How I created my own iCloud

Several easy solutions to creating my own cloud, and how I use it on all my devices.
In this article I will explain why I do it, how I do it, and the layout that works for me. I will also give you links to the tools I’ve used, in the event you want to set up parts of this for yourself.

Why:
Recently, I ran into several problems. I had a 16GB iPhone, a 32GB iPad, and a 64GB Macbook. I rezlized very quickly that by syncing them, I was really just duplicating the same information on all three devices, as well as my home computer, and taking up precious space.

With that in mind, I decided my needs were pretty simple:

  • – Quick, instant access.
  • – No duplication
  • – Access from any device, self-owned or public.
  • – Ease of use
  • – No sacrifice of any features that exist from local storage.

What I needed to share, and the issues I had:

Pics:

I have 30,000 pictures, and I use Aperture to keep them Geo-tagged, Face-tagged, and organized. For those of you who don’t use Aperture or another photo organization solution, you should know that it’s database driven, and as such doesn’t have a clean directory structure to read from outside of the application. This is a serious limitation for cloud sharing, since those types of apps really bundle things together, using a keyfile or XML to sort them when the app is open.
To the normal user, this basically means that all your photos are stored in cryptically named folders, or by date, and the actual photo files are labeled like ‘qwoeiazsdals.jpg.orig’. Not very convenient.

Documents:

I have been steadily moving away from the idea that my docs need to be in WORD format, but there are times when I just need to hold on to things i’ve written or PDFs, or even scans of things that I wouldn’t want to organize with photos.

Music:

I am a hoarder of music. I have been collecting, buying, burning, and saving music for 18 years. At this point, I have about 47,000 songs on my home computer (external drive). There is no way any of my devices, even when I had an iPod, could hold all of that music, or even a portion of that which satisfied my ADHD listening style.

Miscellaneous:

There have been times, on more than one occasion, where I’ve been at the airport, or at work, and I’ve thought to myself, “I have exactly the file [or document] I need sitting on my Hard drive at home!”

Well, let’s break this down, so that you can pick and choose what may work for you. I’ll go over what I did, and why, and you can decide.

Hardware.

First of all, I don’t trust internal hard drives. Honestly, it’s not even that they are internal, it’s just that I like the idea of have a seperate drive from the OS.
That said, the whole basis of my solution rests on a simple home computer. I choose an older iMac Mini (circa 2007). It’s not a power horse by today’s standards, but since it’s only purpose is to serve and store files, it’s perfect.

  • – Mac Mini (Core Duo)

Mac Mini, Router, Wifi, and HDDs

  • – OS X
  • – 1.5 TByte USB2 HDD
  • – 1.5 Tbyte USB2 HDD
  • – Internet Connection (router, modem, etc.)

The setup here is that the Mac’s internal drive only needs to run the sync software, and network the drives. It doesn’t really do anything else.
The first external drive is the primary, and it’s what the apps will read from.
The second drive is a backup. It does nothing else, and as such should have a longer read/write life.

In today’s market, it is SO cheap to buy a USB drive. There’s really no reason not to buy a few for backups and such. A one-time investment for years of peace of mind.

Example setup. Left to right then top to bottom: HDD, HDD, Mac Mini, additional Hard drives, then Wifi, Modem, Router.

Software:

As I am primarily a Mac OS X guy, you’ll understand that most of my apps are Mac based. Keep in mind, though, that a lot of the solutions I offer are available for the PC/Windows, or there are similar equivalents.

– Aperture
I use Aperture to manage my photos. It tags them, links to Facebook, and tracks projects, events, albums, etc. It’s a paid program ($79), so it isn’t for everyone. iPhoto, Picasa, or Flickr are also options. Your personal digital camera may have even come with a solution. For my solution, I needed to use iPhoto or Aperture.

– iTunes
I’ve been a DJ off and on for years. I have mixing software (Traktor) that will keep it’s own libraries and playlists, and it works cleanly with the way iTunes organizes music. For this reason, I have no problem using iTunes to manage my music. Most apps will even read from iTunes’ XML data, and since iTunes can write MP3 tags, it’s a gem. Plus, i have an iPhone and iPad, so syncing them all in one place is just a fact of life.
– Documents, Zip files, PDFs, scans, etc.
Finder. I just keep things organized in folders. Simple, easy. I have folder names, and I title my files cleanly.

– DNYDNS Updater
This allows my home computer to be seen by the internet in a friendly way. It translates my email address to a URL that I can remember. For example, a computer’s IP of 123.123.123.123 becomes http://mysite.remotepc.com

Now that you have an idea of the basic setup, let’s show you how I make it all available, anywhere I am.

Q: How do I access all my DOCUMENTS?

As I’ve said, I keep all my documents in folders on the external hard drive. This is great for access while on any computer in the house, as the computer and files are shared. But how do i get to them when I am not at home?

A: Google Drive. (http://google.com/drive)

The Good: This is a free and simple option to access your files. Google has a good web interface, plenty of storage, files syncing. It can also recognize a lot of file formats.
The Compromise: The Google Drive solution is not a direct connection to your computer’s files. It saves a copy of the file on the Google server, and you are actually modifying the copy, which is then sync’d back to the computer. This could be considered a good thing in most cases, but it IS two copies of the file. Overall, it’s nice to have this, because then you also have a cloud backup.
The Setup: When you install Google Drive, it likes to install in your home directory, documents folder. During install, I suggest that you point it to your external drive folder that you have setup with your documents. This way, anytime you add something new to that folder, it will sync automatically.

Q: What is the best way to listen to all my MUSIC?

