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My New Setup (avc.com)
75 points by cwan on May 21, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 53 comments

I'm actually thinking of taking my stuff off the open internet and setting up my own email server in my, gulp, house.

GMAIL, Facebook, Twitter and Lastpass have all had serious hacks in the past couple of years. I think the in vogue status symbol in the next couple of years will be to create your own cloud service in your closet and back it up to the cloud encrypted.

There might be a cool startup there: home cloud systems that leverage redundant broadband connections (dsl + cable + fios) in your home that are harder to hack. They would be harder to hack because they are not part of the tareted BigCos right?

anyway, just an idea... "google docs server for home"

I have this discussion fairly often as a founder of GitHub with folks that don't trust 3rd parties, but I think it's unwise to assume you're more prepared to defend against attacks than cloud providers that employ people to worry about it constantly. Reducing your exposure by bringing those services to your home isn't a sufficient security measure.

True. But a simple server in a closet hosting only your data is less likely to get the attention of a determined attacker. I guess the argument is similar to the Windows vs Mac security argument in that one may be more secure but the other may be safer for most people because of the incentives and economics at play.

If the setup becomes standardized, though, bots will roam the net attacking the setup rather than you personally. It'll be like running your own Wordpress.

> They would be harder to hack because they are not part of the tareted BigCos right?

Not neccessarily. A lot of totally unknown installs get hacked all the time (cf. random WP blogs) by script kiddies who scan thousands of adresses trying to find a few to get into. They don't care you're not a BigCo and that your server is in your basement.

And if you're taking care of that server yourself (and assuming you do have other things to do in your life), you're likely to miss some security upgrade, and might leave a hole open just enough for someone to accidentially stumble into.

I presume having the server only accessible through a VPN, and configuring all your devices (laptops, tablets, phones) might do the trick, but that's a bit pushing it.

"They don't care you're not a BigCo and that your server is in your basement."

Correct but the issue to me is not "what can the neighborhood general store do themselves". It's wcfwd - what could Fred Wilson do. Fred doesn't have to fly coach (although he does fly coach apparently).

I agree with you on this. I'm surprised that someone like Fred wouldn't just setup his own servers somewhere, even colo, with a mirror elsewhere which would make more sense then relying on a google docs or anyone. I've done it this way since the 90's. The only drawback is having the expertise to do it right and the cost. Something that shouldn't be an issue to someone with money and access to expertise like Fred.

I agree with the other comments that you are less of a target in general also depending on where your docs are located (or where your server is colocated even if it's your house).

Fred is going for the low hanging fruit solution to a problem. Not necessarily the best solution.

Cost includes time spent setting it up and maintaining it, which includes time spent cleaning up the mess when an upgrade breaks something. Upgrades shouldn't break anything, but sometimes they do. Also, he'd retain the primary responsibility for making backups, which he explicitly mentions as something he likes not having to do any more.

I wish there were good open source alternatives to Gmail, Facebook, Twitter etc. that you could just install on your own server. But as it is now leaving cloud entirely would require significant effort, time and knowledge to setup and when you do, you would still lose a great part of functionality provided by the cloud now.

Freedom Box could be heading in exactly that direction ... http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/16/nyregion/16about.html

I have been doing the same thing for some time, and I don't understand why people will pay the Apple premium if you buy into the cloud concept. It simply makes no sense.

I've got myself, my wife, my mother, step-father and sister all running Ubuntu 11.04 on rather cheap (as in price) but still good Lenovo hardware. Everything just works (and well) and since Chrome runs great on Linux, they have the exact setup in the article and they have near zero need for anything more. I don't get paying 10-20% more for shiny.

Anyway, that point aside, I absolutely love the setup. As I've said, I pretty much run this myself. My local file system is actually a huge Ubuntu One disk (cheaper than dropbox plus I get music streaming to my Android phone) so I don't even worry about backups (even so, I still have backups....call me old fashioned) and all my code is in github or bitbucket (depending on project). It has really been working quite well for me for about 1.5 years or so.

The big thing I noticed when setting up non-technical family members (all those listed above are teachers, FYI) is that you just have to create some bookmarks to Google docs and the like, and maybe create a desktop shortcut to them. I take my workflow for granted sometimes, and I've realized they are used to clicking on something to open it so creating a bookmark in the toolbar or a shortcut on the desktop makes it feel like an app to them. Other than that, no real adjustment.

And when one of those hosted services goes down, just as you are trying to generate the shiny new presentation for the new investors...

Access is nice. But putting all your eggs into the cloud isn't a good idea. And how the heck are you ever going to run grep on your google docs?

> And how the heck are you ever going to run grep on your google docs?

I hear Google have a pretty good solution for that

How the heck do you run grep on your Word docs?

You canuse, at least for older versions, catdoc.

Aren't newer Word docs (.docx) files just zipped XML files?

