: Seagate has two single-drive Direct Attached Storage drives with a capacity of 1TB. The company also manufactures a 2TB network-attached storage drive that has two 3.5-inch drives.

Serfas: As far as desktop drives are concerned, the My Book Dual-Drive enclosures including My Book Studio II and My Book World Edition II offer up to 2TB of storage capacity. For portable drives, WD's My Passport line of drives offer up to 320GB

Kaven: Our TeraStation line is a four-drive solution that offers a total of 4TB of space per unit (depending on the selected RAID mode).

Haeffner: For portable drives, the Mercury On-The-Go 500GB is ideal for photographers. For work back at the smaller studio, the Mercury Elite Pro-AL series has full-size single drives up to 1TB and dual-drive units up to 2TB. For the larger studio, the Mercury Rack Pro is a four-drive rack mount unit offering capacity up to 4TB.

Dahlke: We designed a product specifically for creative professionals like photographers and graphic designers. The Guardian MAXimus contains two drives up to 1TB each in a RAID 1 (mirror) configuration for "live activity" backup.

SP: Do you offer external hard drives that offer web access to the user's network when the user is on the road?

Loverro: We do not offer a product out of the box, but many of our users access their Drobos remotely using commonplace software. On the Mac, customers can use Back to My Mac and .Mac for syncing key information. On Windows, Microsoft FolderShare can be used. Our more advanced users have set up VPNs (virtual private networks) to access their Drobos on the road.

Papadopulos: Seagate announced a software application at CES that provides global access to folders and files on your networked drive without creating a hole in your firewall. It's easy to use and does not require a client application on the computer accessing the drive. All that's needed is a password.

Serfas: My Book World Edition with MioNet and My Book Office Edition with MioNet allow users to remotely access their drive content.

Kaven: We offer web access on a few of our network-attached drives. The user can access all data through a web browser. Configuration is easy and does not require a PC to run. The NAS (network-attached storage) unit will provide connectivity on its own. Buffalo also does not charge a monthly or one-time service fee. All functionality is available when the consumer purchases the drive. The set-up procedure is extremely easy and will set up any common UPnP-capable firewall or router (almost all routers on the market today) automatically.

Haeffner: We do not offer one at this point. Realistically, anyone can access their computer and any drives attached to it from anywhere as long as the router is configured to accept a remote connection. However, small portable hard drives, like the Mercury On-The-Go, are much easier to use and are often a more cost-effective solution for people needing data while on the road.

SP: What do you see coming down the road?

Loverro: I see the need for safe and expandable storage growing. The latest numbers from IDC Research show data growing at 40% to 70% per year. Pro photographers usually experience data growth that's a multiple of that. I'll be excited when 1TB-plus-sized drives are released later this year or next year.

Papadopulos: I don't believe that we are far away from a world where every home has a networked drive used as a media server to store videos, music, and pictures for the whole family. Hard drives will become pervasive. Internet television and instant access to information and media is and will continue to be stored on hard drives.

Serfas: We will see larger capacities, network storage for consumers, and digital storage that's in the living room/home environment.

Kaven: Storage will become smaller and more flexible. Encryption of data will play a bigger role in portable drives, and additional features (such as web access or streaming-media capabilities like DLNA and iTunes servers) will play a bigger role in NAS.

Haeffner: More and more flash-based storage is coming to market. Flash has no moving parts, so it's very tolerant of shock and abuse, but it's still very expensive. It also has the potential of being very fast, but it's still in its infancy. It also has not reached the capacities of the traditional hard drives we use today. Flash has the potential to replace the platter-based hard drives of today, but only time will tell if it can be developed into a low-cost replacement. With internet speeds increasing, we will likely see more online storage services being offered.

Dahlke: It seems like once a capacity maximum starts to get established, people start saying they need more! It's becoming more common for a photographer to tell us that they need more than 1TB of desktop storage. So it won't be long before we start referring to storage capacity in petabytes.