Dropbox changed its terms of service so they can give you data to the Feds if they just ask for it, Ubuntu shuts down the online fileservice “Ubuntu One” : Who can you trust these days ? The great thing with cloud solutions is that they are on a server far far away, most of them are free and you never have to maintain them. The downside is that they are on a server far far away, they are free and you cannot maintain them. We give up a certain level of control for the convenience of the cloud. It would be of course far nicer if you had a service that offered you all the luxury of the products mentioned above .. but gave you full control, absolute privacy and a completely controlled solution. (and free ! It has to be free).
Do not fear : Owncloud is here.
Owncloud is a self hosted cloud solution that gives you the luxury of the cloud in the privacy of your own home (or on your own hosted environment). Its a cross platform webservice that gives you the ability to store files in the “cloud” and access them from anywhere, Sync those files with your desktop (like Dropbox) You can share your files with friends and access them using mobile clients on Android and IOS devices or a simple browser window.
Don’t trust the cloud with your Calendar and contacts ? Owncloud takes care of that too. Manage your contacts and calendars straight from Owncloud or sync them up with your mobile devices using open standards like .vcard and caldav.
Tired of the tracks on Groovebox or spotify ? Would you like to stream your music (and movies) from your own hard drive at home ? Owncloud even has an answer for that. The built in media player lets you access your library from anywhere as long as you sport at least a browser (AND some underwear .. Owncloud is classy like that).
Want to tie all of your different cloud services together ? Owncloud supports connecting external storage to the service (like network and usb drives) but can also connect to Dropbox and Google Docs, offering ALL those files up in one simple interface.
So what does it take ?
Installing Owncloud is pretty simple. All you need is a linux server and you can choose to install Owncloud either from the repositories (if you are using Ubuntu or Debian) or you can go and download version 6 straight from their website.
Owncloud is based on a web based server so you can access everything from port 80 and add some security by choosing to go for https to do your authentication (highly recommended). You can run it on your server at home OR on a webspace you rented somewhere (or if you are really lucking on your own hosted server in some datacenter). You don’t need a lot of power, but Owncloud does need some ram and some cpu power if it is going to manage and index thousands of files for you.
So how do I do it.
Find out more.
In all , Owncloud is a very powerful solution when it comes to hosting stuff yourself. It has come a long way since version 6 and I have been a big fan of the convenience, the cross platform compatible-ness (is that a word ?) and the sheer power of integrating multiple storage locations (usb drives, network drives, cloud storage) to ONE single web interface. Try it .. you’ll be on cloud 9.
Cloud services. We love them ! All you need to do is hand over your email address, use the same password you have everywhere and sito presto : Before you know it you are using yet another free service that does whatever you require. From handling your email, to storing your documents, from chatting with your friends to keeping track of all the Care-Bear stuff you track on line .. there is a cloud service for everything.
We are not always the customer, sometimes we are the product.
What most of us forget is that, unless you are paying for said service, you are not a customer, but a product. If your free cloud service has any plans about staying in business and paying that giant hosting bill for that ‘free storage’, it’ll better have a business plan. Most cloud services make money by selling you adds that you click on. The people who PLACE the adds are the actual customers of the service .. YOU .. are the product. This might not be true with a paid service ( Another way of working for a cloud service might be to get you hooked with a free account and then make you UPGRADE into a subscription plan). So if you are using that favourite cloud service of yours, ask yourself : Am I ok with being “The Product” ?
Just “Who IS” the cloud ?
Behind every fancy logo or snazzy name is a company. That company can be a multi brazillian dollar company who buys up instant messaging clients for sixteen billion the way you buy new socks. It might also be two crummy guys sitting in their moms basement remote controlling their servers somewhere else. You only see the flashy logo, you never read the terms of service (just click agree-agree-agree) and have no idea of who might be looking at your data. Who knows you may have signed over the creative rights of your summer snapshots to the cloud company that turns it into a “Free online picture-slideshow”.. because you never read the terms of service. And for the sake of argument : What if there is a problem you can’t fix ? Who are you gonna call … Chances are you will probably get to talk to the REAL Ghostbusters before you get a living person on the other end of the line at your “free cloud service”. So are you safe ? Is the data yours ? What happens if the bubble bursts and the service goes away ?
