Creating a Private Cloud

After thinking about the various online storage options, and particularly the high cost for those who need or want a lot of space, I started to think there might be a cost savings to creating a private cloud.  Like lots of other business people, I have a remotely hosted, dedicated server to host my web sites.  I could always use a desktop, web based or plug in FTP client to access space on that server, but that would require me to separately configure each computer I want to use to access that space, including borrowed computers.  It would work, but it wouldn’t be fun or efficient.

I could also set up some space through Amazon S3, find a web based front end, and access my data that way.  Again, it would work, but it wouldn’t be ideal.  Plus, the cost formula used by S3, while inexpensive, doesn’t lend itself to certainty.  The fee is based on both the space you have and the amount of data transfer in and out (and out could be a big number if your shared items become popular).

So I decided to experiment with a private cloud.  Here’s how I made one and what I think of it so far.

bls First, the hardware.  I have a home server that I use to serve audio and video content throughout the house, to back up our computers and for storage that I don’t need to access remotely.  Because that box has plenty on its plate already, I elected not to use it for my private cloud, even though it has the ability to permit remote access.  Rather I bought a Buffalo Linkstation Mini.  It’s small (5.2 x 1.6 x 3.2 inches ; 1.1 pounds) and fits easily inside the electronics chest in my study (an old chest of drawers with grommets drilled in the back, so I can charge laptops and other devices in drawers and out of the way).

I ran a network cable from the nearest switch (the one that serves my Mac not-so-Mini) to the Linkstation, ran the power cables through the grommet and out to the the power strip I previously installed on the back of the electronics chest.  Less than 15 minutes after opening the box, the Linkstation was installed and ready to go.

Next, the software.  The Buffalo installation disk is reasonably straight forward.  It identified my Linkstation on the network right away and installed the NASNavigator 2 software, that allows you to manage the Linkstation via your computer.  Like with a router, most of the Linkstation setup is done via your web browser (always change the default password right away with routers, wireless access points and web accessible drives).  If you’ve ever set up a router, this process will be a breeze.  Even if you haven’t, the process is pretty simple and the manual is helpful if you need some hand holding.

You name your Linkserver, set the date and time, assign it to an existing Windows workgroup if you want (though it will be visible on most networks even if you leave the default workgroup name).  You create folders to share via this same web based application.  It’s not hard to do, but it’s not as easy as it would be if you could set up shared folders via Windows Explorer.  You can also switch between a RAID 1 or RAID 2 setup, but no action in this regard is necessary unless you want to switch arrays.

Setting up web access consists of selecting the folders you created as described above and selecting the desired level of access: none; users who have accounts you set up via the setup application; or anyone.  You can (and should) also set access levels- generally read only- for publicly shared folders.

To complete the web access setup, you pick a name for your web accessible space, which is then accessible via a Buffalo owned and administered remote access domain and create a key to give to those who you want to allow access to your “non-everyone” folders.  If you have a firewall or a router, you need to configure it to permit access.  The Buffalo application will attempt to automatically configure your firewall/router, but this did not work for me.  Having some experience setting up routers, I was able to manually configure my router pretty quickly.  This would be a major pain for someone without this experience but it is unavoidable.  Anyone who has ever set up a Slingbox has already been through this process.

All in all, the software is about as simple as can reasonably be expected.  It worked, but it could be more elegant.

Finally, my first impressions.

Once you test your settings and happily get the all clear sign, accessing your private cloud is as easy as pointing your browser at the web address Buffalo creates for you, and filling in the shared space name and your name and password.  The Buffalo web access application works reasonably well, though it is not as appealing as the interfaces for some of the commercial online storage services.  I greatly prefer the Box.Net interface, for example.  On the other hand, once you access the shared folders, when you click on a file you are presented with options to link to a file or to email a link to the file.  You can also remotely add files to the cloud if you have the requisite permissions.

I wanted the ability to serve some content from my private cloud to this blog and my other web sites.  To accomplish that, I created a new folder, set the sharing level at anyone and the permissions as read only.  Here’s a cloud theme song (buy this excellent Jayhawks record on Amazon), which is temporarily located in that folder to see if it works.  Initial results are mixed.  It looks like the files can be accessed, but it doesn’t seem to play well with Yahoo Media Player (which I use and recommend to allow readers to easily play embedded audio), and buffering times vary.

It’s too early to tell if a private cloud will do the trick for me, but it might.  More on my private cloud later.