If grepping were a common enough need you could write a tool to unzip to tmp, grep, report locations. Or something. In any event having a local file opens up some options the cloud doesn't.

Well, I think the grep question is answered here, anyways: https://www.greplin.com/

greplin should be able to do this

Still practically none of (web) cloud apps have the level of usability available in desktop apps. Even though HTML has come a long way, I doubt it will ever catch up. Imho the next trend will be native apps with integrated interfaces to cloud services. These kind of applications have existed for a long time, but they were not widespread. Now however with the advent of app stores it's becoming mainstream. Pretty much every serious cloud service already has a native mobile application. Why not do the same for the desktop?

A hell of a lot of business processes are built on esoteric (and localized, as in a script sitting on a computer in the office) Excel and Access functionality - the Western Australian mining industry being a prime example.

This whole "let's move everything to the cloud" movement seems primarily to be driven by people who don't have a lot of work to do on computers besides browse websites, email, and write blog posts. They may do a lot of other work, but their computer use is fairly limited to a few tasks.

Meanwhile, business users are only going to make the jump when the multi-billion dollar companies that employ them feel comfortable having confidential information stored on a server in some other random country (i.e. probably not in my lifetime).

That's the problem Google and the other "cloud" providers have to overcome before they can claim victory - not some minimal use case like this.

It sounds like mainly he's saying he is done with Windows and MS Office. Definitely the trend these days, and it's good to see someone who is tech savvy but not a techie going down that path. A MacBook Pro and an iMac are still traditional 'desktop' devices, though. I guess the key is that he's ditching the desktop software stack in favor of the new mobile era style software and cloud storage.

Myself, I moved all my vital email, coding, and business administration from a desktop box with Linux to an Android phone and an MBP on the last trip I took. When I came back, I didn't bother switching back. however, I'm not ready to abandon the safety of my own hard drive.

"Myself, I moved all my vital email, coding, and business administration from a desktop box with Linux to an Android phone and an MBP on the last trip I took."

Your phone and laptop can be confiscated for any or no reason if you cross the US Border inbound. If you travel internationally, be sure to be non-controversial.

Ah, life in the US - really, the FBI could kick down my door and take all my computing equipment for any or no reason at any time. Grumbling about Twitter or Amazon is about as controversial as I get, though. Is it better to have your data stored in 'the cloud'? Not really. It's vital have encrypted backups here and there one way or the other.

The door kicking and the border scenario are different. With the door kicking you had to first be noticed by the FBI, but with the border crossing you're placing yourself under the gov's arbitrary notice. Both scenarios are unlikely. Unless you're controversial, or you happen to get a border guard on your or their bad day.

I know police have been looking through mobile phones at traffic stops for a few years at least, too, and now some even have device which will copy the entire contents of the phone for later analysis. Traffic stops can be pretty casual.

I'm wondering, though, are you saying I should be concerned about losing the hardware or the data in particular? You mean, store everything in the cloud so access to my hardware doesn't automatically mean access to my data? How about TrueCrypt or Apple's encrypted home partition option?

I'm saying don't have your phone or other device be your only repository of important data when you cross a border. I'm not even talking about privacy, just access to your own data.

Definitely. An even more likely scenario for someone as fritter-headed as I can be is that I'll leave it at a coffee shop or hotel, no outside malice required! Definitely a big concern for mobile devices, and I've been thinking lately about how crucial this makes my MBP. It's definitely not as safe as the system at my house.

What I used to do is have everything on my home system, then connect to it through VNC or NX from the road. It's great when there's a fast connection available, but too frequently VNC is unusable due to unreliable internet connections. I'll get this network thing figured out some day.

    Myself, I moved all my vital email, coding, and 
    business administration from a desktop box with 
    Linux to an Android phone and an MBP on the last 
    trip I took.
Do you also code on the phone somehow or just on the MBP?

You could via ssh, but it's not comfortable due to the screen size. I picked a phone with a physical keyboard, which helps a lot. I've used my phone to fix code and restart servers, and I love that the possibility is there in case of emergency.

In other news: RIAA Wants To Start Peeking Into Files You Store In The Cloud http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2570538

Considering those trends I would not want to store any unencrypted data in the cloud.

Yes, those clouds are increasingly becoming "one stop shopping" for criminals, thugs and government.

Epsilon and Sony are just two, recent examples. The TJ Max incident a few years ago. Etc.

The "cloud" is useful, except there isn't actually "a" cloud, there are just individual businesses inviting you into their capacious silos. It's lock-in with more risk.

"The cloud" needs a lot more work before we can call it "the" cloud, and before we can call it safe.

I would bet that once the cloud really takes off there will be providers that will charge a premium to offer a service that is more private and outside of the 'bad' jurisdictions

So instead of using a free ad sponsored storage point where you are what is being sold, you pay $50 a year for a storage point that is hosted offshore, is encrypted, etc.

