Drive space Optimisation

Many of today’s laptops, or notebooks if you prefer, come with a single SSD (solid state drive) that is not that big in storage capacity. They are great for the operational speed increase they provide, but at a compromise on storage capacity. Mobile devices are the same but scaled down even further.

USB drive attached

USB drive solution

Files that take up the largest amount of disk space are usually digital media files. Unlike space consuming application files that must reside on your local system, digital media files can be moved onto portable storage devices like USB drives. Because the same digital media files are seldom called upon in daily computing, this makes sense.

The drawback to storing digital media on USB drives is that they must always accompany your portable computer. When you grab your laptop to take with you, there is a chance you might forget to also grab your USB drive as well.

So space optimisation on your laptop is a compromise. Files can be sorted into Applications (apps), system files (including the operating system files) and user generated files. User generated files are usually contained under user name folders on most popular systems to date. They can be categorised in many ways. One such suggestion is Digital Media Asset files, 3rd party files, project files, personal document files and shared files.

This categorisation system makes the use of Cloud storage and synchronisation easy to manage. Digital media assets are all the images, sound, video and animation files you create and own. Many will probably be your photographs and videos.

3rd party assets are the pictures, videos, movies, music and other media files you hold that are not your productions. You acquired them from third-party sources.

Projects are the files that certain applications produce that can be rendered into final sharable media. Adobe Photoshop produces .psd files which can be considered as image project master files that can be exported as .jpg or .png files, Premiere Pro and After Effects produce project files that must be rendered to movie files to be played on other systems, Animate produces .fla project files that must be exported to playable formats for running on other systems. Projects can involve mixed media including textual documents and graphics files.

The resulting media product from projects become digital media asset files—these can further be divided into fully licenced assets, or limited licence assets, depending on the ownership of the original media assets used in their production.

Personal document files speak for themselves. A shared files folder is handy when making files accessible to the public or a selected audience from a server, or through cloud technologies. Google Drive cloud technology for instance, suggests creating a folder on the cloud server and making it sharable to a specific audience, then just dragging files into it to be shared with that selected audience at any time.

You have a choice with cloud technologies to store your selected files in the cloud to free up space on your local drive, or store them on both with drive synchronisation setup to keep them both the same. If you update files locally, these updates will propagate through to the cloud copy using this synchronisation function as soon as they can (almost instantly if online at the time).

While you could also store your digital media assets in the cloud instead of on a USB drive, you will invariably discover the disadvantages of this. Firstly, just like leaving your USB drive behind can cause problems when needed, so too can limited access to your cloud away from your normal base of operation. With no online connection you have no access.

Secondly the size and volume of your digital media asset library might prove too large for effective maintenance if solely stored in a cloud. There could be quite considerable delays in accessing large quantities and large media files in real-time, influenced by the quality of your online connection. Many professional media production operators leave their source media assets where they are—to be easily shared among projects. Most media production applications work with digital media files that are imported into the application. This often involves duplicating the source file into the project assets area, taking up even more disk space. While importing files that are symbolic links works fine and provides a solution to space utilisation, the symbolic links must be to local destinations, they will not work directly to cloud destinations.

Symbolic links are termed “Short cuts” in Windows PC environments. Mac systems refer to them as Alias’s.

The solution is to set up a library of digital media assets on your local drive using symbolic links back to the actual files that may reside on a USB drive. It is possible to synchronise the USB drive to a cloud, but at the expense of large volumes of data being stored in the cloud.

The advantage of using a library of symbolic links on your local drive is that media production applications like audiovisual production—that import digital media assets, can import a copy of a symbolic link file, which is very small in size. It can have a very short path which never changes, even if the actual digital media file location changes. If the symbolic link fails to track the relocation of its source file, simply create a new symbolic link with the same name and add it back into the library at the same spot. There is no need to make any changes at the project application end.

In July 2016 it has come to notice that some media applications like Adobe Premiere Pro, Prelude and After Effects do not actually ingest or import alias file types, but rather create direct links to media asset files using the alias link data.  That is like linking to an alias, or short-cut file, purely to obtain a direct link to the physical file from the link information contained in the alias or short-cut file. It would be quicker just to ingest, or import the media assets directly from where they reside and not from alias or short-cut files.

If links are broken, it will not be at the project app end, but rather the library source end, usually meaning that the USB drive is not connected. Plugging it in and giving it time to be mounted will usually fix such problems, otherwise the alias/short-cut files will need to be relinked with the source files, or where the media applications were linked direct to the source, they will need relinking using the applications own relinking tools.

Cloud technology can be configured as either archives, backup of local files, or as a central repository with provision for authorised sharing. The latter allowing access to the files from any connected node point by authorised users.

In summary then, one method of optimising local drive space is to separate digital media files into digital media assets and 3rd party digital media onto a USB drive. Set up a digital media assets library on your local system using symbolic links back to the USB drive. The file size of symbolic links is extremely small.

Next set up the user local files directory for personal documents and cloud synchronised files. Project and professional development files may be set up locally within the cloud sync folder. If you use the notebook for business, these files can also be put into a business directory within the cloud sync folder. Create an archive folder on the cloud server which is outside of the linked folder. Anything to be archived can be dragged from the synchronised folder to the archive folder on the cloud server through your browser.

The end result here is that you have your personal, symbolic links media library and other non-cloud sync file directories under your user name on the local drive. You have your project, professional development and business directories in the cloud sync folder on your local drive and perhaps a temporary files directory on your local drive (outside of the local cloud sync folder) for screen captures and downloads yet to be processed and filed.

Most of the space saving will come from moving your digital media files to a USB drive and using symbolic link files in place of duplicated full media files in projects. This configuration will also save many hours for space conscious digital media producers in tracing and relinking to digital media assets that have been relocated.

Researched and written by Gavin Lardner CC BY 2016.

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