Pragmatic 88: Trust, Faith and the Cloud

5 October, 2018


With Cloud Storage becoming a staple of modern computing, we deep dive into the history of how cloud storage came about, what features it has or should have and ultimately who can you trust?

Transcript available
Welcome to Pragmatic. Pragmatic is a discussion show contemplating the practical application of technology. By exploring the real world trade-offs, we look at how great ideas are transformed into products and services that can change our lives. Nothing is as simple as it seems. This episode is brought to you by ManyTricks, makers of helpful apps for the Mac. Visit ManyTricks, all one word, dot com slash pragmatic for more information about their amazingly useful apps. We'll talk more about them during the show. Pragmatic is part of the Engineered Network to support our shows, including this one, head over to our Patreon page and for other great shows, visit today. I'm your host, John Gigi, and today I'm joined by Rob Griffiths. How are you doing Rob? Pretty good, John. How are you doing? Very good, sir. I'm really happy to have you on the show. We've actually been in touch on and off for years and I keep a close eye on the things that you mess around with including things like Frank and Max and stuff which is one of those things and also more recently cloud stuff. And I was hoping to sort of bend your ear a little bit about some of this with regards to the history of cloud, cloud storage and kind of like why we are the way we are with cloud storage right now, like both of us. I guess I just wanted to start off with defining what cloud storage really is because it's one of those things I think some people sometimes think of things like Backblaze and what's another one? Different backup mechanisms, oh they're in the cloud, that's cloud storage. Well it's not really and so I guess I wanted to start there so sticking, starting with the basics. So I see cloud storage as being like a single common, single source of truth for as a storage location for files of any kind. And that could be accessed from any device provided that device has a network connection to the internet. If there's no network connection, you can still modify those files if they're synced locally and then they'll automatically update once you reconnected to the internet. I can't see it as like the basis of like that's the minimum that you need to be cloud storage. But there's other few things that are nice to have, I think. to have is in a cloud storage things like multiple historical revisions of every document so you can go back and recover if you have to delete something accidentally or modify something accidentally. And another one is that it's not a nice to have I think is that it's highly redundant maybe with a distributed architecture like a CDN. What do you reckon for that as a starting definition? I think it's pretty good. It covers a variety of other reasons why we use it both for many and I use it personally. And to me, the redundancy is nice and the always having it there is nice. Like, I mean, I used to be paranoid going on a flight somewhere. I'd have my MacBook and I'd have a USB stick with the critical files on it just in case they got claimed or the radiation scanner zapped them. But then I would also put a copy in a cloud so that if I got to my destination and the worst had happened, I could get them back. So I like that kind of that the files are everywhere and yet they're also locally mirrored so you aren't, it's not like using a netbook where nothing is on the machine and everything is on the internet. At least the way I use my clouds, the files are stored locally and then essentially the changes are synced back, if you will, when you save the files out. Which to me is kind of the best of both worlds because I have local access speed and the ability to change the files in real time and not have to depend on my network connectivity, but then when I'm done, everything gets sent back to the cloud, so it goes to all my devices. - Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that's, I've got to admit, the flash drive is an extra backup, as an extra personal local backup. That's a pretty interesting idea. I don't think I travel as much as you do, but I-- - Yeah, that was my old days. I used to travel a lot more. I don't do that anymore. And now I trust the cloud enough now that essentially I'll just throw a copy in the cloud and leave a copy on the machine and call that good. - Cloud trust. Trust, faith in the cloud. It's all good. I, okay, awesome. So I guess I just wanted to quickly point out again that it's like, it's really, it's not a backup. And because I, yeah, 'cause I mean, if you delete something, it will sync that delete. And if you, so it's like, hang on, that's not really what a backup is supposed to be. Anyhow, and I guess I was having another thing about more recently things like network attached storage. So let's say like Synologies or Drobos, or, you know, there's actually quite a lot now. It used to be a niche market, but it's become a lot more democratized these days. And so the problem with that is that most NASs, well, okay, most traditional NASs acted as a, so like a storage on your local network and not really external, externally accessible. The funny thing is these days, you can actually get things like a Western Digital, I'm thinking of the MyCloud, and there's a whole bunch of different ones. That's the one that I've got actually. And funnily enough, just about a few minutes ago, I just remembered that I had it. So it sits in a corner, but anyhow, but yeah, but it punches a hole through the firewall and connects up and you can actually get files remotely as well. But I don't know the definition of it, that's genuinely cloud storage. And I suppose technically it is, but if you've got a NAS that's not internet accessible, then technically it isn't. And I think that synchronizing with one of those things is different. It's kind of like, it's a data store, not so much a synchronized, it's harder to synchronize to it, like something like a Dropbox solution, I guess. - Right. Yep. - Okay. So the thing with cloud storage, it wasn't always called that, or it wasn't always thought of as that. So I thought it might be interesting just to go quickly through where it started and how we got to where we got to. So like technically, I guess file servers and centralized computing, with servers and terminal clients, sort of aspects of that started in the late 70s. But once the internet really took off, the idea and the goal changed. And so I guess if you look back at the first big notable entrance in the field based on the criteria of what we