ownCloud: A Cross-Platform, Self-Hosted Alternative to Dropbox & Google Calendar

owncloud logo   ownCloud: A Cross Platform, Self Hosted Alternative to Dropbox & Google CalendarThe NSA and PRISM scares demonstrated that governments can and will access the various popular online cloud services. This means that now is one of the best times to consider creating your own cloud solution.

With your own cloud, you can get the same benefits of accessing various services such as file storage and calendars that you find with commercial solutions, but instead, all of that data is under your control.

This may seem like a daunting task to accomplish, but the open source developers behind ownCloud have been hard at work to provide a framework that anyone can use to easily create their own cloud services without having to write lines of code.

About ownCloud

ownCloud is a free, open source framework that can provide a handful of useful cloud services including: file storage à la Google Drive and SkyDrive (including synchronization through a desktop client), calendars, contacts, and task lists. Besides email, this should take care of most of your personal organization needs.

An email service is harder to provide because of the necessary steps required to create an email address that people can actually send mail to (let alone the tasks necessary to configure everything correctly on the server end). Most web hosting services offer such email services. If you want to go as far as hosting your email to on your own server, you’ll need to use other tools such as Postfix and a webmail interface such as SquirrelMail.

Available Options

If you want to use ownCloud, you actually have a couple of choices. These options are very similar to the WordPress model, in which you can choose between signing up for an account on ownCloud’s servers (which does defeat the purpose) or download the necessary (free) software to get going.

The software is available as a tarball .TAR file of all needed files, or as installable packages for Windows, Mac OS X, and a handful of Linux distributions.

ownCloud makes use of the *AMP stack (your choice of operating system, Apache Web Server, MySQL/MariaDB, and PHP), so you’ll need to visit Apache Friends and install the correct version in case the ownCloud installer doesn’t pull down all of that for you.

LocalHostXAMPPSC   ownCloud: A Cross Platform, Self Hosted Alternative to Dropbox & Google Calendar

While I can’t test all versions of ownCloud, I do know that in the case of Fedora, the ownCloud RPM package has all the necessary software listed as dependencies, so all you need to do after the installation is enter sudo service httpd start into the terminal and head over to: http://localhost/owncloud.

In order to ensure ownCloud is accessible from the general Internet you may have to configure your network so that the ports forward correctly. It all depends on your own personal setup, so you will need to troubleshoot any issues by paying attention to your network.

Note: It’s best to enable HTTPS as most clients prefer it or might not even connect to your ownCloud instance unless it is supported.

Clients

owncloud desktop client   ownCloud: A Cross Platform, Self Hosted Alternative to Dropbox & Google Calendar
ownCloud offers desktop clients for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and a source tarball for compiling your own binaries. Don’t expect anything too fancy besides simple Dropbox-like file synchronization – ownCloud is more about greater control rather than innovative features, although there is plenty of space for these features in the future.

owncloud android   ownCloud: A Cross Platform, Self Hosted Alternative to Dropbox & Google Calendar
There are mobile apps for Android and iOS for accessing your ownCloud instance on the go, at a cost of $0.99 per app. The Android app works very similar to Dropbox in that you can access all of your stored files and upload all pictures and videos that you take. Another rather smart feature is the ability to keep track of file versions and update them automatically on your phone so you always have the latest copy with you.

Features and Interface

owncloud create admin   ownCloud: A Cross Platform, Self Hosted Alternative to Dropbox & Google Calendar
Like I said, ownCloud offers features such as file storage and synchronization, calendars, tasks, galleries, and more. You can enter the web interface and add other accounts once you’ve added the admin user. On the same page, you can additionally configure which database settings ownCloud should use.

owncloud calendar   ownCloud: A Cross Platform, Self Hosted Alternative to Dropbox & Google Calendar
The interface is decent looking and functional, which is all you need for a self-hosted solution. All of these features can be accessed by other applications alongside the web interface through open protocols including WebDAV, CalDAV, and CardDAV. This gives you a high amount of flexibility that rivals any commercial solution.

Again, the main idea here isn’t that it looks great, but rather that it works and the data is stored locally (and it definitely works).

owncloud admin   ownCloud: A Cross Platform, Self Hosted Alternative to Dropbox & Google Calendar
The admin tools don’t offer a whole lot of options, but one to note is the ability to easily migrate an ownCloud installation, by either downloading the user data, ownCloud system files, or a combination of both. I think this is great because if you find yourself needing to restore or move an installation, you can!

Conclusion

As with many self-hosted products: once you have it all set up, you’re good to go! Of course, making the most out of your own ownCloud installation requires that you know a few things about Linux servers and how to maintain them, so creating an ownCloud server isn’t for everyone.

However, if you’re knowledgeable or willing to read up on the documentation, you can get it up and running. I think that the effort is  very much worth the privacy advantages gained, something that is becoming ever more important as news of more security breaches comes to light.

