Synology NAS for video production blog intro photography

The Synology DS1618+ is a powerful and compact NAS that packs a lot of punch on its small size!

Introduction // Synology NAS for video production workflow

As a video production company, storage is one of the most important parts of our organization. We are a busy production house filming most days which means that we have to ingest a lot of data after every shoot. We’ve recently upgraded all our cameras to 4K or 6K capable cameras: (review Canon C200, review BMPCC 4K, review BMPCC 6K). This has resulted in that any time we go on a shoot we come back to our studio with minimum of 200/300gb worth of data. So you can imagine the amount of data we deal with constantly.

video production cameras data workflow picture

There’s a lot of data to handle coming out of these things!

This of course has implications in terms of where do we store all this data? And, more importantly, how do we keep it safe? Well, this is a question we have asked ourselves many times and one that (not proud to say) we haven’t solved for a long, long time. That is until we discovered one magic little acronym: NAS.

How did we come to NAS?

It’s fair to say that before we discovered Synology NAS for video production workflow, our data organizing system (or lack of it) was quite primitive. We usually had at least two editing iMac workstations running at all times editing promotional videos for the corporate sector or documentaries or event films. Each project was edited from local drives individual to each machine. We used WD My books on RAID 5 and SSD drives as video caches. This was a fast and straight forward solution as each editor would work on a different project but what happened when one of the editors had to jump to another editor project? Aww man! This when the problems started to unravel as the second editor would copy the rushes to its own drive and start editing locally. This would mean redundancies and unnecessary double copies of everything we did. Plus not to mention backing up! This also meant buying more and more drives and to lose control over where the latest version of this editing project is…fair to say that we have had many major problems because of this system but it’s also fair to say that it was less than perfect and very much open to improvements.

Synology NAS video production product with detail

Synology NAS video production interface

The Synology NAS OS is clear and very versatile

Synology DS1618+ NAS, the one for us

Thankfully, a little bit of fate arrived which has helped me to solve some of the storage issues we were having. Besides of running a video production company, I am a keen documentary photographer and on May 2019 I had an exhibition of my work at the Botanical Gardens in Sydney, Australia as part of HeadOn International Photography Festival. By chance I met a Synology representative there who I was speaking about storage solutions for both my photography practice and most importantly for our video production company. Synology kindly lent us a Synology NAS DS1618+ and that day changed our workflows and our productivity as a company. Straight away I started to learn about the different possibilities this could offer us and we realised this could streamline our work and simplify the way we managed our data.

Things we love about the Synology DS1618+

1 Small and compact yet full of power The DS1618+ is a 6 bay NAS 2.1GHZ Quadcore server, 4GB RAM (expandable to 32GB) but still manages to pack all that in quite a small body which makes it easier when space is at a premium. It sits in a corner of our studio and it also quite silent so most of the times we don’t even noticed it’s there. It also fits quite well among all our Apple products as it looks quite stylish for what it is. The access to the drive bays is provided through security keys which open the bays (make sure you don’t lose them!) and installation of the drives couldn’t be easier

2. SHR as RAID solution

The first decision we had to take was which drives to put into to NAS. After much research we went for 3 x Seagate IronWolf 6TB NAS drives which had great reviews at the time. Then we had to decide which RAID storage we wanted for the system and that’s when we came to realize Synology has a proprietary system called SHR, which in practice is like RAID 5 but you can upgrade the number of disk and the NAS will update the array dynamically, something you can’t do with traditional RAID 5. This gave us 12TB of available space plus 6TB which are used by the system for protection. Bang!

Synology NAS video production hard drive bays

The DS1618+ has 6 HDD bays which allow lots of expansion and future proof

Synology_NAS_video production hard drive OS interface There is a pretty handy RAID calculator at Synology website which allows you to dynamically check the distribution of your hard drives on various RAID types Synology NAS RAID calculator  

3. Easy to setup and use

The idea of working from a server was always on our minds to be honest. We knew that could be the solution to our flawed HD and 4K workflow but it was also a daunting perspective as we are a small business and we don’t have any specific person who deals with IT at our premises. So if we were looking for a server solution, it had to be easy to setup and use. And the Synology NAS fit all those categories, from the moment we received it we just setup three machines. Each one of them cabled to a Network Switch which is also connected to our router which provides the internet connection. Turn the server ON and follow the on-screen instructions, sorted! But also bear in mind that the way you access the server interface is through the internet so the NAS needs to be connected. I have had situations where the server couldn’t connect to the internet and that essentially means you have no access to the interface unless you tinker with the network settings on your computer.