The one problem that the cloud faces is that applications need to be decoupled from storage. ie. you should be able to have your documents with provider x, but use the word processor from providers y or z to access them. Each of the apps at the moment set up their own storage silo, there is no real 'my documents' or home directory for the cloud

tarsnap to the rescue!

If you don't have a backup of your data that is in your physical control, then you are at risk. It doesn't matter if you're using "the cloud". By all means, use "the cloud" if you like. But keep a copy of your own data in case the service you're using stops working the way you'd like it to or loses your data entirely.

That backup is probably at more risk than what is in the cloud. Think about how many more people they have working on keeping that data safe and accessible.

I hope there are explicit guarantees for this. Otherwise I am not sure I had trust all my data to the benevolence of an an external entity.

Being on the cloud can be really really nice, but does Charles realize that what he just did was give employees at Google a free look at _every thing the Union Square Ventures does.

They now have access to your financials, your location, your search, your email. You've handed the most amazing trove of your business's intelligence over to Google to manage and handle for you.

Generally I trust Google. But, when a company has a fiduciary duty to maximize shareholder value, and more and more corporations start switching over to a Google Apps platform over the next decade. I'd be suprised if Google didn't start to use that huge trove of business intelligence to it's financial advantage.

If Google acquires a company that's in Union Square's portfolio, wouldn't it be silly _not_ to look at what's been going on in Charles River's Google Apps account regarding that company?

This is Fred Wilson / Union Square Ventures, not Charles River, but your point stands.

That said, I don't agree. Sure its possible, but Google is going to jeopardize its entire business to see what Fred Wilson is emailing his partners? Yeah right.

They don't have to read his email, just analyze it algorithmicly. They already generate some kind of index of how many times each interesting word is used, otherwise they couldn't provide ads or fast searching. They only have to view that index as a histogram to reveal all kinds of interesting stuff about Fred's business -- information that he gets an advantage from keeping private.

It depends... Google can say (and can be truth) there were prediction algorithms that analyzed your e-mail and they acted on that!

* blushes * fixed.

I don't think it's fair to assume that Google routinely and casually violates the privacy and trust of their users.

I have been pursuing a similar setup, but one of the last sticking points for me has been the absence of a VPN I could use on the road. I finally ended up with a satisfying solution based on openswan:


This is a VPN that installs to Amazon EC2, but could trivially install on any other VPS provider (or even at home). The reason I targeted EC2 is because it is the most difficult to work with (due to IP traffic restrictions). However, EC2 also provides a mechanism for dynamically binding IP addresses to your instance, meaning it is easy for your VPN to hop around.

The major advance of swandive is that it is compatible, out of the box, with every device out there. It doesn't require you to root your Android device, it Just Works with iOS, there is no client to install for it to work on OS X or Windows. Install Swandive, connect, then destroy your VPS when you're done. Disposable and Universal.

Except for programming artifacts and tools, and my Latex setup for serious writing projects, I have done the same sort of thing: use Google docs, GMail, Amazon Music Cloud, and pictures on Picaso and Flickr.

I do back up my stuff that is 'on the cloud' but that is quick & easy and I only do it occasionally.

As someone who has spent a lot of time on laptops the past years, I consider getting a desktop because of the ergonomic qualities. I find it delightful whenever I get to type on a full-sized desktop keyboard these days. I might even try one of the ergonomic keyboards.

Get something with Cherry keys- it makes typing feel like you're caressing the keyboard.

I really want to be able to share an address book (that can be synced) between everyone on their macs and phones. We operate out of quite a remote location so web interfaces often aren't usable because they are too slow on a mobile data connection. I just want everyone to be maintaining one list of contacts. Have I got this wrong or are the only options cardDav on hosted Zimbra or hosted exchange? The latter seems expensive and people say is unreliable when hosted. I could self host snow leopard server or some custom carddav setup, but I can't be bothered...

Actually we are working right now on exactly the above described use case. Let us know if you want a private beta code to help test it (it's in currently in alpha). Email my username @ company name.

Google apps has shared contacts you can turn on.

Interesting. I'm living in Argentina - where the Internet connectivity is particularly slow. Therefore, my preferred setup is: everything local but backed up near-instantaneously onto the cloud. (I heart Dropbox.) Does anyone else have this problem? Are there other Dropbox-like cloud services to use for those of us with slow Internet?

I'm in South Africa, and have 10mbps but the latency to the States is about 270ms. It may be an advantage when developing though, because it keeps latency front and center. I'm working on a multi-player organizer that keeps everything local and syncs asynchronously with the server. You can use it for email and documents. Ready soon at https://ronomon.com.

Was anyone as annoyed with the inconsistent capitalization in the article as I was? I'm usually not one to criticize grammar, but it made the article incredibly annoying to read.

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