The cloud is all the rage at the moment. Software, Platform, and Infrastructure as a Service providers offer a lot of advantages, particularly when it comes to convenience. But, as is often the case, convenience and ease-of-use can come at the cost of degraded security and privacy.
Many people are dubious about putting all their data in cloud, and would rather keep it close to home. On the other hand, cloud-based platforms offer a lot of benefits, especially as we’re all using multiple devices, often while we’re away from home.
For those of you with some technical chops, creating a home cloud is not all that difficult or expensive. With a combination of a domain name, dynamic DNS and open source software, it’s possible to replicate many of the services that are currently offered by companies like Google and DropBox.
What Is Dynamic DNS
One of the major benefits of using externally hosted services is that they have reliable and consistent IP addresses, known as static IPs. That’s usually not the case with home Internet services. Internet service providers change the IP addresses of consumer Internet accounts as it suits their needs, and to reliably be able to connect to services on a home network, as we’ll need to if we want to build our own cloud, we need a solution so that we can connect reliably when our home IP changes.
Dynamic DNS provides a way of dealing with dynamic IPs. An application, either on the home router or a computer on the network, lets the Dynamic DNS provider know when the IP address changes, so that it can update the DNS records. In this way, a domain name can be reliably mapped to a home network, even though the IP changes frequently.
Setting up dynamic DNS is fairly straightforward, and there are many companies that offer it at an affordable rate.
Open Source Cloud Software
ownCloud offers many of the features of DropBox. At its heart is a data syncing and file storage system. It is simple to install so long as you have a functioning LAMP stack set up on your home server.
Email and Calendar
Setting up an email server at home isn’t generally advisable unless you know what you’re doing, or are willing to risk having unreliable email service until you work it out.
Zimbra is an open source groupware platform that’s currently owned by VMWare. Zimbra is intended as a replacement for Microsoft Outlook, and has many of the same features, including an IMAP server, webmail interface, calendar, and contact management.
Modern mobile devices are very powerful, but they are no match for PCs when it comes to storage. It’s often not feasible to carry our full media collection, both music and video, on a mobile device.
There are many open source media streaming applications available, including VLC and XBMC. Both will allow you to stream media across the Internet to mobile devices, but we’d suggest you give XBMC a look first.
If you’re not totally stuck on the idea of using only open source software, Plex is complete media viewing solution, but we’re interested in its ability to stream media from a server to mobile devices. The Plex media server can be installed on Mac, Linux, and Windows servers, and can then be used with iOS, Android, and other mobile apps to access a media collection while away from home.
There are many solutions available for adding features to your private cloud. Let us know what you’re using in comments!