Next-Generation of Cloud Computing: Distributed Cloud

The next-generation of Cloud Computing, the Distributed Cloud, is here. And Cubbit Cell, an Italian startup, is building it.
Susan Fourtané
Distributed CloudNatali_Mis/iStock

Cloud Computing is not a new concept. In the 1960s, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Project MAC, a collaborative project on Mathematics and Computation, already carried out computer networking experiments.

In 1969, a Computer Networks group was created in order to allow people on different computers and in different locations to access and share the programs and information located on a single computer.

It was the beginning of what it was later going to be known as Cloud Computing. One of those gigantic, archaic IBM computers using reels of magnetic tape for memory acted as a primitive Cloud with two or three people accessing it.

project MAC
Project MAC's IBM 7094, Source: Multics

In 1997, Professor Ramnath Chellapa of Emory University defined Cloud Computing as the new “computing paradigm where the boundaries of computing will be determined by economic rationale rather than technical limits alone.” And the history of Cloud Computing continued to evolve. Fastforward into the present we encounter the concept of Distributed Cloud, which is one of Gartner's Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020.

Distributed Cloud 

distributed cloud by susan fourtané
The Distributed Cloud leads a new era in Cloud Computing, Source: Susan Fourtané 

The cloud expands its territory and becomes a distributed cloud. This is the distribution of public cloud services to different locations while the originating public cloud provider assumes responsibility for the operation, governance, updates to and evolution of the services. According to industry analyst Gartner's report, this represents a significant shift from the centralized model of most public cloud services and will lead to a new era in cloud computing. 

A distributed cloud means that the computation, storage, and networking are in a micro-cloud located outside the centralized cloud. The distributed cloud is closer to the end-user as a decentralized cloud system.

Cubbit Cell: A next-generation of cloud computing

Cubbit Cell, based in Bologna, Italy, is building a next-generation cloud that is distributed, secure, and eco-friendly responding to today's environmental concerns, Source: Cubbit Cell

Cubbit Cell is an Italian startup innovating and building the Distributed Cloud. The Bologna-based startup is building a next-generation cloud: Distributed, secure, and eco-friendly. The startup is the first one accredited by the Alma Mater Studiorum, University of Bologna. Founded in 2016 by Marco Moschettini (CTO), Stefano Onofri (CEO), Alessandro Cillario (COO), and Lorenzo Posani (CSO), Cubbit Cell also counts with a base in Tel Aviv, Israel. 

The Cubbit Cell is a plug-and-cloud device. The basic model comes with 512GB of cloud space. Whatever happens to the Cubbit Cell, such as a disconnection or a blackout, has no impact on the users’ data, which is always safe and accessible anywhere. In fact, they are not stored in their entirety on a single Cell, but distributed over a swarm of Cubbit Cells.

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The successful startup is funded by TechStars, Barclays, Barcamper Ventures, and supported by the European Commission along with the Horizon2020 (H2020) program known as Climate Kic, a European knowledge and innovation community, working towards a prosperous, inclusive, climate-resilient society founded on a circular, zero-carbon economy.

Climate-Kic is the European Union's main climate innovation initiative supported by the EIT, a body of the European Union. Cubbit’s distributed cloud is already up and running in beta in more than 10 countries. In addition, the startup actively collaborates with the CERNthe European Organization for Nuclear Research and one of the world's largest and most respected centers for scientific research.

The Italian startup has recently received a $150,000 investment by Italian business angels Nicolò Manaresi and Alessandro Fiorentino together with Barcamper Ventures - VC fund of Primomiglio SGR SpA. This investment received was in addition to the $120,000 already invested by Barclays, a world-class U.K. bank, and Techstars, which is the third biggest startup accelerator in the world. Among the investors of the campaign is Legacoop Bologna, which is exploring new business synergies with Cubbit Cell.

Cubbit Cell's ambition is to completely change the face of the Internet, starting from the cloud. Nowadays, the Internet runs on server farms in the form of giant, polluting cathedrals of computers that extend for thousands of square miles, guarding --and milking, in a way-- everyone’s data, according to how Cubbit Cell perceives the current situation.

