Why I love OwnCloud: answer to Dropbox lock-in

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A person holding on to clouds that look like balloons


I recently covered the release of Dropbox platform and my thoughts on the impending cloud storage lock-in. I was also fortunate enough to run across what the guys over at NimbusBase are doing over the weekend. They seem to be the answer to the open API for mobile and web applications, providing a cross-cloud storage layer and a GPL reference implementation while they do it. I also penned a few thoughts on their model.

I publicly lamented the Dropbox lock-in scenario on Twitter a few weeks ago, and Gunnar Hellekson clued me into OwnCloud. Dutifully, I read a few articles, and deployed OwnCloud on OpenShift. It worked nicely—inside of a few minutes, I was able to deploy the upstream version of OwnCloud and set up syncing of my Calendar, auto-upload of pictures from my Android, and even had a nice OwnCloud folder on my Mac via their OSX client. I had to admit, this was quick and easy.

So easy in fact, that I began to think about the possibilities of OwnCloud for my customers in the federal government. These are some organizations who have very real multi-platform file syncing issues. Imagine, thousands of users, in a geographically dispersed environment, whose business could genuinely benefit from this technology. I immediately began to see that there was potential for combining OwnCloud with Red Hat Storage. POSIX/SMB/NFS, etc interfaces to shared storage as well as multi-platform syncing and access capabilities—almost too good to be true. I’m not the only one: I found a great article over at zdevops, which discusses exactly that.

As it turns out, OwnCloud also offers an Enterprise version. This was of interest. Commercially supported, open source software that intends to stay in step with an upstream project.

Let's get nerdy

The whiteboard inside my head starts taking on some shapes and lines, quickly thinking through what a highly available implementation of OwnCloud might look like. In this diagram, I’ve separated the OwnCloud (OC) Apache servers from the Red Hat Storage servers, but there’s no reason you couldn’t have that workload running directly on the Red Hat Storage servers. You’d probably want to put cgroups in place to keep httpd & gluster services playing nicely. A centralized DB server ensures that all of our OwnClouds are kept on the same page, as it were. You’ll want to use sticky sessions with the load balancer as well.

OwnCloud architecture

I haven’t yet verified that OwnCloud will work in this configuration, but I don’t see anything keeping it from working. If I do run into a bug, I can always submit it to the OwnCloud developers via github.

On to the bits

After a few clicks and filling out a few forms on their website, I made my way to download.owncloud.com/download/repositories/. Now we’re in business. They had a repo set up for Fedora 19, so I did a quick upgrade of my home workstation to F19, and added the repo to my yum.repos.d I re-wrote the .repo to point to download.owncloud.com and yum installed the latest version of OwnCloud Enterprise.



name=Enterprise Edition (Fedora_19)





And Then:

sudo yum -y install owncloud-enterprise

It was relatively painless. I had to install MariaDB, and follow some simple instructions in their documentation.

I had a filesystem in mind that I wanted to point my data directory to (/data as opposed to /var/www/html/owncloud-enterprise/data) which is somewhere in the realm of 4tb, sufficient for a test environment. I had to set the SELinux context of it to match that of /var/www/html, but that was done with a simple chcon command. It was not immediately apparent, nor was this mentioned in the docs, but I’ll submit an update request for their documentation sooner than later.

sudo chcon --reference /var/www/html/owncloud-enterprise/data /data

Next steps were to point my browser at server/owncloud-enterprise, define a user and set the particulars about /data & my DB. After that I was uploading files. This was great. A nice clean interface, and what’s this? Extensions?

The one I was immediately drawn to was the ability to hook OwnCloud into my other data providers. A meta-data-cloud if you will. I was quickly able to connect OwnCloud to my Dropbox and a variety of other services. This is exactly the sort of functionality that would allow me to leverage existing cloud providers as well as my own storage. Very exciting. OwnCloud also offers virus scanning of uploaded files, on disk encryption and a suite of other tools. 3rd party extensions are available at apps.owncloud.com and there’s a thriving community at work. What a great model.
Ed. Note: Thanks to Dave Egts for taking a look at this article pre-pub, and Gunnar Hellekson for giving me the push to self-publish.

