There are a multitude of cloud storage services available for people who want to store data on someone else's infrastructure. But what if you want a cloudlike storage experience that lets you keep data on servers you control?
The answer is to set up a personal cloud server. Personal cloud servers essentially give you a private cloud that you can use to store data in a flexible, scalable way, without having to expose your data to third-party providers. In fact, you can operate your personal data cloud from within your own home if you want.
This article explains how personal cloud servers work, different approaches to building them, and how to get started creating a personal cloud server:
- What Is a Personal Cloud Server?
- What Are the Benefits of a Personal Cloud Server?
- Downsides of Personal Cloud Servers
- Steps for Building a Personal Cloud Server
- Personal Cloud Server FAQs
What Is a Personal Cloud Server?
A personal cloud server is a server created for the purpose of storing personal files. Usually, personal cloud servers allow users to upload and download files over the internet via network-attached storage or shared network drives.
Personal cloud servers are different from conventional cloud servers because, with a personal cloud server, you own (and are responsible for managing) the server that hosts your data. With a traditional cloud server, the server is owned and managed by a cloud provider, like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure.
What Are the Benefits of a Personal Cloud Server?
Compared with conventional cloud servers, personal cloud servers offer several important benefits:
- Control: You can determine exactly how your personal cloud storage is configured and how data stored on it is managed.
- Security: Along similar lines, personal cloud servers provide security benefits — like the ability to avoid ever having to expose your data to a third party — that aren't available from public cloud resources.
- Cost: Operating a personal cloud server may be less expensive in some cases than relying on cloud storage services, especially if you have large volumes of data to store.
- Performance: Personal cloud servers can deliver better performance by allowing you to upload and download data faster if you are connecting to them over a local network. With a public cloud server, you'd typically have to use the internet to move data, which is much slower than most local networks.
In these ways, personal cloud servers deliver more control and functionality than you'd get from most traditional cloud storage services.
Downsides of Personal Cloud Servers
On the other hand, there are some potential disadvantages to consider:
- Complexity: Setting up and managing a personal cloud server require more effort than using a turnkey cloud storage service where all you have to do is upload and download data.
- Cost: In some instances, personal cloud servers may cost more, especially if you factor in operating expenses like electricity, as well as the cost of acquiring the server hardware.
- Reliability: Unless you configure backup servers for your personal cloud server, you run the risk of losing access to your data in the event that the server goes down. Public cloud servers may also fail, but because they are professionally managed and deliver very high uptime guarantees, your risk of data loss or unavailability is typically lower when you use a public cloud storage service.
Steps for Building a Personal Cloud Server
Building a personal cloud server is simple enough, although there are many options to consider along the way.
Step 1: Choose a storage platform
Start your personal cloud server journey by determining which software platform you'll use to manage your personal cloud storage.
There are a variety of open source and commercial platforms designed for this purpose. Popular examples include ownCloud, Nextcloud, and Seafile, but there are many others. You could also set up a simple network file share using protocols built into an operating system (such as NFS for Linux systems or Samba/CIFS for Windows devices), although this approach requires more setup.
Step 2: Choose your hardware
Next, choose a hardware device (or multiple devices, if you plan to build a multi-server personal cloud), making sure that it supports the storage platform you intend to use.
For small-scale storage needs, a machine as simple as a spare laptop or PC may suffice. If you need to store large volumes of data (at least multiple terabytes), however, you may want a more powerful machine, such as a small business server.
Be sure, too, to check that your machine can support the storage devices you intend to attach to it. If you plan to use USB drives for storage, you'll want to make sure it has adequate USB ports. If you're using internal drives, make sure there are enough connectors to the motherboard, and physical space inside the machine, to accommodate however many drives you plan to set up.
Step 3: Install an operating system
Next, select and install an operating system.
The operating system you use must be compatible with the cloud storage platform you plan on running. Some platforms support both Windows and Linux, while others work only with one or the other type of OS. Read your platform's documentation to figure out what it supports.
Note, by the way, that some platforms support both operating systems as clients, meaning you can upload and download files from computers running either Windows or Linux. But they may only support one type of operating system in server mode, which is what you need if you want to host a personal cloud on a server.
Step 4: Install the cloud storage platform
With your hardware and operating system configured, you're ready to install the cloud storage platform you selected. The installation process will vary depending on which platform you're using and which operating system you're running, but in most cases, installation isn't more difficult than installing any other application.
Step 5: Configure your network
In some cases, the storage platform may have configured most essential network settings for you, at least on the host server. In other cases, you'll need to set up the network yourself by ensuring that the right ports are open and that any devices that you'll use to connect to your personal cloud know the cloud server's IP address or hostname. You may also have to adjust firewall and router rules if you want to allow access to your personal cloud server from beyond the local network.
Configuring some of these settings may require you to make modifications within your home network's router and/or on other devices that are part of the network.
Step 6: Configure cloud storage options
Optionally, you might want to configure other settings on your personal cloud storage platform. For instance, you may wish to set up access controls to restrict who can view or modify data from within your home network, or you might want to establish storage quotas for different users of the personal cloud.
Step 7: Connect and start enjoying your personal cloud
At this point, you're ready to connect your devices to your personal cloud and start uploading or downloading data. Remember, though, that in most cases you can still update your personal cloud storage settings over time.
Remember, too, that you'll need to monitor and manage the personal cloud server, just as you would any server. Be sure to install software updates to the operating system and to the storage platform you're using. It's also usually a good idea to set up a monitoring tool that can alert you if the server goes down. And configuring backups is wise, especially if you're storing critical data on the personal cloud.
Hardware Requirements for a Personal Cloud Server
The specific hardware requirements for a personal cloud server vary. The biggest variable is how much data you intend to store. The more data, the more storage devices you'll need, or the larger those devices will have to be in terms of total storage capacity.
Otherwise, hardware requirements for most personal cloud servers are relatively basic. In most cases, the following will suffice:
- At least 4 gigabytes of RAM.
- A network card that supports at least a 1 gigabit connection, or more if you plan on moving very large volumes of data over your local network.
- USB ports, especially if you plan on using USB-attached storage.
- A power supply capable of handling the power requirements of the machine and storage devices. Usually, at least 5 watts is necessary.
Personal Cloud Server FAQs
Have additional questions about setting up a personal cloud server? Look for the answer below.
What are the different types of personal cloud servers?
There are two main types of personal cloud servers:
- Local servers that make storage available only over a local network.
- Internet-connected personal cloud servers, which make storage available from remote networks.
Most personal cloud servers are designed only for local network access, which is more secure and generally yields higher performance, but connecting your server to the internet is useful if you need to access files from outside your home.
Which files can you store on a personal cloud server?
You can use a personal cloud server to store virtually any type of data — from small documents to multi-gigabyte videos.
How do you access files from a personal cloud server?
Access to your files depends on which type of storage platform you use. In most cases, you'll need a personal cloud client application that is designed to be compatible with your storage platform. But sometimes — especially in cases where NFS or Samba/CIFS is used to share files — files are exposed over the network in such a way that you can access them directly from within a file browser.
About the authorChristopher Tozzi is a technology analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York, area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” was published by MIT Press.