Self-Hosted File Sync Solution ownCloud Goes Commercial

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People love Dropbox and similar services, but companies — especially large enterprises in regulated industries — have an understandable aversion to file sync services: they allow company data on servers “out there” in the cloud, no longer under company control. ownCloud, essentially an open source, self-hosted Dropbox, has a unique advantage here as it’s strictly a software solution, not a storage provider. I mentioned ownCloud in passing when I wrote about OpenSUSE 12.1, but I’ve been keeping an eye on the project since. To make ownCloud even more attractive to businesses, a commercially supported version is being launched today at owncloud.com.

The ownCloud server does a bit more than just file storage and synchronization. It offers CalDAV and CardDAV services to synchronize calendars and address books with your mobile device. Work is also underway to make it aware of the file types being stored within it, and to provide meaningful actions based on those types: photo galleries, music playlists, and more. There’s a growing ownCloud app store to extend what the server can do. This is the power of open source: rather than relying on something like ifttt, you can have intelligent actions built right into the server you’re running.

There are currently about 400,000 users of ownCloud, with more than 40 dedicated contributors. Version 3 was released in January, and their three month development cycle means a new release should be just around the corner. One of the major features to be included in the next release will be version control for uploaded files.

I spoke to ownCloud CEO Markus Rex about the new commercial offering, and how it differs from the freely available open source version. From the server perspective, there is no difference: the commercially supported ownCloud server components are exactly the same as those in the open source version. What is different is the inclusion of desktop and mobile clients. What’s more, these clients are fully brandable by your organization. And of course, the commercial version provides email and telephone tech support, which almost always makes purchasing decisions a little easier for management. According to Rex, future plans include a robust PKI solution to allow an IT staff to deal with access control issues from a centralized enterprise perspective.

ownCloud has a partner program, in which they espouse “a partner first policy, which means that we will always involve a partner in customer opportunities as long as the customer does not insist on being served directly from ownCloud.” Almost 20 partners are currently listed in 10 countries.

In addition to the benefits of on-premise data storage, server-side apps, and a truly open source solution, ownCloud allows for some unexpected ancillary benefits. For example, Rex said that with a little tinkering (or the help of an ownCloud partner), clever admins could configure ownCloud to organize data on the storage platform that makes the most sense for it: MP3s could be shuffled off to a RAID0 JBOD pool, while documents and presentations could be placed on RAID5 enterprise SAN.

Rex blogged recently about supplanting Dropbox:

For us, it makes no sense to tilt against the DropBox windmill, they have created an amazing feature that has revolutionized the way people access, synch and share their data. All we want to do is save IT managers from indigestion and hair loss from all their corporate data running wild on iPhones, iPads, laptops and Androids — and to do that in a cost effective way.

Compliance with legal regulation is likely to be one of ownCloud’s strongest selling points to enterprise subscribers, but I have a suspicion that the open source underpinnings will prove to be extremely useful in the long term, too.