For many, the cloud is a place where private documents, music, pictures, or videos can be stored and exchanged online. Understanding the different technological aspects of these services, however, proves to be a cloudy venture for many. Did you know, for example, that, in addition to many other things, online stores and websites can also be hosted in the cloud?
People who want ready access to their personal files, documents, images, music, and videos wherever they are, are resorting more and more to cloud storage. Services like Dropbox, OneDrive, or Apple iCloud provide an attractive and practical alternative to local storage on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, thanks to the accessibility offered by the Internet. However, there is still the question of how secure and safe your sensitive information is when stored in the cloud.
If you want to enjoy the benefits of the cloud while maintaining complete control over all your data, you should consider hosting and managing your own online cloud storage service. The necessary software can be found in the open source sector: two particularly popular applications are ownCloud and Nextcloud, and this guide will shed some light on the pros and cons of both services.
ownCloud vs. Nextcloud: a comparison of open source clouds
On June 2nd 2016, Frank Karlitschek, the founder of ownCloud announced that work had begun on an official spin-off of the in-house cloud software, which was released later that year under the name Nextcloud. Karlitschek had left the company a few weeks earlier due to disagreements about the future of the company, particularly licensing. This issue is particularly evident when comparing the two open source clouds: ownCloud users can only use some of the features in the commercially-licensed Enterprise edition, while all Nextcloud components are available under the free AGPLv3 license.
The following guide will outline other differences between the features of both cloud storage solutions. Nextcloud and ownCloud will be examined independently and then the two will be compared against each other to test their strengths and weaknesses.
Frank Karlitchek first launched ownCloud in 2010, its’ intention being to provide users with a free alternative to commercial cloud storage services. The German software developer was previously a member of the KDE community, dedicated to the development of free software. At the core of ownCloud is the ownCloud X server application, which can be installed on any server or web space. How much hard disc space is required depends on how you plan to use your cloud server. You should take into account criteria such as the number of users, number and size of stored files, and general server activity. In terms of additionally required software, manufacturers make the following specifications:
|ownCloud: system requirements|
|Operating system||Ubuntu 16.04, Debian 7/8, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 12/12 SP1, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, CentOS 6.5/7|
|Database||MySQL, MariaDB 5.5+, Oracle 11g, PostgreSQL, SQLite|
|Web server||Apache 2.4 (with prefork-MPM-Modul and mod_php), alternative: NGINX (with PHP-FPM-Modul)|
|Scripting language||PHP 5.6+|
When the ownCloud server is installed and set up (there is an article in our Digital Guide which explains how to do this on a Raspberry Pi), files can be uploaded to it using the desktop program. In addition to having free desktop clients for macOS, Windows, and Linux, there are also mobile apps for Android and iOS that are available in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. Using these applications, the ownCloud user can create their own local directory, which can then be synchronized with the cloud server whenever and wherever the user desires (assuming they are connected to the Internet). Thanks to the file-sharing feature, files can also be shared with other users (password-protected if necessary), so they can access them as well.
If you own a business, the ownCloud team offers professional, paid support with two different subscription packages to choose from: The standard subscription includes e-mail support on weekdays and costs $3,600 (for 50 users), or $5,760 (for 100 users) per year. This support model is based on the standard, free AGPLv3 license, so any customizations to the cloud software are also shared with the community. The enterprise subscription, which costs $9,000 (for 50 users) or $14,400 (for 100 users) per year, is linked to the ownCloud commercial license, so companies do not just get global e-mail and phone support, but also gain access to a number of exclusive modules that are only available in the Enterprise package. iOS and Android apps are also free in this package.
