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.
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.
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.
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.
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?