Be The Master Of Your ownCloud Data, Installing ownCloud And Run A Similar DropBox Service Privately For Free

Dropbox and various online third party cloud services are great and free to certain expectations, but to truly have all you can eat buffet kind of expectation is definitely not the kind of thing that these cloud services can provide.  Right off the bat, one thing for sure that these third party cloud services cannot provide is the best privacy level that one could get with having storing data within one’s own private network.  Want to have more cloud space than the so called free space?  It’s not free, and you have to pay more for how many more Gigabytes you want and so forth.

ownCloud is a free, open source software which acts like DropBox, but you can download, install, and use it freely.  I think ownCloud does give you the opportunity to be 100% in control of your data’s privacy.  If you know how to implement robust security measures such as proper firewall and port-forwarding, you can even allow yourself to roam the seven seas and still be able to sync with your local data securely.  Unlike DropBox and other third party cloud services, you know you’re the master of your own data in the cloud when it comes to ownCloud those data.  OK, I begin to rant on unnecessarily.

Anyhow, want to know how to install ownCloud and use it?  Check out the video right after the break, I show you how to install ownCloud on Linux Mint.  Of course, you can follow the video’s instruction to do the same for Ubuntu, because Linux Mint is just an Ubuntu based distribution.  Enjoy!!!

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How Paranoid Should You Be For Backing Up Your Data?

Backup Backup Backup - And Test Restores

Backup Backup Backup – And Test Restores (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you ask me what is the best way to backup your data, I will probably direct your concern to more than one way.  I like to think of not placing all of your eggs in one basket kind of scenario.  What’s the point of backing up data in the first place?  It’s to hope that when things go crazy such as a computer’s data corruption might occur, you can then access your most valuable backup data.  If you only rely on one preferable backup method, then what if in a critical moment that even the backup data isn’t accessible through your preferable only backup method, what will you do then?  Even a perfect storm is a possible scenario for spreading eggs in more than one basket, therefore I think being paranoid about safekeeping your data with more than one preferable backup method is the best way to go about doing the backups for your valuable data.

For us normal folks, the regular Joe(s), who have data that we want to safeguard, it’s a must for us to spread our data in more than one basket.  It must not be that you have to be a company to take this approach.  Furthermore, nowadays regular Joe(s) do have plenty of ways to go about doing backups for their data.  Let me list few of them:

  • Google Drive
  • Pogoplug
  • Dropbox
  • Amazon Simple Storage Service
  • CrashPlan
  • External hard drives
  • Network attach storage solution such as QNAP NAS servers
  • Do it yourself FreeNAS server solution
  • rsync to a renting server with affordable monthly fee

And the list can go on a lot longer as third party cloud services are now in amble supply.  I think the problem isn’t about finding a backup solution or solutions for the regular Joe(s), but it’s about the affordability, speed, security, and conveniency aspects.  Let say, if a regular Joe wants to spread his backup data in more than one basket, how affordable can this be?  So on and so on…

I think affordability should not be as big of an issue as before the time when there were no third party cloud service and competitive (affordable) computer hardware pricing.  If you don’t intend to harbor 100 of Gigabytes worth of data for streaming purpose or whatever extreme configuration, backing up few Gigabytes worth of data should not cost you much at all.  Perhaps, you can do it at no cost too.  One example, I think Google Drive gives you around 10 Gigabytes worth of free data space or a little bit more than this, and just with this service alone you know you don’t have to spend a dime to backup your data as long you are not going over the free space limitation that Google Drive allows.  Don’t like third party cloud services for whatever reasons?  Computer hardware such as external hard drives nowadays are no longer pricing at outrageous prices, therefore it’s easier for regular Joe(s) to go this route for doing their data backups.  How about coupling Linux with a spare, dusty computer to form a local backup storage server at zero cost in term of money, but you have to spend time on putting things together such as installing Linux and deploying Linux’s network attached storage services to have a more complete backup server solution.

