OwnCloud is an excellent, open source personal cloud server for individuals, small businesses, and large enterprises. It's a remarkable bit of software engineering that wraps complex technologies into a friendly interface. OwnCloud's core function is file sharing, and it also supports Webmail, streaming media, shared contacts and calendars, encryption, and many other features. OwnCloud offers modular features, each controlled by an app, so you can tailor it for your needs without incurring a lot of bloat.
An On-Premises Private Cloud Storage Server
OwnCloud is designed to integrate and harmonize your existing data storage infrastructure, so you don't have to tear everything down and start over. You can use it as a central console to manage FTP servers, Google Drive, Dropbox, Amazon S3 and other S3-compliant cloud storage vendors, OpenStack, and WebDAV servers. Your users can access your OwnCloud server from pretty much everything: via Web browser, the desktop sync client for Mac, Windows, and Linux, and mobiles devices.
Figure 1: The OwnCloud 7 features a streamlined and logical user interface.
You can install OwnCloud on a Windows, Mac, or Linux server, but you really want to run it on Linux. This gives you the best performance and security, and easier management, because you can take advantage of the many free Linux servers and tools to help run OwnCloud, such as mail servers, Web servers, encryption tools, scripting language support, and other necessary tools.
You may need some tech help installing and setting up OwnCloud, but once it's up and running you should be able to manage it without a lot of drama. The interface is clean and logical, and OwnCloud provides good user and admin manuals.
You can choose between OwnCloud's free community version or its enterprise edition, which includes additional features and paid support. OwnCloud 6 is the current stable version, and while it's pretty nice the real star of the show is OwnCloud 7 (OC 7), which is scheduled for its stable release sometime this month. This delivers a big bundle of improvements and additions.
Sharepoint and Windows Network Drives
OwnCloud 7 Enterprise Edition adds two excellent features for Windows shops: SharePoint integration and much-improved Windows network drive management.
SharePoint integration is so easy you'll dance for joy. All you need are your SharePoint server login credentials and your SharePoint server address. Feed these to OwnCloud, and then it auto-detects your SharePoint libraries and presents you with a list of them to add to your OwnCloud console.
You control which users can see the libraries, which appear in OwnCloud as folders and files, just like any other share. Optionally, you may allow your users to mount their own SharePoint libraries in OwnCloud. In order to protect your SharePoint access controls, SharePoint libraries cannot be re-shared in OwnCloud. All files are synchronized bi-directionally.
While OwnCloud has always supported Windows network drives, in OC 7 EE adding and managing them is more streamlined and has finer access controls. Just like SharePoint libraries, you can create global or allow user shares, and control which of your OwnCloud users can see them.
What's New in OwnCloud 7
Let's take a look at the improvements available in both versions of OwnCloud 7.
Build a Cloud of Clouds
Server-to-Server sharing is a powerful new feature in OC 7. Think of it as a way to build your own cloud of clouds because it links OC 7 servers directly: users don’t need to have accounts on all servers. This is a great way to connect branch offices, hook up with customers who also run OC 7, and to geographically distribute important file shares.
It works the same way as creating any share: you set up a new file share with a few mouse clicks. Then you send the link to whoever you want to share it with, and they connect with a couple of clicks. It appears in the remote user's OwnCloud client just like any other share, and you control if they can edit or re-share it.
Managing Users and Groups
Now you can see all of your users and groups on a single page. Quota management offers a nice new option: you can choose whether to include remote storage in your users' storage quotas. The default is to not include it. If you have some kind of flexible remote cloud storage for users connected to your OwnCloud server, or a giant storage server, it makes sense to not include it in their quotas, and to restrict only local storage.
Figure 2: OwnCloud 7 features a clean user control panel.
When you create new groups you have the option to assign a user the Group Admin role. The Group Admin can add and remove users, which is a great chore to offload to someone else.
You have more control over your users than before: you can require passwords and expiration dates on shares, and disallow members of groups from sharing outside the group.
Better Files View
The Files page now lets you quickly filter your files by: files shared with you, files you have shared, and files shared by link. You can sort by name, date, or size, and now files shared with you display the name of the file owner and a shared icon. Files that you have shared are labeled with a chain link icon.
Your Files page should load faster now thanks to "lazy loading," which loads files as you scroll down the page, rather than the whole page at once.
Better Email Management
Your OwnCloud server can send automated notifications to users, and they configure which notifications they want to receive: when there is a new file share, an existing share has been changed, or a new file added to a share. It also includes an automated password reset for users who lose their passwords. OC 7 adds a simple graphical mail server configuration wizard and editable email templates so that you can control the content of the automated messages.
In the past, the upgrade wizard wasn't always reliable. This is now greatly improved, and you should be able to keep your OC 7 server upgraded with just a mouse click.
OwnCloud is easily the most mature and user-friendly cloud server, and a nice option for keeping your data under your control without disruption. The free community version is always free, and you can try the enterprise version for free for 30 days.
Carla Schroder is the author of The Book of Audacity, Linux Cookbook, Linux Networking Cookbook,and hundreds of Linux how-to articles. She's the former managing editor of Linux Planet and Linux Today.
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