Personal Cloud “On the Cheap”, part 1: Hardware

In my day job as a backup and recovery engineer I’ve seen first hand how bad it can get when you lose data and don’t have a backup.  Having said that, I’m pretty bad about backing up my personal data. Sure, I back up the important stuff like bills and taxes, and every so often I’ll back up all of my pictures. But if I’m being totally honest, I’m not consistent at all.  Recently I’ve been looking for a better solution than “when I get around to it”, and “cloud” storage seems to be a good solution. But there are some issues with cloud backup services (for me, at least).  They aren’t free, my data is be stored”in the ether”, and I’m fairly limited on the amount of space I have. And I don’t like the idea of paying to have someone hold on to my stuff for me, especially when I can figure out a way to do it myself.

Enter personal cloud computing. The idea is simple; using one of several software packages, you set up a computer to act as your own personal cloud server.  Then you install the software on your other computers and link them together. When a file is added or modified on one, it’s updated on the cloud server too.  Instant backup.  Sure it’s not exactly like a paid Internet cloud service.  For one, if you keep the server in your house you’ve defeated the whole idea of keeping backups at a different location.  If your house gets hit by a meteor (hey, you never know), your main computer AND your cloud server are gone, and you’re not getting your data back.

“Sure wish I still had all those cute kitten pictures to cheer me up.”

Still, a personal could server does give you some recovery options for your various devices in the event that they die.  It’s a nice insurance policy for someone like me, who is always experimenting with my computers…sometimes at my own peril. So I decided to see just how much I could accomplish, and for how little.

Building the Perfect Cheapest Beast

The first thing I needed to decide was what hardware to use.  I could theoretically do this on any old PC, but I wanted to start with something new.  If you’ve poked around my blog much you know where this is headed. I decided to try this little experiment on a NUC. But not just any NUC: I went with the cheapest model available, the NUC5CPYH. With a current retail price of under $130 USD, it was the frugal choice. Plus, it still appeared to have more than enough power to handle what I was trying to accomplish.

For memory, I reasoned that 4 GB should be plenty, and I happened to have a spare 4GB stick just waiting for something to do. That would be good to start, and if I found I needed more memory later I could swap out the 4GB stick with 8GB.

I decided to get a little creative for the operating system drive. Instead of using an SSD or hard drive, I chose a Samsung Fit 32GB USB 3.0 flash drive.

They don’t come much smaller than this

Call me crazy (actually, don’t do that…I’m sensitive), but the idea was to see how low I could go and still end up with an effective cloud server. Anyway, the flash drive shouldn’t get hit too hard. I won’t be using swap, and I wouldn’t be browsing the web or running a bunch of apps on it. Plus, there’s only room for one drive inside this NUC, and that’s being taken up by…

…my storage drive. What’s the point of setting up a cloud server if you don’t have room to put stuff on it, right?  Luckily, I found a great deal on a “gently used” Toshiba 1TB 2.5″ drive.  1TB isn’t a whole lot, especially if I plan to connect multiple clients, but it’s enough to get me started. I can always add more storage later.


Gotta love the NUC for ease of installation. Pop in the memory, slide in the hard drive, close ‘er up, and you’re done.

So the system’s all put together and ready.  Actually, I did make one change hardware-wise; I added the GoRite “hidden” USB lid. You can watch that step here.  That’s going to come in handy if/when I need to add more storage.

Up Next: Installing the operating system
And still to come: Choosing, installing, and configuring the cloud software


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