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Cubbit stores your data with a footprint that is a fraction of the cloud’s

Who needs a cloud when you can have a hive?

Every month I send money off to Apple for two terabytes of cloud storage so that I have the convenience of being able to show all my photos and find everything I have written on my phone or my computer wherever I am. When I left my MacBook in a taxi and never saw it again, I didn't lose much because there was nothing in it; I keep everything in the cloud.

But I worry about the money (actually, more about what happens if I don't pay), and I worry about the carbon footprint of all those data centers humming away, storing all my out-of-focus building photos. The Internet is apparently responsible for ten percent of worldwide energy demand, and cloud storage is a big part of that.

So I was intrigued when I was pitched the story of the Cubbit. When you buy a Cubbit cell, you get a little single-board ARM based computer and a 1 terabyte drive. You get to use half of it, and the rest becomes part of the Cubbit swarm. There is a reason it is designed in a hexagonal shape; it is a worker bee.

Cubbit is the distributed cloud. Its architecture is designed to fully leverage the interconnectivity potential of the internet, while at the same time offering state-of-the-art performances and user experience.

Your data are encrypted and each file is then chopped up into 24 pieces and (I don't fully understand this part) these pieces are “processed into 36 redundancy shards. Out of the 36 shards, only 24 of them are necessary to retrieve the original encrypted file. This procedure alone ensures a statistical uptime of ~ 99.9999 percent.” These are then stored on all the other computers in the network, much like BitTorrents.

Once the file has been encrypted and segmented, the client communicates with the coordinator to obtain authorization for uploading it to the distributed cloud. The coordinator, in turn, verifies the authorization and finds the optimal set of 36 Cells to store the file by minimizing a cost function that accounts for geographical proximity, mean uptime, free space and other metadata. It then acts as handshake server to initiate the peer-to-peer connection between the hosting Cells and the client, which distributes the shards on the network.

Cubbit on desk© Cubbit

This being TreeHugger, I asked for more detailed information about the carbon footprint. About half of the footprint of the cloud comes from storage consumption: “Keeping data remotely accessible on the cloud needs a constantly-operating and cooled-down infrastructure of storage racks. The other half is from transfer consumption: “Transferring data over long distances heavily increases the data traffic on internet relay nodes, requiring additional energy to operate the routing infrastructure.” Susan of Cubbit explained:

  • Cubbit reduces the internet’s carbon footprint. For each 10 TB saved on Cubbit, 1 ton of CO2 is saved every year. In the US alone, there are about 350 million TB of data held in data centers.
  • There is no data center to be cooled down. Actually, there is no data center at all. Cooling energy already accounts for 50% of the storage energy consumption in data centers.
  • 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.
  • 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 while, at the same time, maximizing the transfer speed.
Cubbit green paper energy savings© Energy savings on storage/ Cubbit

In their green paper, The carbon footprint of distributed cloud storage, the Cubbit team estimates a 77 percent reduction in the footprint for storage and a 50 percent reduction for data transfers. “If we plug these estimations in our model, we obtain a total saved annual energy, using a distributed architecture rather than a centralized one, of ∼ 6.7 · 108 kWh, equivalent to saving carbon emissions in the order of 300 million kgCO2 per year.”

None of this takes into account that the individual Cubbits might be plugged in to dirty coal-powered electricity, while Apple (who stores my stuff) claims now to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy, so while the energy savings might be accurate, we cannot be sure about the carbon savings. I also worry that, while there are all of those worker bees out there sharing the storage, there is that central company that has the queen bee controlling all of this, that doesn't have a reliable source of income unless they keep selling more units. Like real bees, colony collapse is a concern.

But there is a lot to like about this idea. I sometimes worry about not having a copy of all my stuff under my direct control, and worry that if I got the door prize on my bike or forgot to pay the Apple bill, everything I have written or photographed would be lost to my family. With Cubbit, that little box is right there, looking and acting like an external drive.

computers running program© Cubbit

I used to write about technology a lot and don't think about it much any more, but suspect that I am making a big mistake having all my eggs in Tim Cook's basket. Cubbit looks like an interesting way of saving money (though it still costs US$350 so it would take a couple of years compared to my $15 per month) while still having local and offsite backup. Saving all that energy is nice too. More at Cubbit and you can buy it on Indiegogo.