said, like this is what cloud storage is, we have and now they changed their name, now it's That was in 2005 and they focused on business users. I think they are still pretty focused on business users to be honest. We had a brief flirtation as in the company I'm currently working for. We had a brief flirtation with Box and yeah, it was okay. It kind of worked, but yeah, it also kind of didn't integrate all that well with Office 365 and they ended up pulling the pin on it. So it was one of those misadventures, but oh well. Not my money, not my choice, but nevermind. So yeah, Box says Box. Dropbox I think is one everyone knows, certainly in our circles. - Yep. - Yeah. And that was originally funded, I think, by Y Combinator, I think. And that was in 2007. And they offered both personal and business options. But they're sort of like-- when I think of cloud storage initially, that's what I think of Dropbox. And it's almost become like a staple. Because I mean, I share some of the podcast files, for example, editing between different hosts and such, syncing on Dropbox for years. So it's been around. Yeah, and I think one thing that really helped to take off at least in terms of the Mac side of the world is, if I'm remembering it correctly, they were really the first one that came out with an integrated Finder extension sort of thing so that your Dropbox folder didn't, it just looked and acted like any other normal local folder on your machine and then they added selective sync so you can choose what gets synced and not synced to all the machines so you don't have to keep a copy of 400 desktop images on all your machines if you don't want them. So that But just the ease of use of Dropbox is what I really remember from when it first came out was like, "Oh, I install this thing and I have my files everywhere and it just works." I mean, it was really seamless and simple. It was brilliant for the time. Yeah, absolutely. And I think it had the leading feature set for the longest period as well. And I think there are some solutions that have caught up to it, but there are still things that Dropbox has like being able to go back through previous revisions and undeleting deleted things which is still not necessarily available on a lot of other offerings. So I'm still very impressed with Dropbox to a point. So yeah, I still have it, I still use it but I used to put a lot of stuff on there and now I don't so much anymore. I've only got a handful of things and usually it's for synchronizing certain like keychains or applications that support Dropbox as a part. As opposed to let's just put any old file up there. So I just wanted to put an honorable mention in for Amazon AWS S3 and that was in 2006. Now I know technically that wasn't really until Amazon Drive came along a few years later that it sort of, you know, and it's just the data store that's backing Amazon Drive essentially. But you know, the fact is that some people started using AWS as a S3 as sort of a rudimentary the cloud storage, but that was in 2006 and it was certainly not nothing at all like Dropbox and didn't have some of the features that we talked about. So that's that. Google Drive, of course, that's another one. Of course, everything, everything, Google's got a version of everything, even if it's not necessarily as good, but nevermind that. Actually, I think I should probably stop there 'cause the list is pretty long these days. - Yeah. - So let's just stop there. But I did wanna actually also mention Apple's history because I think it's actually really interesting to see where Apple started. And I thought back to the beginning and pre my Mac days, and I think you've been a Mac user longer than me. So I'm hoping you can help a little bit with this one. So going back to the very first offering, I think in 2000 was iTools. Yeah, so what's your memory of iTools exact? 'Cause you were playing with iTools back in the day. - Yeah, I have only foggy memories of it. collection of internet enabled suite of tools to help you use the internet. But I honestly cannot remember much detail at all about itools. It's getting foggy back there. Yeah, that's okay. That's fine. I know only what I read. It's funny. I was digging out some old, some old was doing research for the episode and I was looking into itools. There was a couple of articles by, I think it was David Pogue. And I was looking through them and there was a screenshot and it's, It's a Google book, Google books thing. And there was a screenshot in there of iChat and in the contact list there was Jason Snell in there and a few other people's names that I remember and I'm like, "Oh, back in 2000. Right, that's right." So, you go way back there and it's like, "Yeah, these guys have been around." So anyway, it was very nice and nostalgic even though I wasn't sort of involved at the time but anyhow. So back at iTools, they introduced the email addresses, which I still see some people have. Obviously, I missed out on that because I wasn't around at that point on the Mac. As you mentioned, I had a few different things including a web page hosting offering. But the part that I really was interested in obviously and not iCards, not so much interested in iCards. I actually did know what iCards were and I'm like, "Well, okay." Anyway, it's iDisk. So, iDisk actually started out with and this is like wait for it, 20 megabytes. So I - yeah, okay. So because we actually - we had - it's weird, you know, sometimes when I work - sometimes at work we have some very old machines that we're tasked I guess with maintaining, fixing when they break. And it just reminds you how old you are when they say, "Yeah, we've got another broken 10 gigabyte drive." I'm like, we've got a 10, a 10, what? A 10 gigabyte? How old is that drive? And it's like 10 years old. Oh my God. So whenever someone says that sort of size you just used to, okay, I'm just gonna go and buy a four terabyte drive now. And I've got an eight terabyte storage, external drive on my desk physically right in front of me. And yep, 20 meg iDisk. Anyway, so yes. And later on that you could expand that to 400 meg, which is still crazy, but anyhow, it's fine. It's good. So that was back in 2000. And the thing that made iDisk unique at that point was that it fully integrated into the Finder in OS 9. So kind of like you were talking about with Dropbox. It was really heavily integrated into the operating system and made it so easy to use. A couple of downsides. It was Mac only. And that's only a downside insofar as Dropbox is any old platform, whereas the initial offerings weren't. And that's OK. This predates Dropbox by a long way. Okay, so that was iTools. And people generally