We are constantly being invited to use cloud services such as Dropbox, Mozy and SugarSync to store our documents, music, photos and more. It's the future, we're told.
The obvious benefits of storing files online is that it releases space on our PCs, smartphones and tablets, and files can be accessed from any device with an internet connection. Another advantage of cloud storage is that the responsibility of looking after your files (including backing them up) and maintaining the hardware is someone else’s.
There are privacy and security concerns, though, and you might well wonder whether someone could access your files. Services also have worrying phrases in their terms and conditions, such as "You hereby grant Mozy a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive licence to use any such content."
Also, for anything more than a few gigabytes, which tend to be offered free to get you to try a service, you must pay for online storage with recurring monthly fees.
An option you may not have considered is to run your own cloud service. It's easier than you might think: all you need is a PC, internet access and some free software. A dedicated PC is best, but the desktop PC you use for everything is also fine. Just leave it running when you go out. Fibre optic internet, such as BT Infinity or Virgin Media, is best but any broadband will work.
An advantage of turning your PC into a cloud server is that storage is limited only by the size of its hard disk and not the size of your bank balance. You can store any type and any size of files, there are no monthly fees, and it is private.
Only you have access to your cloud server, but it's also possible to grant permission to others, such as family or friends. Imagine being at work and you want to listen to music. With just a web browser you can log on to your home PC cloud server and access your whole music library. If you are out and need a file from home or work, you can access it with a laptop, tablet or smartphone.
There are some disadvantages, too. Your computer is running when you are out, using electricity. Plus, you're responsible for maintaining the hardware, making backups, and that Windows is running smoothly.
Also, bear in mind that broadband upload speeds are slower than download speeds. This means it can be very slow to download big files from your cloud PC, but fast to upload them, which is opposite to normal internet usage.
There are several programs which you can use such as ownCloud (owncloud.org) and Oxygen (oxygencloud.com), but here we’ll show you how to set up the free Tonido (tonido.com).
How to make a personal cloud server with Tonido
1. Browse to www.tonido.com and click the Downloads link. The software you need to turn a PC into a cloud server is Tonido Desktop Software for Windows. There are two versions and if you choose the portable edition it doesn’t need installing.
2. Open the zip file and drag the Tonido folder out and drop it on the desktop. When you want to start Tonido, just double click tonido.exe. The first time, a Windows Firewall alert appears. Click Allow access.
3. Another housekeeping task is to sign up for a free Tonido account. Enter the account name you want to use and a password. Your account name becomes part of the URL used to access your cloud server.
4. After clicking through welcome messages you’ll see this screen indicating that Tonido is active. It runs in the background and the browser can be closed and you can use the PC for other purposes, just don’t shut it down.
5. Make your PC energy efficient by opening Power Options in the Control Panel. Select High performance and click Change plan settings, Change advanced power settings. Set the display and disk to sleep when the PC is idle.
6. You can log in to your computer, which is now acting as a cloud server, from any computer or device with a web browser. Here we’re using a laptop in Starbucks. Just enter your personal URL, yourname.tonidoid.com.
7. The same screen as in step 4 is displayed and you have full access to the PC’s internal disk drive and any other drives that are attached. There’s an Upload button, and the Actions column enables you to download files as well.
8. Navigate to the Pictures folder on the disk and select the Gallery tab at the top. The images are shown as thumbnails. Click a photo to view a larger version or click the slideshow button and sit back and watch.
9. Use the panel on the left to find the Music folder on the PC and select a folder containing music, such as MP3 files. Switch to the Music tab at the top and music controls are displayed. Pick a track and play it.
Next page: using Tonido with mobile devices
Use Tonido with mobile devices
One of the best features of Tonido is the excellent support for a wide range of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. There are apps for iOS so you can access your cloud server from an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. There's also an Android app for phones and tablets, a Windows Phone app and BlackBerry phone and PlayBook app. That covers most of the market.
All apps are free of charge and they can be downloaded from the usual places. In other words, go to the App Store on an iOS device, the Google Play Store on Android devices and so on. Use the Search facility to find Tonido.
The features available depend on the capabilities of the device and the operating system. For example, apps on iPhones and iPads have limited access to the system and storage.
The Android app on the other hand, can access all the files on the device and you can upload and download anything. Mostly though, you will want to only play music stored on your Tonido cloud PC, upload photos, view files on your PC, and so on. All the apps on all the devices have this basic functionality and here we show how to use the Android app.
Access your personal cloud using an Android device
1. Use your Android smartphone or tablet to go to the Google Play Store and use the search facility to find the Tonido app. Click the Install button to add it to the device. Quit the store, find the app and run it.
2. Your Tonido PC is protected and only you can log in. Enter your account name and password and check that the server address is correct. It should be http://yourname.tonidoid.com. You can then log in to it.
3. The files and folders on the Tonido PC’s files are displayed and you can browse around and select files. What happens next depends on what apps you have installed. You can view it, edit it or print it.
4. If you browse to the music folder on your Tonido PC you can select any MP3 file by tapping it. This displays the music player screen. There are controls to pause/play, stop, next and previous tracks.
Next page: Share and synch files with your personal Tonido cloud server
Share and synch files with the Tonido personal cloud
One thing you might want to do with your own cloud server is to keep a folder on another computer synchronised. For example, you might want to keep the files in a folder on your desktop PC and laptop identical, or to sync your work and home computers, and so on. This is easy with Tonido.
Log into Tonido with a web browser and take a look at the left-hand panel. In addition to the disk drives, there is also My Shared Files and My Synced Files. Select My Synced Files and it opens the TonidoSync folder in the Documents folder on the PC. If you download and install TonidoSync Client on any other computer, it creates an identical TonidoSync folder in Documents. The files stored on the Tonido cloud server PC are automatically downloaded and once done, both folders are kept in sync.
This is great if you use two or more computers, such as at work and at home, or if you want to share files between computers on your home network. Be aware that deleting a file on one computer will automatically delete it on the other (synchronisation is not backup!). However, deleting a file in Explorer sends it to the Recycle Bin, so recovery is possible.
Set up file and folder syncing
1. Using the computer on which you want to create a synched folder, go to www.tonido.com and click the Downloads link. Scroll down the page until you come to the TonidoSync Clients. Download the software appropriate for your operating system.
2. Double click the program after downloading it and install it. It will run automatically afterwards and it will prompt you to enter your Tonido account name, used for the URL, and password. Ignore the Remote Answer box.
3. The software creates a folder called TonidoSync in your Documents folder. There is an identical one on the computer running Tonido and the contents of the two are kept in sync. Use it to share files among your computers.
4. Files are private and secure by default, but you can make them public. Log in to the Tonido PC with a web browser and click the Share icon in the Actions column. Give the link to anyone who needs the file.