UPDATE 2017: It’s been a year since my dear friend Jory’s passing. Articles like this that he shared with my (now defunct) “I Live On The Cloud” blog show how smart and generous he was. I miss him all the time. Hope you enjoy these republished words.
PREFACE 2011: My buddy Jory is almost always one of the first people I bounce ideas off of when it comes to Living on The Cloud, or anything else technical for that matter. He is a King of the DIY and even runs his very own Cloud! I told him not to get too technical on y’all, but it’s always inspiring to me to hear about what he sat down and taught himself to do (especially since I have no training in computers, either!). I hope his story opens you up to the possibilities of what you can do too… –Sam
Jory: Okay, I don’t actually live on the Cloud, at least not in the same way Sam does. I’ve sunk some pretty deep roots, having signed a 20-year lease for my business with way too much crap inside those walls — including my very own cloud, it’s true.
Along with all the changes in computer hardware and Internet service have come major changes in how we as people communicate and share information. These days it’s not enough just to have my calendar “online,” I want it to be shared automatically between 3 or 4 devices (desktop, laptop, smartphone, tablet, iDevice, etc.) I want to be able to have my to-do manager (OmniFocus) share my data across multiple devices…and it needs to happen whether my primary computer is with me or not. But most importantly: I want my data to reside as much within my control as possible.
In this era, where the “Cloud” is a household buzzword, it’s commonplace for people to use a web application email service (Gmail) and synchronization tools (iCloud) and online backup systems (Mozy), but it always seems to me to be a bit sketchy to hand over my data to someone who doesn’t really owe me anything. This is where having my own Cloud comes in.
As much as possible, I use my own servers to keep all my data local. Email, calendars, and WebDAV are just a few of the systems I use to keep multiple devices in sync with each other. And they’re pretty much all doable on your own, assuming you have the infrastructure and the interest.
Keep in mind, I don’t have any training or special skills in this arena. I began down the road of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) cloud hosting quite accidentally in early 1995, before most people had even heard of “the Internet.” It started with my lobbying for a Unix account while I was studying sound at CalArts (so I could make myself an “email address” & indulge my curiosity), and soon after building a Slackware Linux server from spare parts that CalArts’ network administrator agreed to host for me as long as I was a student. I worked on this stuff like some guys work on cars, not really knowing what I was doing but figuring it out as I went.
Then, based on a few favors, I managed to get my server colocated (physically housed) at a major datacenter for nearly a decade for no money. Sweet! Eventually the datacenter upgraded their hardware, turned mine off, and my content went along for the ride so only the data on the server was mine. Not a bad deal for free, eh? Eventually the free ride did end and it was time to take the next leap: a dedicated Internet line – my own T1! [cue dramatic music]
Having your own dedicated Internet line is a big jump in capability. You need more than one server? No problem! I’ve got a block of 32 addresses, so I can just keep adding more machines! Need more hard drive space? No problem! I can just hang another drive off the machine! Clients need me to provide them a place to share files? No problem! I’ll set them up a private section on one of my servers, where only their files go! You get the idea.
Seventeen years later, I just keep pushing the envelope further. Those spare parts servers I started with back when I was in college are gone as of last year, replaced with second-hand server hardware purchased off eBay for a fraction of what they cost a new just few years ago. And that tried-and-true T1 line? It was recently upgraded a shiny new fiber optic data line that is 6.7x faster (oooh! ahhh!).
The secret? Build just what you need and push a little further each time you see the opportunity.