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Roelof Jan Elsinga
Roelof Jan Elsinga

Posted on • Originally published at roelofjanelsinga.com on

Building my personal cloud after 4 years

"Raspberry pi + nextcloud"

Building my personal cloud after 4 years

About 4 years ago I wrote my very first blog post "Researching home servers". In that post I talked about my Raspberry Pi 2 and using FreeNas to accomplish my goals of building my own file server at home and access it from anywhere. Well, it has finally happened and I didn't use FreeNas to accomplish this.

The Raspberry Pi

In order for a Raspberry Pi to work in this setup, I needed the latest version, the Raspberry Pi 4 4GB. This new version of the Raspberry Pi has USB 3.0 and built-in Wi-Fi. This makes it the ideal machine to run all the time, as it doesn't consume a lot of energy, but still be powerful enough to deal with multiple reads and writes at the same time. I specifically looked for a way to use Wi-Fi instead of ethernet to connect the Raspberry Pi to the network. This might be a controversial choice because a lot of the time you should use a cable to get the best internet speeds. I don't like to mess around with cables and the wireless connection is just as fast as the wired connection for my devices. The fewer cables the better in this case.

An 8TB external hard drive

The micro SD card on the Raspberry Pi is only 16GB and that's obviously not enough to be able to store all of my data from my machines. So I went for a future proof hard drive that won't be full for at least a few years. The external hard drive connects to the Pi through USB 3.0 and is mounted into the Partition table under "/etc/fstab". This helps with the reliability of the availability of the hard drive. By mounting it in the filesystem it could be unmounted at any point and you wouldn't be able to store any data in it anymore. Actually adding the hard drive as a partition ensures it's available where you say it should be available unless something goes wrong that is.

The software to connect it all

To connect the external hard drive to the Pi and make it available in the network I use Nextcloud. This is meant as a local Dropbox-like environment. So no FreeNas like I was initially thinking of using. Unlike FreeNas where you can create a Samba share and map this as a network drive in your operating system, Nextcloud works through an app or through the browser. This is where you can use it just like you would Google Drive and Dropbox. I chose this solution because I wanted something that took the least effort. I had tried OpenMediaVault as well, but this disabled the network capabilities on the Raspberry Pi and I had to reinstall Raspbian.

Another reason I went for Nextcloud is the fact that you can install the software through Snap packages, which means I'm no longer bound to a specific Linux distribution. Initially, I tried to run Ubuntu Mate and Ubuntu server on the Raspberry Pi 4 but this didn't go as well as I expected. I went with Raspbian because it's lightweight and developed by the Raspberry Pi team themselves, which means it has to work with all models.

The fact that I can now run my personal cloud on a Linux machine, as opposed to FreeNas which is FreeBSD based, means that I'm very comfortable tweaking and installing things. If something goes wrong, I know how to fix it. I never took this into account when I wrote the other post 4 years ago.

Exposing it to the internet

Exposing this set-up to the internet is something I'm not looking forward to and that's why I haven't done that yet. I want to research how to expose something from my home network to the internet a bit more first. I want to be sure that I've at least taken basic security measures to make sure my data and network are safe. So if you have any tips, besides using SSL because that's obvious, I'm very interested to hear what your solutions are.

Conclusion

This whole experiment was very nostalgic because I went through a lot of the things I went through 4 years ago. And the fact that this post relates to the very first blog post I've ever written was surprising. I long thought that post would be a dead-end, but as it turns out it was just a very long and slow journey. In the end, I ended up with a Raspberry Pi 4 4GB with an 8TB external hard drive running Nextcloud on my home network. I can now move all of my data to that disk and keep the important data as a second backup on a separate external hard drive. This all relates to the saying that if you have the data once, you have none of it. So far I haven't exposed this set-up to the internet yet, because I want to make sure I'm being safe with it before exposing myself to all kinds of malicious traffic.

Discussion (13)

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zacharythomasstone profile image
Zachary Stone • Edited on

I would love to hear an update when you expose this to the internet, what security measures you took, how much everything costs, and maybe a guide for someone like me who have been wanting to do this for a while now, but it's pretty new to setting up servers. Also, the link to the blog you wrote is broken.

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roelofjanelsinga profile image
Roelof Jan Elsinga Author

Good catch, I fixed the link! I'll write an update next week because I've managed to expose it to the internet and took some basic security measures so far (SSL). I'll go into more detail in the next post about this.

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zacharythomasstone profile image
Zachary Stone

Awesome! Looking forward to that! I'm surprised there are not more posts about this. Thank you for pioneering the discussion

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roelofjanelsinga profile image
Roelof Jan Elsinga Author

Of course, always happy to document my journey! Thank you for showing all this interest in this topic. I'm sure you'll like the follow-up as well!

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diego_boca45 profile image
Diego

So how does the RPi handle the hard drive in terms of electrical power? I've always looked for active USB hubs for connecting HDDs to RPis, only complicating the setup and having a mess of wires. Have you done some research in terms of available power at the USB 3 port of the RPi vs HDD power needs?

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Roelof Jan Elsinga Author

I have looked at it, but the external hard drive that I'm currently using is powered separately. So it doesn't draw any power from the RPi. I do have a drive available that doesn't have its own power source, so I could test that for you!

I just wanted to be sure that the drive was available any time I needed it, so the external power source seemed to most logical solution to me.

It does add to the cable mess a little bit, but that's not something a few cable ties can't fix.

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pedroer profile image
Pedro E.

Cool!
I did something like this.
I used OpenVpn to Access the pi and "OwnCloud" that I'm running though docker.

What are you thinking of NextCloud ?

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Roelof Jan Elsinga Author

Great tip! I'm going to try that out. NextCloud is really nice. The setup was very easy and the user interface is clear. I haven't tried OwnCloud, but I've looked at it as an option. What are you thoughts on it? Is it good?

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Pedro E.

Owncloud has the app and the web just like nextCloud has. I used just a little to try and to see if it was going to work... so far was ok but did not used very much to say that will work all the functionalities and stuff..
I found two apps, there was one "free - someone did this one that was not owncloud" and the owncloud paid one.

About the OpenVpn, is a very easy setup, just run one script, answer the questions and its done. After you just need to port forward at your router the same port you put at the installation. And the connection sounds safe, it generates a certificate for you to connect, so you just import it at the OpenVpn app at your phone for example and its done.

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roelofjanelsinga profile image
Roelof Jan Elsinga Author

That sounds really nice! I should see if that's something I can implement with NextCloud as well. I don't want to have to resort to whitelisting ip addresses or something like that. That would not work, as I'm permanently behind a VPN on my devices. Perhaps using an ssh connection or something like that would also work?

I'll definitely try the openvpn route, because that sounds great!

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amberix_eu profile image
Amber iX Europe

We're creating a technology called "Amber Anywhere", for NextCloud installed on Amber as home server exposing to the internet without changing network setting.

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manish srivastava

Wow great.... please share more

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Roelof Jan Elsinga Author

Here is the follow-up: dev.to/roelofjanelsinga/how-to-set...