This is something I’ve gone back and forth on a lot. Some schools of thought suggest that you should keep your music local to the device, so that if you aren’t online, you can still plat music. To that effect, it’s true.

A: Several.

StreamToMe (http://zqueue.com/streamtome/index.html)
The Good: The server on my local computer takes very little processor power. It uses a login, keeps updated, so I don’t need to know the address of my computer *(See my shortcuts at the end). It reads the iTunes playlists, so you can create and listen to them from another mac, PC, or iOS device.
The Compromise: There really isn’t one. Occasionally the stream stops, and I think that has to do with the way it’s buffering the music. I haven’t pinned it down, but pressing play again re-starts it.

Local
The Good: Local music, offline.
The Compromise: Same music all the time, requires sync from home computer.

Andromeda – PHP Access to Music and Folders (http://www.turnstyle.com/andromeda)
The Good: It’s an easy way to download music. Share Music. It creates a dynamic website of your music folders, and cleanly displays them. It’s highly customizable, and you can set multiple logins. *(See my shortcuts at the end)
The Compromise: You need to have some knowlege of HTML, PHP, and Apache (or web server). This is not a simple installer, and you have to point it to directories. You also have to create your own prefs file, to tell it who and how to access.

iTunes Radio
The Good: It’s free, it streams, and it’s from Apple.
The Compromise: It’s beta, it’s only on iOS 7, and it’s not linked to anything in your library.

iTunes Match
The Good: Recognition of your library files, and streams them without loacl download. Doesn’t need access to your computer directly, only a read of the files at some point to get a listing.
The Compromise: It only recognized 1/3 of my library, becasue all my music is remixed.

Spotify – an alternative, but requires payment, and I haven’t really used it.

Q: Ok, So what about PHOTOS? Don’t I need a cloud for them?

Simply put, no. You CAN use a cloud solution – iCloud for a fee, Google/Picasa for a fee, Flickr (1GB free), SmugMug or even Facebook. To me, none of them organized files the way I wanted, they didn’t link to Aperture or iPhoto, and that meant multiple copies of the same file to tag, link, etc.

A: BlinqPhoto.  (http://www.blinqphoto.com/)

The Good: This app works very much like StreamToMe. It runs as a server on your home computer. You point it to your iPhoto, Aperture, or folder of pictures, and then isntall the iOS app, or go to the blinqphoto.com site *(See my shortcuts at the end). Once there, it loads thumbnails of your photos as you have them organized.

The Compromise: If you are not online, you can’t see any photos. There is no backup sync in the app – it’s reading right from your drive. This is not a bad thing, but may not be desired.

Q: You also mentioned that I could access OTHER FILES from my computer?

A: Tonido. A personal Cloud Server (http://www.tonido.com/)

The Good: This server app installs easily, gives you access to as much of your hard drive as you let it. It recognizes file types, and has a built in music player and photo viewer. You can set it up with a password, of course, and it gives you a web-based interface to your files. You can also access them with an iOS app of the same name *(See my shortcuts at the end).

The Compromise: With any server app, you are exposing your data to the outside world. If your login and password aren’t strong enough, someone could get in and read your data.

Q: Ok, one more. What if I want to see my home desktop?

A: Multiple solutions.

VNC (http://www.realvnc.com/) – An open-source way of doing it, but requires some know-how and configuration. You would also need to have your ip address at any point.
LogMeIn (http://www.logmein.com/)- This is a nice simple solution. For a single user, it doesn’t require any payments, and it will allow you to use a web interface. It keeps track of the ip address and links it to a familiar webpage that you can always connect to.

 

As always: MAKE YOUR PASSWORDS COMPLEX. Do not just use a generic password. See my PSA: http://billiehawkins.com/wp/1226

The rest of this is optional, just to make is easier for me. Using the method below, I don’t have to remember my IP address, and I don’t have to remember all the different URLs that I’ve used to share my data.

Shortcut:

So, to make things work for me, I spent about $1.99 on a domain and basic hosting. For the sake of this document, let’s call it www.Billie.com.
I also use a service called DYNDNS (http://dyndns.com). This service allows me to map my home computer’s IP address to any domain I choose from them, for free.

Why would I do that? Prefix domain mapping. It’s an awesome way to simplify all this stuff into an easy way of connecting to your server.
For those of you who are completely confused, allow me to explain. Sub-domain, or Prefix, mapping, is a way to point a website to another website.

Using this technique, I have made the following connections (example info used):

1. My home IP is 123.123.123.123. This changes once in a while, so I use the DYNDNS updater.
2. I’ve setup DynDNS to point http://billiePC.mycomputer.net/ to my IP address
3. Next, I’ve setup my domain of billie.com to point to http://billiePC.mycomputer.net/
(This third step is optional, I just wanted a simpler domain. )

Now that I have everything pointing to the right places, I just had to setup my prefixes, something I can easily remember.
The Andromeda Music list:
– http://music.billie.com  to http://billiePC.mycomputer.net/andromeda.php
The StreamToMe music player:
– http://stream.billie.com to http://billiePC.mycomputer.net:9969
Google Drive:
– http://docs.billie.com  to http://drive.google.com/
Blinq Photos:
– http://pix.billie.com  to http://www.blinqphoto.com/my-photos/
VNC:
– http://remote.billie.com  to http://billiePC.mycomputer.net:5900/
LogMeIn:
– http://logmein.billie.com  to http://www.logmein.com/
Tonido File Access:
– http://files.billie.com  to http://tonido.com/myfiles

So, that’s the really long winded version of how all this works.
Questions? Leave a comment.