A Greener, No-Subscription Solution to Storage? We Review Cubbit

A Greener, No-Subscription Solution to Storage? We Review Cubbit

Are you interested in exploring alternative cloud storage systems? In this review, we take a look at Cubbit and what its distributed cloud storage brings to the table.

Irrespective of what type of photography you do, finding the right storage system for you and your workflow is important. As the file sizes increase over time, so do the number of external drive and cloud storage options for you to choose from to house your important files and data. One such option is Cubbit, a new company and a cloud storage brand that claims to deliver a more secure, green storage option for its users, utilizing its, as the name suggests, equally geometric Cubbit Cells that connect directly to your router.

About Cubbit

Currently, having reached over $1,243,632 on an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, Cubbit is a cloud, similar to familiar services, like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, and others, which allows you to store, sync, backup, and share files online. These files, stored in a data center, potentially located thousands of miles away, are then accessible from anywhere in the world using an internet connection, using a variety of devices, such as a phone, computer, iPad, and others.

However, the difference between Cubbit and other cloud services, as those mentioned above, is that Cubbit is a distributed cloud service, meaning it does not require a centralized data center, which is maintained and kept connected to the internet by companies, like Google. What this also means is that the data center is connected to the internet 24/7, consumes energy, and emits large amounts of CO2, which is a factor that many users, myself included, are not informed about nor take into consideration on daily basis because of that reason.

With Cubbit, files are stored in the network, which is made up of all the single Cubbit Cells, which are the physical units purchased by each service user. These cells then act as mini data centers, which contribute to the overall network. The files uploaded by users are then stored in the network, which is made up of these cells, which means this is a model based on collaboration between users and doesn't rely on a large server farm owned by a multinational corporation.

There are several factors that Cubbit claims makes the company stand. Firstly, the absence of a large data center reduces CO2 pollution. Cubbit claims that its service emits 10 times less CO2 than larger companies that we are familiar with today. This is a factor that allows users to make an educated choice on the impact their file storage solution has on the environment.

Secondly, Cubbit achieves increased security to the user. As data centers are physical units, they are also at risk of being damaged due to accidents or any other adverse events. By comparison, data stored on Cubbit cells is distributed across the world, and to lose files, many cells would need to be simultaneously affected or damaged. If there was a blackout, the user's cell goes offline or is physically damaged, such as in a house fire, the files are not affected because they are not stored in the cell.

Cubbit explains if there is a situation when 8 out of 12 cells are offline, "the Coordinator identifies reliable cells from those remaining, downloading the file shards available, recovering the missing parts and redistributing them in order to 'heal' the file. Since redundancy is performed on encrypted data, these “helper” cells don’t decrypt the file to rebuild it. Any online cell on the network can be selected to help, guaranteeing privacy and security as well as versatility and performance."

Thirdly, files undergo encryption before they are uploaded. Cubbit explains that it doesn't own nor does it have access to the data on cells because cells are peer-to-peer connected and user files don't pass through Cubbit's servers.

Each file you upload is encrypted with AES-256 algorithms and then split into dozens of chunks. These chunks are then distributed across the 3,000 cells worldwide with the cells performing the data storing and transferring.

And, last but not least, Cubbit, unlike most file storage products on the market today, doesn't use a monthly fee subscription model. The user makes a flat payment when purchasing their cell; currently, the company offers a choice of 512 GB and 1 TB storage but has plans to introduce up to 4 TB expandable options.

At the time of publication, 512 GB of storage is reduced by a 40% discount to €289 ($350) and 1TB to €349 ($422).

First Impressions

If data storage and file encryption is not your forte, you are not alone. I have been a regular user of the more known storage solutions, such as Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google for several years now, having chosen Google as my main storage, besides physical copies of external drives. 

When my Cubbit cell unit arrived, I connected it directly to our router, which unlocks the storage space on the Cubbit cloud and also simultaneously contributes to the network with its internal hard disk space. The packaging of the cell is very simple and recyclable, with an instruction manual found online to save on printing paper instructions.

The cable that my unit came with was not quite as long as I would have liked to for storing it next to the router. Also, the cable came in black, which was too noticeable against a lighter wall, so I purchased a long white cable, which worked just fine. The unit itself is visually appealing, and I don't mind it being displayed in our living room, because it looks like the part of modern smart devices that we are now used to seeing in people's homes.

