Cloud Storage – A Wide Variety of Options

Cloud storage has been around for at least a decade, but I have been slow to really embrace it.  This is for two reasons: trust, and bandwidth. But as both of those concerns get alleviated over time, and cloud based solutions (even beyond storage) continue to mature, I am beginning to move towards more cloud based functions and workflows.  And there are a lot of different options out there for cloud storage, and they are not very similar to each other, so that is a lot of data and variables to sort through when trying to find the best solutions for your needs.  So this is intended to be an introduction to some of the things to consider when weighing those disparate options.

First you have to trust that your data will be available when you need it, which is a legitimate concern, and outages do happen, even in the most redundant systems.  But if you add cloud storage to an existing backup and archiving plan, it is nearly all benefit.  It is one more copy of your data, at a separate location, on a separate system.  If the cloud copy fails, you should still have your own local copies.  And if all of your local backups fail or are destroyed in some cataclysmic event, then you should still have access to your versions stored in the cloud.  There is admittedly higher risk of a lapse in data security with an extra copy in a separate location you don’t control, but data breach is of less concern in my world than data loss.  (I work with media, not healthcare records, or national security.)

Secondly bandwidth can be a concern, depending on your level of internet connection.  By some twist of fate, I have nearly always had terrible internet options, even when in the middle of LA, and definitely more so living in a rural area for the last decade.  But I got Fiber this summer, and that is a game changer, allowing me to experiment with true cloud based workflows.  You do need a high bandwidth connection for most serious cloud workflows.  How much is enough will depend on your specific workflow, but I would recommend at least enough for one stream of your primary format, and more is always better.  My 300Mb connection is fine for HD, but I would upgrade to 1Gb if I was doing 4K ProRes from the cloud.

So once those two concerns are addressed, we have to start looking at what we are wanting to accomplish via the cloud.  I have used Dropbox for many years, primarily for documents and projects files, less so for media due to my bandwidth limits.  Dropbox was originally focused on syncing files between different systems or locations, but now includes advanced collaboration functions, including file sharing, and review & approval tools.  This is not to be confused with Box, which is more collaborative document focused, but can also be used for media files.  Dropbox for business starts at $20/month, and is cheaper per Terabyte than other options, but costs more per user than many competing solutions.

Google Drive can be used for video files, but is rarely the best option for those types of files unless absolutely necessary.  Downloading large numbers of files through their web app zips the contents, which is undesirable for frame sequences or other workflows with many files.  But $10/month for 2TB is a reasonable price as an intro to cloud storage.  I have little experience with Microsoft’s OneDrive, but I would expect similar limitations and results.

Then there are options like FrameIO, which are very review and approval focused, but can also be used for transferring and sharing files, especially with the Camera2Cloud functionality.  It is much more optimized for large (>100GB) files if needed, and costs as little as $15/month for 2TB, but charges are multiplied per user.  Adobe’s other option is Creative Cloud Storage, which is primarily designed for documents and images, and is the backbone of Lightroom and Photoshop’s cloud functionality.  FrameIO is usually a better option for videos, while Creative Cloud storage is better integrated with the other apps, and is included with the commercial Creative Cloud software subscription.

LucidLink is a very video-centric cloud storage option.  Similar to the Google Drive app, the data is available to the system as a standard drive letter (on PC) and it caches data locally that it expects to use, but it is much more intelligent than Google Drive.  There is also a Premiere Pro integration, via a panel in the application that allows users to automatically download and cache the source files or frames for full sequences or selections of timelines.  You of course need the bandwidth to download the files in the first place, but it is smart enough to cache assets in a given sequence to allow smooth playback, and doesn’t delete any cached files until the cache is 80% full.  So it could cache your entire project locally, but maintain sync with other users in various locations.  It costs as little as $20/TB/month.

Blackmagic Cloud is actually a locally hosted storage solution that users buy the hardware for, that then leverages Dropbox or Google Drive to sync the data between multiple locations.  So it is not a cloud solution in and of itself, but can be used as a local extension of existing cloud solutions.

Amazon’s S3 and other similar object based storage solutions from Wasabi, Backblaze, and other vendors can be useful for video files in certain large scale workflows.  Wasabi is $7/TB/month, and Backblaze is $6/TB/month, while S3 Standard is $23/TB/month plus egress charges.  These object storage services usually are not limited by number of users, but have fewer workflow integrations than the full service solutions above.  There are of course many other options out there, these are just the ones I have some level of familiarization with.

Many of the other options actually run on Amazon S3 or Wasabi under the hood, but currently many of the proprietary implementations are incompatible with each other in the way that they store and access data.  For example FrameIO just added support for Amazon S3 storage, but it won’t allow you to access your existing library of S3 media in the FrameIO application.  LucidLink is similar in that the encrypted data stored in the cloud can’t be accessed by other cloud services.  There are large scale media applications like Pixelstrings that can access files stored on S3 directly, which is where many large companies now store their media, and clearly is the path of the future.  I envision a day where all of my source files are stored on LucidLink, to be accessed and edited in my Adobe apps, and anything I place into a FrameIO folder (or bucket) would be accessible to that service.  And if I wanted to convert a file in Pixelstrings, it can access any of my cloud files to process them.  So solutions have matured over the last decade, but they still have a ways to go.

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