Originally posted on clater.org. Reposted using Creative Commons.

I manage a team of rock star Solution Architects at Red Hat, Inc., helping federal agencies to deliver on their mission using enterprise open source solutions. I'm a Red Hat Certified Engineer, and prior to Red Hat have worked in the DC area as an Architect for various Commercial, Civilian and Non Profit organizations.


Great article Adam, thanks for sharing this in such detail!

I concur. This has got me interested in ownCloud, which I will set up.

Evidently, using Dropbox is a hard sell for businesses just because of the security and privacy concerns you mentioned in your article. Another good options is creating your own cloud with a NAS: <a href="http://www.onlinebackupreviews.org/how-to-encrypt-your-data-for-cloud-storage/">cloud storage encryption</a>. If you combine that with Boxcryptor or even Truecrypt you're ready to go.

My experience with TrueCrypt containers on DropBox is continual "conflicted file" errors and confusing redundancies. By contrast, BoxCryptor has solved the DropBox personal encryption problem for me. Only problem is, unlike TrueCrypt, no Linux.

I primarily use a Mac and have been using encrypted disk images stored on Dropbox for years with no issues.

Another alternative to Dropbox you should take a look at FileCloud (http://www.getfilecloud.com), on-premises enterprise sync and share.

Interesting article.

Have you actually managed to successfully deploy it in a larger environment? All the stories on you hear from professionals these days are how they nearly lost customers or actually lost customers due to the low quality of code, lack of scalability, data loss and security issues.

That's interesting - do you have any links to these discussions?

Just a small selection that's easily found.


There's been the running joke that the owncloud version should be divided by 10 to get the actual version number. It seems to test very well, but fall apart in production. Hence the question whether you managed to put a larger deployment into production and have run this for some time without problems, and in which kind of scenario.

Or fully containerize the OC server on a RHS server ... maybe that's what you meant by use cgroups etc. Good candidate for docker.io integration?

That's right - a quick googling shows there are some folks building OwnCloud containers for docker already.

When it comes to user experience and sync reliability, Tonido FileCloud is miles ahead of OwnCloud.

Unfortunately Tonido FileCloud is not open source. But you still can keep control over data and run in your infrastructure.

Great, spirited debate. Adam, thank you for a great piece, we love Red Hat too! As for the questions of quality, we have some pretty vocal -- and very large users of Community (for instance, CERN and the University of Munster -- a million + users can't be wrong) and we take quality extremely seriously. With ownCloud 6 Community Edition now in BETA, we are spending these last few weeks in testing, QA and bug fixing. And for those that want extra Enterprise hardening, support, influence and features, we offer ownCloud Enterprise: https://owncloud.com/products/enterprise

We've been OwnCloud in our enterprise for over a year now, and it works extremely well. Everything the author said is true. I might add that for us, at least, using OwnCloud is a matter of providing our users with what they need to do their work, while still maintaining some control. We have, for intsance, integrated OwnCloud with Active Directory; user accounts/login/directory access are based on AD.There are a number of "Apps" (functionality-increasing add-ons) that can be enabled/disabled, depending on your needs. One example is Notes (name says it all). The only downside to the product is that certain third-party "Apps" don't always work well, and/or are not well-supported by their creators. That said, I thinking that any programmer worth his/her salt could probably create apps relatively easily. OwnCloud itself is being actively developed.

I'd urge you to take a look at OwnCloud.

Great article, we are also firm belivers not only of ownCloud but of OpenSource software as the future for Public and Private organizations. To continue the topic of great addons / apps built for ownCloud I would like to point you to the great ownCloud Zimbra integration two powerful tools that combine to provide an example of the flexibility of OpenSource Software.

Video related to ownCloud Zimbra Integration: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mRJWOl7rdA

Great article Adam,

For those interested in actually deploying a solution like the one mentioned in this article, I have covered the implementation here.



Great article.

Have you tried OwnCloud integrated with Zarafa?
I think is the best alternative to Office365 and Google Apps as you get all the MS Exchange features on your RedHat server and with OwnCloud you can manage and files and attachments.

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