Although I was able to set up my unit very fast and with no issues on my end, the Cubbit team emailed me shortly thereafter to inform me that they are detecting some connectivity issues and would like me to troubleshoot my unit; otherwise, I won't be able to contribute my storage to the Swarm, which is what the network of these cells is called. The issue wasn't major and simply required me to unscrew the cover of the unit and to connect a cable that had fallen loose during transit. Straightaway, my unit was connected and I was able to make the most of its features.

First, I downloaded a native app for my MacOS (also available on Windows and Linux) and also tried the browser version. When logged in on a browser, the Cubbit interface, also called Cubbit Hatch, is very similar to that of Google Drive, where users can click to upload files or simply drag and drop. You can also create folders. When uploading, the status of your upload is shown on the bottom right of the page. You can sort your files by name, size, or last changes made.

When it comes to using your files, you can click on individual files or the whole folder, and you can choose between downloading, sharing with others by inviting them to gain access to your file or folder, or you can create a public or private link. All of these functions are familiar to anyone who uses cloud storage, and it doesn't require a lengthy learning process to start using your files right away. 

Cubbit web interface (Hatch) similar to Google, Dropbox, and others

Native Cubbit app (on macOS)

I didn't encounter any issues downloading or uploading my files either as single downloads or in bulk; the usability of this service is exactly what you'd expect from cloud storage in regard to quick access to your files and simple navigation. Because I am changing my main computer device from macOS to Windows shortly, I did not set up a synced folder on my current device. The synced folders, similar to other cloud services, allows you to sync a chosen folder or folders on your device with your cloud storage.

Both the app and Cubbit Hatch will show you the amount of CO2 emissions saved by using their product to upload files, which is a handy visual reminder. I must admit, it has made me more aware of the impact that something like this — as simple as data storage that we take for granted nowadays — has on the environment around us.

Using a greener file storage solution won't instantly make your photography environmentally friendly, especially if considering the harmful impact that camera brands have on the world around us, including handling of toxic chemicals and poor workers' rights, but it's a step that I found was simple to take on my behalf without giving up what I had been used to using in my business already.

What Could Be Improved

  • Because there is no way for me to personally evaluate the long-term impact of using this service, there are only a few minor things for me to point out, such as having to maintain the physical cell in your home to continue contributing to the swarm of cells. This means that you will need to factor in bringing it with you if you move permanently, however, if you're on the go and travel regularly, the good thing is you don't have to.
  • Using Hatch, the web browser app, although it displays the file size of each individual file, it doesn't do it for folders. Personally, I would find it beneficial to see the folder size, too.
  • Although one flat fee for cloud storage, in my opinion, is a great alternative to primarily monthly or yearly subscription-based models on the market currently, I think having an option to pay it in two or three installments could prove to be a good choice for users who are willing to switch but can't afford the whole payment and don't want to use other credit options with interest. 

What I Liked

  • Intuitive and simple interface that is familiar to most who already use well-known cloud storage brands.
  • Native app gives quick access to your storage information and latest uploads.
  • Cubbit is still developing its service with several great features on the way. For example, the company is currently working on an expandable storage option of up to 4 TB by plugging in an external hard drive, with information on the development yet to be released.
  • One flat fee for storing your files and reducing the amount of money that individuals and businesses spend monthly on a plethora of digital services that are integral to their workflow.
  • Cubbit offers a four-year warranty.
  • A reduced environmental impact is an important factor to many.

Final Thoughts

There is yet a lot to improve when it comes to reducing the environmental aspect of the type of work we do where we use various cloud services and purchase electrical equipment that contains many parts, leaving a long supply chain with its own issues, from chemicals to workers' rights. For some, it may not be enough of a reason to convince them to switch from their current storage solution due to the time involved to move the data across; however, the addition of increased security and the one-off payment might be just what they're looking for when it comes to a long-term solution for storing data.

I am interested to see what future features Cubbit brings out to improve their product even more, but personally, looking at what Cubbit offers today, I am happy to make that switch or at least do it partially. It would not be fair to assume that everyone is able to afford to purchase Cubbit storage today, even if they were willing to, because it is a small investment but an investment nevertheless, which, especially in a COVID-19 world, can be hard for many.

What do you think of using a distributed cloud network to store your files?

Anete Lusina's picture

Anete Lusina is a photographer based in West Yorkshire, UK. You'll either find her shooting weddings, documentary, or street photography across the U.K. and Europe, or perhaps doing the occasional conceptual shoot.

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What is the advantage of storing my images on the "cloud"?

They are accessible from remote. Definitely handy

It’s good to have backups distributed geographically. With an NAS you lose everything if your house gets flooded or burns down.