liked it, I think. And I don't think that there was a cost if you had the entry level 20 meg, but if you went to the 400 meg, it was like a dollar a meg a year or something like that, which if you think about it, it's actually really expensive. But anyway, so then of course, there was the .Mac, which was the next one along, and that was in 2002. So what they did, go Apple, was they took their previously free tier of iTools over, and for a subscription price. And that was when it went to, I think it was $100 a year, which again at the time was pretty expensive but the good news is that it launched with a maximum of 1 gigabyte of storage. That's more like it. 2007, they bumped that up to 10 gig of storage for individuals and 20 gig for a family pack. And that was the way it was until the infamous MobileMe. And who doesn't remember MobileMe? Because that's when I actually came on board with the Mac. So I first got involved in the Mac in 2007. So I came on when MobileMe came on. And it had a bit of a rough start, didn't it? Yeah, it did. It was kind of a mess, as I recall. And when did that start? It was called-- oh, here we go. 2008, I guess, is when MobileMe came around. Yeah, I have a .Mac, I have email address. And I think actually, I don't know if that still works or not, I mean it's still valid today, and I think it all just maps back to whatever's current. So I don't know, you might try yours at, it might just actually work. But yeah, I remember Bobomi being a somewhat confusing transition from iTunes or .Mac, and it was dot Mac was before it, right? Yeah, when itools.mac briefly for a few years and then mobile me. - Yes. So yeah, so that was it. So when I joined, I might actually try the at and see if it works. But what I've got is I've got my email account, which I'm not gonna say, but anyhow, at Although admittedly, it's harder for spam bots to scrape audio than it is to scrape a website. So that's okay. Anyhow, but yeah, so just not taking any chances. So, at was, 'cause it's funny, I should go in there and say, "What's your email address?" And so that's the one I use for like my personal stuff. And yeah, so I'll go and I'll say, "Blah, blah, blah, at" And they look at me funny and I'm like, "Is that really such an odd email address?" Apparently, anyway. But look, yeah, it was rough in the beginning. It was really unreliable. And I think the service, the syncing service behind it had all sorts of issues. It would go online and offline. And my recollection of it was when Steve Jobs came out to announce iCloud and he sort of like said, "Why would you trust us? We did Mobile Me, shrug." And I kind of liked that. It was like an admission that, yeah, we messed up, but hey, this is better. You might ask, "Why should I believe them? They're the ones that brought me Mobile Me." [laughter] [applause] It wasn't our finest hour. [laughter] Let me just say that. But we learned a lot. Regarding the cloud storage part of it, which is all I'm really interested in at the moment, is that it doubled again based on .Mac. It was now 40 gig. So it's starting to get up to a reasonable sort of storage capacity there. And then of course we have our current offering and that's iCloud. And the thing about iCloud, when I was doing the research for this, I've forgotten just how long we've had iCloud. So it was actually late 2011. - Right, 'cause they had, yeah, God, it has been that long, hasn't it? - Yeah, amazing, time flies. And 'cause when they started iCloud, they gave everybody email addresses as well as you could keep your existing So I've actually ended up got, I actually have two and they both send to the same inbox. So once an alias, it's all good. But yeah, me came first. Anyhow, and the funny thing with iCloud when it started was that originally it offered, remember they called it documents in the cloud. - Yep. - And if I remember correctly, it was at that point that they ended iDisk. So iDisk was no longer available around about 2012. It wasn't straight away, it was just afterwards. And I wasn't really heavily relying on iDisk for anything. I'd sort of like, yeah, that's a thing, nod, great. I wasn't really using it. But Documents in the Cloud was more like, it was like embedded storage. So you couldn't actually easily get at it. If you knew what you were doing, you could get at it. But it wasn't, it was designed to, I'm doing a document on pages, or I'm doing a numbers or keynote or whatever. And it would take care of that for you, that syncing between devices for it, which was really its intention. But iCloud Drive, as we know it today, It didn't actually launch until 2014. - Yeah, it's kind of funny, it's full circle if you think about it, 'cause the original version of this was you had a local synced folder on your desktop and then that went away and it became only like within pages or whatever app, you'd see something that was stored in the cloud but you couldn't see that on your hard drive, just on your Mac, and now we're back and we have iCloud Drive so we can finally see the things that are there again, as well as having within pages or whatever cloud-based document-centric storage. And I know Apple's tact here is to help people who, you know, you can't lose a file if when you open pages it tells you here's what you've been working on and they're in the cloud and you get them from anywhere. I get that. And for people on mobile, I think it makes a ton of sense. But as a desktop person, I hated not being able, so much so that I tended, that's one of the reasons I moved towards Dropbox was it gave me what I wanted. I had projects in the cloud, but I could still see them locally and not within only the application I chose to create them with. - Yeah, exactly. I think you nailed it too, that full circle thing. 