4. User interface

Synology NAS UI for video production workflow Once you log in is the time to setup your NAS and organize it in such a way that is easy to fit your organization and data workflow. If you are used to interfaces like Windows then this is pretty similar. We have been using Macs for a long time now but the interface is very intuitive and everything is where you think it would be. At first we got a bit confused as we were treating ‘shared folders’ as if they were just normal folders until we realised shared folder are treated almost as partition within the NAS. This also helps as you can create direct access to them, etc…

5 How Synology NAS helps with our workflow

We created a few ‘shared folders’, one per production year where all the data from each sequential project lives in. These shared folders are used by all our editors to work on their editing.  I must say this system has changed the way we work and the speed in which editor can jump from project to project.

Pros:
  • The footage from each project is centralized and accessible to every editor which stops redundancies. No wasted HDD with the same footage in different places.
  • Editors can now take on projects where another editor left it. Just make sure to add its own name to the end of the project file.
  • This system makes backing data up so much easier as there is only one location where the footage and project files are.
  • If we have to work away from our video production studio in Manchester, we just need to copy the folder from the NAS to an external drive to take with us and there we go. All the assets from each project now live within the same location so we can guarantee when we copy the entire folder, all we need to edit away will be there.
  • No noticeable lag when two editors accessing and editing footage from the server. We’ve had two editors editing in projects, both reading from the server and have had no problems.

 

Cons:
  • To be honest I don’t think there are any cons switching to work from a centralized location like a NAS but if I had to choose one, it’d be one that is not related to the system per se. As we explain on another blog entry, a couple of years ago we decided to quit Adobe Premiere CC in favour of Final Cut Pro X. We knew that this was a risky move but one that paid off in the end! However, it turns out FCPX can’t save libraries (project files) on NAS straight away and if you want to, you have to go through some loops and holes as explained on this blog post . In the end we decided to give Premiere CC another go as when we mentioned the problem to Adobe, they gave us 50% discount on their Creative Cloud and to be fair, we think Premiere CC has come a long way in the last 3-4 years in terms of reliability.
6. BackUp The other aspect of our workflow which has improved is safety. Safety both in terms of the footage currently being edited, as it lives in a more robust location, and the backup. We use one of the apps at the NAS called HyperBackup and the process couldn’t be simpler. Select which folders or files to backup, a time, and frequency and you’re pretty much ready to go.
7. Expandable Synology DS1618+ is quite a powerful machine that packs a lot of power, but editing 4K does require a lot of bandwidth. Most of our projects are still Full HD so the standard configuration works well if there’s no more than 2 editors reading and writing on it at the same time but looking to the future, you will need to upgrade it. Currently the DS1618+ comes with a Gigabit Ethernet card which limits the bandwidth to around 100Mb/s. Not much for HD and definitely not enough for 4K. This can be upgraded to a 10Gbs which solves the problem but don’t forget that you would need to upgrade the network card on your Mac for the solution to work. Also, besides the obvious ways in which you can upgrade this system – by adding more drives – you can increase the amount of RAM the system has up to 32gb and you could even install a SSD drive to work as cache of the system. Also, just a quick note to add that adding new drives to expand storage capacity is a relatively simple process but beware, it takes forever! When we setup the NAS for the first time, we set it up with the 3X6TB drives and after a few months we thought that it’d be great to add another HD while those same Seagate drives were still available. Fair to say the process is pretty simple: unlock the bay, install HD and wait….and wait…for us the whole process took 4 days! Also, the new drive you’re adding needs to be equal or larger in size to the smallest currently within the system. You could even upgrade the system by adding more drives through USB or eSata connectors at the back of the system
8. Other Synology and 3rd Party Apps

Synology NAS native and third party apps I don’t have much to say about this but mostly because our use of the NAS is quite focused and we don’t require a lot of extra functionalities for our day to day workflow. However, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed (and amazed) by the amount of apps (native and third party) you can install to add functionality to your server. However, we do use ‘Hyper backup’ for backing up our data and by experience I can tell, it’s has always offered a pretty solid and reliable experience.

Conclusion  If you have read the whole post, you might have realised by now that we like the Synology NAS DS1618+ A LOT. However, you need to take into account that we have never tried other NAS system so we can’t compare it with others. Our Synology NAS video production workflow is the single best company improvement we’ve had in many years (and we bought two separate cameras last year!), and one that will make us a more versatile, faster and a more secure video production company. Alongside this the expandability of the system means that we can use it as our central storage point for years to come.