Visit: ownCloud

Does ownCloud sound like a good idea to you? Have you used it? Let us know in the comments!

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9 Comments -

kure

Yes, I have been my own cloud for some time now :D. Of course, if we are to talk security, encrypted email (and ideally an own mailserver) is the only way to start.

Owncloud is quite reliable, ridiculousty easy to put up (think wordpress-like easy) and has reliable client on any platform. For me this is

native Calendar, Address Book in iOS
native Calendar, Address Book in Mac OS
Thunderbird w/ Ligtning on Debian w/ CalDAV search plugin
native Calendar, Address Book on Android w/ CalDAV-Sync, CardDAV-Sync and EditContact plugins

Btw, I do not recommend to run your instance from your home server. I have learned the hard way. The one time when you really need the contact to sync, your isp decides you will be offline for next 2 hours. I used to run it off Virpus.com linux VPS (3USD a month :D) with few other services, but then the security is again questionable. (The only solution is having friends in a hosting company who dont mind you putting there your own heavily encrypted box.) One think I still miss on OwnCloud is easy setup of regular backups. I would like to export all the data into file that I could rsync/version to a different machine in a different country. That would make me really happy.

Lisa Santika O

I just inquired my web host a few days ago about OwnCloud. Now that they confirmed it’s within company ToS, I’ll roll my cloud sometime soon.

Kashdoller

To the above commenter: what do you mean by “don’t run it off of your home server”?

That’s the entire point bro. Or did I miss something?

And what the hell is virpus.com? If you host it on virpus.com you might as well keep your data on a cloud based web service and save yourself the hassle.

eStrategyPro.com

Using your own cloud server just to protect your data from prying eyes (i.e. NSA) solves one problem, it introduces another set of problems:

1. Now, you are responsible for your own server’s security. Now that your server is exposed to the Internet, you must know what you are doing in order to keep hackers away. Otherwise, you’ll be exposing your home network to the outside world. Even if you know what you’re doing, vulnerabilities in your home routers can trip you. For example, millions of routers on the Internet has the same uPnP bug, exposing internal networks to the outside world (see GRC.com’s Shields Up test to see if your router is vulnerable).

2. Now, you are responsible for backing up your own server to guard against unforeseen circumstances. Stuffs happen e.g. theft, fire, equipment failure, power surge, etc. And you better make sure you have an off-site backup. If you backup is on-site, disasters like fire can wipe out both the server and the backup. If you organise an off-site backup, you are back to square one again when it comes to ensuring that the NSA can’t pry on your backups.

The more convenient solution would be to use a cloud storage provider that is Trust-No-One (TNO) compliant. TNO-compliance basically means that your data is encrypted with an encryption key that only you know and the cloud-storage provider does NOT know. In other words, TNO providers store noise for you. Hence, even if the government forces a TNO provider to reveal the content of your data, the provider can’t do it because it is completely impossible. Examples of TNO provider is SpiderOak.

Still, if you still don’t trust TNO cloud-storage provider, then the solution for the most paranoid would be to store your data on a TrueCrypt container and then store that container in any cloud storage. Since only you hold the keys to decrypt your TrueCrypt container, your data remains private.

aaron

Just to be clear, SpiderOak still has your keys if you are doing web access, how else do you think they serve you files from their web server?

eStrategypro.com

SpiderOak does not need to know your encryption keys when authenticating you on their website. They use a combination of asymmetric and symmetric key encryption. As explained on their website. Detailed explanation at https://spideroak.com/engineering_matters under “User authentication process”.

As for serving up your files through mobile and web access, this is what they have to say:

“Important Note: When accessing your data via the SpiderOak website or a mobile device, you must enter your password which will then exist in the SpiderOak server memory for the duration of your browsing session. For this amount of time your password is stored in
encrypted memory and never written to an unencrypted disk. The moment your browsing session ends your password is destroyed and
no further trace is left. The instance above represents the only situation where your data could potentially be readable to someone with access to the SpiderOak servers. That said, no one except a select number of SpiderOak employees will ever have access to the SpiderOak servers. To fully retain our ‘zero-knowledge’ privacy, we recommend you always access your data via the SpiderOak desktop application which downloads your data before decrypting it locally.”

govil

Parablu.com, other alternative of owncloud

Aaron

There is another alternative that may be of interest: adeptCloud. adeptCloud is a managed service, so you automatically get new updates and a centralized web gateway (you technically don’t even need to mess with your router). And it’s completely free for individual use. Like ownCloud, the data is stored on your local machine, not on some company’s server. Check it out: https://adeptcloud.com

kevin

If you are not a techie and want to roll out your personal cloud in few clicks i strongly recommend one to check out Tonido Personal Cloud (http://www.tonido.com). It is easy to install and has nice mobile apps.