I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now – are they just vapor?

For those of you not of a certain age… a bit of a soundtrack for this post.



I wrote last month about the “antsle” “personal cloud server,” and a few people on Minds had a brisk but respectful debate over whether it was cloud, and whether there was more to cloud than cloud storage (i.e. Dropbox, Box, Owncloud, OneDrive, Sugarsync, etc).

It got me to thinking about how I’d define “cloud” and why others feel differently. So here’s a bit of a soft-topic consideration for you along the way.

I was first exposed to the buzzword around 2009, when a major PC and IT gear reseller from the midwest was trying to convince me on every call and email thread that I should buy The Cloud(tm). My rep never could tell me why, or what problem it would solve, a common shortcoming of quota-bound sales reps. I think the closest to a justification I ever got was “Just give a try, you’ll be able to tell where you can use it.” And I didn’t.

As the current decade rolled along, anyone running the server side of a client/server model called themselves The Cloud(tm). And of course, Amazon Web Services and other players came along to give their own definitions and market shares to the matter.

Today, at its extreme interpretation, anything not running in focus on your current personal device is probably considered “cloud” by someone. And to be fair to antsle, that’s where they fit in a way. 

What’s the cloud mean to you, Robert?

For me, The Cloud(tm) means, first and foremost, someone else’s computer. You can have cloud concepts in bare metal or virtualized environments, or both, but the short form is that the platform is not owned, designed, or managed by you. You’re just choosing what to run at the OS instance level and above.

Second, and this is two aspects of what’s made cloud deployment models popular and viable… anything falling under The Cloud(tm) is dynamically configurable and scalable. You can bring up an instance of a server (whether bare metal or virtual or containerized) without having to plug anything in, take anything out of a box, or put in a ticket to get it set up. A control panel probably gives you access to what resources are available and how you can configure them. And you can shut them down as easily as you turn them up.

Third, The Cloud(tm) implies to me that you have to expect failure of elements of it, and either accept that risk or engineer around it.

Anyone who’s heard the Netflix infrastructure story over the past decade will see familiar ideas here. They have a lot of monkey business around point three above (most famously Chaos Monkey) to ensure that their platform is designed to be resilient on its own without depending on resilience or high availability on the underlying (in this case AWS) architecture.

I’ve got a gotcha for ya?

There are two gotchas here. And neither is disqualifying.

First, you may be thinking “but what about private cloud, ha ha, you own that!” And you’d be right. My employer (previous and current even) uses internal private cloud platforms to enable the scalability and abstraction mentioned above. And yes, the company owns the computers. But the consumers of the platform do not, and they do not have access to nor control over the underlying infrastructure.

They probably have a control panel like the old Metacloud or the like, where they can see what their account is allowed to create, and how much resource they’re using. And they don’t really care what’s under the covers, whether it’s a huge Bull Bullion mega-modular server or a pile of Dell laptops in a corner somewhere, as long as the server/container models they need can be provisioned and deprovisioned without getting a human in between them and the API or command line or remote desktop.

Second, you’re looking at that antsle box and thinking “but if you buy that, ha ha, you own it.” And you’d be right. But it’s still using most of the definition of cloud as I’ve laid it out, and I’ll gotcha you back in that you don’t really get to choose the underlying hardware in the antsle model. You can choose how much storage and RAM you get, but you’re not bothering with what version of the OS or the drivers or the virtualization and container software platforms you are running.

antsle would fall into a private cloud model, even if you’re the only user. It is a bit of a stretch, and you’re not necessarily a bad person if you don’t like that terminology being applied to a private cloud that an individual owns. But you’re not deploying a fixed configuration for your use case, licensing and maintaining the platform software, or depending on your own primary computer to run containers or VMs (as you might with VMware Workstation or Fusion.

What about cloud storage?

Perhaps obviously (perhaps not), a “cloud server” can be used to provide instances of a storage server like FreeNAS or OpenFiler or even Linux with NFS exports. And with virtualization options being built into FreeNAS Corral and some versions of Synology and QNAP storage servers, there’s some overlap these days.

But if your primary requirement is storage management and provisioning, something like antsle probably isn’t your best choice, even if it can support 16TB or more of local storage. You’re better off with something like a multi-bay hot-pluggable NAS or SAN solution. For a homelab or home environment, this could be something like the Seagate Personal Cloud line or Synology or QNAP or even something like CloudBee (a free software NAS mentioned by one of the commenters over on Minds).

So where do we go from here?

As I seem to recall mentioning over on the antlse post, their design isn’t for everyone. I wouldn’t replace a 50TB NAS with it, or buy it and wipe it out to run vSphere or Hyper-V on it. I’ve got two storage solutions on the bench (or dining room table) at the moment that will each be a much better choice for purely serving storage. And for stuff that I can run two miles from home with dual 1600W power supplies and the audio subtlety of a jet engine, well, I still have those. I suppose they’re also private cloud in a sort of way.

But for a system with the configuration and design they chose, they’re offering a pretty good price. Not as good as free (duh!) but not too much more than you’d pay to buy the parts on Amazon.

So hey, you do you. And as they say, if the shoe fits, find another one that matches it.

What have you deployed for a significant-other-accepted home compute solution? Have you tried antsle or one of the storage+virtualization offerings that’s come out in the past year? Share your thoughts on the comments below.


Disclosure: Most links are Amazon referral links, and if you buy through them, we usually get a small commission to help with our own acquisitions. Dropbox and Sugarsync links are referrals to those platforms, which earn us a bit of extra free storage on our regular paid accounts there. We have no connection with antsle except as an observer and likely future customer; they don’t give us anything other than a bit of social media amplification for mentioning them, and they don’t get to see what we write in advance.

Featured photo of storm clouds over Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, NV, taken by Robert Novak (C) April 3, 2017.


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