While there are plenty of cloud storage services out there, have you ever thought of hosting your own cloud storage so only you can access your own confidential files? Cubbit provides a 100 percent distributed, secure and encrypted cloud storage in the form of a Cubbit Cell. Let’s find out how it works and whether it is useful to you.
What Is Cubbit Cell?
Before we can explain what Cubbit Cell is, we need to first learn what P2P (Peer to Peer) is. If you have been using torrents to download files, then you are already using P2P technology. In a P2P networking environment, many people have a copy of a file in their computers. When you want to download the file from the cloud, there is no need to access a central server. Instead, you connect to others’ computers, download bits and pieces of the file to your computer, then combine them back into one single file.
For the Cubbit storage service, it makes use of such a distributed system to store your files. The Cubbit Cell is a networking device that you plug in to your router to become part of the swarm (the distributed system). Using the desktop application, you can then upload files to the swarm and sync them across your devices. One thing to note is that your files are not stored in your Cubbit Cell. Instead, they are encrypted and split into parts, which are then distributed to the various parts of the swarm (other Cubbit cells that connect to the network). As such, there is no “complete” data in each Cell, and no one (but you) will be able to retrieve and access your files.
Sound complicated? It sure is.
Setting Up and Getting into the Swarm
To get started, you first have to purchase the Cubbit Cell. It is selling at €349 for 1 TB of storage space. Compare that with Dropbox’s 2TB plan at US$9.99 (or about €8) per month, you will need to use it continuously (or the Cell needs to last) for 3 years and 6 months to break even.
With the Cubbit Cell, connect it to the power source and your router.
On your browser, go to the Cubbit website, sign up for an account and download its desktop application. The application is available for Windows, macOS and Linux, though the Linux script it provided is really only meant for Debian-based distro. I am using Arch Linux, so the default installation script doesn’t work. I had to contact the technical support for them to provide me with a link to download an AppImage.
Open the desktop application and sign in to your Cubbit account. You have 1GB storage space. To get the 1TB of storage space, you need to “claim” the cell.
Click the “Claim a cell” button – this is where I encountered the second problem. While the app can “see” the cell, it keep showing “Network error” while trying to claim it. I had to try a few times, including restarting the app, restarting the computer, restarting the Cell, before it finally worked. But even then it got disconnected the next moment and never registered as one. It took me another day and multiple tries to claim it successfully.
As you can see, while the setup process is simple, it doesn’t “just work,” and plenty of frustration is involved.
Once connected, you will see the message: “we are now in Phase 1, some of the features will be available only when the Swarm will be ready to fly … ” In short, this is still in beta, and a lot of the promised features aren’t functional yet.
Using Cubbit as Cloud Storage
With the Cubbit Cell connected, your account will be upgraded to a 1TB account. You can start to add files to the Cubbit folder (just like Dropbox, pCloud etc.) where they will be encrypted and distributed to the swarm. Once again, none of the files are in your Cubbit Cell. They are split into parts and distributed to other Cells in the swarm.
Depending on the size of your files, the uploading and downloading process can take quite a while. I added a bunch of movie files, totaling 2GB in size, and it took more than 2 hours to complete the upload. (As a comparison, on my own Nextcloud server, it only took less than 10 mins to sync to the server.) As stated above, during Phase 1, they are deliberately limiting the transfer speed; that is why it is slow.
Limitations of the Cubbit Cell
As you can see, for the whole setup to work, it relies heavily on the Cubbit Cell. It has to be powered on 24/7. Once your Cell is off the grid for a period of time, all your files in the swarm will be deleted.
By connecting an external hard disk to the Cubbit Cell, you can extend your cloud storage space. However, as of this writing, this feature is not available yet. The cons are that you can only use up to 50 percent of the storage space, up to 4TB. To put it simply, if you connect a 1TB hard disk to the Cell, only 512GB are added to your storage account. The remaining are used for redundancy storage of the files.
Is Cubbit Cell for you?
The benefit of Cubbit Cell is that your files are encrypted and distributed, so you don’t have to rely on a single company/server to store your data. Cubbit doesn’t store as your encryption key either, since there is zero knowledge of it in the first place.
However, whether the Cubbit solution is for you will depend on a few factors:
- Are you willing to spend a hefty amount upfront to get the Cell, keep it connected at all times, and pay the electricity bill and bandwidth at your own expense?
- Are you willing to wait a longer time for it to upload/download your data?
For now, the Cubbit Cell is pretty limited. As it continues to improve, it will probably be useful for those who are conscious of the security of their data storage.