'Cause I was sort of struggling with exactly, it seemed odd, but yeah, you're right. They came completely full circle. I started one way and then went back and we finally got iCloud Drive back again, in a matter of speaking. But the funny thing is that when it launched, it initially offered 20 gig, which was less than the mobile meal. And then they offered a tier and they started stepping it. So you went to, there was 200 gig, 500 gig and one terabyte. So I mean, that's serious, but the one terabyte tier was $240 a year and which was really expensive. But then again, it's a heck of a lot of storage really. And for the day 2014, that was reasonable, but there were still people out there doing more than that. But still pretty decent. These days, I think it was in mid last year, so mid 2017, it would have been, I think. They made it two terabytes for about $120 a year. And yeah, so it's come down a lot. So I've doubled the storage half the price and that's fantastic. But oddly enough, the free tier is still five gig, which is- - It's a joke. - Which is what it's, it's a bit much, isn't it? I mean- - You could buy a 512 gig iPhone that comes with five gigabytes of free storage for your iCloud photos. I'm like, come on. - Exactly. It's like, if you take one video and you're doing iCloud like one video at 4k at 30 frames a second it doesn't take a heck of a lot of minutes and that five gig is gone. - Yeah. - I mean, yeah. And then of course, once it fills up, it's like, oh, no, sorry, I can't sync anymore. Yeah, I'd like to help you, but God, it's frustrating. So I, and I've got a bit of a story about that. I'll get to that later, but anyhow, so there's that. And in 2017, the other thing they did was that on iOS land, they changed it and called it files, not iCloud Drive. Which I guess that's fine, but it's the same thing, just different name. And the integration with the OS was quite good. It is quite good now on iOS, but not much has really changed on the desktop. It's still just a folder in the sidebar, just like iDisk used to be, and that's great, right? So this episode is brought to you by ManyTricks, makers of helpful apps for the Mac, whose apps do, well, you guessed it, many tricks. And their apps include Butler, KeyMu, Leech, Desktop Curtain, TimeSync, Moom, NameMangler, Resolutionator, and Witch. Now there's so much to talk about for each app, we're just gonna touch on some of the highlights for five of them, starting with Witch. You can think about Witch as a supercharger for your command tab app switcher. 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This offer is only available to Engineered Network listeners for a limited time, so take advantage of it while you can. Thank you once again to ManyTricks for sponsoring the Engineered Network. Right. Who knew there was so much to say about cloud storage? Okay. So criteria then. Cost per terabyte of storage. I suppose that's the obvious one. With cloud storage, you've also got speed of access and you also have things like using a content delivery network and or resilience. And there's also security of the data. that is to say encryption on the disk and end-to-end encryption in transport between your computer and the cloud storage. So one of the things that I got thinking about a lot more recently and there's a whole bunch of reasons why, Snowden sort of thing that sort of, you know, lots of stuff got out there and there was also, what was that? There was a few years ago and the US government was approaching all of the major like Apple on Microsoft and I'm trying to remember the name of that scandal where they were demanding backdoors. Do you remember? I can't remember the name, but I do remember the scandal. Yeah, that. So it's like that's become much more of a thing. So people realize that, oh, hang on, we've trusted these cloud service providers. Do we really trust them? Who's looking at our data? And I mean, and people do the whole Google thing and say, yeah, well, Google's looking, thumbing through all my emails. So it doesn't really matter. And I'm like, hmm, doesn't it? Okay. So, nevermind. So, cloud storage, I guess, from a security point of view, like any other cloud storage service, the question of cybersecurity definitely has to be considered. And the cheaper or freer, and I say freer, because nothing is truly free, you're always giving up something. The freer the service, the more likely your data is being scraped and used for, well, goodness knows what by goodness knows whom. So governments can force those back doors into servers and installations and you wouldn't really know if you're installing it on a server from a Linux distribution you might think, "Oh, well, I've got control of that." And normally, let's say, if you go to a VPS provider and virtual private server and you install a Linux image that they provide, then you don't know what they've done to it first. If you don't compile it from source, then you don't know what they've done to that. But then again, if you do compile it from source yourself and you're, it's also probably unlikely that you're a developer that can go through every single line. So you can't be absolutely sure that there's nothing in there that there shouldn't be. At which point then you put on a tinfoil hat and you sit in the corner. It's sort of a balance between how much you know and making it harder for others to invade your privacy. And I guess also managing your own paranoia. I don't know. What do you think? - It's an interesting question. It certainly came up with us because Peter is my business partner and the founder of Many Tricks, and he does all the programming, and I do pretty much everything else. And we work together on product idea and design, and he implements and I support. But anyway, we share a lot of our files, including our source files, are on a cloud server that both of us can access. And we originally, we were on Dropbox, and it was working fine. We had some concerns in that what we really wanted to be was on Dropbox's business plan, but that requires, they force you to pay for a minimum of I believe it's five users a month, and we have two. So it was gonna cost us a lot of money to be on their business plan, so we were on sort of the shared personal plan, which doesn't actually exist, it's just one where you have one login and you both share it. And it was okay, but the other thing that concerned us is it was our understanding at the time, I'm not sure if this is still true, I think it is, that although your files are encrypted on Dropbox, Dropbox does have the ability to decrypt them if they are required to do so. We had read that those keys are stored somewhere safely at Dropbox, but it's not like we're doing anything bad, but it's like we just weren't comfortable with our source code potentially being available if somebody had those keys. So it was a concern for us. On the personal level, I also had some concerns in that one of the things I'd like to put on our shared online cloud is sort of financial documents, receipts, and Quicken files and such, such that I can work on them from anywhere. And I really don't necessarily want that data becoming public. So it was definitely in the back of my mind. But I still use Dropbox for years until fairly recently. And now I'm much like you. I use it for those apps that require or offer a cloud service, but the only one they seem to support is Dropbox. Then those are the files you'll find on my Dropbox. All right, fair enough. Yeah, I guess so from your point of view, it was a combination of two things. So the first thing was it was