So what if you rolled your own ?
If you make it really simple you can say that cloud services are just servers running on applications. ( But they are actually spread out on servers all over the world and are optimised for coping with a LOT of simultaneous users). But what if you don’t need that ? What if its just you and your dog using them ? Then you could basically run them yourself right ? The answer is : YES. It takes some tinkering and having at least one machine that is online for most of the time to make sure your “private cloud” is accessible but aside from a little patience, a spare machine and an internet connection, its about ALL you need.
I don’t trust cloudy skies.
This week we boldly choose to chose “DISAGREE” on the terms of service of the cloud providers, we decide NOT to trust their free business model and we venture out on our own little geeky adventure : Rolling our own private cloud. The luxury of a cloud service, but being run on your own hardware, in your own home (or on YOUR webspace) with YOU in control. We will try to show you some great examples of just how much fun you can have while being your personal cloud provider. Most if not all services we will setup can be hosted on a Linux virtual machine and are accessible from any operating system (or device) that is capable of connecting to the internet.
If I have learned one thing over the last couple of weeks is that although all good things in life are free, free doesn’t always last forever. With the sudden demise of Google reader (and the associated apocalypse for all of my fancy social-media-autoposting scripts) I’ve decided that my trust in ‘free cloud services’ is something that no longer comes by default. Lets face it : In any free online product that offers you a service without any visible revenue model, YOU are the product .. not the client. Its like that with Facebook, Google+, Gmail and so forth. You are in some form or another the “product” they brior whatever else they might think of : You make THEM money and THEY have no obligation whatsoever to keep the service (and your dng into the service in order to make money for their “Clients”. (Usually advertisers) If this is in the form of adds, your personal information ata/information/etc) available to you. Add to that that some of these services thread loosely around issues like “Privacy” and you need to start wondering : Would I not be better of doing this on my own.
One of these services that personally springs to mind is : Dropbox. Its free online storage offering us a cross platform solution for herding our files across multiple systems. But meanwhile that data also resides on “some server” “somewhere”. Equally tied into my workflows like “Google Reader” the loss of Dropbox would be a serious problem. Any alternatives ?
Owncloud is a beautiful solution that gives you just that. Run your own owncloud server and have clients on most operating systems. Access your files, contacts and (private) calendars from anywhere. Free and open source it has the downside of being a little tech-intensive when you want to set it up. (You need an Apache server and there is some tinkering involved when it comes to securing your traffic).
BUT : Now there is Bittorrent Sync and the setup is quite simple. You sync folders on your different machines using the power of Bittorrent. Yes the same protocol that rushes Linux ISO’s and illegal copies of pron dvd’s our way now helps us to get our files across.
HOW : Install the client on your different machines (all flavors of Linux, Windows and OSX are supported) and tell it what folder to sync. You will be offered a “secret password” that you will need to use when you ‘add’ a machine to your sync cloud and voila : there are your files.
No Cloud required : The good ? : No cloud required : you sync files between YOUR machines without the need for cloud storage with a third party. I would recommend choosing a “master system” that is always online to make sure a recent copy of “everything” resides at least somewhere. The bad ? : This stuff is pretty new, so I would not recommend using it for personal or financial data until it “matures” a bit.
Free : What are you waiting for : Head on over to http://labs.bittorrent.com/experiments/sync.html and give it a spin and TELL US what you thought of it in the comments section.
You’ve heard us talk lots of times about Virtualbox. Our FAVORITE free (as in ‘Gratis’) cross platform virtualisation software. As we mentioned in the previous podcast episode about “Proxmox” (a more serious virtualisation tool) the machines in our home with their I5 and i7 processors and “Gigglebytes” of ram .. are mostly idling around in a corner when you’re not playing Call of Duty (and perhaps you even do THAT on the Xbox) So lets give those machines something to DO ! Running a ‘dedicated’ solution like dropbox might just be a little too much, but perhaps you have some cycles to spare on another system that is also being used as a desktop ? Why not try Virtualbox.
