The Personal Cloud:
your own asteroid in cyberspace
By Joseph Wojowski
Article reprinted with permission from Wojowski’s Translation Technology Blog.
Back in January, I wrote about Data Storage and Security, and in that article and anytime I talk about internet technology, I talk about the inherent risks involved and how buying cloud server space through Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, et cetera is not the safest means of cloud-based data storage. Again, the only way to be 100% secure is to take your information and devices offline – a feat that is almost unattainable in today’s world if you want to stay in business.
So, is there anything that exists to resolve this issue? If it is inadvisable to buying shared cloud server space, and uneconomical for an individual to purchase dedicated cloud server space, how can someone have access to their files with the same accessibility and convenience as other cloud solutions?
With the desire for increased data security, many people who are cognizant of the issues have turned to personal clouds to have the same accessibility but with increased security. Personal clouds come in two forms: a personal cloud based on Public Clouds, like Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, etc.; and a self-hosted personal cloud solution. Personal Clouds based on Public ones are not viable options because they are personal allotments of public cloud servers that promote synchronization among devices (PC, OS X, iOS, Android, etc.) and have a monthly subscription if you want more than the allotted space (allotted free space is 2GB for DropBox and 15GB for both Google Drive and OneDrive).
The self-hosted personal cloud solution I have been using for the past few months is Tonido (though there are other personal cloud services – arkOS [still in development], and ownCloud being other great examples) and I have been quite pleased with it. Here are specifications on self-hosted personal clouds:
Self-hosted clouds allow you to have complete control of your files. You can select certain folders to make available over the cloud instead of an entire drive. You have access to your files; the only thing limiting you is your own bandwidth connection. There are no file size limits, the minimum you need to access your files is internet access and a browser, and anytime you access your cloud portal, you are accessing it using secure https (SSL). If you have audio, video or photos in the folder, you can even live stream them and play them on your device.
File sharing ability is necessary in our industry because you cannot send larger files via e-mail. Historically and perhaps more commonly, companies would set up an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) site and instruct providers on how to log in and access the files they need. A lot of smaller companies use DropBox as an FTP site alternative because it is easier to set up and easier to instruct providers on how to retrieve files than a traditional FTP. Self-hosted clouds give you the same file sharing ability as DropBox, all you have to do is select the file you want to share and you will get a link you can send someone, they click the link and the download starts from their browser. More importantly, you can add them as a guest account (the number of guest accounts are unlimited) so they need to log in with a user name and password to begin the download, and you can also choose the duration of the file’s availability to the guest user.
Other Notable Features
Other notable features include the ability to mount your personal cloud as a drive in Windows, synchronization among devices, synchronization permissions with guest accounts, custom branding, and you can even use it for automatic backup of photos and videos from mobile devices. The only thing limiting you is the amount of storage space you have or make available for storage on your own hardware – but do not forget, you own it. You have complete control over your files and they are not saved in an undisclosed location and managed by a tech giant.
So, in all honesty, I felt guilty about the Data Storage and Security post because I did not really give a solution to the cloud situation. I wrote that we should be aware of what information is put on clouds and be aware of the risks associated with cloud storage, but I never really resolved the issue. Please do not misunderstand me, even with a self-hosted cloud, there are still risks associated with keeping computer hardware connected to the internet, but a personal self-hosted cloud is less of an object of desire for hackers than a tech giant cloud.
You can visit Tonido.com right now, download the program and set up your own personal cloud for free. The same applies to owncloud.org. arkOS is currently under development and at the time this article was posted, is only recommended for testing purposes. The thing I look forward to writing about in the future is arkOS’s claim that you can host your websites and e-mail with it, not just files. You can be sure that when this is no longer in development, I will be writing about it as a solution to webhosting.
When it comes to necessary hardware requirements, PCs with Windows XP or later, Macs with OS X 10.8 or later, 32-bit Linux computers with Ubuntu, Xubuntu, Kubuntu 8.04 or above, or 64-bit Linux Computers with Ubuntu 12.04 will be able to support Tonido without a problem. Aside from that, you are only limited by the hard drive associated with your Tonido server (be it internal or external).
Now here is where this article gets cool.
Let me introduce you to the Raspberry Pi.
A credit card-sized computer for $35 – Windows 10 coming late 2015.
I have both the first generation 256 MB RAM model and the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B; the Raspberry Pi 2 is the one that hosts my Cloud. This little computer has a footprint with the same dimensions as a credit card (85.60 × 53.98 mm) and is about 21 mm high. Raspberry Pi 2 technical specifications of importance to our uses are: 4 USB Ports, full HDMI port, Ethernet port, MicroSD slot, Micro USB port, 900 MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU, and 1 GB of RAM. Now, if this is the first time you have heard about the Raspberry Pi and it sounds intriguing to you, I encourage you to look up videos and photos related to Raspberry Pi and check out what people have been making out of the Raspberry Pi – everything from media centers and retro video game emulators to car computers, robotics controllers, and security system controllers. The Micro USB port is for the power supply, the MicroSD slot is for the MicroSD card (like the one in your smartphone) upon which is mounted the Operating System, the HDMI port is for display and audio, the Ethernet port is for network connectivity, and the 4 USB ports are for peripherals and external storage. And here is the best specification of all: the Raspberry Pi is USD $35.
So, a real-life implementation of Tonido and the Raspberry Pi would be to set up the Raspberry Pi to run Tonido and then simply plug in a USB External Hard Drive with a separate power source that you already have and make it available on Tonido. It is not entirely as easy as that when starting from scratch, but the result is still attainable by someone with limited or even no knowledge of Unix-based operating systems. So, I will have a second part to this post next week with an instructable: Setting up Tonido Cloud Server on Raspberry Pi and mounting your Tonido Cloud server as a drive in Windows.
Joseph is the Vice President of MATI; Director of Operations at Foreign Credits, Inc. in Des Plaines, IL; Chief Technology Officer at Morningstar Global Translations; and a Certified MemoQ Trainer.