Even a NAS can be hit by ransomware.

How are you verifying their claims of being greener than competitors like DropBox, and how do they plan to make good on their promise of data redundancy without losing capacity on the 1TB drive?

How is the performance?

Did you do any tests of data restoring?

I'm guessing the greener bit is based on not having masses of air con keeping all the systems cool that would be required in a data center

That's indeed my guess, but I'd still like to see some actual data behind it with some more or less independent verification.

Just buy 2 x 8TB hard drives for $140 each, save a truckload of money and have your files at your fingertips regardless of internet availability and speed.
Amazon offers free unlimited photo storage for prime members which can be used an offsite backup.

Amazon offers "free" unlimited photo storage for prime members...Am I the only one who pay for Prime?

Fair enough :) But you pay for Prime anyway so why not to use the service? I don't remember when Amazon added the photo storage to Prime, but they never charged anything extra for it. The storage price is likely buried somewhere in the Prime cost.

Yes, Amazon Photos is handy. Unfortunately this is limited because you can store photos only. For other kinds of files, you need Amazon Drive, which is a different service.
Furthermore, I made some research today and discovered that, buried in the terms, Amazon Photo states that you cannot use the cloud storage for commercial purposes. Of course, you are able to send a share link to a photo to a client (assuming you’re a pro photographer),but formally - and legally - you cannot.

So I agree with you on the fact that if you're an amateur photographer and you're already paying for Prime, then it makes completely sense. Let's say it depends on your needs, of course.

We're talking about photography here I believe, so yes, it's for photos. The idea is to use it as an offsite backup https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Off-site_data_protection "on the cheap" and not a commercial showcase platform. A showcase platform would have completely different requirements. You don't need to store raw files in it, but only selected processed images. The emphasis would be mostly on the UI and not on the storage capacity and access speed. I've built a simple platform "for personal usage" and hopefully will make it public on github soon: https://photostream.us/

I have 30tb saved to backblaze for 6 a month. Also-- I'd love to see how they came up with the electricity numbers. Seems like you would have some efficiencies of having all the equipment plugged in together vs spread out over the world (less redundant hardware like separate power supplies for all the HD's) Also-- what happens if/when the company goes out of business? Is the software open source?

The company has said: "Of course, no company can consider itself risk-free: in the worst case, we will release the open source coordinator code, so that everyone can continue to use Cubbit, without losing any data and ensuring the continuation of our mission for a private, distributed and accessible cloud."

Hi Adam, I'm Francesco and I work at Cubbit. I know my words may sound partisan but I will briefly explain why Cubbit is greener than traditional cloud providers in the most objective way I can.

1 - There is no data center to be cooled down.
Cooling energy already accounts for 50% of the storage energy consumption in data centers.
2 - Cubbit Cells run on low-consumption ARM processors.
These are extremely energy efficient. Because of their efficiency, ARM processors are, in fact, standard in mobile devices.
3 - Data is optimally located near you.
Data centers cannot be close to every user, but Cubbit can be. By optimizing the location of the users’ data for geographical proximity, it reduces the energy consumption of data transfers.
As a reference, you can read the scientific paper “The carbon footprint of distributed cloud storage” by me and my colleagues M. Moschettini and A. Paccoia. It’s findable on Research Gate and Arxiv.org.

As for your second question, namely what happens if Cubbit goes out of business:
Cubbit is supported by national and international organizations that think we are doing great work, our shoulders are large.
In any worst-case scenario, we would release the coordinator code open source, so that anyone can host it and continue to use Cubbit — without losing any data and guaranteeing the continuation of the mission of private, distributed and accessible cloud storage and services for all!

Good to know!

The p2p software might be interesting in the future, but come on - this cube is a couple of drives wrapped in cheapest china factory plastic.

Hi Miha, I'm Francesco and I work at Cubbit. I know my words may sound partisan but I just wanted to point out that there’s a bit of confusion here. One thing is the Cubbit Cell, another thing is the software.
- The software was entirely programmed in Italy by Cubbit’s developers. I can assure you they are well prepared guys with the great ambition of challenging the status quo of the cloud services. You understand, we’re all working on something that has never been done before, something groundbreaking.
- The Cubbit Cell is a dedicated device for the Cubbit network. It is an energy-efficient computer connected to a hard drive and able to run the Cubbit software natively. Yes, it is produced in China but so far - more than 3500 Cells connected worldwide - we didn’t have any breakage. By the way, Warranty is 4 years.
PS. and even if your Cell should break, your files would be safe anyway.