the cost of the minimum number of users you had to have in a business plan and then the other one was the security of sensitive data. So - Yep. Okay, cool. So my story is sort of similar. I guess from my point of view, I - all right, Hang on, I'm getting ahead of myself just slightly, but I just want to make sure we quickly talk about something else, which is the choices that you get if you do install your cloud server. Like, you get a lot more options. Like, if you sign up for Dropbox, then you don't know what countries they're putting-- they may have a content delivery network with servers all around the world. They may not. You don't know where they put what they put. So you've got no visibility of the security of the servers, like where they are. So at least when you do your own, you have that choice. So you can choose where you host it, like what country, what service provider, even if you use a virtual private server or not. I mean, you may not. Some people have actually installed something like NextCloud, which we'll talk about in a minute, and they do it on a Raspberry Pi. And the Raspberry Pi is plugged into the internet at home and it's running Linux and it works. You may choose to do it as a CDN. You can set up your own CDN if you want to. It's actually become a lot easier these days. Or you can just have a single server, maybe. Depends on what you want to do. Or you can choose what level of RAID do you want to have. If you want to just RAID, because that's what I've got in my case. I've just got a RAID 60 VPS, but I don't bother with the CDN. And it works fine, right? Then you can choose what operating system to run it on. And most of the stuff will run on Linux, of course. Some of the different services run on different platforms, but on Linux, you've also got a whole bunch different choices. You can go with something like Ubuntu, which is more mainstream, or you can go with something like CentOS, which is a little bit more enterprise Linux hardened and so on. That's what I use, but in any case. So diving into which one we're using, so I think we're both using NextCloud. Is that right? It is right. All right, cool. So let's talk a little bit about NextCloud and what that is. And you You got to start talking about NextCloud by talking about OwnCloud. 'Cause that's kind of, that's the, that's where it started and then it went a bit strange. So we'll start with the, yeah. So OwnCloud was formed in January of 2010 by a guy called Frank Kaliszczek. I'm really mangling that name. Terribly sorry, Frank, if you're listening. Anyhow, with the first beta about two months after that, but in 2012, they formed OwnCloud Incorporated. Now, everything sort of like went along, quote unquote, fine until about April in 2016. So, you know, six years and a bit after they formed, Frank basically essentially forked OwnCloud source and went on his own with a group of the original developers following him. So, there's clearly some disagreements internally within OwnCloud at that point. And there was some business structure decisions that they'd made between two different countries. Like there were two different, you know, it's anyway. But either way, whatever you want to believe happens, that's up to you I guess but in the end, own cloud and next cloud went their own separate ways. I actually found a podcast that I've - it's made four episodes so I don't know if they're going to make anymore. The last one was December of 2017 called The Self-Hosted Web and they actually had an interview with Frank on it on episode two. I'll put a link in the show So if you want to have a listen to Frank's side of it, then get his take on what happened. It's interesting, if nothing else. But in any case, dig into it if you're curious. So OwnCloud has two components. There's a standard edition, which is open source, like fully open source, and an enterprise edition, which isn't technically open source, but the source can still be downloaded if you want. NextCloud has one version. It's open source. That's it. as of the time of recording, which is the end of September, 2018, they just released NextCloud 14. Now I'm still running NextCloud 13. I've been waiting for my invite. And you wanna know the funniest thing? 10 minutes ago, I saw my iPhone light up. It says, NextCloud 14.0.1 is available for you to upgrade. And I'm like, yay. I could have gone in and manually updated it, right? But I was waiting for my invite. 'Cause I don't know, I guess they're sending out invites incrementally so they don't overload the servers downloading the latest copy or something, I imagine. I don't know. In any case. So when you look and do a comparison between NextCloud and OwnCloud, as far as I can tell, the only real thing that OwnCloud has got over NextCloud is that it supports over 100 languages. Whereas NextCloud only supports about 30 or so. But other than that, in every other respect, NextCloud has more features than OwnCloud. So to my eyes, what seems to have happened is that OwnCloud is sort of, is happy with what they are and is just making it more broadly applicable to the world, to the greater world. But they're not really adding new features a heck of a lot. And whereas NextCloud is just going pedal to the metal and adding all sorts of apps and integrations and new features and they seem to be releasing new major version every year or thereabouts or less. And the amount of market share that they're getting is going up so much faster. So when most people talk about NextCloud, I don't know how many people are actually using OwnCloud anymore. Most people have shifted to NextCloud. And I never used OwnCloud, but the funny thing is in the command line, when you type in some of the command line commands for NextCloud, they still say OCC, which is OwnCloud. And so it's like, hmm. I'd just like to thank you for giving me a to-do because I realized that I was a bit behind the times. (laughs) - Well, which, which, which? - To do our next cloud server. - Oh, okay. Well, what next cloud version are you running? - One that's something less than 13 and higher than 11. - Oh, I see. - We're in 12. - Okay then. Well, fair enough. - To be fair, it was only like July of this year was version 12.0.10. So it's not that far out of date, but I'm like, wow, 13's out already, 14's out. It's insane. - Yeah, yeah, they really are accelerating. And the other thing though, to keep in mind is that maybe they're not exactly following semantic versioning down to the letter, but in any case, maybe it's more like-- - It's Google versioning. Google Chrome gives you a whole brand new major version number, it seems, almost every time, right? - Yeah, that's true. Oh, dear me. All