I can see that the many third party cloud services as good solutions for doing backups.  How come?  Let say you’re paranoid about the safety of your data to a point that you consider the scenario where local backup data can all be corrupted at the same time for whatever reasons such as a virus/hack attack (or by even a more nefarious scenario), therefore you think third party cloud services are the additional safety reservoirs for your backup data.  If you are this paranoid, I think you’re doing it right.  Although third party cloud services are good measures against local data corruption, there are problems with this whole approach in general.  Let me list a few:

  • Broadband’s upload speed (Internet connection) isn’t fast enough to do a major backup (i.e., backing up huge amount of data in Gigabytes worth)
  • Security issue… how do we know our data can be securely safeguarded and stored on the remote servers?
  • Trust issue… such as how do we know our data privacy and our privacy won’t be breached on the remote servers?

I sneakily snuck in the speed and security concerns about backing up data remotely through third party cloud services, but we should not take the security issue lightly since many people may not want their privately backup data to be made known to the whole world.  Security done right in term of backing up data locally and remotely, this will also address the privacy issue/concern too.  I think employing good network and computer security measures locally will enhance the security protection level for the backup data.  Such measures should be about employing hardware and software firewall, antivirus, and so on.  Don’t forget to update the software and firmware, because through updating these things that you can be assured of weeding out security bugs.  You can never be too sure about the security of your data when you’re backing up your data remotely, therefore you should employing encryption for your backup data before you upload your backup data to the remote servers.  One good encryption measure I know of is TrueCrypt software which can be downloaded and used freely.

I don’t think we should sacrifice our data security for conveniency, because data security is definitely more important than otherwise.  Still, conveniency should be considered in the calculation of our data backup challenge too.  It’s just that we have to make sure we don’t have to sacrifice data security for conveniency.  Let say, you want to backup your data to a third party cloud service, but you don’t like the idea of doing a local encryption for your data first… this means you are sacrificing your data security for conveniency and this is truly bad for you as the owner of the backup data (i.e., privacy concern).

In summary, I think if you’re paranoid enough about the health of your data, then you should devise many backup plans for your data.  You should try to backup your data both locally and remotely, but you should employ encryption for your data when you do backup your data remotely.  Backing up huge amount of data remotely can be very inconvenient at this point in time since so many regular Joe(s) do not have access to fast upload broadband speed.  Let hope this will change soon, and I know things will be moving in this direction since data streaming and data sharing and data backup are in much more demand than ever before.  One example would be Google fiber Internet service.  Google is driving the Internet Service Provider competition forward as Google deploys its Gigabit Internet connection service for many households in various lucky cities and towns.  With Google pushing for more competition in the area of broadband speed, I think the future — having great Internet connection for uploading our backups — is definitely bright.  As time is moving on, the costs of computer backup hardware and backup services can be even more competitive, we can expect the cost of deploying backup measures for our data can only get cheaper and easier.  I like the idea of having a NAS locally, and using one or two third party cloud services for my data backups.

(How paranoid should you be for backing up your data?  In my opinion, the answer should be, the more the merrier.)

Skydrive Updates With Dropbox Like Features; For Limited Time, Users Can Retain Skydrive 25 GB Of Free Storage Space

Skydrive img taken from Vinh Nguyen's MacBook Pro and Skydrive account.

Skydrive img taken from Vinh Nguyen's MacBook Pro and Skydrive account.

I’m rushing this blog post out as for a limited time, Microsoft Skydrive allows users to retain their 25 GB of free storage space, and in the very near future Microsoft will only allow Skydrive users to have only 7 GB of free storage space.  How come?  According to a piece on Techradar.com (Microsoft SkyDrive cloud storage gets Dropbox-like features boost), Microsoft has added new features to Skydrive that behave similarly to how the features that can be found on Dropbox.  I’ve not yet able to experiment these features such as syncing files from Desktop to Skydrive folder (i.e., allowing files to be remotely synced to Skydrive’s servers/cloud), because like I’m saying I have to rush this blog post out.  Anyhow, I had gone ahead and installed Skydrive app on Mac, and so now I have Skydrive folder in my finder.  So, in a way I think Skydrive will be very similar to Dropbox even though I have not yet used it in similar manners to how I would use Dropbox.  Nonetheless, I can feel that Microsoft has turned up the heat in regarding to the race in the cloud.

