Picking a cloud service can be something of a lottery. The big players tend to offer a solution that locks you into their services but offer an attractive price to be shackled. And, the smaller operations tend to lack the functionality that business invariably needs.
If you want something different yet powerful, then perhaps Nextcloud could be the solution for you.
- Want to try Nextcloud? Check out the website here
Before we get into the features you can expect from Nextcloud, let's cover where this product came from, as it has an interesting backstory.
Back in 2011, ownCloud was formed with the objective of creating a client-server software and file hosting services combo to rival Dropbox. This product was free, open source, and allowed anyone to install it on their own server hardware and create a private cloud solution.
However, in 2016 one of the three originators of ownCloud, Frank Karlitschek, and some other code contributors decided to leave and take the solution down a different path, forking ownCloud into Nextcloud.
This action has the unfortunate side effect of shutting ownCloud in the USA, although a version of that business still exists and has been successful in Germany, ownCloud GmbH.
After the schism, Nextcloud started at version 9.0.58 and has since gone through six major point releases to bring us to release 15.0.2, first released in December of 2018.
Unsurprisingly from a feature perspective, Nextcloud is very like Dropbox in functionality, although it can do substantially more if you are prepared to buy into what is an amazing open solution.
It is import to understand that Nextcloud isn’t a single client-server solution where you sign up and get a cloud drive. Instead, it’s a suite of tools that work around the Nextcloud platform to provide an entirely customer-tailored solution.
At the heart of this platform is Nextcloud Files, an online storage solution that allows documents to be synced from desktop computers and mobile devices, shared between team members and integrated with other storage platforms.
And, this is a self-hosted solution, so how much space they’re got access is entirely up to you, although you can buy pre-installed and hosted solutions if you want those too.
Alongside Files, there is also a chat and a web collaboration tool, Nextcloud Talk. And, a Groupware solution with Calendars and Contacts called Nextcloud Groupware. And, also home use and enterprise-specific packages.
What this all boils down to is that Nextcloud is a free, self-hosted alternative to Dropbox, but with a full Google Docs capability and wide integrations with other business-critical tools, like Outlook, SharePoint, Mozilla Thunderbird and most importantly, Collabora.
On signing up, users have immediate access to almost all this functionality through a rich WebDAV compliant web interface, where they can see what files and folders are on the system, share them with others or use any of the apps that are hosted as part of Nextcloud.
Those that want to sync with folders on their PC can use a desktop sync tool, and those are supported on Windows, Apple Mac and Linux. The folder sync is entirely flexible, and you can even sync to multiple servers for extra redundancy.
A complete log of all activity, on both the web interface and desktop client is recorded, should anyone need to be shown the exact point when they deleted that important file.
Sync is always live, and you can put safeguards in place to avoid terabyte level off-site syncs by asking for confirmation before syncing any folder greater than a predefined size.
Bandwidth limits can also be imposed, to avoid anyone grabbing all the resources inadvertently.
It didn’t take much time for us to realise that those who designed Nextcloud thought very deeply about how it would be used, maintained and supported.
Depending on how you look at these things, self-hosting is either good news or bad from a security standpoint.
The good side of this coin is that your business isn’t lumped in with a million others hoping that service X hasn’t been hacked and all your internal documents are about to magically appear on Wikileaks.
But conversely, that places the focus on internal security, and not allowing anyone physical and remote access to servers that are running Nextcloud.
That’s critical because in other respects this is a very secure model, where the contents of the server can be encrypted, and operate an in-transit, server-side and client-side end-to-end encryption technologies.
It can also work with LDAP/Active Directory, SSO/SAML 2.0, Kerberos, OAuth2, OpenID Connect, JWT, CAS or Any SQL database mediated by Apache modules.
Two-factor authentication is standard, and you can use Time-based One-Time Password (TOTP) as well as NFC and Gateway Signal/Telegram/SMS for the second factor.
For any white-hat hackers wanting to make money, Nextcloud also offers a $5,000 bounty for anyone who can achieve remote code execution on the server as unauthenticated user on the server. And, lesser amounts for less critical incursions.
Mostly due to the self-hosted nature of this solution, it is probably one of the most secure cloud storage solutions around, and significantly better than some well-known brand names.
The obvious question most readers might be asking by now, is if this is ‘free’, and as good as it sounds, and anyone can install their own copy, how are Nextcloud a going concern?
A simple answer is that anyone using this product in anger should really consider a Nextcloud subscription, because all your cloud storage eggs are in one basket, and no system is entirely bug-free.
Basic, Standard and Premium subscription plans are available that can handle from 50 users up to 10 million (yes, that many!) and those start at about $43 per user a year, and the cost goes down as you increase the number of users.
Those that want to use Collabora Online Office can add that functionality for just € 17 per user per year.
Nextcloud also has discounts for the Public Sector and Education, and Framework agreements can be made. And, they will rebrand Nextcloud for corporates for a price, and have installation and configuration support packages.
Overall, we can’t help but be impressed with Nextcloud.
It provides almost all the features that you can get from Google, Microsoft or Dropbox, at a fraction of the cost and with the flexibility that only self-hosting provides.
The only caveat to self-hosting is that backing up the storage is the responsibility of the business, not the software provider.
Therefore, anyone implementing this might want to merge it with an off-site secure storage solution for those scenarios where the worst happens.
For those wanting to explore what Nextcloud has to offer, they have a free evaluation version where they do the hosting and an instant trial.
Have a look around the evaluation, as you might find that it is substantially better fit for your business than what the big providers have.
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