Rolling your own easily accessible cloud network drive with OwnCloud and Transmit

owncloud-logoFor a while now I’ve been trying to solve a particular issue with how I work. I use a Macbook Air, with a 128Gb hard drive. That’s not a lot of space, especially when you’re working with a lot of assets like video files and whatnot around an artist campaign. Across my campaigns a lot of assets wind up getting saved to my hard drive: photos, cover art, promo videos etc etc. Storing it all takes up more and more space – annoying when I may only need the files a few times across a campaign lifetime.

With that in mind, I was looking for a cloud storage solution with the following criteria:

1) Must be accessible as a network drive on my Mac so I can simply copy files to/from it
2) Must also be accessible from mobile/tablet so I can get to files on the move
3) Must be private by default (ie content not accessible via public URL)
4) Must also have means to share links privately to other people

On paper at least, this appear to be a relatively simple request. However, as it transpired it was actually a really tricky one to sort out. The likes of Dropbox, SugarSync, Box and others all rely on more of a sync method, whereby your files remain on your hard drive but also sync up to the cloud in order to access them from anywhere. The failing of that for me was that I didn’t want these files on my hard drive; I just wanted them in the cloud. Those services also cost a lot when you’re only using them to store a large volume of files that you access intermittently.

FTP therefore seemed like the next best option – and as a friend advised, Transmit on the Mac lets you now mount webservers as network drives for seamless access. However regular FTP meant files would be public (unless some .htaccess wrangling was done – not my forte), and would also fail on point 4 above, because there’s no easy means to share a private file.

With all that in mind, I decided to look into OwnCloud; an open source, roll-your-own-Dropbox cloud storage service. OwnCloud is free and can install on any webserver, and so its #1 USP is that you aren’t paying per gigabyte to store your data, as is the case with all commercial providers. Usefully though, you can also mount OwnCloud as a drive over WebDAV. And, if that fails, you can simply use Transmit to map a drive to your OwnCloud file storage area. Crucially for me though, OwnCloud also passed on points 2, 3 and 4 above: files are kept private, but can be shared easily via their web interface or dedicated iOS and Android apps.

Installing OwnCloud is a cinch: you just download this install script, upload it to the server you want to install it on, then load it up in your browser at http://yourdomain.com/setup-owncloud.php to start. The script then does all the checking for you and assuming your webserver passes muster, it will do the install. Yes, its that easy. From there, the service can even index your music files and photos which can then be played or viewed in separate sections. You can even sync your contacts and calendar with it, should you so desire. Sharing files is easy enough too; you just click the “share” button and can either email a link to the file directly from the service, or can get a shareable URL to copy and paste.

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 10.53.43

So: that was the cloud storage set up, ticking parts 2, 3 and 4 of the criteria above. The only remaining issue was to set up the cloud storage as a network drive, using Transmit. Transmit isn’t a free app – it costs around £23 – but is generally regarded as the best-in-class FTP app for Mac. I do a lot of FTPing to artist sites etc, so have a very good reason to own it anyway. Its killer function in this context though, is its Drive function, which can mount any FTP/SFTP/WebDAV location as a network drive that you access in Finder.

Mounting the OwnCloud as a network drive was simple enough, and there are two ways you can do it. One is using WebDAV, but in truth I found this to be a little buggy, with some files not uploading correctly. So, in my case I just created an FTP connection to the files area of my OwnCloud install. This can be modified when installing to be any location you specify, but the default is at yourdomain.com/owncloud/data/USERNAME/files/.

That’s it! With that set up, I now have a network drive with (relatively) unlimited storage that I can access from anywhere – and when I’m not near my laptop, I also have a mobile app I can use to send links to assets as required. It took me all of 10mins to set up from start to finish and feels like the best solution for my needs. If like me you just need a place to store those intermittently-accessed files, this could be one solution to try out.

P.S. One other thing I should mention about OwnCloud that is pretty cool is its means to add external storage mounts. In plain english, this means you can connect your Dropbox or Google Drive accounts to OwnCloud and have them appear as another storage location within OwnCloud itself. Similarly you can also add in other FTP sites, or if you’re running OwnCloud on a local machine (e.g. a Raspberry Pi), you can easily add local drive mounts too. In my use case none of those are particularly necessary, but there’s no question that a top-level connector system to access all your cloud storage etc in one place could be very handy to some.

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2 thoughts on “Rolling your own easily accessible cloud network drive with OwnCloud and Transmit

  1. Sven says:

    Great! I also tried to access my owncloud via WebDAV but same as you, I wasn’t really happy with its reliability. The idea to use FTP directly to the files folder is awesome. Tried it and it works flawlessly so far. Did you encounter any issues with it in the meantime? I’m especially worried about file access rights or an non-updated owncloud database.

  2. Darren says:

    So far, its all running very well. Admittedly my own use is fairly simple (really not much more than a basic file storage setup), so your mileage may vary, but yes to date its been perfect!

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