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Nine home clouds compared

Cloud It Yourself

Article from ADMIN 24/2014
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Dropbox was the first of a number of cloud service providers. However, only services that promise full control over your own data can give users a feeling of security. We provide an overview of nine cloud projects and two BitTorrent tools.

"Fog can be considered a type of low-lying cloud," says Wikipedia [1], and who are we to argue; this definition sort of sums up the ambivalent nature of the whole cloud hype and the related services. The success of cloud file sharing and synchronization services like Dropbox leaves room for alternative offerings and projects, which are popping up like the proverbial mushrooms.

Dropbox, but Self-Managed, Please

What all these services have in common is that users transfer their data to a third party for fiduciary management. Most cloud services today only share the means of transport and entice users with partially free, or at least extremely convenient, offers of access to data from anywhere, along with the ability to share data with others.

The realization that this is not always a good idea started to mature when risqué images of celebrities began to emerge from the cloud. Additionally, the passion of government intelligence services for collecting data is virtually infinite. The affirmation of "We're the good guys" is always relative to the speaker's intent.

Nine Clouds and Two BitTorrents Compared

Hosting your own cloud is a potential answer to diverse dependencies. In this article, we examine software designed for private users and corporations. The minimum requirement our test team stipulated was that the software offered basic file sync mechanisms and at least partly allowed the user to control the transfer of data – that is, anything under the "Filesync and Share" (FSS) umbrella.

The following comparison starts with ownCloud and then presents eight alternatives (in alphabetical order) that provide similar services for Linux users. It also looks at the peer-to-peer-based approaches of BitTorrent Sync and Syncthing. Table 1 shows the main features, and the box "Anecdotes from the Cloud" gives you three tips from the cloud admin's daily grind to help you manage your own cloud – no matter which software you choose.

Table 1

Cloud Software at a Glance

  ownCloud Cozy Novell Filr Git-Annex   Grau Data Store Pydio Seafile SparkleShare Tonido/FileCloud
General
Vendor/developer ownCloud Inc. Cozy Cloud Novell Inc. Joey Hess   Grau Data AG Abstrium SAS Seafile Inc. Hylke Bons CodeLathe LLC
Website for free or commercial offering http://www.owncloud.org http://www.cozy.io http://www.git-annex.branchable.com   http://www.pyd.io http://www.seafile.com http://www.sparkleshare.org http://www.tonido.com/tonidodesktop/
Website for commercial offering http://www.owncloud.com http://www.novell.com/de-de/products/filr/   http://www.graudata.com http://www.pydio.com http://www.seafile.com http://www.getfilecloud.com
Cost per user per month (based on 50 users) EUR7.14 (price for ownCloud on UCS) EUR10.21   EUR5.95 EUR1.00 (with French VAT) EUR2.78 (half price as of year two) $2.92
License(s) AGPL, commercial GPL, LGPL, AGPL Commercial GPLv3, AGPL   Commercial AGPL + commercial GPL + commercial GPLv3 Commercial
Available sources http://www.github.com/owncloud http://www.github.com/cozy http://www.git-annex.branchable.com/download/   For customers http://www.pyd.io/category/releases/dev/ http://www.github.com/haiwen/seafile http://www.github.com/hbons/SparkleShare
Current version (as of October 2014) 7.0.2 (Community) 1.0.25 1.1 5.20141013   2.2 5.2.3 3.1.7 1.4 7.0
Release date August 2014 July 2014 October 2014 October 2014   March 2014 March 2014 September 2014 April 2014 October 2014
Server
Linux tar.gz, packages in OBS Yes Novell OES Yes   Debian preferred Tar.gz, packages Tar.gz Needs Git repository DEB, RPM
Windows Yes No Yes Yes   No No Yes No Yes
Others Mac OS (unsupported), various ports for Linux-based devices Raspberry Pi, Cubie No No   No Raspberry Pi No No No
Data storage Filesystem CouchDB Filesystem Filesystem   Hybrid (CIFS, SQL, object storage) Filesystem Filesystem Git MongoDB
Database for metadata MySQL, SQLite, MS SQL CouchDB MySQL Git-annex   MySQL MySQL, SQLite MySQL, SQLite Git MongoDB
Server-side encryption Yes Yes No Yes   Yes Yes (EncFS) Yes Git Planned
Integration of external storage … Yes Yes On local network Git   Yes Yes Yes Git Object storage
… by the user? Yes Yes No Not stated   No No No No No
Web interface administration Yes No (single user) Yes Via git-annex assistant   Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Web interface for users Yes Yes Yes Via git-annex assistant   Yes Yes Yes No Yes
WebDAV Yes Yes Yes No   Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Extension options Apps Apps No No   No Server-side plugins API No No
Desktop Clients
Linux Yes Planned No Yes   No (possible via CMIS) Yes (redesign announced) Yes Yes Ubuntu
Windows Yes No Yes Yes (Beta)   Yes Yes (redesign announced) Yes Yes Yes
Mac OS X Yes Planned Yes Yes   Yes Yes (redesign announced) Yes Yes Yes
Mobile Clients
Android Yes Yes Yes Yes (Beta)   Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
iOS Yes Yes Yes Planned   Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Windows Phone No No No No   Yes No No No Yes
Blackberry 10 No No Yes No   Yes No No No No
Others Thunderbird Filelink (3rd party)   CMIS, ownCloud clients, CIFS Thunderbird Filelink Thunderbird Filelink, terminal client Outlook add-on, FileCloud drive for Windows

