I have the 2011 macbook air with 128gb ssd. Storage is low so i'm hoping to set up for the very first time, a NAS to host large files such as photo's (raw format), video's and music (lossless and aac format). I require your help in achieving the below functionality. A list of of hardware/software that I need to achieve the below will be very beneficial as will be those products that would provide very good performance. I would like most action to occur wirelessly.

  1. I have 1 macbook air, 1 ipad, 2 iphones, 1 cable modem, 1 airport express 802.11n
  2. Itunes library to be hosted on NAS with writing and reading files to occur wirelessly.
  3. When I plug in my iphone or ipad to sync, I would like it to sync and backup with the files on the NAS wirelessly.
  4. Iphoto library to be hosted on NAS. When I plug in my sd card, I would like files to be imported to the library wirelessly, which is on the NAS
  5. I understand iphoto library needs to be sitting on a disk that is formatted Mac OS Extended (Journaled). Does this mean I just partition one of the disks in the NAS and format it to Mac OS Extended (Journaled)? Which products support the formatting of Mac OS Extended (Journaled)? I am only familiar with fat32 and ntfs.
  6. For photos stored on the NAS, I would like to browse and view the photos on my ipad wirelessly.

I am willing to go without iphoto if it turns out that iphoto becomes the biggest challenge.

Thanks in advance, Rob

  • iPhoto will be your largest challenge. My feeling is most people will either have a smaller local library and age out originals and albums to a secondary library stored on the NAS or get Aperture where you can move the master files and only store thumbnails and metadata / adjustments locally. It takes a while to get the workflow in your brain, but it is very powerful and works very well indeed. – bmike Jul 22 '11 at 22:01

To keep this general, here are some things to think about:

DAS: Direct Attached Storage - Thunderbolt, eSata, USB 3.0, FW800, FW400, USB are the rough pecking order. FW400 is better than 100 MB ethernet, and FW800/USB 3.0 are equivalent to Gigabit Ethernet.

NAS: The network matters - latency over WiFi can be a big bottleneck as can the controller chip / lack of cache in less expensive NAS.

Think in terms of the bottlenecks - For streaming a song, AirPlay shows you what to expect - a slight delay, but the system can buffer the music to overcome little lags and delays due to network burps. DAS is much more responsive - especially for little file input/output as opposed to streaming a large file or song.

NAS does offer some nice features like cross platform sharing and with a good network can be shared effortlessly with several clients that don't mind sharing the speed of the device. DAS is designed for one user and optimized for speed - especially for database workloads like iPhoto.

NAS can be harder to back up, where DAS works easier with whatever backup program you use on your mac.

Your iPhoto database will be the last thing you want to move. It has no provision for splitting the large files from the database files and the latency of reading / writing to the NAS might make you feel the program is too slow. Try it out, but don't be surprised if it's the least responsive by it's design.

You want programs that can use local database and thumbnails on the fast SSD and store large original files on NAS or slower storage.

Aperture works amazingly well if you find iPhoto too laggy when stored on the NAS.

I would start with the iTunes media folder - move that to the NAS and see how you like the performance.

Then get a tool like WhatSize or DaisyDisk so you can quickly measure what folders on the SSD are largest as you prune things down.

You might find you don't need all the audio loops from Garage Band or other surprising folders that make a difference in what you want to bring along on the SSD.

Have fun with the tweaking - you'll learn how things work. Also, it won't be long until ThunderBolt storage is more available - your NAS might even have a DAS connection for when you really need some speed to access / move files to the NAS.

Don't forget to back up your NAS. CrashPlan might be a great thing to try for that.

  • Thanks bmike. Any alternatives to Aperture that can store large originals on the nas, yet keep the thumbnails on the ssd to ensure good performance? What is a DAS connection? – user8177 Jul 25 '11 at 9:20
  • DAS - direct attached storage - USB/FireWire/Thunderbolt/FiberChannel are some as opposed to NAS - network attached storage. I've only heavily used Aperture, iPhoto and PhotoMechanic. I'm not aware of other photo organizing apps that can store the originals "offline" similar to Aperture. I would assume Lightroom does, but can't say with confidence. – bmike Jul 25 '11 at 13:44

The below is based on the assumption that you manage your music the way I do - on its own drive and organized in directories (or whatever) rather than having iTunes set to auto-import and organize things. You can change your iTunes library location but since I own far more than can be synced to my phone I prefer to only add things to the library that I want to sync.

Itunes library on a NAS is no problem. That's what I do at home, using a Netgear ReadyNAS Duo. It can be a wee annoying at times; I had to set my computer to automatically open the drive mountings that iTunes would be using or else iTunes would start, try to open the directory, then timeout while the mount was still happening.

Not the end of the world; iTunes will figure it out again if you close and re-open it. Otherwise it won't rescan and you end up with this big list of items in your iTunes library with the little ! next to them indicating that they weren't found.

Sync behavior (and everything else) behaves exactly the same with the library external as it does locally.

  • Thanks Don. I actually do manage my music the same way you do. I may wait until thunderbolt NAS become more readily available on the market. Additionally they need to play nice with LION OS. – user8177 Jul 25 '11 at 9:22
  • Just to be clear - Thunderbolt is DAS and not NAS. – bmike Sep 20 '11 at 23:09

Just a reference for folks who might want to do this via Ubuntu NAS via exported NFS shares which are USB-connected external HDDs on the Ubuntu machine. On my Late 2013 MBP, I store the iPhoto library on the NAS, and the speed at which the photos load etc. are quite good. For reference a large portion of my photos are 35MB or higher, being medium quality scans from a medium format film camera output. I am connected Ethernet (100Mbps) to my local LAN though.

On the same LAN setup, samba shared NAS' performance (Ubuntu machine was the samba server) was FAR below my expectations--it was actually just plain unusably horrible. My iTunes library took 48 hours to sync (NFS library took 4 hours), and my photos did not load quickly (preview via finder each took 10 seconds or more to load). I did not try iPhoto on my samba shared local setup because iTunes sucked so badly.

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