Skydrive is supporting so many devices and operating system types!  On Skydrive app download page (https://apps.live.com/skydrive) where you can download the Skydrive apps, it appears that Skydrive has apps for Windows Phone, iPhone and iPad, Mac.  I don’t really have to mention that Skydrive has a Skydrive app for Windows, but I guess I just did.  Anyhow, this means users can now access files that are residing on Skydrive with most devices, allowing users to feel that their files are more accessible.  I’m sort of disappointed that Skydrive has not yet come out an app for Linux (i.e., I don’t see Skydrive app for Linux on Skydrive app download page).  Hopefully though, Linux users will soon be able to use Skydrive just like users who use other popular devices and operating systems.

In conclusion, I think Skydrive will now be more appealing than before since it has been revamped with new features that compete against a very popular cloud service Dropbox. Plus, Skydrive provides 2 GB more of storage space than Dropbox (i.e., 7 GB free storage space).  For limited time, Skydrive allows users to retain 25 GB of free storage space.  Of course, if you or any Skydrive user isn’t going to log-in into their Skydrive account now to retain their 25 GB of free storage space, sooner or later, Microsoft will stop giving out 25 GB of free storage space — users will then have to play with 7 GB of free storage space only.  With Skydrive and Dropbox services are available for free, I think my using of these services have just allowed me to make the files that I want to have easy access to from anywhere are now even more resilient (i.e., in case of either one of the services is down or inaccessible).

Source:  http://www.techradar.com/news/internet/microsoft-skydrive-cloud-storage-gets-dropbox-like-features-boost-1077366?src=rss&attr=all

Upload Any File To iCloud, But You Got To Manually Rename The Upload File Correctly!

iCloud

iCloud (Photo credit: BasBoerman)

I barely use iCloud, because I prefer Dropbox, Pogoplug (i.e., software only so it would turn a computer into Pogoplug device), Ubuntu One, CrashPlan, and FreeNAS (i.e., I prefer to virtualize FreeNAS until I can set up a proper physical FreeNAS box).  This is why I know so little about iCloud.  In fact, the only time I use iCloud is when I hit the iCloud button which allows me to backup my iPhone and iPad to free iCloud account (i.e., as this writing iCloud gives 5GB free storage space).  According to the video right after the break, iCloud isn’t allowing users to upload specific files from their Mac computers to iCloud, therefore you can’t really use iCloud as how you have been using Dropbox.  I’m perplexed why this is the case, but anyhow the video right after the break will show you how to upload any file to iCloud — it seems to me like a lot of work.  (Just stick with Dropbox instead?)

Using FreeNAS With VirtualBox To Create A True Personal Storage Cloud?

FreeNAS

FreeNAS (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Besides using third party online cloud services such as Dropbox or Pogoplug, you can always set up your own personal cloud at home.  In my opinion, a personal cloud should not route your data to any third party service, and so even Pogoplug touts as a personal cloud solution — your data still route through their network first.

OK, before we go even further into this post, I should make clear that a cloud can mean many things.  To some people, a cloud should be able to sync things.  To others, a cloud should automate things such as push and pull data — similar to iCloud.  Then there are folks who think cloud as expandable/scalable storage (either automatically or manually).  To me, a personal cloud can be all of the above and more.  Unfortunately, to have a personal cloud to do all of the above and more, one might have to go through a third party cloud service which touts as personal cloud — this to me isn’t truly a personal cloud!

