Build Your Own Linux Cloud Alternative

Linux users, even those with limited connectivity, can easily use the cloud for backup and other purposes.
Posted November 30, 2015

Matt Hartley

Lately it seems like cloud computing is all the rage. Unfortunately, the cloud computing bandwagon has completely forgotten about users with limited connectivity.

This article will dive head first into solutions that allow folks to enjoy the advantages of running their own personal cloud without relying on off-site servers.

ownCloud (Google Drive) – We've all experienced the thrill that comes from using Google Drive. But did you know you can run your own? By installing ownCloud on a local server within your LAN, you're able to utilize many of the same features found with Google Drive without any Internet access whatsoever. Unlike LibreOffice though, you're also able to share file assets and even collaborate on your document edits.

You'll have additional features you might have used with Google such as access to a calendar, contacts, galleries and even an activity feed. Nearly anything you would need Google Drive for, ownCloud is a suitable substitute and it'll work on your local network even without Internet access.

Kodi & Subsonic (Netflix and Spotify) – Netflix and Spotify are two content services people love to indulge in. Spotify when working and Netflix during ones off-time. Unfortunately when these two services are used together, they tend to run through bandwidth caps fairly quickly. For others, these services may simply be too data intense to be used at all on weaker DSL and Satellite connections.

The best approach to overcoming this is to simply rip DVDs/Blu-ray discs onto ones hard drive. This can be done using various Linux software titles and once completed, provides you with an outstanding digital backup of the movies you already own. But what about TV content? I recommend getting seasonal DVD packs of your favorite shows. Then you can back them up to your media PC running Kodi at your leisure.

For my immediate content, I recommend an over the air (OTA) antenna and HDHomeRun. The HDHomeRun device is a tuner box. This is legally viewable TV that is provided by free via your local network stations. You'd be surprised just how many channels you can get, depending on where you live. From here, you're free to even set it up to record those OTA shows via MythTV. What's great about MythTV is that it too, integrates into Kodi.

So what about replacing Spotify? When it comes to making your music collection available around your work space or home, nothing beats Subsonic. Install and run this on your media PC. Once it’s setup, Subsonic can stream your music library to just about anything. Android, iOS, Sonos, browser and Roku. If you're like me and need music streamed to your Linux desktop, then you can take Tomahawk for a spin. It not only provides smooth access to your Subsonic server, it also does really well with locally installed music.

TimeShift & Back In Time (Carbonite/SpiderOak) – Most of you may be familiar with cloud-based backup solutions such as Carbonite/SpiderOak. Both of these are applications that provide a standalone Linux box non-enterprise-based data backup stored at a remote location. For those trying to limit our bandwidth usage however, neither of these tools offer a great solution.

This brings us to the following applications: TimeShift & Back In Time. Both applications utilize a bit of rysnc magic at their backend(s) to ensure a good snapshot of your system. Through extensive usage myself, I've found that both applications used together can provide you with minimal downtime if disaster strikes. Best of all, you're able to do so within the confines of your LAN.

TimeShift is designed specifically to take snapshots of your existing / file system using rsync and hard links. It's a great option if you decided not to use LVM snapshots, Amanda, etc. So long as you're not mixing and matching distros and versions, restoring with TimeShift has never given me any trouble. I do need to let you know, however, that TimeShift requires a restore point creation tool since it's using rsync and hard links to backup your system files.

Back In Time provides you with time stamped snapshots of directories you've elected to backup. I use it to handle my home directory. It shares some of the same features as TimeShift, except that I've found it's best suited for non-system directories. Another benefit is that should something go horribly wrong with your system restore, the Back In Time restore is completely separate and thus unaffected.

So what happens if your TimeShift install fails to restore your system files from a LiveCD? Nothing, except that you're going to need a clean installation of your favorite distro. Because your home directory is safe, browsable and separate, there is little risk of losing user data so long as you're backing up to another machine on your LAN.

Syncthing (Dropbox) – Dropbox is handy, but it can be a huge resource hog. Even idle, it utilizes a lot of RAM sending who knows what over the Internet. Syncthing can be set up to utilize the localhost setting. This provides the app to sync with other LAN servers also running Syncthing, but without making calls over the Internet. If you need to sync stuff over the Internet, this too, can be configured.

I've been using Syncthing a lot lately and it's growing on me. It's fast and I also know that it saves me a lot of time because it's doesn't have to sync to some remote cloud. I simply use it to sync up to my server box and this translates into a great user experience without chewing through a ton of bandwidth when I'm syncing larger files.

Just like with Dropbox, you can enable file versioning, even protect select directories by making them the sync master. This is helpful in preventing something important from being overwritten by another PC.

LAN server vs the cloud

As you can see above, there are a lot of ways to keep your data in your local network without using remote "cloud" servers. Besides the bandwidth savings, you'll also be maintaining additional privacy and control over your data. In an era of exploited cloud accounts and other security concerns, it's nice to know that running cloud apps within ones LAN is a plausible solution.

So what type of hardware is needed? You can run all of these options on the same PC/server so long as the ports aren't conflicting. Specs needed are pretty minimal, but with Kodi running video and ownCloud being used a lot, opting for a machine with at least a few GB of RAM and a CoreDuo or better CPU would be my advice.

Understand that this setup may not be idea for everyone. But for those dealing with ever-encroaching bandwidth restrictions from their ISPs, anything that can be done at the LAN level helps.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Tags: Linux, cloud computing, Linux cloud

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