If your business needs to store and manage RAW image files generated by professional cameras, high-resolution videos, or other large media files, then local network storage and specialist software can help you improve productivity. But there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, so evaluate your needs and expectations carefully.
1. Use Local Network Storage
SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business have a file size limit of 15GB, Dropbox 50GB, and Google Drive a massive 5TB. But depending on your workflow, it might not be convenient to pull or sync large files from the cloud to your device. Cost and speed are also factors. Furthermore, cloud storage management tools aren’t well suited to media management.
Local file servers or network-attached storage (NAS) usually fit the workflow of professional photographers and creators who work with large media files best. And they provide more flexibility when choosing management software.
If you are a Windows shop, Windows file servers provide the best compatibility because they share the same file system, NTFS, integrate with Windows Search so that you can quickly find files on network shares, and avoid compatibility issues with non-Windows operating systems. But Windows file servers, or NAS devices based on Windows Storage Server, cost more than NAS solutions using proprietary operating systems.
NAS is popular for businesses that are price sensitive. Most NAS vendors use their own proprietary OS based on Linux, like Netgear’s ReadyNAS OS. While these OSes are usually more than capable, they don’t support NTFS and there’s no integration with Windows Search. Although, some models provide indexing and a search feature that you can access via a web-based admin portal.
Regardless of which solution you choose, not all NAS is built the same. Cheaper units often run slowly and can’t serve files like a well-specified file server. Check the processor, network ports and speed, and what kind of disks are supported before committing.
2. Optimize File Server and Network Performance
Software for editing or managing media can be taxing on the network and PC, so you’ll need to make sure everything is specified for good performance.
Unless your ethernet network is saturated, it will give you much better performance than WIFI. So, do yourself a favor and connect your PC to the network with a cable.
Map a Network Drive
Map a network drive for any shares that you will access regularly. While it’s not strictly necessary, mapped drives provide better performance and reliability than UNC paths.
SMB Transport Encryption
If browsing remote storage and retrieving files is slow, you might look at whether SMB3 Transport Encryption is configured on your NAS. Use PowerShell to check if the connection to your NAS is encrypted, replacing readynasru with the name of your file server or NAS.
Get-SmbConnection -ServerName readynasru | Select-Object -Property *
Encryption puts an extra load on the remote storage and your PC. Disabling it might improve network performance, but you should evaluate the risk before turning transport encryption off.
3. Back Up Files
RAID storage isn’t backup. It’s hardware redundancy. If your media files are valuable to you, think about employing a proper backup solution. I recommend backing up your data to cool or archive storage in the cloud, which can be cost-effective. Windows Server lets you back up to Azure and most NAS either provides built-in backup, has third-party app support for backup, or provides synchronization to the cloud, which you can then back up using blob snapshots. Alternatively, you can back up to disk or tape. But make sure you have at least one copy of your data stored offsite.
4. Install RAW Image Extension for Windows 10
Once you’ve got storage and backup sorted out, File Explorer is the built-in tool for accessing files in Windows 10. It provides all the basics, such as previewing files and thumbnails. But there isn’t much flexibility in customizing views and limited caching of data, which can make File Explorer slow for browsing media on remote storage.
The built-in Photos app is a consumer program designed to help you manage photos and video and perform basic editing tasks. It includes facial recognition, a timeline view, a simple video editor, and Windows Search.
If you are dealing with RAW image files, you can install the RAW Image Extension from the Microsoft Store to preview images and see file EXIF data in File Explorer. It also lets you open RAW images in the Windows 10 Photos app.
5. Use Third-Party Media Management Software
If File Explorer and Photos don’t meet your needs, there are some free and paid options to consider. Adobe Bridge and Organizer illustrate two different approaches to media management.
If you want a professional file browser for your digital assets, look at Adobe Bridge. It’s free and can be used to manage images, videos, and PDFs. Bridge delivers better customization and performance than File Explorer. It provides media previews of supported file types, includes a batch rename feature, and it can be used to add labels, ratings, and keywords to your files. While it’s best used with other Adobe products, it also works as a standalone program.
Adobe Elements Organizer
Organizer isn’t free, but it comes with Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements. It also includes features like facial recognition and geotagging. Unlike Bridge, Organizer creates a catalog on your local device where data is stored about your media. The actual files remain on remote storage. This can provide faster performance and more flexibility once the catalog is created but it means that additional data, like ratings and keywords, is stored in the catalog and not in your files. Organizer catalogs aren’t designed to be shared and information can’t easily be exported for use in other applications.
There are plenty of other options too. Apps like IrfanView, XNVIEW MP, and Photo Mechanic.
6. Establish a Workflow
While this article isn’t about editing software, you should bear in mind that your choice of software will influence performance depending on your workflow. If you want to work on files directly from NAS, not all software is equal. For instance, Canon’s free editing software, DDP, doesn’t cache files loaded from network storage, leading to sluggish performance. If your software doesn’t cache media files locally, you’ll need to establish a workflow where you copy files from the network to a local working directory before opening them in your editor.
On the other hand, Rawtherapee, a free image editing tool, caches files from the network and performs much better than Canon DDP. Regardless of the software’s caching capabilities, many professional editors prefer to use a local working directory on a fast-solid-state disk (SSD) rather than open files directly from network storage.