In this blog post, I prefer to create a personal cloud that I host on my own machines.  Although the solution I’m going to talk about isn’t as elegant as iCloud or Dropbox, but at least this solution is somewhat capable of allowing you to interact with your personal cloud as if it’s an unlimited/scalable storage cloud (but manually scalable).  Our solution has to be manually scalable since when we want more storage capacity we have to add more storage means.  When I say more storage means, I mean we have to add either more hardware or to configure our personal storage cloud software to handle larger storage capacity.

So, what is our personal storage cloud solution?  Virtualizing FreeNAS!  Yes, FreeNAS is just a software which specializes in allowing people to create a free network-attached storage server.  When one uses FreeNAS natively (i.e., not virtualizing it), then it’s just a free network-attached storage server solution.  Now, imagining one can install FreeNAS onto VirtualBox, suddenly everything changes as one can begin utilizing FreeNAS as a personal storage cloud solution!

How is the virtualization of FreeNAS can provide us a personal storage cloud solution?  We can always add more virtual hard disks with the largest virtual hard disk size.  At this point in time VirtualBox allows largest virtual hard disk to be around 2 Terabytes.  You might be curious, what if you don’t have enough real disk space to support the humongous capacity (i.e., stringing together many large virtual hard disks under one virtual machine) of virtual hard disks right?  Well, the marvelous thing about virtualization is that you don’t actually have to have exactly the amount of real hard disk space until the virtual hard disks are actually growing that large.  In the worst case scenario, you can always move the virtualization of your FreeNAS onto a system with large enough storage capacity (i.e., move the VirtualBox virtual machine which runs FreeNAS and all of the attached virtual hard disks to a physical system which has larger storage capacity).

Meanwhile, working with FreeNAS in VirtualBox will not harm your real system in anyway, because it’s virtualization!  You can play with FreeNAS in VirtualBox without fear, and this leads to allowing you to understand FreeNAS better (i.e., practice makes perfect).  To tell the truth, I just get to know FreeNAS, therefore I will have to play with FreeNAS a lot more through VirtualBox’s virtualization before I can confidently post an excellent FreeNAS tutorial in thorough detail.

What I know so far about installing FreeNAS with VirtualBox is that it’s easy!  Just make sure that you specify FreeNAS as a BSD operating system type and FreeBSD as the operating system which FreeNAS is based on.  This means FreeNAS is a unix type of operating system, but it’s designed for creating network-attached storage server.  During the setup of a new VirtualBox virtual machine for FreeNAS, don’t forget to configure the settings to add however many additional virtual disks — this allows you with the ability to create storage volumes with specific virtual disks within FreeNAS’s control panel (i.e., FreeNAS graphical user interface control panel which can be accessed through a web browser through a local IP address or an external IP address).

When done installing FreeNAS through VirtualBox, you will see a black screen with scrolling letters and you will see options that you can choose so FreeNAS can be configured — you should pick the option which allows you to set up how FreeNAS should advertise its IP address (i.e., Configure Network Interfaces).  In unique situation when you cannot use DHCP to automatically lease/borrow a dynamic IP address from a router for your FreeNAS virtual machine, you can always fall back to the option which allows you to enter a shell.  Inside a shell, you can set up a temporary static IP so you can access FreeNAS’s graphical user interface control panel through a browser.  Here is how you set up a temporary static IP for FreeNAS — enter this command [ifconfig eth0 192.168.1.55 netmask 255.255.255.0], but do not use the square brackets and make sure you replace the static and netmask IP addresses with the ones that work with your router’s configuration.

Once done set up a temporary static IP for FreeNAS, you can access FreeNAS’s graphical user interface control panel through a browser.  Within FreeNAS’s graphical user interface control panel, you can access Network > Interfaces to add a permanent static IP address for your FreeNAS virtual machine (i.e., VirtualBox virtual machine).  This way, whenever you reboot your FreeNAS virtual machine, it will boot up with the same static IP address, consequently allowing you to access FreeNAS with the same static IP address.