In order to try to change this, Cubbit Cell proposes a radical alternative: A free, distributed network where the users are finally in control of their data. According to the startup, all of this is made possible by a small and elegant device: The Cubbit Cell, the node of Cubbit’s distributed network. Thanks to the Cubbit Cell, the user accesses the distributed cloud, where their files are encrypted, copied, and distributed across other nodes.

Subsequently, the user can access the files through a Web, mobile, or desktop interface, something equivalent to Dropbox, but with two fundamental differences: There is no subscription and no privacy violation. According to Cubbit Cell's founders, what makes Cubbit unlike other cloud services, is that Cubbit has absolutely no access to the user’s data, not even to the users’ password. Another difference is that if the users run out of space, they can just plug the hard disk/s that they already own to the device, free of charge. The idea behind this targets a sort of recycling of the Internet in order to create a new Internet.

The founders say it is a Copernican Revolution that is already gathering enthusiasm and approval from the scientific community. In 2018, Cubbit Cell partnered with the CERN and other 11 industrial and academic partners for an EU-wide project aimed at renovating the cloud infrastructure for science.

“We’ve worked together with Cubbit Cell and Dpixel during the Barcamper Garage acceleration experience in Bologna, and we are impressed by the tenacity and vision of the young founders,” says Gianluca Dettore, President of Primomiglio SGR SpA about his experience with the startup. “Cubbit Cell is challenging the cloud’s giants with a modern approach, which is certainly more secure, and a new technology with a significant scalability potential, becoming the more competitive in terms of costs, efficiency, and power the more the network grows,” he says.

A further acknowledgment comes from the University of Bologna, which has decided to assign to Cubbit Cell the status of first startup officially accredited by the Alma Mater Studiorum, this is a great privilege, indeed. The four founders of Cubbit Cell, Marco Moschettini, Stefano Onofri, Alessandro Cillario, and Lorenzo Posani are, in fact, all alumni of the University of Bologna, and this choice of accrediting the startup has enormous symbolic value for them. Both Onofri and Cillario are also the creators of the StartUp Day of the Alma Mater, the most important Italian event that is held today in connection to young entrepreneurship.  

“Cubbit Cell is the first startup accredited by the Alma Mater Studiorum and, thus, on one hand is the result of a strategy carried on by the university to support and value the student entrepreneurship; on the other hand, it is a source of inspiration for our students with talent, dreams, and passions to encourage and sustain them along the path of innovation," said Rosa Grimaldi, Dean’s delegate for Entrepreneurship at the University of Bologna.

According to Stefano Onofri and Alessandro Cillario, respectively CEO and COO of Cubbit, the investment of Primomiglio SGR and of their angels strengthens their startup's growth process, and "will allow us in a few months to penetrate the B2B market,” they say. “To be the first startup accredited by the most ancient university of the world, that in recent years has opened up to the topic of innovation, is for us a matter of great pride. We grew up here, giving life to Alma Mater’s StartUp Day. Without the city and university ecosystem, we could have never reached these results. But this is just the beginning,” they say proudly.  

Cubbit Cell's distributed cloud

Cubbit Cell's distributed cloud has several advantages, including the following:

  • Up to four accounts: The user can create up to four accounts per Cell. This way, it is possible to buy the Cell collectively with a group of friends, making the most out of the cloud service

  • Expandability: The Cubbit Cell is freely expandable up to 4 TB of cloud space just by plugging in any external USB drive. For each GB of physical storage the user connects to the Cell, half is turned into cloud space and made available to the user, a quarter is used for redundancy to ensure the data cannot be lost, another quarter is retained by Cubbit Cell and used to provide advanced cloud services to business users

  • Maximum Security: The user’s files are not stored in their entirety on a single Cubbit Cell, but encrypted, multiplied to ensure redundancy and spread over the network, so that no one but their owner can access them - not even Cubbit Cell

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