For many, “cloud” has become almost synonymous with offsite IT, with data processing and IT services taking place somewhere out in the ether rather than on-premises. From an ideology standpoint, however, “cloud” really means something else: simply put, a new way of provisioning services and storage. Nevertheless, cloud services all seem to have one thing in common. That's the ability to share data in an easily accessible fashion that incorporates security and controls without compromising the fidelity of the data.
Those realizations have forced the world of IT to come up with new terminologies, such as Private Cloud, Hybrid Cloud, and Public Cloud, each with its own implications. Navigating those choices has become a complex challenge for enterprise network managers, and determining which style of cloud services (if any) are appropriate for any given networking challenge has sparked many arguments in IT departments worldwide.
Software vendor ownCloud aims to quell many of those arguments and give enterprises a chance to experience the upsides of cloud services without any of their downsides, such as hosting concerns, data control, and even security.
How does ownCloud accomplish those lofty goals? The company, with its ownCloud 5 Enterprise Edition product, gives IT managers the ability to build onsite, private clouds without any of the concerns that accompany a typical cloud deployment.
A closer look at ownCloud 5 Enterprise Edition
ownCloud 5 Enterprise Edition, released in July of 2013, is built upon the community-created ownCloud Community Edition but adds a plethora of features to make integration into enterprise environments a relatively simple and secure task. To really understand what the enterprise edition brings to the game, one must venture into the offerings of the community edition.
A web application developed for data synchronization, file sharing, and cloud storage, the free, open source ownCloud community edition can be installed on a private server. It allows users to build an internal (and private) cloud presence for file storage, cryptography, data synchronization, calendars, task scheduling, address books, music streaming, user and group administration, content sharing, PDF viewing, text editing, logging, and so on.
The latest ownCloud Community Edition also includes:
- Antivirus: Scan uploaded files using ClamAV to prevent automated distribution of infected files
- Display name: Create display names to simplify the collaborative experience
- Improved versioning: Automatically manage versions on the server
- Capability API: Make calls to the server and learn which capabilities, or apps, are installed and working
- Improved file cache: Provide greater flexibility and greater performance (up to 500% faster)
Users access content stored on an ownCloud instance using a web browser. ownCloud also offers client-based applications for desktop syncing for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux andmobile apps for Android and iOS mobile devices,, in addition to supporting WebDAV access for other standards-based tools.
Ideally, organizations can use ownCloud to develop and extend internal private cloud capabilities. What’s more, ownCloud's open source nature allows support for a robust ecosystem of plug-ins, which further extends the platform's capabilities. The community edition leaves much to be desired, however, at least when it comes to integration into enterprise networks. That's where ownCloud 5 Enterprise Edition comes into play.
ownCloud 5 Enterprise Edition offers everything the community edition does and much more. The Enterprise Edition provides enhanced Active Directory (AD) and LDAP integration, allowing an enterprise to fully leverage existing authentication directories. ownCloud has also enhanced file security, with AES encryption applied to storage and files at rest. A new provisioning API incorporated into the data center management tools makes user provisioning much easier. The Enterprise Edition also adds enhanced external storage connectivity, allowing users to access all of their files using a federated model. Users will also find enhanced usability, thanks to the automated home directory integration, which can seamlessly synchronize CIFS and/or NFS based home and extend them to other storage elements.
Other notable enhancements offered by the Enterprise Edition include:
- Deleted Files: Restore deleted files and folders without administrator intervention
- Anonymous Upload: Ease IT management, logging, and auditing of collaboration with partners and contractors
- Interface: Manage files and accounts in a simplified interface for better account identification, and a simplified plug-in application settings panel.
ownCloud Enterprise Edition is available at https://owncloud.com/download and is priced using a yearly subscription of $15 per month with a minimum of 50 users.
Hands on: ownCloud 5 Enterprise Edition
I was impressed with the installation options offered by ownCloud. The company provides detailed documentation for installing and provisioning an ownCloud instance on a variety of server types, including purpose-built appliances, Linux systems, Mac OS X, Windows 7 and Windows Server, web services, and so on. I chose a Windows Server 2008 installation, since a majority of enterprises will have at least a few Windows Server 2008 systems sitting around.
Installation proved straightforward. All I had to do on the prerequisite list was set up a clean instance of IIS (Internet Information Server) and configure a MySQL database. The product can also use Postgress and SQLite, but does not support for Microsoft’s own SQLserver. Of course there were some other minor housekeeping chores, such as installing PHP and performing some configuration chores. Overall, however, you'll find installation surprisingly easy, as long as you have a good understanding of server technologies and how your infrastructure is deployed.
Configuration was a little more complex. That is not an indication of poor design, though, but rather an indication of the robustness of plugins and integration options. A word of warning: pay attention to what the documentation recommends. If you ignore those recommendations, you could find yourself deploying apps that don’t work properly or fail to properly integrate user directories. Ultimately, however, those comfortable with PHP will find configuration painless.
Once installed and configured, I was ready to explore what ownCloud had to offer. The robustness of the platform impressed me. Concise browser-based management screens and easily relatable controls made administration easy. As mentioned before, all user activity takes place using a browser, starting with a login prompt on the ownCloud Web Interface.
Once logged in, ownCloud presents the user with the main web interface, a GUI-based screen that offers access to files, application and so on.
1 - Navigation bar: Allows navigation between different parts of ownCloud, provided by apps. Not all apps depicted in this screen shot are installed and enabled by default.
2 - Application view: This is where apps show their content. By default, this will show the files and directory (file view) of your user on the ownCloud installation.
3 - Upload/Create button: This allows you to create new files or upload existing ones from your device. Note that you can also drop files from Explorer or Finder onto the ownCloud file view to upload them to ownCloud.
4 - Search/Logout: Search allows you to look for files and directories. Currently, ownCloud does not provide a full text search, but this may change in future releases.
5 - Settings: This button provides access to the settings menu, where you can change your personal settings, such as the interface language or your password. You can also retrieve the WebDAV URL (see next chapter) and show your quota. Administrators also get access to user management (Users), and apps (Apps) and administrative (Admin) settings, including access to ownCloud’s log.
The main screen provides easy access to the additional elements offered by ownCloud, such as file access, versioning, and encryption; desktop file synchronization; and the calendar application.
I found the Bookmarks App handy for managing my bookmarks – here I was able to store my most commonly accessed bookmarks, and whenever I logged into ownCloud (regardless of the device), I could quickly launch web pages, applications and so on, because my bookmarks followed me to whatever device I chose to use. Other applications include a media player and contacts handler, making ownCloud a true cloud of services across an enterprise.
All things considered, ownCloud 5 Enterprise Edition makes it very easy for enterprises to jump onto the cloud bandwagon and experience the advantages of cloud based services, reduce the need for dedicated desktop PCs, and allowing leverage the BYOD (bring your own device) movement.
What’s more, ownCloud can scale out to include external users and can transition into a hosted offering, thanks to the support offered for hosting providers, such as AWS, Rackspace and so on.