ownCloud offers users and administrators various additional features that optimize the cloud’s usability. Here is an overview of the product:
|Activity stream||The activity stream provides an overview of all the cloud users’ actions. When a file is uploaded, edited, or shared, it is automatically recorded in this event log.|
|Managing groups and user access||Users can create groups to make file sharing easier for a specific group of users. In addition, access to shared content can be selectively restricted (delete, modify, create, share).|
|Video player and photo gallery||ownCloud offers the option to view pictures and videos directly in the cloud, without having to download them first.|
|Upload chunking||The online storage software allows files to be split into smaller packages (chunks) before being uploaded. This is a handy feature, especially with large files (ownCloud also supports sizes over 4GB).|
|Collaboration on Office documents||Thanks to the Collabora Online feature, Office documents can be edited by team members directly using the front-end of the cloud storage service. This feature works with Microsoft Office and LibreOffice.|
|File saving and versioning||Files can be locked at any time to prevent complications when accessing them. ownCloud also ensures that the clouds are versioned, so previous versions can be restored at any time.|
|Impersonation||Administrators can log in as any user if the cloud storage is configured appropriately. This can be helpful when dealing with technical issues, for example.|
Other features can be added using ownCloud Marketplace apps. Enterprise subscribers can also have access to exclusive features like full-text search to find files, folders, or file contents quicker and easier, or automated file handling (workflow management). In addition, users can change the design of the cloud interface and even incorporate their own branding in the Enterprise version.
The ownCloud package is rounded off with various security features, although there are some minor differences between those included in the free version and the Enterprise edition.
|ownCloud: security and protection|
|Server encryption for the primary storage unit (AES-256)||Yes||Yes|
|End-to-end encryption of all files||No||Yes|
|Automatic file-integrity check||Yes||Yes|
|Records login/logouts and system operations||No||Yes|
Anyone who feels uncertain whether they need the Enterprise features for their cloud can test them in a 30-day free trial. To do this, the trial version can only be obtained by contact form. Once your form has been received, you will be sent a download link by e-mail.
|ownCloud: advantages||ownCloud: disadvantages|
|Desktop clients and mobile apps are available for all major platforms||Some components are subject to a commercial license|
|Minimal system requirements (hardware and software)||Encryption is server-side only, by default|
|Highly expandable thanks to its modular structure (various apps are available in the marketplace)||Occasional performance issues due to the many small files|
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When Nextcloud was released for the first time in 2016 as an independent spin-off of ownCloud, it was essentially just an open source version of the same software, with a new design. Since then, Nextcloud GmbH, which includes other former oneCloud developers as well as Karlitscheck, has sped up their software redesign. The basic application is called Nextcloud Server, and can be installed on almost any web space or server. Like ownCloud X. Your hardware requirements depend on general server traffic, user counts, and the number and size of your stored files. The development team recommends at least 512 MB of memory for stable cloud operation. Nextcloud does not differ significantly from its predecessor in terms of software requirements either.
|Nextcloud: system requirements|
|Operating System||Ubuntu 14.04/16.04, Debian 7, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 SP3/12, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, CentOS 6.5/7|
|Database||MySQL, MariaDB 5.5+, Oracle 11g, PostgreSQL|
|Web Server||Apache 2 (mod_php, php-fpm), NGINX (with PHP-FPM-Modul)|
|Script Language||PHP 5.6+|
Desktop clients are available for all common operating systems so that users can upload files into the ready-made Nextcloud server. Windows and macOS users will find the necessary installation files on the program’s homepage; Linux users (openSUSE, Archlinux, Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian) should find them in their distributors’ package management. To access the server on mobile devices, there are free apps for Android and iOS, as well as a 99-cent application for Windows phones. The client allows one or more local folders to be synchronized with the server. File manager and file sharing features make it easy to locate and share the stored files.
As previously mentioned, all Nextcloud components invariably run under the free GNU AGPLv3 license, as a commercial license does not fit the developers’ philosophy. Paid professional support for power users is included in the Nextcloud portfolio, and users have the same choice to make between three models of different prices:
- Basic: The basic package, which costs €1900 (for 50 users), or €3400 (for 100 users) per year includes e-mail support (within 72 hours) and the Nextcloud Knowledge Portal – a security update once a year.
- Standard: Support for professional developers, installations services, phone support during official business hours, and 3-year update support are available as standard for €3400 (for 50 users) or €6100 (for 100 users) per year.
- Premium: Anyone choosing the Premium plan can expect to pay €4900 (for 50 users) or €8900 (for 100 users) annually. For this price, they receive planning security for 10 years, 24/7 e-mail and phone support, and support for scaling cloud storage, if needed.
all three Nextcloud support packages have additional tiered pricing for user numbers up to 10 million.