As an example : Currently I have dragged my I7, 16 gigabyte’s of ram Mac Mini downstairs and hooked it up to our tv. Since it carries most of our media it was a little silly to have it running in my upstairs office and having to stream everything back to the TV using a second (front end) box. So now the little bugger sits in our media cabinet with some 4 terrabyte of USB Harddisks hooked up to it. Having it just sit there running OSX and acting as a mediaserver or fileserver was a waste of power and cpu cycles. So with virtualbox I gave it something to do. I installed Virtualbox, hooked up a big external usb drive and started cooking some VM’s.
- Ubuntu 12.10 vm with LXDE : This is my ‘internal’ ubuntu desktop. I use it for running cronjobs, copy operations and scripts that are meant for internal use only. Its my ‘Secure box’. I’ve enabled the RDP server on it (a builtin function of Virtualbox) so I can cantrol the screen of the virtual machine from afar.
- Ubuntu 12.10 vm with LXDE : The second machine has a torrent client running as does the ‘dirty deeds’ that need to be done on the internet. Insecure surfing, downloading and remote access via SSH are its main goals. Once a week I ‘roll back’ the machine to its original (clean) post install state with the “snapshot” function of Virtualbox.
- Ubuntu 12.10 Server : The main task of this machine is running OWNCLOUD (also featured in one of our podcasts) as my personal cloud storage.
- Nas4Free : With a 1800 gigabyte virtual disk, this VIRTUAL machine acts as my main file storage system. So instead of putting my files on a disk and sharing them out via the file-sharing options on my (host) OSX system, I made a virtual machine of a linux application geared towards storage and filesharing … and put all of my files INSIDE a virtual machine. Performance is very good so far and the added perks to running Nas4free are going to be a topic for next weeks podcast.
In the end, controlling these virtual machines is a little messy sometimes. I mean you can’t just interrupt @Niejana when she is watching “Blood and Chrome” to say : Sorry about that, I need to mess with something on my Virtualbox and for that I need to use the TV ? You need ‘remote’ ways to manage that virtual machine situation.
- Controlling the Virtual Machines. Remote controlling the virtual machines is easy. You can use the built in RDP server in Virtualbox to use an RDP client (on any operating system) to open up the remote machine. If you also want to access them from the outside, try installing Teamviewer on the Virtual Machine. If you are using a Linux operating system as your virtual machine you can enable the SSH Server and go in via the terminal.
- Controlling Virtualbox. Unbeknown to many, virtualbox has a powerful set of terminal commands you can use. With a simple terminal window to my Mac (SSH) I can use the ‘VboxManage’ commands to do just about anything. Make a new virtual machine, clone a drive, resize a drive. Everything runs in the background and its a very very powerful tool. You can find the entire list of Virtualbox commands HERE.
- Controlling Virtualbox with a web interface. Virtualbox also has a web interface that helps you control your virtualmachines. In a point and click way you can start and stop VM’s and do anything you can do on the ‘regular’ desktop window. Installing it might be a little chore (depending on the host operating system you use) but the results are pretty spiffy. Find the howto HERE.
And with those little tips you know can turn that headless box OR that powerful machine upstairs that is always on, but sometimes used by your kids for gaming… into your own personal datacenter. Don’t have the spare beige box for Proxmox ? Just have a desktop and want to get it to do some cool things ‘under the hood’. Want your own invisible datacenter ? Here you go ! Download Virtualbox NOW.
As you know we have covered OWNCLOUD in one of the recent podcasts. If the name doesn’t ring any bells : Think your own web based filestorage on your own Linux machine. Pretty straight forward to install on any Linux system and very easy to configure with its nifty web interface. In short it lets you upload, store and download files on your own Linux server using either a web interface page ( so great for people who are too lame to use ftp or sftp) or via mounting the shared volume via a webdav connection on your desktop. You can setup various accounts (and various shares) for you and your friends. Its a little bit like dropbox, but since its lacking a decent desktop client that syncs stuff back and forth, I’ll compare it to Box.net .. but on your own terms.
Owncloud does support the webdav protocol, so any webdav client on your smartphone is able to access your Owncloud share (like Webdav Navigator for IOS) but we have also found an ANDROID client to access your Owncloud server. Together with another bunch of clients for Linux and Windows this enables you to ditch the webpage interface and go “on your own-cloud” all together. Download all the official Owncloud clients HERE. And if you want to catch up on things listen to our podcast episode on Owncloud HERE.