Decommissioning the cloud: A self-hosted future

Cloud technology has slowly crept its way into nearly every aspect of our digital lives. And why not? It's convenient and easy to use, nothing to install or configure, and it's often free. Email clients are a great example of this. People used to live out of Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes, today all you need is a web browser.

This starts becoming a problem when you consider your privacy. By using these services, especially the ones that don't cost money, the price is your private information. Consider your family photos and facial recognition, are you comfortable with Google knowing exactly who you associate with? What about your private documents? Even passwords are moving to the cloud with services like LastPass and 1Password!

Another consideration is whether the service will exist in the future. If you keep notes on the cloud, how upset would you be if that service was shutdown? If you don't run it yourself you're beholden to the company providing the service.

Whether or not you're happy with all of this is a personal decision. What we're talking about is how to balance convenience against privacy and ownership. For my preferences, the pendulum has swung a bit farther than I want it to towards the cloud.

The best of both worlds.

How do you get the convenience of cloud-like services and the privacy and ownership of local storage? This, of course, is the self-hosted future. The cost of that self-hosted future is time and money. Time to install and configure different pieces of software, and money for the hardware that runs it.

The hardware side is easier today than it has ever been. Off the shelf hardware products like Synology, QNAP and Asustor are plug and play. Commodity hardware can also be configured with commercial software (Unraid) or open source software (TrueNAS, Rockstor). Any of these can be setup and configured with limited technical knowledge. This is not an exhaustive list, just an example to show that there are more options today than there have ever been in the past.

I'll give a few examples of cloud services which can be self-hosted.

Data management

After setting up a NAS, this is generally provided automatically. Enable one of the many filesharing options like FTP, Samba, WebDAV, or NFS. For the less techie "cloud" experience, you can use products like NextCloud, ownCloud or Seafile. Any one of these many options let you own your data.

Password management

This is perhaps the best example of when you might want to own your data. Every cloud based password manager is going to go into a lot of detail explaining their security model, and for obvious reasons. But do you trust them? Even if the answer is yes, do you want to place your trust a business?

One company leads the pack for self-hosted password management: BitWarden. A user of this self hosted software would feel right at home coming from any of the other password managers. It has mobile integration and browser integrations that match the competition.

Personal notes

This can be as easy or advanced as you want them. Simple files on your disk can get you pretty far, or even simple programs like Tomboy can manage your work notes. But that really doesn't compare to a cross-device cloud native note program like Evernote, Google Keep, or my favorite of the lot Apple Notes.

Today there are multiple self-hosted alternatives to these which give you cross-device access to your notes. One of the most popular open source options which provides mobile and desktop applications is Joplin. For wiki style notes, there are many other options available as well.

Other stuff

The list can go on and on as you start to decommission the cloud. Services like Spotify and Netflix can be replaced with Plex to serve your DVD and MP3 collections. Social media platforms can be replaced Mastadon. And much much more.

The penalty

It is costly to self host for many reasons. Not only do you have to buy the hardware, but you may end up investing many hours into configuring and deploying your services. Once deployed you need to consider how to backup the data.

The most important thought I would leave you with is this: you have the option of owning your data and privacy.

Where to get more information

/r/homelab is a reddit community with people building home servers. 

/r/selfhosted is a reddit community all about software to run on your server.

awesome-selfhosted is a long list of software that you can host yourself.

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