An illustration of a Cubbit-branded harddisk drive with two quarter of the disk surface in one color, on quarter in another, and the last quarter shown in red.

Cubbit NAS is an IoT datacenter-trojan for your home

Cubbit is a network-attached storage (NAS) device with a built-in partially peer-to-peer-powered backup and redundancy plan. Each file you store on your Cubbit is also encrypted and stored on other Cubbit customer’s Cubbits.

The Cubbit device itself is quite expensive, but there’s no monthly subscription fee past the initial investment. However, a closer inspection of Cubbit’s business model will make you say no, thank you!

I’ll start by discussing some technical details about the core customer-facing product. Cubbit has made some assumptions about how their product will be used, which may become a problem in the future. I’ll then move on to talk about the business they want to operate out of your home.

Each Cubbit comes with 2 TB of storage. However, only 1 TB is made available to the customer. 0,5 TB is reserved to serve as redundancy for other customers’ data. I’ll get back to their plans for the remaining 0,5 TB later.

Storage quotas and file distribution among Cubbit customers are orchestrated through a central server operated by Cubbit. File transfers between customer devices happen peer-to-peer. Your Cubbit will stop working if the central orchestration-server stops operating, however.

Each file you store on your Cubbit is split into 24 encrypted pieces. These 24 original pieces are then further processed into a total of 36 redundant pieces. These pieces take up 50 % more space than the original file. Each of those 36 pieces is stored on 36 different Cubbits. You only need any 24 out of those 36 pieces to reconstruct the original file. (This is similar to a RAID-6 storage model.)

To store a 10 GB file, the network will need to store 15 GB on your behalf.

The maths don’t quite work out, though. Each customer has 1 TB storage space available to them. Replicating that data would require 1,5 TB of disk space. However, each customer only makes 500 GB available to the network.

The average customer can’t use more than 33,33 % (333 GB) of their Cubbit’s storage capacity. All the space set aside for redundancy across the entire network would get exhausted past this point. This kind of over-provisioning is not uncommon; many service providers would collapse if every customer used their full quotas. However, this seems wildly optimistic for a product with a premium price targeted at storage prosumers.

But what about that remaining 500 GB on each customer’s drive? Adding this reserved space to the network would increase the network’s maximum capacity to 66,66 %.

Cubbit has some wiggle-room to accommodate their customer’s growing storage needs over time. However, that doesn’t appear to be the plan for those extra 500 GB. The company plans to make those available to businesses as a service to fund Cubbit’s operational costs. To quote Cubbit’s website:

“We can leverage the remaining 25% of storage to provide advanced web services to businesses or professional users, in order to cover the costs and be able to maintain the network free for the final user, even in the long run.”

Their Kickstarter page suggests more specifically that it can be used to deliver content delivery networks (CDN), virtual private networks (VPN), edge-computing, and other commercial services. The primary value a Cubbit customer can offer is their residential IP addresses. It’s something you can’t get by renting a server in a datacenter.

A residential IP address is attractive to anyone wanting to use streaming video services in a foreign country. It’s also attractive to people wanting to hide their illegal activities.

Any activity carried out through your Cubbit would be tracked down to your IP address. To your home. To you.

Notably, few residential internet service providers (ISPs) allow you to resell or make your internet connection available to third parties. You could be in breach of contract if people randomly start using your internet connection through your Cubbit.

I’m curious about how many of the people who backed Cubbit on Kickstarter realize the company intends to run a miniature datacenter out of their homes. Let’s just say that this monetization strategy isn’t prominently featured as part of the products’ promotional materials.

You’re the one covering the cost of the hardware, electricity, and internet access. The tit-for-tat of hosting other customers’ files in exchange for the same service is okay. However, I find the company’s plan to turn your home into a miniature commercial datacenter without compensation completely unacceptable.

Cubbit shouldn’t rent out capacity on your hardware without compensating you. It doesn’t make any difference if they’re only able to generate a few cents or hundreds of euros from your device. It’s no longer their property after you’ve bought it.

A 9 Euro/year subscription plan is actually a better option if Cubbit needs a source of income to operate their service and stay afloat as a company. No one wants a future where your toaster needs to mine Bitcoins to ensure the manufacturer extra money on top of what you’ve already paid for their product.