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 hughstimson.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 hughstimson.org I could create that file, but other people probably don’t want to open an account on hughstimson.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 hughstimson.org/docs, 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.


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/FileHamster/ And here’s a list of revision control software: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_revision_control_software

In terms of specific applications I would like in my personal cloud, top of the list would be word processing software a la Google Docs or Zoho or Buzzword, and a calendaring system, a 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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