Or you could just buy an NAS, and set it up in your attic, so it's close to the clouds.

Having an offsite backup is definitely a good idea if your house gets ever gets destroyed. Not sure if this is the right solution but relying on an NAS only is a risky strategy.

Even if you store your files with a cloud service, I still think you should have your own offsite archive. And while I guess maybe a solid provider like AWS could be an alternative to your own HDDs (or other media) for that, I wouldn't trust my archive to some start-up, that's for sure.

I agree with M M. Having one NAS only is risky as it is perishable. From this point of view, the cloud is much better. Alternatively, you buy many NAS and/or many HDDs and everytime uyou have new files to save, you save them on all devices - quite annoying by the way

Agree - one in your attic and one in your cousin's attic. Money saved.

Yes. Multiple locations reasonably far apart. If you and your cousin live in the same duplex the attics won’t work :)

so... you plug this into your network.. and you are storing other peoples files on the system.. you have no idea whos files.. or what those files are.. so... what happens when a cubbits user stores illegal material on the network.. its distributed to. 100s or 1000s of unknowning users around the world?

cubbits user (not you) stores illicit material on the cubits network.. since you are a part of that network.. and its stored at your house.. using your internet connection.. not only are you in possession of illicit material.. you are also distributing illicit material.. (two different charges in the US)

nope.. really really bad idea..

Interesting point, which makes me wonder, how do cloud providers etc deal with this from a legal point of view?

I googled <illicit content cubbit> and a sort of company help desk was in first page. It says that you cannot be accused for holding others' illicit content because you don't know the content stored in your cell.
That's the company view. But if you guys have relevant articles taken from the civil code please share ;)

Or for that matter, what's to stop a bored, intrepid hacker who has a Cubbit from checking out/stealing/sharing other people's photos found on his or her Cubbit? AES-256 algorithms can be cracked (as I understand it). It just doesn't seem like this whole idea will end well.

Hello Darrell, I'm Francesco and I work at Cubbit. You have intelligently raised an interesting point, so I personally want to solve your concern about storing illicit content, which may be the same concern of many others.
We have an innovative and ambitious project: build a collaborative cloud network, with data privacy and security at its core.
When we talk about privacy and security, we actually mean that every file, even before being uploaded to Cubbit, is encrypted and split into multiple chunks, each of them is processed into several redundancy shards.
The combination of these features means that no one, not even Cubbit, can have access to the content of the files uploaded to the cloud by users.
If a user utilizes Cubbit to store and/or share illegal content, that user will be held responsible, as will any other user who knowingly shares a link or decryption key to that content with any other person.
The Cubbit Cell on the other hand receives in an automated fashion only shards of encrypted data from the Cubbit network. That piece of information, individually considered, is therefore incomplete and in any case cannot be decrypted by those who have it without the decryption keys. For these reasons, owning an encrypted shard of a file containing illicit content does not put you at risk of breaking the law (we could compare this situation to that of any traditional cloud provider or a Tor relay).
However, Cubbit is committed to all its users to take any action deemed necessary and in a timely manner to remove or otherwise make inaccessible unlawful content upon notice from other users or administrative or judicial authorities.
We hope we have been able to satisfy your curiosity about Cubbit. By the way, we have written a help page on our website if you want to have a look at it. You are welcome!

No more cloud for me, I got burned when a service canceled my account.

Interesting idea, but a good hacker will be able to hack the physical device and obtain access to the files stored on it.

Hi Jason, I'm Francesco and I work at Cubbit. I'm gonna solve this point because it's tricky indeed. Thank you for having raised it.
To respond to your affirmation: no, that is impossible unless the hacker knows, or guesses, your password. Why?
Because all files on Cubbit are broken and encrypted in multiple shards that do not resemble anything of the original file, they are essentially instructions for reassembly. Since they are not then the actual files, they would never truly exist on any of the Cells they traverse through
Again, no way to access the file unless the hacker knows, or guesses, the password.
Takeaway: use unbreakable passwords!

I agree in general but we don't need our data in the 'cloud' any more than just a back-up or two stored in a couple of locations where you live - home, office, cousin's place for example. Over time you will pay an arm and a leg for cloud storage.

In terms of remote access I find that in practice it is extremely rare to need access to my entire library of images. Just the current jobs really which are usually accessible from Lightroom sync on any device.

The whole point of Cubbit is that you won't pay that arm and leg over time.

I assume it's running Cubbit's software on an OS - Linux?