Awesome Stuff: Bring The Cloud Back Home

from the personal-cloud-solutions dept

For a variety of reasons, I've been spending a fair bit of time contemplating and investigating "personal cloud" solutions. There are clear benefits to cloud computing, but there are downsides as well. As I'd mentioned a few months ago, what many people think of today as "cloud computing" doesn't really fulfill the promise of cloud computing at all. Rather, it's just been buying space in someone else's silo. That has a variety of problems. A few months ago, my main concern was about the fact that service providers can (and sometimes do) shut these services down, and then you're screwed. More recently, of course, as so many revelations have come out about government surveillance that seems to thrive on the fact that it can just go to third parties and get access to your data without a warrant, a separate major concern with today's popular cloud solutions has become very, very apparent. A private cloud may still have some drawbacks -- limited services, you have to be your own IT support, etc. -- but this area seems very, very ripe for innovation. A few weeks ago, we had an awesome stuff post about some new services designed to keep your activities private, but as I was preparing for this week's post, I stumbled upon a trio of interesting projects that focus more specifically on personal cloud offerings. None of them were specifically designed with "privacy" as the key driving point, but all recognize that it's a key selling point as well.
  • First up, we've got Mailpile, which a number of you have been sending in. This is a project out of Iceland, trying to create a webmail client that matches the kind of ease of use and features of a Gmail or Outlook.com, but which is 100% open source and self-hosted. When I was first thinking about private cloud concepts, I wondered if there was a sort of "Gmail for a private cloud" and it appears these guys are looking to do exactly that, including building in user-friendly PGP. These days, it's still a bit complex (though, not that hard) to set up PGP in something like Gmail, but making it even easier, and doing it on a mail system that will run on your own storage... well, that just seems like a good idea. Hopefully, various useful plugins for other cloud based email services can be configured to work with Mailpile as well (these days, I don't think I could live without Sanebox or Boomerang), but it's good to see that real efforts are being made in this direction. Overall though, Mailpile looks really quite awesome and I look forward to seeing what else the team can accomplish.
    This one really is in the spirit of donating to something great, since the code will be free and open source, but if you believe that something like this is important, please consider stepping up. The team has already raised a bit more than half of its $100,000 goal -- which will allow the team of three to focus on the product for a year -- and there's still a month to go. It appears they'll work on it no matter what, though if they reach their goal, they'll really be able to concentrate on the product full time.
  • But what about setting up your private cloud? The more "traditional" way was to set up a big network attached storage system, which can be quite powerful, with tremendous storage, RAID capabilities and the like -- but they can also be incredibly complex and super expensive if you really make them nice. But some are looking to get away from that, and a super popular one is Lima device looks like one way to do that. This product was known as "Plug" until just a few days ago, but following a legal threat from someone else who apparently holds a trademark on Plug, they've changed the name midstream (ouch) to Lima. Of course, it was so popular already that they had already sold out and have just added a second run of devices. Basically, this is a tiny device that you can plug into your router via ethernet on one side, and then out the other side is a USB plug. In the middle is a tiny Linux server that will take any and all USB drives you attach to the other side and make them cloud drives that you can access from any computer or phone. Basically, turn any old USB hard drive into a network attached storage setup. You can buy two Lima's and set them to do backups to each other as well. Need more storage? Add another USB drive. But it's a bit more advanced than that, because the Lima software also appears to synchronize everything and make it all seamless, so that you're not just seeing "another drive" for things, but rather everything is immediately and easily available on all your devices. No finding a specific drive or copying stuff over.
    This one was massively popular from the very start. They surpassed their $69,000 goal within 12 hours and then completely sold out of their entire stock of the first run within five days. They've since opened up the ability to purchase the second run of the devices, though they won't get delivered until April. The devices run at $79 per device, which they suggest is a big discount on the eventual $150 retail price (though, I wonder if competition will drive that price down significantly). Either way, they're rapidly approaching $1 million, and this is definitely classifiable as a massive Kickstarter success.
  • Didn't get in on the Lima early enough to get the early bird? Think even $79 is a bit pricey for this sort of thing? You might want to check out this other brand new project over at IndieGoGo for the mySkiva Cloud WiFi router. At a glance, it certainly looks like it offers most of the same functionality to the Lima, but with a WiFi router built in as well. Oh, and for early birds (of which there are still a bunch available) it's only $20, which is kind of insane. They have iOS software ready to go and say that there will be Android software by the end of the year as well. From the description, it doesn't look as if the software is quite as sophisticated as the Lima (the syncing stuff with the Lima looks a lot more advanced), so with the mySkiva you'll just have a separate networked drive, rather than making it all as seamless.
    As mentioned, it looks like this product has really just launched, so there are almost no backers yet, but considering how quickly the Lima (Plug) devices went, it will be interesting to see if this gets similar traction.
And there you go. If people have other suggestions for interesting personal cloud solutions, let us know.

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  1. identicon
    Peter, 10 Aug 2013 @ 5:38pm

    Build it from scratch

    OK, so this takes a little bit of technical know how, but only a little, because most of what you need you'll learn along the way.

    Basically, build your own server, and then do awesome stuff with it. The hardware is simple enough; a bare bones PC with some decently large hard drives. Processor and RAM can be fairly low end, depending on what you're doing with it, so this doesn't have to be very expensive at all. Ideally, look into solutions with a low power draw, and which will only require minimal or passive cooling, because this will be running 24/7 (obviously, get an uninterruptible power supply for this; APC makes really good ones for a decent price).

    OK, now get yourself set up with your choice of Windows or a Linux distribution on this box. Either works for what you're doing. That's your server. All you have to do now is start adding features.

    For example, Seafile (www.seafile.com) is a personal cloud storage solution that allows you to create and manage multiple accounts, so you can give storage spaces to friends and family, supports realtime syncing, version tracking, and encryption, and has full featured cross-platform desktop and smartphone apps. It even has social tools like a chat client and wiki spaces, so it's great for collaborative projects.

    Subsonic (www.subsonic.org) is your own streaming media server. Take your entire media collection with you, everywhere. Not just music, mind you; Subsonic will re-encode videos and music on the fly, so you can stream 1080p movies to your smartphone. Yes, that is awesome. Again, you can set up multiple accounts to let your friends and family share in the fun, as well as being to share access to files directly (nothing like being in a Skype chat with someone, mentioning a band you think they'd like, and going "Oh, hey, click this link to listen to them right now"). Again, cross platform desktop clients, and excellent smartphone clients that even support local caching and adjustable bitrate (based on whether or not you are on wifi to save your data plan).

    By the way, you're going to want an easily accessible web address for all of this. Check out www.no-ip.com for a set free redirects.

    That's all fun stuff, but let's do more. How about a torrent program that runs on your server and can be controlled from a desktop client, a web interface, or your phone? Try Deluge (www.deluge-torrent.org).

    Would you like to hang out with your buddies and voice chat easily, and without relying on services like Skype (notably NSA friendly) or Steam? Add your own Teamspeak voice over IP server (www.teamspeak.com/?page=teamspeak3). Very fast and easy set up, and a powerful codec set keeps network usage to a minimum.

    And hey, after you've done with all that, go ahead and add your own private Minecraft server on as well ;-)

    This sort of thing is an ongoing, occasionally frustrating and immensely rewarding project for anyone even remotely technically inclined, and I don't regret it for a second. Building my first server taught me a million things that I never knew before, and every change or upgrade sharpens my skills just a little more. The best part is that because all of these tools are built to share, this becomes more than just a cool toy for you; it's something your family and friends will all benefit from, in a myriad of ways. So go on, go to it.

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