WD and ownCloud team up on consumer cloud device

Western Digital Labs and ownCloud are working to bring a consumer grade self-hosted cloud to market.

frank karlitschek owncloud
Credit: Swapnil Bhartiya

ownCloud started off as a humble ‘free software’ file syncing project from Germany. But that project has evolved into an open source company that is now headquartered in Boston, Mass. And ownCloud has become a platform that does much more than just file syncing: It has an online collaborative document like Office 365, it has apps like mail, it has calendar, and much more.

And things are about to get more interesting.

At the end of 2015, Western Digital Labs, a subdivision of the leading storage vendor Western Digital, contacted ownCloud’s founder Frank Karlitschek to collaborate on a project.

I talked to Karlitschek and Jos Poortvliet, ownCloud’s community manager to learn more about the collaboration. Karlitschek told me, “For a long time there has been a request by community people that it would be nice to have a device with ownCloud pre-installed on it so they can use it at home. However as a company we don’t want to get involved with hardware business so we keep looking for partners. There have been many crowdfunding projects around ownCloud by different players. But then Western Digital Labs contacted us and showed interested in ownCloud powered self hosted devices.”

The Project

Western Digital Labs has provided ownCloud with 10 prototype devices comprised of a Raspberry Pi 2 with ownCloud image on it, one 1TB hard drive and cables. Western Digital Labs could have worked with ownCloud, Inc., the company, but instead they chose to work in the open, with the involvement of the open source community. The basic idea behind the project is to make the whole device extremely user friendly.

the kit Jos Poortvliet

The prototype.

Currently when you get the device you need to plug it to a monitor and keyboard so you can set things up. It needs a lot of work and Pi is not optimized for performance.

So the task for the community is to build a disk image for ownCloud that boots up on power and the device could be found over the local network through a laptop or smartphone. There should be a web interface so users can configure and manage everything remotely over the local network.

In the end Western Digital Labs wants ‘one’ image that can be installed on the Pi that makes the whole device as easy to use as any consumer device.

ownCloud started this project in December, seeking proposals from the community members. By the end of January the ownCloud community will come up with one image that can be given to Western Digital Labs.

As a user, I see immense possibilities for an ownCloud powered WD device. You could run your own ‘cloud’ at home, where your data is stored locally. You can install any app on your ownCloud Drive (a hypothetical name that I have given to this device) -- calendar, address book, news reader, email and much more.

Poortvliet told me that after the completion of the project in January, ownCloud will hand over the image to Western Digital Labs and around the February-March timeframe, Western Digital will start selling ownCloud branded devices in the market. Initially they will start off with 500 units and based on demand they may continue or stop the experiment.

This is not the first such product by Western Digital. The company already has its own NAS device called My Cloud. But that is more or less a proprietary device with a single use case - data storage over the network. And the company already sells a Raspberry Pi powered kit called Pi Drive Kit for $79. That device is certainly aimed at enthusiasts and developers. But the ownCloud powered WD device has all the potential of a consumer grade device.

The beauty of this collaboration between ownCloud and Western Digital Labs is that it’s a fully community driven project. All the communication is happening in public over mailing lists and without involvement of ownCloud, Inc.

I hope this project is a huge success and the market will get the message that the open source development model is efficient and effective.

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