There was a lot of pre-announcement speculation Wednesday — inaccurate, as it turned out — that Apple was about to extend iTunes into "The Cloud." For the life of me, I'm not convinced that's such a hot idea.
I really don't want to turn over my music and video (or anything else) to a company to have and to hold on their servers. Nor do I want to pay for the honor and privilege of accessing music and video that the company won't let me own outright. Having seen hundreds of online computing offerings evaporate, flame out or just become unreliable over the last few decades, I am more than a bit skeptical about the alleged wonders of commercial cloud-based computing.
So I decided to build my own cloud.
It's not terribly hard or expensive, although it does require a little more geekdom than I would prefer.
My cloud is not as fast as a commercial service, but it's (usually) fast enough to stream video and has no problem at all with streaming music. It also makes it easy for me to move files between the five home and work computers and three portable devices I now live with, no matter where they are scattered at any given time.
I'm still fooling around at a training-wheels level with this technology, so I wanted to go with a system that was cheap and — at least somewhat — reliable. If I get serious about this, I'll probably need to create a multiple-drive redundant RAID array in a heavy-duty case (and if you don't know what that means, you are normal and healthy). But for now, I wanted simplicity and wasn't worried if everything blew up.
So: I grabbed a 1 terabyte backup hard drive I had sitting around — you can now buy drives of this size brand new for as little as $60, by the way — and put it into one of the less-expensive options out there: a $60 Ineo Poseidon case.
This can be connected via an Ethernet cable to your router and it doesn't require a computer to run — it comes with built-in FTP, Samba and BitTorrent functions that work all on their own. The case also is sturdy, gets decent user reviews and doesn't require a potentially noisy cooling fan.
In an ideal world, you could just plug this into your network and be done with things. Of course, this isn't an ideal world, as anyone who fools with networking can tell you.
There were several minor issues with my plan, most of which are too dull/technical to get into here. There’s one big one almost everyone will face: Most home Internet connections use what is called "dynamic IP" — in other words, the designated Internet address for your home connection can and will change.
This makes things easier for big Internet providers who are trying to provide reliable service to your home, but once you start having two-way conversations with your home computers from the road, things can get really messy.
I got around that by using a common and free solution: DynDNS. This service automatically detects your active home Internet provider address and allows you to connect through it via a hostname it creates for you. In other words, you could type, say, “myhome.dns.org” and get to your cloud, no matter how often your Internet provider keeps changing the address of your home connection.
Now, if you don't understand anything I just wrote in the last few paragraphs, you, again, are normal and healthy. And that's the real problem with creating your own cloud or dealing with home networking in general.
Networking is an area where even experienced computer users can get lost in a fog of indecipherable acronyms fairly quickly. For people to create their own clouds on any large scale, this level of geekdom has to be reduced to plug-and-go simplicity.
I'm not holding my breath on that — which, in turn, may be the biggest hope for companies that want to make money by owning the cloud.