right, so first of all, my story as to why I moved to NextCloud. Okay, so basically in terms of the cost. So what I did is I figured out that there was a VPS host that has a specific kind, it's becoming a thing where you'll have a storage VPS. Whereas that is to say in the past, a VPS has been minimal storage, usually it's on SSDs these days. And normally it's got, you know, minimal amount of RAM and it's pretty lean and mean. Whereas this is a new class of virtual private server where the accent and the focus rather is to say is on the storage capacity as the name suggests, not memory and not CPU like compute. So I found one for about, for $68 and 50 cents per year, US and the stats on it, if anyone's interested is, It's 1.6 gig of RAM, one CPU, and that's an E5-2620. And it's got, and this is the key feature, one terabyte of hard disk in RAID 60. And that's $68.50 a year. Now that covers 10 terabytes of transfer and on a four gigabyte port with full KVM virtualization. Now I found that was the best deal. There are other deals out there that are close to that, but that was the best one I could find at the time. And when I say at the time, that was about six months ago. So I'll keep my eyes peeled for, you know, stuff. 'Cause I mean, the cost of storage will come down, but in any case, so, all right. Compare and contrast that with iCloud. Now iCloud for the two terabytes, I was on the maximum plan, two terabytes, and it was costing me $120 US per year. Now, if I had my own VPS, the rationale that I applied at the time was, I could install other things on it like websites, I could put master on there, I could put a bunch of other stuff on that server because I was really only using 300-400 gig of that 2 terabytes of iCloud storage. So I was paying all that extra money for space I didn't need and just was never going to use. And so, and the next lowest price, the next lowest tier was 200 gig. So I was stuck between 200 gig and 2 terabytes, there's nothing in between. And so, I figured, well, I could get away with this and actually pay a similar amount of money but get a lot more flexibility out of it. Plus, I get that control back which is another thing we'll get to. The final straw though for me was I was trying to get my usage down below that 200 gig just as a way of reducing my annual bill because it's like, why am I - if I can find a way to whittle away, like take my photo storage off of there and a bunch of other documents and so on and so forth, then I wouldn't have to worry about that. So I sort of was whittling that down and I got it under 200 gig on the Mac Mini at the time. And it said I was under 200 gig limit so I reduced my plan at that point. Now the following day when I checked, it said my storage space was now over. And it's like, but hang on, yesterday you said I was under, now I'm over. Okay. And then I confirmed on all of my devices and I just shrugged and assumed that it was some kind of server lag that eventually it would show up on all of them as being I'm under my 200 gig. Unfortunately, about 3 or 4 days later, I realized I hadn't received any emails and I had a power bill that was due and it gets emailed and there's a pay on time discount with the email, with the power bill. And so, I kind of put two and two together and realized that whilst I was over the 200 limit, I wasn't getting emails on my account or And so I got into Apple support to try and troubleshoot the problem and say, "Well, hang on. I know I've got less than 200 gig in the cloud. So can you please hit the master reset button and reflect reality please?" But the truth was that after a few days, I just realized, "You know what? This isn't worth it. I need to just – I'll stump up the cash until they get it sorted." And so I went back to having two terabytes again and so on and so forth. And I finally got my emails working again and I was able to pay my power bill and it all worked out in the end. However, so I mean, rather than take a stand on principle, which I could have done, I decided just, you know, bugger it, we'll pay the money. And about six weeks later, that's how long it took, Apple finally agreed to hard reset my cloud drive storage. At which point then I was at 150 gig, which is exactly what I calculated based on what I had. and I downgraded it and I'd already shifted everything at that point to NextCloud. So, 'cause the other thing that annoyed me was documents and desktop in the cloud, because the reporting of quote unquote free space on your hard drive was not free space. And it was just absolutely doing my head in 'cause I don't know if you've ever had this experience where you just can't trust the amount of free space that it says you've got. It's like either the space is free or it isn't free. you know, figure it out. Man, it's frustrating. So that was it for me. I'd shifted everything to NextCloud. And what I've got is I've got encryption turned on on the disk. So obviously that takes up a little bit more space. So I've allocated myself a quota of like 500 gig, which takes up about 700 gig of space because of the encryption overhead, but that's okay. And so I've got it running at a rate 60 VPS. It runs CentOS 7. The server itself is sitting in the States and it's currently on NextCloud 13. And as I said before, I've got to put go to 14. I also, something else about NextCloud, I also installed a couple of extra apps on it. And I don't know how often I really use them. Probably not that much, but so NextCloud, you can install apps to extend the functionality. So I've installed Talk, Mail, Notes, and Collabra online. I don't really use it that much though, but still. Do you have any other apps that you've installed on your NextCloud instance, or are you just using it as file storage? We are just using it as file storage at the moment. If we were larger, more than two people, we might do more than that with it. But for now, that's pretty much all we wanted it for. And it's been working great. It's been very-- and I have to admit, when I first started to look into alternatives, the whole own cloud, NextCloud thing sort of concerned me, because it was kind of like a soap opera. It was really weird. But NextCloud definitely seems to be getting the majority of the development, and it's moving very quickly. And I think, almost by luck, I guess-- I don't know, I chose the right one when I picked, because it was sort of random. It's like, oh, they both look the same. They're in the same source code. And at the time I switched, they were very similar. I mean, because that was, what, two, three years ago now? So we've been very happy with it. So for us, we just actually added it to our existing web server. It's