Personal Cloud Storage: What Is It And How Do You Set It Up?

obrBy Joseph Gildred — Last Updated: 02 Oct'17 2017-10-02T00:18:29+00:00

When most people look to supplement their hard drive space with a cloud storage solution, they likely settle on a subscription service like Dropbox or one of the many reliable Dropbox alternatives available. However, for the intrepid technophile in looking to get their geek on, there’s another way to go about it: set up your own personal cloud storage system.

Aside from being a fun, fulfilling project, a home-based cloud storage network can be used to access files faster and ensure greater privacy. At the same time, it’ll have many of the same advantages of using a service like Dropbox, including file synchronization and remote file access from a browser interface or mobile app.

During this overview, we’ll be taking a look at the advantages of a personal cloud storage network and what it takes to set one up.

Traditional Cloud Storage vs Personal Cloud Storage

Generally speaking, when we think of the cloud, we think of networks of servers used to store data that can be accessed from your device over the Internet. The reality, however, is that all that’s really required is that you’re able to access your files online rather than having to store everything on your computer’s hard drive.

Here are Cloudwards.net, we mostly review company-owned cloud storage services. You can read up on the basics of traditional cloud storage and some of our recommendations in our best cloud storage overview.   

Private cloud storage options let you do many of the same things as traditional cloud storage, including using software to sync your devices, share files and access content from your smartphone.

Because cloud storage only requires that you be able to store your files somewhere other than your hard drive and access them over the Internet, there are actually much simpler ways of going about creating a personal cloud storage setup than turning your dining room into a server farm.

Several different companies now sell personal cloud storage devices, which are basically network-attached storage (NAS) devices that allow for remote data access. Often, these devices are also optimized for video and music streaming, making them ideal additions to your home media setup. If media’s your intent, we put together an article on the best personal cloud storage devices for home media that might be of some interest.

You’ll find devices that let you store up to 40TB or more, although 10TB should be plenty for most home users, and will save you a bundle of money, too.  

If you’d rather not invest in hardware at all but still want your own private cloud storage network, you can opt to rent server space from someone else. To make this work, you’ll need to find a cloud storage software solution that supports web server hosting, and the services of one of our best web hosting providers, to boot.

We’ll take at some of the popular personal cloud storage devices you can buy for your home and a few hosted options in a bit. First, let’s talk more about the general advantages of setting up a personal cloud storage solution.

Advantages of Personal Cloud Storage

There are a few different reasons why someone might choose a personal cloud setup instead of going with a service like Dropbox.

The biggest benefit is speed, assuming you’re going with your own hardware and not a virtual host. Device synchronization and media streaming are much faster using self-hosted personal cloud storage because data doesn’t have to travel quite as far nor do you have to contend with web congestion. Even with encryption enabled, many personal cloud storage devices can reach speeds of around 200 Mbps.

Another advantage of personal cloud storage is better privacy assurance. Services like Dropbox and Google Drive may claim to respect your privacy, but they must share your information with government agencies if required to do so.

A good example is the NSA’s ongoing PRISM project. You can go with any of our best zero-knowledge cloud storage services, which let you retain control of your encryption key. However, with personal cloud storage, you get to retain control of your encryption key and your storage repository.  

A third advantage of personal cloud storage, assuming you buy your own equipment, is that you’re not saddled with recurring costs. Depending on the device you go with, you can put together a storage system for your home for under $200.

Many NAS devices will be quite a bit more expensive, but also come equipped with drive bays and USB connectivity. This means that if you decide you need more capacity at some point, you can just replace the drives or connect an external hard drive rather than replace the entire unit.

Disadvantages of Personal Cloud Storage

Of course, personal cloud storage has its disadvantages, too. The most obvious is that, much like your smartphone or laptop, personal cloud storage units are susceptible to water and heat damage, in addition to theft.

Cloud servers, on the other hand, are usually stored in climate-controlled facilities protected by biometric scanners, security guards and surveillance systems. Multiple copies of your data are usually kept across several different servers, so if one does fail, there’s always a backup. Read up on data center security and RAID storage if you’d like to learn more about what cloud storage services do to protect your files.  

Choosing between the advantages and disadvantages of personal cloud storage versus traditional cloud storage isn’t easy. If you can afford it, the best tactic is to take advantage of both by enacting a hybrid approach: Maintain a personal cloud storage system for speed and subscribe to a service like Sync.com for the benefits of data center security and redundancy.

Personal Cloud Storage Using Your Own Hardware

To create your own cloud storage network at home, you’ll need to invest in storage. Thankfully, there are many personal cloud storage devices available that simplify this process. Some of the most popular brand names are Western Digital, Seagate, QNAP and Synology.

Devices produced by these brands all come with packaged software solutions to access your files from your computers and mobile devices. As such, setup will differ based on what storage system you purchase. However, they all make it pretty easy.

If you really wanted to get fancy, you could also invest in a server instead of a NAS device. However, that will require a little more technical know-how to get it up and running. If that’s the route you want to take, we applaud your ambition. Most of the solutions mentioned in this DIY personal cloud storage article can be used to turn your server into a cloud network.  

The process usually requires a relatively quick server installation. After that, you’ll need to download sync clients for your computers and mobile apps for your smartphones to get them all connected. While certainly more time-consuming than a buying a NAS device designed for cloud storage, services like Nextcloud and Seafile make it easier than you’d think.

Personal Cloud Storage Using Somebody Else’s Hardware

If you just want the privacy advantages of personal cloud storage and don’t care so much about the speed, there’s another route you can take to set up your personal cloud storage network: use someone else’s hardware.

To do this, you’re going to need one of those DIY software solutions mentioned earlier. You’re also going to need to find a web host that supports PHP and MySQL. The advantage is that rather than investing a couple hundred dollars in equipment, you can opt for monthly subscription instead.

We have several web hosting reviews that meet the requirements. Some of our favorite options include GreenGeeks, DreamHost and Bluehost. You could also go with a dedicated virtual private server (VPS) host like Digital Ocean.

Once you’ve picked your host, installation is usually pretty simple. With OwnCloud, for example, you only need to upload the web installer file. You’ll also need to purchase a URL to access your files remotely. Installation should only take a few minutes and the web installer will do most of the work, so you don’t need to have any particular technical expertise.  

Final Thoughts

Whether the thought of data breaches keeps you up at night or you just want more ready (and faster) access to your files, setting up a personal cloud storage network might be a good move to make. Thanks to a competitive landscape, the process has become relatively user- and budget-friendly. You don’t need to be an IT engineer or a have a several thousand dollars to get up and running.

Personal cloud storage solutions like the Seagate Personal Cloud Home Media Storage Device are can be had for under a couple hundred dollars, saving you from recurring charges while letting you stream video and music to your laptops, mobile devices and smart TVs.

If you don’t want to invest in hardware, DIY solutions like Nextcloud can be setup with a VPS solution to provide both increased privacy and scalability over traditional cloud storage solutions like Dropbox.

While we’d recommend not ditching Google Drive and Dropbox entirely, or at least use one of our best online backup solutions so that you’ll always have a copy of your data in case your NAS goes down, it seems like the personal cloud storage trend is here to stay. For users ready to embrace the future, there’s no time like the present.

We’d love to hear your own thoughts about personal cloud storage and what has or hasn’t worked for you in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

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