Blackmagic Design is striving to democratize shared storage and edit collaboration with the introduction of the Blackmagic Cloud and the Blackmagic Cloud storage product line, including the Blackmagic Cloud Store Mini. Let’s focus on storage first, which in spite of the name is very much earthbound.
Blackmagic Design’s cloud storage product line-up
Blackmagic Cloud Store (starting at $9,595 USD) sits at the top end. This is a desktop network-attached storage system engineered into the same chassis design that was developed for Blackmagic’s eGPUs. It features two redundant power supplies and an M.2 NVMe SSD drive array, which is configured as RAID-5 for data protection in case of drive failure. Cloud Store integrates an internal 10G Ethernet switch for up to four users connected at 10Gbps speeds. It also supports port aggregation for a combined speed of 40Gbps.
Cloud Store will ship soon and be available with 20TB, 80TB, or 320TB capacities. If you are familiar with RAID-5 systems, you know that some of that stated capacity is unaccessible due to the data parity required. Blackmagic Design has factored that in upfront, because, according to them, the size in the name, like 20TB, correctly reflects the useable amount of storage space.
Cloud Store Mini ($2,995 USD) is an 8TB unit using Blackmagic’s half-rack width form factor. There are four internal M.2 flash cards configured as RAID-0. It sports three different Ethernet ports: 10Gbps, 1Gbps, and USB-C, which uses a built-in Ethernet adaptor. Lastly, the Cloud Pod ($395 USD) is a small 10G Ethernet unit designed for customers who supply their own USB-C storage.
All three models are designed for fast 10G Ethernet connectivity and are compatible with both Windows and macOS. Although there are many SAN and NAS products on the market, Blackmagic Design is targeting the customer who wants a high-performance shared storage solution that’s plug-and-play. These storage products are not there to usurp solutions like Avid Nexis. Instead, Blackmagic Design is appealing to customers without that sort of “heavy iron” infrastructure.
Cloud Store Mini as a storage device
The Blackmagic Cloud Store Mini is shipping, so I was able to test drive it for a couple of weeks. I connected my 2020 iMac (which includes the 10G option) via the 10G Ethernet port using a recommended Cat 6 cable. I also connected my M1 MacBook Pro on the Ethernet via USB-C port. This gave me a small “workgroup” of two workstations connected to shared storage.
After unpacking the Mini, the first step is to connect your unit via USB-C and run the Cloud Store set-up application. This updates the firmware and allows you to administer the system. In the future, you will also be able to administer the volume using the Ethernet port, but that’s not yet enabled. When using the USB-C port, the network connected automatically and worked with the Mac’s default DHCP settings.
The iMac connected correctly over 10G with a manual set-up using a Static IP address – also an easy process. Three computers can be simultaneously connected to the three ports – all with equal read/write access to material on the volume. The computers connected to the standard Ethernet and USB-C ports won’t get full 10G performance; however, it’s still fast enough for most 1080 work. The Mini does not include a built-in 10G switch like the Cloud Store. But by adding a third-party 10G Ethernet switch, multiple workstations can connect to the 10G port.
The reason for the Ethernet via USB-C port is that many laptops are so small that an Ethernet port simply wouldn’t fit and thus isn’t available on the newest models. I also tested the MacBook Pro using a Sonnet Solo 10G, which is a Thunderbolt 3 to 10G Ethernet convertor. This small bus-powered unit opened up full 10G performance on the M1 laptop. No installation required. Just plug it in and it worked.
The Mini’s performance is predictably fast thanks to the RAID-0 M.2 cards. The 10G port yielded over 900MB/s write/read speeds in a Blackmagic Design Disk Speed Test using the 5GB setting. The USB-C port was over 300MB/s and standard Ethernet was over 100MB/s. In more specific terms, I was able to simultaneously run a looped playback test at full resolution on both machines running Resolve 18. One playing native 8K ProResHQ media in a 4K timeline, and the other playing native 12K Ursa BRAW media in a 4K timeline.
Collaborating through Blackmagic Cloud
Although “cloud” is in the name, these storage products work perfectly if you opt never to do anything with the Blackmagic Cloud service. On the other hand, DaVinci Resolve editors will find that the two are designed to work in tandem.
Resolve uses a database for projects instead of a single binary or package file, like other editing applications. In order for multiple editors to access the same Resolve project from different workstations (either one at a time or simultaneously), this database must be hosted on a project server. Facilities commonly add an Apple Mac mini to their storage network to function as a Resolve project server. You can place a database on a drive volume, too, but you can’t use that for project sharing.
