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Set Up Your Own Cloud System and Avoid Using Commercial Services

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If you’re anything like me, you have taken way more photos than you can access at any given time, especially if you’re away from your home system. In this article, I’ll show you why you should set up your own cloud system so you can access your image files all the time, and avoid monthly fees with commercial providers.

Image storage

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For most of us, home is where we maintain massive drives full of images, both edited and unedited. Most of which are only loosely cataloged or organized too. When I need to find a particular photo, I perform a pretty detailed metadata-based search spread over my multi-drive setup.

The operation is neither efficient nor pretty.

Particularly when the photo I’m looking for was taken years ago and could be anywhere on my system. It’s far from the tidy professional setup I would like it to be. I’ve been adding to this collection daily since the mid-1980s.

Now multiply this dilemma by being away from home much of my life, armed only with a laptop and maybe a thumb drive or small USB pocket drive. If I haven’t uploaded all my images to one of several cloud storage systems I use, this exercise is over before it starts.

Even if I can access my desktop system, the chances are slim that all those pesky permissions doorstops will let me search all my drives remotely.

Set Up Your Own Cloud System and Avoid Using Commercial Services

Hard-drive mania. Repaving the parking lot

Recently, I counted more than a dozen hard drive carcasses stacked on shelves in my home office.

They have served as photo and file storage depots over the years. Some contain images taken twenty years ago that I didn’t transfer to my newest, latest, largest storage device.

There are some great images that I simply haven’t had the time to weed through and sort out. It’s all pretty discouraging.

For those files I have stored online, many times I have to “qualify” them with a password often deemed incorrect (aargh!). Perhaps I’m simply getting older, but there are too many passwords for too many storage sources for this to be fun anymore.

Frustration and anxiety sets in every time I leave the house with my laptop in hand. I know I’ll need to get to something that I won’t be able to access.

Two months ago, I faced the recurring problem of needing more file storage space. What to do? Yet another even larger hard drive? More online parking space? Where does this cycle end?

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Flying the friendly skies

This time I took the time to seriously investigate the commercial cloud systems available.

If you think you’re not using cloud storage, think again.

If you have an Adobe account, you are a member of the Creative Cloud. If you are a Mac user, you have an iCloud account. If you are on Google, you probably are a member of Google cloud. Most likely, you use Dropbox – yet another cloud system.

All these systems provide file access from remote locations, but you certainly don’t have all your files on a single cloud.

While these clouds are wonderful, to some extent, there’s a significant downside to each. There’s also a lot of common problems with each. The restrictions, privacy, cost, access, limitations, and vulnerability involved with each is significant when all the facts are in.

Enter the personal cloud system

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What I have discovered is the surprise upside of installing my own personal NAS (network-attached storage) system, which is basically a full access file server.

A NAS is a standalone Linux or Windows processor (computer operating system) acting as a full-service librarian attached to host one or more hefty hard drives and providing a significant variety of server services. Each server is available only those to whom the server’s owner (typically known as Admin) gives permission, and accessible from virtually everywhere around the globe.

You can configure each personal multi-drive cloud server as either a single massive drive system or as one of several RAID configurations. RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Drives and consists of two identical hard drives recording mirrored copies of your files. Each drive stores identical backups for near-bulletproof security.

These NAS RAID arrays provide from two to twelve terabytes of online storage and backup.

Cloudy skies and bumpy rides

Set Up Your Own Cloud System and Avoid Using Commercial Services

But you should take great care to investigate ALL customer reviews of the various private cloud systems available.

Read beyond the marketing talking points and glitzy advertising and read the comments of current users.

The technology is proven, but not all products are quite as user-friendly as they seem. Lower-priced units sometimes indicate entry-level and basic features. Also, sometimes, the lower price indicates a lesser-quality product.

You can’t judge either books or NAS systems by their appearance OR brand popularity.

The system I originally purchased was manufactured by a highly-rated and respected hard drive company. It consisted of two four-terabyte drives set up as a RAID type 1 system that provided immediate access to virtually all my photos, videos, music, and files.

The server worked wonderfully, as long as I was on my home WiFi network. However, when I attempted to set up access away from home, some air escaped from the balloon. This lack of remote access led to me renaming my server “Fogbank” in protest.

After re-reading, reinstalling, and re-configuring the system as best as I could understand the ambiguous installation instructions, I first contacted customer support via email. Detailed explanations of my failed attempts were responded to by references to endless generic PDF documents in their “knowledge base” and forum discussions.

Unfortunately, my phone calls were handled by friendly technicians whose English was so challenged that I simply could not get a direct answer to my questions.

Multiple attempts to put this Humpty-Dumpty server back together failed over and over. Further reading on the company’s forums revealed hundreds of other frustrated users who had given up on the hardware. I will not name the product or the manufacturer. Instead, I’ll just encourage you to do your diligence and read the reviews of actual users before you buy.

Clear skies ahead

Set Up Your Own Cloud System and Avoid Using Commercial Services

I believe totally in both the concept and the technology of NAS personal cloud servers and have since purchased a quality, value-based product. I’ve spent a bit more than I did for my initial system, but I am rewarded with the amazing freedom and power behind this amazing technology.

I now enjoy speedy access to all files in my vast image library. My personal cloud server system provides file sharing and syncing, and personal multimedia services for streaming video and TV shows. It has a bulletproof backup, home security system monitoring, and many more amazing features.

I can even upload images directly from a photo session (through the camera’s WiFi) to my personal server – no waiting to get home!

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And best of all, this secure server system is fee-free. Once you own the equipment, your only cost is Internet access. If you have an Internet account, you’re good to go. Monthly fees and service restrictions are only distant memories.

You no longer have to rent the rare air on someone else’s cloud. You can collaborate with other users and photo club members, share and download huge files via FTP, all while being entertained. And they actually call this work!

Check into these devices, ask a lot of questions, and open up a whole new communications experience for as little as a $500 investment.

Have you set up your own personal cloud system? Share your thoughts on the process with us below!

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Herb Paynter
Herb Paynter

is the owner of Imageprep Communications, a photographer, author, and print consultant suffering in sunny Ormond Beach Florida. He is an award-winning Photoshop plug-in software developer who has been teaching digital imaging and production image editing for more than 20 years. Check his blog The Way Eyes See It, download his iBook Digital Color Photography from the iTunes store or view his digital color video series at Gotta Know Videos.com.