Oh the mysterious cloud. It’s that magical place where the Google and Dropbox fairies live. That place where nothing can go wrong (except when it does). And your data is safe (except when it’s not). Now, I love my cloud services. My Google Music allows me to listen wherever/whenever. Dropbox has backups of my eBooks. Google Docs runs my blog. Photos are everywhere.
But I really don’t know where any of these things are. They’re all off on some server somewhere. Servers I don’t even pay for. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to move away from these products. But I do want to have them someplace other than my main computer that I control as well. Here are some of the options available:
Western Digital My Cloud
I actually already have the old version of this, back when it was called “My Book.” I don’t really use it’s cloud features though. I use it as a networked hard drive. It works well for this. I’ve played with some of the cloud like features of it, but it’s really not the greatest for getting data on the go. And it’s syncing option could use some help. But it will do backups very well.
OwnCloud is an open source solution that is kind of like Delicious, Dropbox, and Google Apps all wrapped into one. You can run it on your own machine (but that’s a security nightmare if you want to open it to the web), or pay for webspace someplace. Of course it’s still on a server someplace, but now it’s on a server you pay for. And for the price of a year of Dropbox you can get a year of server space plus your own domain name that you can use for other stuff too.
I was originally going to recommend checking out Windows Home Server because I’ve heard very good things. It has remote access, and handles the security issues for you allowing you to access your stuff anywhere. Alas, Windows Home Server is at it’s end of life.
However, if you don’t want or need your data on the go, a home file server is still an option. You can do this with any old PC you have laying around that may not have the processing power for your daily work tasks but can still handle data. And if you run Windows 7. This works great if you don’t want to invest in an external hard drive like the Western Digital I mention above. Really you could use it as a cloud if you wanted and set up remote access. That’s just not something I’m willing to do since I don’t know enough about securing it.
There are plenty of media server options around right now, but Plex is the one that has my attention the most. It’s not free like XBMC or Windows Media Center (which I guess technically isn’t free, since you pay for Windows). It’s on the freemium model where you get a lot of features free, but to really get the most you need to pay. It isn’t terribly priced at $29.99 a year or $74.99 for life. What has me interested is that it streams to damn near everything. Roku, Chromecast, the new Amazon Fire TV, and anything that is DLNA compatible. You can share with your friends. I’m particularly interested in the auto photo backup from phones. I know Google+ and Facebook do this, but having it go to my own computer is such a better option (and way less likely to end in regret. Remember: if you don’t want it on the internet, don’t put it on the internet).
So What to Choose?
Really, in my opinion, the way to go is to combine these methods. I wrote this post because my media situation is currently a disaster. I have stuff everywhere. I want it centralized, and then backed up someplace else. Both locally and in a typical commercial cloud. Plus, a friend had asked about personal cloud services and I started researching options and I wanted to share what I had learned.
I’m going to try out Plex and OwnCloud for a bit and see how I like them. Once I get a little demo time in I’ll report back to all of you! I’d also like to know what you’re using to manage all of your digital stuff.