Nextcloud is not just limited to uploading and downloading files, it is also packed with features that make it easy for both basic users and organizing administrators to simplify file storage:
|Workflow management||Workflow features such as file access control or automatic file capture help administrators stay in control. Based on an easily-configurable set of rules, certain actions can be blocked for a defined user group, for example.|
|Server monitoring||Nextcloud provides an overview of user activities and informs on actions like making changes, or downloading shared files for example.|
|Collaborating on Office documents||Nextcloud also provides a link to Collabora online to allow collaborative editing of Office documents (LibreOffice/Microsoft Office).|
|Customizable design (branding)||The theming app can be used to modify the look of your own cloud. Without additional costs, you can insert your own logo, select a different background image and change your name and slogan.|
|Audio and video communication||In addition to the storage features, Nextcloud offers ways to communicate with other cloud users, and even external people. The necessary direct connections are established using the secure WebRTC technology.|
|Full-text search||In combination with the Apache Solr indexing service, the Nextant app can be used to set up a full-text search for cloud storage. Solr can search through Text, PDF, image and audio files, as well as Office documents (Microsoft office and LibreOffice).|
Thanks to its modular structure, one of the cloud storage platforms strengths is its high degree of expandability: the Nextcloud apps can be used to add a wide range of functions from areas like “Integration”, “Multimedia”, “Office & Text” or “Authentication & Authorization”. All officially supported extensions are listed in Nextcloud’s own app store. There, users will be able to find documentation and download links, as well as a guide for developers who want to program their own plugins.
Aside from a large arsenal of additional features, Nextcloud also focuses on the security of data stored in its “private” clouds, providing effective tools for the best possible protection.
|Nextcloud: security and protection|
|Server encryption for the primary storage unit (AES-256)||In addition to standard data transfer through SSL/TLS, all information can be encrypted on the server.|
|End-to-end encryption||From version 13, Nextcloud has been enabling file and folder storage and encryption with end-to-end encryption. The code is located on the client side, and the server cannot read the data at any time.|
|Brute force protection||By default, Nextcloud provides protection against brute force attacks|
|Content Security Policy 3.0||The open source cloud’s web interface can be secured thanks to Content Security Policy 3.0 (CSP). The HTTP security feature allows server-side rules for accessing the files that need to be defined.|
|Two-factor authentication||Administrators can enable or disable two-factor authentication from the command line.|
|SAML/SSO authentication||Nextcloud supports SAML markup and single sign on.|
|Password rules||Administrators can set up password creation policies (login, file sharing).|
To test Nextcloud, you do not have to download and install the cloud software. On the homepage, people can try a demo of the software and try out the features listed here for one hour.
|Nextcloud: advantages||Nextcloud: disadvantages|
|Surface design can be easily changed at any time to suit the user||Updates are not always deployed as you would expect|
|Brute force protection activated by default||The multifunctionality they are striving to achieve increases the potential for error and attack|
|Provides file-sharing and other collaboration features, like audio and video entertainment||Performance issues due to many small files|
The most important differences between ownCloud and Nextcloud
It is clear to see that Nextcloud is not totally new software, but has been developed around the free ownCloud. In terms of file storage and file sharing, there are basically no differences between the two applications.
Key differences come when you look at the add-on and security features: on the one hand, ownCloud’s licensing policy ensures that certain components such as full text search, workflow management, or branding are only available to paid Enterprise customers. Nextcloud users do not have these limitations, as only support and update services cost extra. On the other hand, the latest features such as audio and video telephony suggest that the Nextcloud team will focus increasingly on extending the functionality of the app and developing it into a complex online collaboration platform. In the meantime, ownCloud wants to focus on optimizing security features, however, Nextcloud does seem to be one step ahead with features like default brute-force protection.
As a relatively new software, Nextcloud still has the typical beginners’ problems: the website, originally in German, is also available in English and is lacking user instructions and has a very limited online manual. Updates are also not as smooth as with ownCloud.
Overview: ownCloud vs. Nextcloud
Open source / proprietary
Basic, Standard, Premium
From €3.000 Euro per year, for 50 users
from €1900 for 50 users per year
Clients for cloud access
Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android
Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Windows Phone
Option to host on your own Server