I Want a Personal Cloud

I seem to like com­puting in clouds. I don’t want to: I don’t like the idea of putting my business or academic data into someone else’s for-​​profit servers, and I think it’s nutty in a special way to put your private pho­tographs and social rela­tion­ships in there too. But that’s just ideology, in practice I keep on opening up new doc­u­ments sporting the Google logo, day-​​dreaming about the science com­puting I could do with a few hundreds dollars worth of clock cycles on an Amazon-​​hosted hadoop cluster, and con­tem­plating moving my email address over to Google Apps for Your Domain. It’s all just so useful. It works across com­puters, it works across people, and nowadays it even some­times works when you don’t have internet. The benefits are imme­diate and tangible (if cloud com­puting can be called tangible), and the draw­backs are longer-​​term and probabilistic.

Thus I was excited when the words “private cloud” started cropping up. A private cloud is web-​​based appli­ca­tions that run on your own server, instead of running on theirs. Advantages without draw­backs. For now private clouds are for cor­po­ra­tions to run on their internal intranets. So the words I espe­cially want to see are “personal cloud”. I already rent space on a web server, now I want to be able to install a cal­en­daring service on hugh​stimson​.org, in the same way I’ve already got blogging and photo gallery apps. And I espe­cially want to install Mozilla Docs there. Mozilla, are you making Mozilla Docs?

Big question: if every­body has their own personal cloud running, can they work together? One of the major advan­tages of current cloud com­puting is col­lab­o­ra­tion. If I open a new Google Docs document here in Vancouver, my col­lab­o­ra­tors over the straight in Victoria can see it and edit it right away, using an inter­face they’re familiar with. If I were running a document appli­ca­tion on hugh​stimson​.org I could create that file, but other people probably don’t want to open an account on hugh​stimson​.org to edit it, nor do they want to learn to use the inter­face for whatever editing appli­ca­tion I’m running there.

I’m guessing there are tech­nical solu­tions to this tech­nical problem. People already care very much about standard formats in existing cloud com­puting, and if all of our clouds are able to speak to each other in a common language, then maybe col­lab­o­ra­tion across them isn’t such a big deal. I open a new spread­sheet, stored in .ods format on my own server, and start editing it on my web inter­face in my browser. Then I send out an invi­ta­tion to an email address at Pink Sheep Media, and they open that document up in their own browsers using their own editing appli­ca­tion running on the Pink Sheep Media cloud. Or maybe they’re still using Google Docs, and they access the file from hugh​stimson​.org/​d​ocs, but edit it in the Google Docs inter­face. Maybe login access is handled using OpenId. Why not? It would mean having not just open stan­dards for file formats, but also some common commands for editing func­tions. The editing could be done on their servers, and then the document would be saved back to mine, staying in the open standard file format the whole time. Is that hard? Does someone know?

As far as I know, Mozilla is not working on Mozilla Docs. But they are doing some cool stuff in cloud com­puting. This one looks like a big oppor­tu­nity to me. At least, I know I want it very much. So somebody, please, build me a personal cloud.

9 comments:

I want a private cloud too, I will have to run Windows machines as well as Linux machines in my cloud which is making it really hard to find a free solution.

Have you found some non-​​free options?

This is good thinking. I like this. It’s a little beyond my full under­standing at the moment but even I can see the value in Mozilla docs. Personally, I’ve been looking for a graphic design system that makes it easier for me to share designs with clients who want more control over the content of these designs (which are usually made in pro­pri­etary software and then exported as PDFs). I’ve started to rec­om­mend Open Office for this reason because it seems to handle EPS files so much better than other com­mer­cial word proces­sors. I’m getting of topic. Hugh, are you at least partly, talking about a system that allows you to keep track of versions and drafts of doc­u­ments that would be stored on your server? I’ve never used it but there’s file­ham­ster (I think): http://​www​.mogware​.com/​F​i​l​e​H​a​m​s​t​er/ And here’s a list of revision control software: http://​en​.wikipedia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​L​i​s​t​_​o​f​_​r​e​v​i​s​i​o​n​_​c​o​n​t​r​o​l​_​s​o​f​t​w​are