been working fine. I will caution that we do not put heavy demands on the shared stuff portion of this. So it's not like it's hitting a big performance hit to our web server. Because we just transfer-- when Peter has a new build, he'll put it up there. And I'll use it for the help files that I write or store it on the server. So there's not a ton of activity. And there's only two of us. So we've noticed no decline in performance with our web server by having NextCloud-- Sorry, yeah, NextCloud running in the background on the server. >> Yeah, I was going to ask about that in terms of performance and what sort of server you're running it on. The funny thing is that NextCloud has got a lot of interesting options. Like you can actually have external storage as well, like added to it. So if you hosted it on a particular server, you can have a network attached as it were to another one. So it's sort of, it supports a degree of distributed, It's not distributed, it's of additional storage that you can define elsewhere. You can also put NextCloud on physical devices within your own network if you want to. And there are cases of people, like I say, putting it on a Raspberry Pi within their own house and accessing it remotely. But I guess my issue with that approach is that you're still reliant on that pipe into your house. So, if that goes down, it goes down. I kind of look at, if you're going to be serious about NextCloud as like any kind of cloud storage, it really does need to be something that has high availability, that's got a decent RAID setup or a content delivery network, which you can't really do inside the boundaries of the four walls of your house. Right, so I also did have a couple of interesting issues with it. I'm not sure if you've had something, anything like this. So I had trouble with file locking where I would edit a file, let's say on the iPad and then it wouldn't let go of the file lock and then I couldn't access that or edit that anywhere else which I'm not sure if there's something wrong with permissions because I'm running SE Linux on mine. It may be something to do with that. I could never track it down so I just turned it off and every time I load up the next cloud admin panel it says, "Warning, you have file lock turned off." I'm like, yep, it's been turned off for six months and it hasn't caused me any problems. So shrug, it's staying off. Have you any problems with that or not at all? - No, we haven't. And maybe because we are, you know, we're essentially 100% Mac and I don't do any editing with an iOS device on the, in fact, I don't know that I've ever actually even tried to look at the files from an iOS device 'cause they're all about our Mac apps. And I don't, I don't, certainly I've never tried to write a help file on an iOS device. I think that'd be an exercise in frustration. So maybe we're getting lucky because we are just one platform. - It's possible. And I think that the way that iOS handles file locking potentially would be different from a Mac. I don't know enough about how the backend works to be sure, but that could be that. And speaking of iOS integration, actually, it just occurs to me that you can access NextCloud. You install the NextCloud app on iOS, you connect it up to your instance and you log into your instance. And at that point, all of the files are accessible either through their app or through the Files app. So, you know, just like you would with Dropbox or Amazon Drive or Google Drive, it all integrates nicely. So you can, I use it for, so I'll put raw audio files 'cause I do my editing in ferrite. It's funny, now I've got a decent laptop, again, I could go back to editing in Logic, but to be perfectly honest, I've really gotten used to ferrite. So I'm gonna use ferrite, but that means that I still need to transfer the audio file. So I'm recording it on the MixPre 3, which is on a flash drive. So I can put that on NextCloud and then I'll just suck that down into the iPad and do my editing and then I'll upload from that point. And it works fine. The only other issue that I've had with NextCloud, I've tried to use NextCloud for photo storage. Have you tried that at all? - No, it's just strictly work stuff. We do keep, we keep a lot of, we have a fair number of images, but no photos. - Okay, that's okay. I was just curious. I've tried and it really struggles with the thumbnails. And so the thing that I'm not sure how many people realize, but OneDrive, for example, which is the one I'm currently using and iCloud Drive, the thumbnails could be stored locally and generated locally, or they could be generated and stored server-side. So the way NextCloud does it is that it'll pre-render the thumbnails and keep them server-side so that when you open up the app, it'll then download a local copy. It doesn't generate the thumbnails on the local device, which is probably a good thing considering if I'm loading it up on my phone. Although my iPhone 10 probably had more compute power than my Mac mini did, but anyway, it probably would have done a better job than the server probably, anyhow. So I have had problems with it because I'll go and I'll open up the NextCloud app on iOS or even on the web actually, and it just doesn't pre-render the thumbnails properly. And I tried a few different plugins for it to try and get that to work better. And it just doesn't seem to work that well at all. And I sort of, until they, and maybe they fixed it in XCloud 14, I don't know, but until that improves, I'm gonna keep my photo sync on OneDrive. And the only reason it's on OneDrive is because I've got my internet through Telstra, Big Pond or whatever they call themselves these days. And it comes with an extra 200 gig of additional storage above the minimum. I think it's the original, the free tier is like 10 gig or something like that with OneDrive. I forget, maybe it's five. like iCloud, I can't remember. Anyway, the point is that there's enough storage there for me to put my whole photo library on it. And it works fine. Although admittedly it's shrugged, it's with Microsoft, but I remain hopeful at some point that I can ship my photos across the next cloud. I got plenty of storage space, so that should be fine. So to be honest, that's the most of it really. I think that I didn't have too much else I wanted to add. It was just a matter of appreciating that you don't have to actually go ahead with-- it's like, I don't want the hassle. And sometimes I get this when I speak to some other people. But, oh, yeah, I'll run NextCloud. They say, well, isn't that a lot of hassle? Not really, no. And there's another service called Cloudron. Have you ever come across Cloudron at all? No, I have