Anecdotes from the Cloud

New features typically only reveal their true colors in everyday operation. Three typical examples from the admin's daily grind indicate the type of problems you can expect in your own cloud – sometimes, the causes are almost absurd and difficult to factor in:

"My network is so lame." It's handy to be able to synchronize everything. Simply enable sync for your home folder and never worry again about a current backup. This is only a problem if the sync also collects directories that the operating system (configuration data) or programs (e.g., chat logs) continuously change. Even if the client supports delta syncs, it can quickly reach an average throughput of a couple 100Kbps. Faced with the fact that some DSL providers throttle your throughput, this can be problematic, especially for the home users or small office staff.

"Server Full – Trash, too!" Some admins think they can do something smart by mounting external storage to overprovision the shared storage, then discover to their dismay that they still don't have enough, because files from external storage end up in the trash. Depending on the implementation, your trash might also be versioned. The result is high utilization even though users haven't uploaded anything yet.

"And don't forget your co-workers." Your co-worker from next door is groaning in desperation because she has not seen any feedback for minutes from her workstation. Sometimes you even get a warning: /home directory almost full . This is one of the good guys who did everyone a favor by sharing the ISO with 200GB of data for the whole office. If they only knew that almost all the desktop clients just synchronize everything they can get their fingers on.

ownCloud

ownCloud [2] (Figure 1), developed in 2010 by Frank Karlitschek, is one of the most popular representatives in the DIY cloud software field. The modular design of the software suite, which is based on PHP and SQL databases, offers much more than just file synchronization and sharing capabilities, with numerous apps extending the functionality.

Figure 1: ownCloud – the Enterprise version is shown here – is adaptable to a wide variety of needs.

This universality may have been one of the reasons that the developer resources were distributed across too many features and that a weakness (in the form of the initially often-criticized, poor FileSync performance with large amounts of data) went unresolved for many moons. Indirectly, the developers even aggravated this with nominal support for SQLite as the database back end.

Users also reported problems with the sync clients. The developers were well aware of this, which explains why they postponed additional features, such as sharing via the desktop client or binary delta sync – which enables an efficient transfer of very large files, to focus on improved core functionality.

The current version 1.7 of the client, which as of writing is still beta, does add the eagerly awaited overlay icons, for example, that help the user identify in the file manager which data was shared. One major benefit of ownCloud is the almost infinite number of additional applications, which stem to a great extent from the strong community. The administrator of the ownCloud instance decides whether to use them. You can thus put together a customized package for use in the enterprise. You can even create your own extensions, for example, to map workflows, using an app.

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