To address a remote and shared working environment, Blackmagic Design established Blackmagic Cloud – essentially a virtual Resolve project server accessed through their website. It’s free for anyone – just sign up and create an account. The library owner is billed $5 per library per month for any libraries that are uploaded to Cloud (a library may contain multiple projects). Blackmagic Cloud is not a generic cloud service. It only works with Resolve libraries and no other type of file.
To start collaboration through Cloud, the library owner first sets up a project as a multi-user project and then shares it with others. The other collaborators must also have an active Blackmagic Cloud account, which is tied to an email address. For instance, if you have four editors at different workstations within the facility, then the facility manager would set up four separate accounts with different email addresses for each user or workstation.
Where’s the remote media?
Blackmagic Cloud only hosts lightweight library data (project files) and not actual media. The challenge of remote editing has always been about getting the media to the off-site editor. To address this need, these cloud storage products include built-in media syncing, which is set up through the Cloud Store application.
Media syncing isn’t dependent on using Blackmagic Cloud. It uses Dropbox or Google Drive, since these are commonplace services that many already use for collaboration. (Your Dropbox or Google Drive plan is independent of Blackmagic Design and would need to be established separately.) Other services may be added in the future. You can automatically sync native, optimized, and/or proxy media using Dropbox or Google Drive through the storage device, so that both editors end up with a local copy of that media.
I did not test media syncing. However, I did test a scenario with two editors collaborating within the same Resolve project. The iMac was running Resolve 18 Studio (website version) and the MacBook Pro was running Resolve 18 (free Apple Mac App Store version). Although there are differences in these two versions, everything worked fine for the purpose of this test. Media was on the Mini and both Macs connected to the shared project on Blackmagic Cloud. Of course, you need an active internet connection for each unit when using Cloud.
If you are familiar with Avid’s bin locking, then you’ll be right at home here. The editor who first opens a bin in Resolve has write permission and everyone else is read-only. If two editors have the same timeline open on the Edit page, only the editor with write permission can make changes. The read-only editor can refresh the timeline to see any new changes that have been made. This isn’t a Resolve 18 review, so I’ll stop there.
Overall, the system worked, albeit with a few quirks. First, accessing and saving a project on Blackmagic Cloud was slower than if it were local. I don’t mean edit changes – those were fast. I mean when you perform a save function. Second, I felt that changes made by one editor had a fair amount of latency before the other editor saw that a change was made and was prompted to refresh the timeline. These are predictable cloud issues and not a huge concern, since the two editors are likely working in different timelines anyway. However, what surprised me was that each time the additional editor opened the project again, media had to be relinked. I’m not sure if that’s because the media paths within the project are determined by the project owner. It was only a minor inconvenience but definitely persistent.
Blackmagic’s units are designed to fit into a collaborative environment – either within a facility or in a remote situation.
Blackmagic Design integrates other useful features into its cloud storage products. Each unit includes an HDMI port for an external display. This allows you to monitor the status of the device in real-time, showing read/write mapping and graphs for transfer speeds. In order to facilitate backup, the units also include an extra USB-C port for an external drive. This is very important with Cloud Store Mini, because it is RAID-0 without any data redundancy. That port is located on the front panel of the Mini, but it hasn’t been enabled yet. The Mini includes two power connections – a 3-prong IEC AC electrical plug (power cord not included) and a 12-volt DC port for an external power supply.
It would be unfair to compare the Blackmagic Cloud Store or the Mini as if these were just local drives. If that’s your need, then these products might seem pricey. A single, local drive doesn’t have these networking connections and features. Blackmagic’s units are designed to fit into a collaborative environment – either within a facility or in a remote situation. Yet, you could use them as a local drive attached to a single workstation if you wanted to.
Blackmagic Design has positioned these products as companions to DaVinci Resolve. However, if you edit with Adobe Premiere Pro or Apple Final Cut Pro, these units work equally well. You can store media and project/library files on the cloud storage volume and the behavior is like any other network-attached storage. Avid Media Composer would be the notable exception.
A shared storage unit with only 8TB or even 20TB of capacity might seem small to many – especially if you think in terms of large files, like 8K (and bigger) ProRes or DNxHR media. However, lighter HD and 4K H.264 camera files are a staple for many small production companies. That media is easily handled by these units. In addition, a small editing team cutting a long-form project using proxy media would be quite comfortable.
Blackmagic Design is hitting a sweet spot for small multi-editor shops that are interested in adding high-performance shared storage without the need for IT expertise. I found the Cloud Store Mini to be a powerful unit that’s fast, highly portable, and easy to install. When it comes to network storage volumes, Blackmagic Design has developed products that are as plug-and-play as they come.