Photo backup is arguably the most important thing for every digital photographer. It’s also probably the number one thing that keeps us up at night. Digital asset management is, and should always be, your top priority. At first glance, LaCie’s latest Thunderbolt RAID system appears to be a fantastic option for those of us with a need for a massive amount of data redundancy. The LaCie 5big Thunderbolt Drive offers a massive 10TB or 20TB option for $1,199 and $2,199, respectively. These are rather attractive prices considering the speed at which Thunderbolt operates. I am, though, a little disappointed at the RAID options that LaCie offers for this massive drive. The drive is only configurable in RAID 0, RAID 1, or RAID 0+1. If you know what RAID 0 and 1 are you are probably wondering where the RAID 5 option is.
Lacie doesn’t do the best job explaining what RAID means via their website, or how much data you would have access to, so let me break it down for you.
RAID 0 means that you will have the fastest possible access to read/write speeds via a Thunderbolt connection on your Apple computer because the data is striped across all drives. This is ideal if you have an additional backup solution in place and don’t need redundancies of data built into the drive. RAID 0 was a great option for fast read/write speeds before Thunderbolt existed and USB 3.0 was around. Today, for me, it seems a little less important.
LaCie claims up to 785 MB/s when configured to RAID 0, which is ideal for video editing and motion graphics work that constantly renders large blocks of data. When configured to RAID 0, you have full access to the 10 or 20 TB of storage but 0% redundancy. So if a drive fails you will experience a loss of data.
RAID 1 means that all of your data is copied in an exact mirror to other drives in the array. This means that if you have the 20TB system, you will only have access to 8TB of data. Drives 3 and 4 will be exact mirrors of drives 1 and 2 leaving drive 5 as a spare in case any fail. If you have the 10TB model, you would only have access to 4TB of storage. If a drive does fail, you will be notified and can simply swap the spare drive with the failed drive while the device is on. This is the most redundancy you can have with RAID because it’s copied in two places. This may seem like a great idea, but considering the size of the drive and the likelihood of 2 drives failing at once, this is not my go to RAID configuration. Plus, if someone breaks into my house and steals the drive, it wouldn’t have mattered anyhow.
LaCie also offers both options by partitioning the drive giving you both a RAID 0 and RAID 1 option for your device. So, in the 20TB option you would have access to 12TB of fast but unbacked up data as one drive, and 4TB of redundant data configured in RAID 1 as a separate drive.
RAID 5, which is not an option with this drive, gives you the security of a redundant backup while maximizing the drive space. RAID 5 uses 25% of the drives to backup data in case of a drive failure leaving you with 75% of available space. This is like RAID 1 but will only allow for one drive to fail without the loss of data. Considering the odds of two drives failing at once, this is typically the go to option in the industry. If RAID 5 were an option with this drive, you would have access to 15TB of data, in theory.
So, if you are looking for a backup solution this drive from LaCie may or may not be the right solution for you. The price tag for 20TB of data storage is attractive if you aren’t looking for a redundant backup. If you are, be wary that you will be limited to RAID 1 and will only have access to 8TB of data backup. This, for me, is a bit of a disappointment. Furthermore, if you practice a general rule of thumb of digital asset management, you should only fill your hard disk up to 80%, or 6.4 TB. Drives can encounter more problems and slow down drastically as they approach full capacity. If you are the type of person backing things up on multiple drives all over your house, this may be a great solution. Yes, it is expensive, but it may help you sleep better at night.
One more thing to remember, and I can’t stress this enough, is that you should also have an exact copy of your desktop RAID system at a separate location and copy it regularly. If you experience a flood, fire, theft, or plane crashing into your house your entire RAID backup solution may not have mattered, and your files may be gone forever. So plan on spending twice as much if you want to eliminate the risk of fires, floods, and thieves. Then get back to sleeping at night.
RAID 5 Options
If you are more interested in a RAID 5 solution, check out the Pegasus 12 TB R6 Thunderbolt drive available at a similar price of $2,069 from BH Photo. LaCie also makes a 16TB RAID 5 system with USB 3.0 for $1,549. So, if you were paying attention I recommend doing the math and figuring out which drive is best for your needs.