not. So it's kind of like a package manager of sorts. Like you fire up, you can create a VPS and Cloudron will do all the installation updating and everything for you. And you can say, install this pre-packaged app and NextCloud is one of their many pre-packaged apps. So you don't have to know anything really about the terminal, the command line and you can actually load up servers in that fashion. Whilst I would never do that, it certainly does make it, it lowers the bar significantly And makes it a lot easier for people to actually get on there and do their own NextCloud instance if they want to. Yeah, because what I would say about NextCloud is that the initial setup is compared-- well, certainly compared to Dropbox or something, it's much harder. Because it's running on your own server, your subscribed server, and you will probably have to use a command line a little bit. But once it's running, it's been painless. And I forgot to mention the other thing that really sort drove our change is that a lot of these cloud providers have come and gone over the years, and we had this fear that we've got our files hosted somewhere and the provider business money runs out and they go, "Poof." You'll have time to get the files out, but that was a hassle we didn't want to have to deal with. This way, we figure if we're hosting the files, if we go out of business, we won't need the files anyway, but we'll still have them. We like that we took a third party out of the transactions. a really good point actually. I hadn't considered that. Yeah, that's a really good point. I have to admit that that sort of control and you have the ability as well if you want to change service providers, you can go to someone else. I mean like the extension of that is that I'm hosting it on a company called Speedy KVM and if Speedy KVM goes out of business then I've got a backup of all of the data and I can simply spin it up on another instance and away I go. So I've got everything I need and I'm in much more control of that. But yeah, there have been sync providers, cloud storage providers that have come and gone and sometimes they'll change their terms and conditions and what you can store and what you can't store. And then there's, yeah, so I think that's a very good point as well. Something that I hadn't considered at the time. I think that's pretty much all I wanted to say on that. Do you have any other thoughts on cloud storage or? No, I mean, I would encourage people who don't, you know, if you're not writing at least one of the free Finder integrated ones, I actually, I've switched, I'm using Sync as my Finder replacement for Dropbox, if you will. So I don't keep most of my, I also want to keep my personal stuff away from my work stuff, so I don't put my personal files on our mini-trix cloud. I'm using Sync for that, and the reason I switched to Sync is that they do not have the encryption keys at the headquarters. So once your files are on their server, they are all encrypted and nobody can open them except you, which is kind of cool. - So that's awesome. - Yeah. - So there is also an experimental, like say experimental feature in NextCloud 13 for end-to-end encryption between your machine and the cloud. It says, I don't think it says use at your own risk, but essentially that's what they're saying. So I haven't tried it, see whether or not that's now standard functionality in NextCloud 14 or not, but it's the sort of thing that it is the next step. I don't think it was available in NextCloud 12 even as experimental, but it was definitely available in 13. So that's also something else that I'm gonna explore, after I do the upgrade, I'm considering doing that as well. 'Cause it's just that extra assurance. Just gonna make sure obviously that that still doesn't cause problems between multiple different devices. So between a Mac or in my case, between iOS, probably not an issue for you, but something else to consider that most of the other ones I don't think support that. So if you wanna talk more about this, you can reach me at mastodon@[email protected] or you can follow @engineered_net on Twitter to see show related announcements. If you're enjoying Pragmatic and wanna support the show, you can, like some of our backers, Carsten Hansen and John Whitlow. They and many others are patrons of the show via Patreon and you can find it here at or one word. Patron rewards include a named thank you on the website, a named thank you at the end of episodes, access to pages of raw show notes as well as ad-free, high-quality releases of every episode so if you'd like to contribute something, anything at all, there's lots of great rewards and beyond that, it's all very much appreciated. If you're not in a position to support the show via Patreon, that's totally fine. You can still help out by leaving a rating in iTunes, favoriting the episode or the show in your podcast player app of choice where it's supported, or by sharing the episode on social media. It helps other people find out about the show and that's very much appreciated as well. I'd personally like to thank ManyTricks for once again sponsoring the Engineered Network. If you're looking for some Mac software that can do many tricks, remember, specifically visit this URL, manytricks, all one word, .com/pragmatic for more information about their amazingly useful apps. Pragmatic is part of the Engineered Network and you can find it at along with other great shows like Causality, which is a solo podcast I do that looks at cause and effect of major events and disasters in history, including Three Mile Island, the Challenger Space Shuttle, and lots more. Causality is on track to overtake pragmatic in popularity, so if you haven't yet, make sure you give it a try. If you'd like to get in touch with Rob, what's the best way for people to get in touch with you, mate? I'm on Twitter personally as @rgriff and Twitter professionally @MiniTricks. I won't say my email address on the air, but if you reach out to me on Twitter, we can figure that part out. Fantastic. Awesome. So, just a final thank you to our patrons and a big thank you to everyone for listening. Thank you Rob for coming on and talking about clouds. It was a lot of fun. Do you want to do some other topic? Sounds good. (upbeat music) [MUSIC PLAYING] [Music] (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) [MUSIC PLAYING] (upbeat music) (upbeat music) ♪ ♪ (upbeat music) I've got to take a breath every now and then.
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Rob Griffiths

Rob Griffiths

Rob is a host on The Committed podcast and is also part of Many Tricks.

John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.