A cloud NAS for your VFX assets

How to set up a cloud NAS for all your studios assets that acts like a local server using Backblaze B2

By Matthäus Niedoba
June 27 - 6 min read

A simple, secure and fast file distribution is the basis of every remote VFX project. Being onsite, it’s pretty easy to set up a NAS on a local network. You get a single source of truth for your files.

In a remote environment, things are a bit more tricky. Shared file storage providers like Dropbox are doing fine, but their design by syncing a single folder can be limiting, when your projects are reaching sizes in terabytes. People start downloading the full project on their drives and are running out of disk space.

Due to these limitations, people zip their project files and upload them via the web interface. This constant zipping, unzipping and file copying creates a very inefficient and error-prone process.

A cloud hard drive for your studio

An Anchorpoint drive in Windows Explorer
The mounted drive is also accessible in Windows Explorer

A better solution is a mounted drive. That’s exactly how you are doing it onsite with the difference that you are not loading your files on a NAS but on a “cloud NAS”. We will use Anchorpoint to plug this drive into our system.

It’s simple

A single cloud hard drive syncs files immediately. It really feels like working onsite. Artists don’t need to download whole projects on their local computers. They work directly on the drive.

It’s flexible. There is also no cap or storage limit in the cloud.

Caching

In the past, you may work with VPN and encountered the issue that it slows you down. That’s not the issue with a cloud drive. A remote cloud drive, which is mounted using Anchorpoint, operates with a file cache. Let’s say you copy files from your Desktop to the cloud drive. Under the hood, files are copied into a cache and then uploaded. Or when you open a file, e.g. in Blender, all linked textures are downloaded and stored in the cache. So when you open the same file the next time, the textures don’t need to be downloaded again. That gives you almost the same speed as working on your local disk.

Cloud storage providers

You may be heard of Amazon AWS, Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure. While they have the necessary services for cloud storage, they are rather playgrounds for developers due to their huge complexity. In our case, we will use Backblaze, because it’s the cheapest and simplest of all. It’s accessible for nontechnical users.

Data protection

In Europe, it’s a common thing not to store the data outside the European Union due to agreements with the client. Cloud storage providers allow you to choose a data-center where your files are stored. This option is often called “regions”.

Setting up your cloud hard drive

It only requires 5 steps to set up your cloud drive and should be done in 10 minutes.

  1. Create a Backblaze account
  2. Set up a Backblaze bucket (that’s how they call cloud drives)
  3. Download and install Anchorpoint
  4. Enter the Backblaze login data to Anchorpoint
  5. Mount your drive to any letter

Create a Backblaze account

Head over to Backblaze and pick their B2 Cloud Storage solution. Go through the signup process and skip the Quick Start. Don’t forget to verify your email. That's a requirement to unlock your account.

Set up a Backblaze bucket

With just a few steps, we can set up a “bucket” (think of a cloud hard drive) where our files will be stored.

Create a Bucket

Configuring Backblaze for Anchorpoint
Your dashboard after you signed up for Backblaze. Click on “Create a Bucket”.
Creating a Backblaze bucket for Anchorpoint named apTutorial
Provide a bucket name and keep the default settings

Setup App Keys

App Keys are your credentials which Anchorpoint will need to access your bucket. On the left under Account, click on App Keys.

Generating application keys in Backblaze for an Anchorpoint cloud drive
Click on “Add a New Application Key”.
A new application key is being created and named StudioDrive for an Anchorpoint cloud drive
Click on Create New Key
The keys are blurred. They are used for an Anchorpoint cloud drive
Store the key in a password manager or in another secure place

Download and install Anchorpoint

Download the application.

Enter the Backblaze login data to Anchorpoint

After you created an Anchorpoint account and launched the application, you should be in free browsing mode and your desktop should be shown.

The Workspace Settings button in Anchorpoint
Click on Workspace Settings
Workspace Settings in Anchorpoint. The Actions tab is selected
Select the Actions entry
The Connect Cloud Drive Action in Anchorpoint
Enable Connect Cloud Drive and click on Settings.
The connect Cloud Drive settings in Anchorpoint to configure a Backblaze cloud drive
Choose B2 (Backblaze) and enter your configuration.

Choose B2 (Backblaze) as your server and enter the Key Id, Application Key and Bucket Name (not the key name) which you created in your Backblaze configuration.

5. Mount your drive to any letter

Leave the workspace settings and move your mouse to the place where the drives are located.

Mounting a cloud drive in Anchorpoint
Click on New
Choosing the leter of a cloud drive in Anchorpoint
Pick your drive letter and press Mount
The new cloud drive is mounted in Anchorpoint
Your drive should appear in the drive section
The Anchorpoint cloud drive shows up in Windows Explorer
Your drive will appear in Windows Explorer

Work with it

Feel free to copy & paste a huge amount of files on your drive. You will see that the copy process is almost as fast as if you would copy files internally. That’s because all your files are copied to a cache location first and then uploaded in the background.

A bit about technology

The mounting system uses an application called Rclone. Rclone is a command line application that allows you to manage files on over 40 cloud storage providers. During our tests, we found out that it works best on S3 compatible storage solutions like Amazon AWS and Backblaze B2. Rclone is open source and actively maintained with over 500 contributing developers. Of course, you can use Rclone without Anchorpoint, if you don’t need a user interface.

Mounting a cloud drive that connects to your on-premise system

You can use Anchorpoint together with Rclone to set up an onsite/ remote studio environment, where all your data is stored on a local server in your studio. You can mount a drive with caching that connects to local studio server, which is faster than VPN. Remote artists can work on that drive and don’t need to copy files to the local computer.

To make this possible, you have to install an S3 compatible server software like min.io on your NAS or linux machine. We will post another article on that topic in the future.