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Editor's Note: Do It Yourself "Cloud"

Nov 21, 2009, 00:02 (8 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

Last week I wrote Cloud is Just Another Word for "Sucker". My objections to buying into this whole "cloud" services fad are three-fold: trust, reliability, and performance.

But "cloud" covers a lot of different services, and there is no need to throw out good ideas. Cloud services can be roughly divided into four categories: ordinary hosting services for Web sites and email, hosted applications, offsite data storage and backups, and hosting services that use virtualization and distributed computing to provide flexible resource allocation. The last is what I consider to be the true cloud, and the other three items can all be put inside this cloud.

Whatever you call it and however you want to implement it, why not do-it-yourself? Linux has everything you need. It means being responsible for your own security, hardware, and uptimes, bandwidth costs. It may be that using a hosting service is more cost-effective. But there are plenty of DIY options, and you keep control in your hands.

Peer Backups

Back in the day I ran a few little public nameservers, and I had arrangements with friends where we were secondaries for each other. No big deal, if anyone went offline there were enough of us to fill in. We added refinements like encrypted data exchange and some other security tweaks. If an asteroid had hit our city then we all would have been wiped out and our customers would have been inconvenienced. But I doubt we would have cared much, being dead and all that. Anyway this works anywhere there is Internet, so you can spread your net as widely as you like.

We had similar arrangements for offsite backups. Our backups were secure and private because we exchanged whole encrypted disk partitions, and only the people who owned the data had the keys. The server admins did not. SpiderOak is a commercial online backup and storage provider, and they do the same thing. If you lose your private key you lose access to your data, they have no back doors or any other way to get into it.

SpiderOak also provides graphical Mac, Linux, and Windows clients, and has some nice tools for file-sharing. I always used plain old SSH and rsync, but it wouldn't be hard to cobble up a nice script and wrap it in a little GUI for folks who prefer pointy-clicky.

Private "Cloud"

There are a number of open source "cloud" software suites: EyeOS, Eucalyptus, and Nimbus are three that I have heard good things about, though I have not tested them myself. These give you nice integrated packages all ready to install and use.

The old standby for centrally-managed Linux desktops on diskless clients is the Linux Terminal Server Project. Edubuntu puts a friendly face on LTSP. Put your money into a powerful, reliable server, put a bunch of old PCs to work as clients, and you're in business. This is a nice way to take care of users who are performing specialized tasks that don't need all the bells and whistles of a development workstation, audio/video production, or other jobs where your users have more responsibilities and do more complex tasks. Got a gaggle of temporary workers to manage, or a classroom of students? A terminal server is perfect for them. When they move on, erase their accounts to make ready for the next batch.

Bandwidth, Security, Uptimes

The downside to keeping your datacenter in-house is more responsibilities: you have to maintain your own hardware and network, and take care of your own security. Though for me this is not a downside because that is my preference. Trivial stuff can go on the cheap hosting services; important things stay home.

The other downside is acquiring the skills and expertise to manage all of this competently. Though again, that is not a downside to me. Why would any IT person worth a hoot not want to be as capable as they possibly can? With Linux and FOSS you have a whole world of great software to use, and can practice, test, and deploy it at your own pace, and without having to spend half your time appeasing the license police, and the other half chasing malware out of your systems.

That's all my thoughts on the subject, anyone with experiences or more knowledge to share is heartily invited to comment.