In terms of specific appli­ca­tions I would like in my personal cloud, top of the list would be word pro­cessing software à la Google Docs or Zoho or Buzzword, and a cal­en­daring system, à la Google Calendar or MobileMe. I’ve only used the Google version of those products, but now that you mention it Sherwin, I notice that Google Docs does indeed have a basic wiki-​​style revision tracking system.

What about Tonido? I just found it when I was googling for free, private jour­naling software, but it does all kinds of things (cal­en­daring and photo albums included) and works with Linux, Win and Mac. I haven’t set it up yet, but Chris Pirillo gave it a rave review (see YouTube clip near bottom of page). http://​www​.tonido​.com/

Hmmm, Tonido looks inter­esting. There seems to be some concern about whether to call it group­ware instead of a cloud. I guess a cloud is tech­ni­cally third party. So maybe a “personal cloud” is a misnomer? But it has a calender and even tasks… but I don’t think it provides multiple users to run and share software. Hmmm, actually I shouldn’t say that, because it has also been called a “remote desktop”.

There is also GroundOS​.org, which is pending release, but if nothing else, has a great overview of the down sides of cloud com­puting. http://​groundos​.org/

Definitional distress:

“There seems to be some concern about whether to call it group­ware instead of a cloud. I guess a cloud is tech­ni­cally third party. So maybe a “personal cloud” is a misnomer?”

Currently, yes, that’s pretty much my point. I want someone to redefine cloud to include 1st-​​partiness, by going out and doing it.

To that end Tonido and GroundOS are both super interesting.

Tonido lets you host the cloud in your own house, either on your computer or on a cute little “tonido­plug” mini-​​server. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could maybe keep my cloud data in my own house. That speaks strongly to my desire to own my own data. Then again, physical location isn’t the only part of data own­er­ship. Speaking of cute, the Tonido site has this to say:

“Tonido is stand­alone. You can continue to use Tonido apps even if we disappear”

Yes, but if the software to read the data dis­ap­pears, then data access dis­ap­pears with it. In the short term I’m sure you can keep running the last version of the software, but even­tu­ally you’re either going to re-​​install your oper­ating system or the software is going to drift into incom­pat­ibly with hardware or other software. I’d be a lot happier if they clearly stated that the data is stored in open-​​formats in a trans­par­ently acces­sible way.

Also, I can imagine some dis­ad­van­tages to hosting a cloud locally. I think I might trust my web host to serve my apps and backup my data better than I trust myself. Vagaries of internet service and power plugs and so on, espe­cially if you’re trav­el­ling and can’t be there to reboot the server when it hiccups.

In any case, the list of appli­ca­tions they cur­rently offer is pretty thin. No document pro­cessing software, and that’s a basic neces­sity to me.

GroundOS! It *sounds* much like what I want, which is remark­able. And the argu­ments they make against con­ven­tional cloud com­puting are spot-​​on. But from the front, the most active part of the project seems to be their twitter stream. Also, they seem to be aiming for some­thing more like an inte­grated web-​​page builder than a simple set of web appli­ca­tions. In any case I sure hope they’re going to be suc­cessful, they seem to be building what I am only capable of begging for.

[…] so our com­mu­ni­ca­tions are pushed yet further onto the cloud. Again, if my wave service could be hosted on my own cloud server that inter-​​operated with other people’s self-​​hosted wave servers that wouldn’t bother me much. But I still haven’t seen […]

Hi there! This articloe couldn’t be written much better! Looking at this arrticle reminds me of my previous
roommate! He always ket talking about this. I’ll forward this post tto him.
Fairly certain he will have a greaat read. Thanks for sharing!

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