How to Evaluate Storage Options for Video Editing

When purchasing storage media for video editing, choices abound. Deciding on the right type of editing storage depends on a number of factors. Speed, capacity, media type, redundancy and budget are key considerations.

Decisions about storage should be made on a system-by-system basis, starting with the basic workflow and the type of computer being used. What kind of connectivity does the computer have (USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, etc.)? How much, what kind and what is the capacity of the internal storage is used? Is the internal storage upgradeable? How many different computers will be used in the facility?

Let’s start with the computer’s internal drive. This is the drive that will store the computer’s operating system, the editing and other applications. In almost all modern computers, this drive with be SSD flash memory (though it can be a hard drive.)

What’s most important is to have plenty of storage capacity in this memory. This is needed for updating software and other functions requiring more than the normal memory. Manufacturers rarely offer enough internal memory in entry level computer models.

Never purchase a computer with a brand’s minimum-size internal drive, unless it is upgradable. Get the largest, fastest internal drive you can afford. For example, I use Apple Macintosh computers and always purchase at least 2TB of internal flash memory and at least 16GB of RAM. This has never been a mistake.

For storing both original and edited video content, use some type of outboard storage. Never place your editorial content on the same drive as the editing application and operating system. Choosing the type of external storage for editing is impacted by each user’s workflow.

Will you always edit at the same location? Or will you edit on a laptop in the field? Do you ever begin in an edit suite and then take it home or on location for additional alterations? All of this factors into the choice.

For editing in a fixed location, larger external drives are best. When going mobile, portable drives are the right choice. Solid State Drives (SSD) are the smallest drives and are more rugged over time, since there are no moving parts to fail. But the cost is higher than hard drives (HD). The choice often comes down to what is affordable for the user.

Some drives are wireless and are connected to the computer via Ethernet or Wi-Fi. Others operate on batteries. Wireless storage systems, needless to say, can be less reliable but may be essential in certain workflows.

When using multiple computers in an editing facility, Networked Attached Storage (NAS) is often a good choice. NAS units are accessed through computer networks and can be grouped together for massive amounts of shared storage. This storage can be made up of either SSD or HD drives, or both. NAS drives can also be connected to the internet to serve as cloud storage.

For low budget facilities, single external drives are often the choice. Though inexpensive single drives can still provide adequate capacity and speed for video editing, they may have a shorter lifespan for use and will need to be replaced more often. When buying these devices, make sure they have the needed capacity and are fast enough for video editing

For better reliability, consider RAID storage, which can offer redundant storage on multiple drives. RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. The software is often built into drive enclosures.

RAID enclosures start in sizes small enough for two paired drives and can go up to eight plus drives, which can offer huge redundant storage capacity and fast read/write speeds.

Using a RAID configuration can simultaneously duplicate your video across multiple drives. This level of redundancy protects video data so that if one drive fails, it is also duplicated on another. This way the video footage won’t be lost in a drive failure.

On my personal computer, I use a RAID 1 drive, which mirrors the same information on two drives, though I see only one drive symbol on my desktop. I also use an inexpensive Backblaze cloud backup service to make off premise backups in case of fire or other disaster.

One thing is important to remember: when using RAID, only the outboard drive has redundant backup. The internal drive, which holds the editing application and operating system, is not redundant. If it fails, your entire system may go down, but the edited data is still backed up on the outboard RAID drive.

Another consideration in storage for video is the speed of the media used. There is slow and fast media and the price is often distinguished by the difference. Make sure your system uses media with the optimum speed for its specifications. Media that is too slow — though it may save money at first — will drag down your editing productivity.

Finally, there is cloud storage. Though cloud storage can be very useful, be sure to fully understand what each plan specifies in terms of specs, limitations and cost. Each cloud service is different.

Make sure you have adequate internet speed to fully utilize the cloud.  Understand what it costs if you go over the data limit for your plan. Ask about redundancy and file security. What happens if your data becomes corrupted? What happens if you are late paying the bill?

Many users find it best to use a mix of local and cloud storage, with the cloud mainly for archiving video. Being totally dependent on cloud services means you betting on one service company for all your work. Be sure you trust them. But also do another backup. You can never be too “backed up” when your livelihood is at stake.

At the end of the day, choosing a drive requires the user to answer key two questions: how much will the media store and how fast does it store it. Video requires a huge amount of storage capacity and speed. How the drive is connected — via network, USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, wireless, internet — has an impact on how fast and reliably any drive can operate.

Think through your workflow and look for any storage bottlenecks. Make sure every point is optimized for smooth system operation.

Writer at Broadcast Beat
Frank Beacham is a New York-based writer, director and producer who works in print, radio, television, film and theatre.

Beacham has served as a staff reporter and editor for United Press International, the Miami Herald, Gannett Newspapers and Post-Newsweek. His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, the Village Voice and The Oxford American.

Beacham’s books, Whitewash: A Southern Journey through Music, Mayhem & Murder and The Whole World Was Watching; My Life Under the Media
Microscope are currently in publication. Two of his stories are currently being developed for television.

In 1985, Beacham teamed with Orson Welles over a six month period to develop a one-man television special. Orson Welles Solo was canceled after Mr. Welles died on the day principal photography was to begin.

In 1999, Frank Beacham was executive producer of Tim Robbins’ Touchstone feature film, Cradle Will Rock. His play, Maverick, about video with Orson Welles, was staged off-Broadway in New York City in 2019.
Frank Beacham
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