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How to Build Your Own Online Cloud

Computing up “in the clouds” is the new craze. With an abundance of cloud services available from Google, Microsoft and independent companies like Dropbox, one might wonder why you’d need to build your own server solution. But, what if you don’t like the idea of leaving your personal data on another company’s server? Then, you build your own online cloud to store and retrieve your data remotely. In this article, we’ll show you how to use a Mac to set up your own cloud services, including storing and transferring files, streaming media, and even using your Mac to serve up web pages. You can then access these services remotely on your Mac or an iOS device.

What You’ll Need:

>> Mac with OS X Snow Leopard
>> “Always-on” internet connection

Storing and Transferring Files

1. Store and Transfer Files with Hamachi

We’ve covered setting up Hamachi for use as an iTunes Home Sharing server before, but you can also use it to retrieve and send files to and from other Macs (and Windows PCs) that are connected to the same Hamachi Virtual Private Network.

After following our previous article to set up the Hamachi network, navigate to System Preferences  > Sharing. Ensure that the checkbox beside of File Sharing is checked. This will allow administrators to access all of the drives on the Mac and will allow other users to access shared folders.

After logging into your Hamachi VPN, open a Finder window. Just as if you were on your local network, your Shared computers connected to the same VPN will show up under the Shared heading.

2. Use SSH/SFTP to Access Files on-the-go

We previously covered how to access your files on-the-go via your Mac through SFTP by enabling and configuring SSH on your Mac and network. SSH (or Secure Shell) provides access to your Mac’s files through a protocol called SFTP (Secure FTP). Using this method, you can access your files no matter where you are as long as you have an Internet connection and an FTP client.

To access your files using a Mac, use an SFTP client like Panic’s Transmit or Cyberduck. If you’re trying to access your files from an iOS device over SFTP, try an application like Good Reader.

Streaming Media

1. Use Home Sharing with Hamachi

Setting up the Hamachi VPN on your Macs, you can also access iTunes Home Sharing through iTunes on multiple computers. This means that you can remotely stream music from your home Mac over the Internet. So, no matter where you are, you can still get your groove on without purchasing or setting up any additional services. To learn more about setting up Hamachi to stream media using iTunes Home Sharing, read our previous article.

2. Air Video to Watch Videos On-the-Go

Air Video (iTunes App Store, $2.99) is a great two-part application: one that resides on your Mac and one on your iPhone. The iPhone version of the application will connect to its Mac counterpart and allow you to access all of the video media that is stored on your Mac. It’s accessible whether on your internal hard drive or on some externally connected device.
When you have selected a file you would like to play, you will be presented with several different options. The standard play button is available if you have a good network connection and have an iOS-compatible file, and will allow you to play the file straight over the network. If you don’t have a good connection, or have an incompatible file, selecting the Play with Live Conversion button will convert and buffer the file so that it plays without interruption over your network connection. You can also convert the file by specifying some conversion settings, or add the file to iTunes on the Mac you’re browsing.
Air Video works especially well when you have a large collection of (legally-attained) movies and/or TV shows on your home Mac, but don’t want to waste precious space on your iOS device by syncing all of them through iTunes.

3. Download Media over SFTP

If you have enabled the SFTP access on your Mac, you can use an application on your iOS device like GoodReader or Files Connect to download (and/or stream) non-DRM songs and other media to your device. We’ll show you how to do it in Good Reader.

Once in GoodReader, tap on the Connect to Servers heading, and tap on the Add button. From here, give the connection a name, type in the hostname (or IP address) of your home Mac, and specify a username and password. Once you’ve finished, tap Add.

Next, tap on your computer you just set up in the Connect to Servers listing. This will connect to your Mac and display the files. Download the file that you want to play to any of your folders in GoodReader. Next, close out of the SFTP connection and head over to the location you downloaded the file to inside of GoodReader. Tap on the file to play the song.

Using this method, you could create a folder called Music, where you could proceed to download your songs to. This folder could then act like a playlist, allowing you to skip and play/pause your music. It may not be ideal for everyone, but hey, it works.

Web Page Storage

1. Use Mac OS X’s Built-in Web Page Capabilities

Apple includes a web server built right into every copy of Mac OS X. This Apache server allows you to serve up simple HTML web pages to people on your local network or around the world.

To turn on and use this personal server, navigate to System Preferences > Sharing. Once there, check the box labeled Web Sharing. This will turn the web sharing feature on and present you with the address path to access your personal website.

To add files to your web storage space, navigate to the Sites folder inside of your home folder. The file “index.html” will be the main page that will be loaded whenever someone navigates to the website address that System Preferences gives you. If you want to expose your website to the Internet, you will need to get a static IP address and set up Port Forwarding (which we’ve covered before) to your computer on port 80.

Setting up a simple web server with Mac OS X is as easy as a few clicks around in System Preferences. Of course, if you want a more powerful server, check out the next section.

2. Set up your own MAMP Server

If you want to set up your own MAMP (Mac, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) server, then look no further than the MAMP project. This is an application that, once installed, gives you a full server with the functionality that you’d expect from paid hosting, like databases and PHP page processing. We’ve already covered how to do this in our article on creating your own server environment using the client version of Mac OS X.