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Lead Image © Dmitriy Shironosov, 123RF.com

Ubuntu 16.04 LTS as an ownCloud server

Secure Collaboration

Article from ADMIN 37/2017
Locally hosted collaboration servers are an alternative to letting employees swap files in a public cloud. We show you how to set up an ownCloud 9 environment on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS.

Professionals and tradespeople routinely handle orders, reports, and shipments on mobile devices, often through cloud service providers such as Dropbox and Google, which can be a source of discomfort when it comes to exchanging data securely. If you take your privacy seriously, you can hardly avoid hosting your own dedicated server with the appropriate software. The good news: Linux and various open source products offer an inexhaustible tool kit, and whether you are looking for a mail server, a web server, or just a way to exchange files, you will find a suitable solution in this tool kit for virtually every usage scenario.

In this article, I show you how to set up a server based on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS and install the ownCloud file hosting software that now also offers a number of groupware functions. The program offers amazing versatility: Mobile clients are available for both Android and iOS, and desktop solutions include Linux, Windows, and OS X. If you combine Ubuntu with ownCloud on an always available server, you can remove the need for Dropbox.

Your Own or a Hosting Service?

If you run your own server, you have two options. Option 1 is to rent an appropriate server, either physical or virtual, from one of the many providers in the market. This option is recommended for companies without infrastructure of their own, either in-house or co-located in a data center. Option 2 is for those who have a server room or free data center capacity; you can simply buy a suitable computer and operate it there. The hardware requirements for an ownCloud setup, as shown in the example here, are manageable.

The question of disk space is important: If you are planning for a large number of employees, you will want several terabytes of capacity or to upgrade your VM accordingly. SSDs are not necessary: The limiting factor in accessing an ownCloud server is usually how the server is connected to the Internet, which typically suffers from significantly higher latency than current hard disk drives.

The Internet connection should thus offer sufficient bandwidth to avoid being fully utilized with a single file upload. If your ownCloud server sits in your server room, a constant connection to the Internet must exist, if employees need to access data from the outside. A static public IP address is important, too. In this example, I assume a rented server, but I will try to cover setups in an enterprise server room or in a rented rack at a data center.

Finding the Right Distro

If you want to operate ownCloud on Linux, many options are available: openSUSE, Fedora, Debian, or Ubuntu are just a few. However, of the systems mentioned, only Ubuntu LTS offers long-term support. The counterparts by Red Hat and SUSE – Red Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server – are sold as subscription models, so separate licenses would be required. Ubuntu 16.04 LTS is the most appropriate solution for the featured setup.

Updates for critical vulnerabilities or to remedy serious functionality problems are delivered for at least five years. For other releases, support often ends after two years, forcing you to update to a current release, because operating a public server without security patches would be irresponsible. Updates are sometimes a complicated process and often take out a server for a significant period of time. Additionally, changes to central components are often made between versions of a distribution, forcing a customized setup.

For the distribution provider, long-term support means considerable overhead, and the Ubuntu vendor, Canonical, only releases an LTS version every two years. Ubuntu 16.04 LTS became available in April 2016, so Canonical will support it until 2021.

Ubuntu LTS

It is beyond the scope of this article to cover all the installation details for the planned setup, because the individual steps depend to a large extent on your target system. Rented servers or virtual machines are delivered pre-installed by virtually all providers. In such setups, you have little opportunity to influence the installation; however, more and more providers of rental servers or virtual systems offer setup tools that let you at least implement basic settings to suit your own needs.

With self-hosted servers, all options are open to you, but you can still only use the Ubuntu command-line installer for server systems, at least if you use the "server" image. The text-based installation also provides sensible defaults that you can keep without risk in most cases.

For all scenarios – VM, rental server, private disk – you should have a separate partition for the ownCloud data, so the system does not collapse if the volume of data stored in your ownCloud becomes too large. If you had everything on the same system partition, central services would stop working if they could no longer write their logfiles to /var/log. The separate ownCloud partition ensures that this problem does not occur.

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