Startup of the Week / A Tiny Cloud Computer Can Be Yours for $45

Mini-computers are the future, and not only to tape shows and run your model train set.

It’s hard not to fall in love with this machine at first glance.

It looks like a box you might store a ring in, and it fits in the palm of your hand. Named the CuBox, it’s a computer for the cloud age: tiny, cheap and economical with power.

“We’ve created a micro-computer,” says Kossay Omary, the founder and CEO of SolidRun, the company that created the CuBox, which has offices in Tefen and Yokne’am. “It’s low-power, low-cost and, of course, small. We’re creating applications for it according to customer need."

This is a startup that's seen the future and the future is micro-computers, says Omary: The advent of cloud computing combined with ultra-fast surfing speed spell the demise of the bulky home computers we all own and love.

Cloud computing is based on the concept that software, computing power and memory don't need to sit on your floor or desk, but on a remote server somewhere else. You access them through a browser (meaning, over Internet). A beautiful example is Gmail: using it requires no software on your computer, merely an Internet connection.. Where does Gmail "live"? Somewhere on a Google server, while Microsoft's Outlook email, for example, does live on your PC.

Not only is SolidRun's cloud-based doohickey small, it's economical. "An ordinary computer consumes 500 watts (joules per second); ours uses three," Omary says.

The CuBox comes in four versions. The cheapest costs $45 and comes with one core processor, while the top of the line, the CuBox-i4Pro, has a quad-core processor and costs $120. (The more cores a processor has, the faster – and smoother - the computer is).

Have model cars, will make them move

Right now the SolidRun devices are used mainly for designated uses, not as classical home PCs – for instance, as a media center in the living room. However, it is clear that miniature computers are the future.

“We’re aiming for the private market, the consumer, as well as the business market,” says Omary. "Some of our customers use the CuBox for home automation — smart homes that can be controlled remotely. A young man in Australia bought one of our computers to control a smart home. The devices in his home cost a million dollars, and they’re all controlled by a hundred-dollar computer."

Some household customers use the CuBox to create a media center connected to a television screen. Others experiment — they connect web cams or external hard disks to it. "One of our customers turned the computer into a control center for his model cars,” says Omary.

In the business world, the company's customers are large integrators that use the tiny computer for a number of verticals. "We have a business client who buys the machine for digital control. We support those clients and help them create dedicated applications," says Omary.

CuBox is Israeli-made, from conception to production to assembly but it sells almost entirely overseas. It's sold computers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and Argentina — "and recently we got an order from Antarctica,” Omary says.

SolidRun doesn’t use Microsoft products; their computers use Linux and open-source software, which means that development is also community-driven.

Competition to Raspberry Pi

Microcomputers have become all the rage, thanks mainly to the Raspberry Pi, a micro-computer originally created to teach computer science to school pupils. Raspberry Pi machines start at $25, but geeks all over the world have found applications for it, mainly for experiments – it doesn't have the oomph to be a full-fledged PC. Also, some use it as the brain of a home media center, for instance.

So does the Pi compete with the CuBox? “The Raspberry Pi is a terrific success story and does compete with us in certain niches. Our solutions are good when it comes to computing capability, and we also work with large institutional clients. The Raspberry Pi is good for people who want to play with it as a hobby. We sell a product with support, and customers can call us if there’s a problem.”
Omary established SolidRun in 2010 with his friend Rabeeh Khoury. The two Israeli Arabs met in the Technion’s electrical engineering department, and later worked together at Galileo (which was acquired by Marvell Technology Group in 2001).

“We started SolidRun in a different field. Our plan was to create a smart meter for electric companies," Kossay recalls. "But we quickly realized it was challenging to work for a utility company, and we also realized that we had an opportunity for much quicker time to market in personal computing."

The venture climate was forbidding and they decided to back the venture themselves. "Now the company is now well known and financially balanced, and we put every shekel of profit back into the company. We’ve grown from two people to ten, and now we’re meeting with investment funds."
 

Amitai Ziv
Amitai Ziv