By the way, I forgot to tell you that you should choose Bridge Adapter when you set up the network adapter for your FreeNAS virtual machine through VirtualBox Manager, because NAT adapter will advertise FreeNAS services on VirtualBox’s virtual IP address which might start as something like 10.x.x.x.  NAT type of IP addresses might prevent you from accessing FreeNAS’s graphical user interface control panel through a browser.

I’ll post more on FreeNAS once I get to be expertly using it, OK?  For now, at least we know that FreeNAS can be virtualized into an unlimited personal storage cloud in virtualization sense.  In reality, we still have to add more hardware to cope with growing disk space of virtual disks.  Even with FreeNAS, it’s illogical to think we can have unlimited personal storage cloud in absolute sense unless you have unlimited amount of money to buy unlimited amount of hardware (i.e., disk drives) to support the unlimited growing disk space of virtual hard disks.

For your information, FreeNAS is free to download and install and use, therefore there is no harm in trying it out — virtualizing FreeNAS for personal storage cloud or natively using it.  What’s even more wonderful is that virtualizing FreeNAS with VirtualBox is also free, therefore you can virtualize FreeNAS to your heart’s content without paying a dime.  What isn’t free is buying more hard disks to handle the growing virtual disks for your system!

SkyDrive iPhone App Review

SkyDrive is more impressive than Dropbox and other cloud storage services in one aspect, SkyDrive allows free 25GB of storage space.  Microsoft has also released SkyDrive app for iPhone and Windows Phone.  Perhaps, the SkyDrive app for iPad and Mac will come out soon, but I’m not sure.  As now, the search for SkyDrive for Mac and iPad in Apple’s App Store turns up empty.

SkyDrive app for iPhone is good but can be made better!  I can’t make the same comment for Windows Phone since I don’t have a Windows Phone.  Why it is good but not really good?  Unless I’ve no idea what I’m doing, it turns out that I can only upload individual photo or video but not entire folder of photos or videos at once onto SkyDrive with SkyDrive iPhone app.  Imagine people who have thousands of photos and more than a dozen of videos on their iPhone would have to take ages to upload all their contents onto SkyDrive using SkyDrive iPhone app.

The uploading of a photo from iPhone to SkyDrive using SkyDrive iPhone app is simple and easy.  Just tap on the sharing icon on the upper right corner of the iPhone screen, you can then tap on the Add a Photo or Video button to add a photo or video.  Right underneath the Add a Photo or Video button, you’ll see Create a Folder button which allows you to create a new folder for storing more contents.  Sharing a photo is easy too.  By tapping on a photo to view, tap the photo again when it is in full screen mode to reveal the sharing button on the upper right corner of the iPhone screen, and tap on the sharing button to review the Send a Link button.  Tapping on Send a Link button, you can send a link to someone’s email to allow a person to view or view and edit your photo.  Above the Send a Link button, there is a Download button which allows you to download a photo easily in case you have deleted such a photo from iPhone and wanted to recover it from SkyDrive.  Deleting a photo or a video, users have to view a photo or video in thumbnail mode, and then slide the finger from left to right on the thumbnail photo of a photo or video to reveal a Delete button.  Tap on Delete button to remove the photo or video from SkyDrive.  You can also delete the whole folder by viewing the folder in thumbnail mode and slide a finger the same way you do with a photo or video.

In summary, SkyDrive iPhone app is very limited in features.  The uploading and sharing of photos and videos are easy as pie, and so SkyDrive iPhone app deserves a praise here.  One other cool thing about SkyDrive iPhone app is that it allows you to take a photo or film a video immediately from your iPhone and upload to SkyDrive directly.  Altogether, SkyDrive iPhone app needs more features, but it’s still awesome since it allows users to interact with a free 25 GB of storage space on the go.

Side Note:  I’m baffled of not knowing how to upload a document using SkyDrive iPhone app.  Sure, iPhone isn’t a great tool in creating and editing documents, but I think this app should allow users to upload documents nonetheless.  Just a thought!