Recently, the term “cloud” has become quite a trendy term for what is a less-catchy term “application service provider” or “ASP” that has been around forever. But, the evolution of bandwidth connections across the US and world has helped fuel this idea that you don’t need local application servers or hire expertise in all things tech. Google, Apple, Facebook, Dropbox and others are jumping on this bandwagon with free or freemium models to provide filesharing and PIM tools for the masses. The rise of tablet computing has also driven the need for those less technical but with multiple devices to look to the cloud to help them somehow try and sync their files across all their toys. Of course, in going with a large company like Apple or Google, you get what they are able to provide and have to deal with putting your information and data in their hands as well as your passwords.
For those that run their own hosted or personal servers, self-hosted ownCloud is not a bad solution. I put it in for my wife and I recently to displace what we had been doing for a calendar share system and got some additional functionality in the process. I ripped-out Davical because some code broke when I upgraded our home server to Ubuntu 12.04. It is a LAMP-based extensible system that can power filesyncing across devices, calendar and contacts sharing as well as music streaming and picture viewing. These modules are installed when you do the initial installation, but there is even an ecosystem of other applications you can roll into the structure.
Installation is a breeze with basic mysql and Apache knowledge. The datastore is a mysql database and plop the code into a new directory in an Apache virtualhost. It serves up Caldav that is compatible with iOS and other clients. Calendar sharing was the major feature I needed and that works well with iPhone calendars and Reminders between my wife and I. This is also the case with contact sharing via the carddav ability with the Contacts module of ownCloud. Nice to get that right out of the box.
I didn’t really care too much about music or files because I am not trying to make my iPad or iPhone be a laptop replacement, but for being a backup system for your documents at work or whatever, the sync clients ownCloud provides work okay in my tests. Because this is a browser-based tool, using SSL on Apache to serve it would be recommended so you don’t send passwords in the clear when you are on that public wifi. If you don’t have a legit SSL certificate from an authorized provider setup with Apache, this would be the time to do so. I moved off self-signed certs that I used for many, many years and got legit when I recently went with the self-hosted model of ownCloud.
Another application of note that seem nice are the browser email application Roundcube can be incorporated into the ownCloud framework vs. running this separately via just an Linux compile or apt-get. There is no reason ownCloud can’t be installed at a hosting provider site that allows mysql database access too. I just happen to have a local linux server for this sort of stuff and development.
I have been a happy camper so far with our “cloud” information under my control but still being able to leverage all the services I need and without downtime or security concerns you have to settle for with large companies like Apple, Google and other vendors.