Everything you need to know about Nextcloud Box

Is Nextcloud Box a Dropbox killer?

box open
Credit: Nextcloud

Nextcloud is teaming up with Canonical and WDLabs (an internal team of innovators to explore new ideas) to bring ‘private-cloud-in-a-box’ devices to the market. It’s the continuation of the work Nextcloud team was doing with WDLabs, before splitting up with ownCloud.

Nextcloud Box is essentially a reference device that uses Raspberry Pi for compute and network, and WD hard drive for storage. Ubuntu core is the operating system and Nextcloud is the file sync software.

Jos Poortvliet, head of marketing and communication at Nextcloud, told us in a phone interview that  the source code of Nextcloud and Ubuntu Core is available publicly. Any hardware vendor can take this design to create a private cloud consumer device.

What’s in the box?

  • 1 TB USB3 HDD drive
  • A Nextcloud branded case
  • Micro USB charger, cables and adapters, a screwdriver and screws
  • Micro SD card with Snappy Ubuntu Core as OS
  • Apache, MySQL and the latest Nextcloud 10 preinstalled and ready to go.

The box doesn’t come with Raspberry Pi 2; you have to buy it separately. Poortvliet explained that including Raspberry Pi and selling it as a fully assembled end product would subject it to FCC regulations that would delay the availability of the device. They wanted to put the device in the hands of enthusiasts as soon as possible to get feedback so they can iterate on the next device. Poortvliet told us that hopefully the next unit will be a fully assembled device, meeting FCC requirements.

The good news is that the device comes with a Micro SD card that’s pre-configured. Just insert the Micro SD Card in Raspberry Pi 2, connect it to Nextcloud Box and start using it. Since Pi 2 doesn’t have Wifi onboard, you need Ethernet connection to use the device.

Poortvliet said that they are working on adding Raspberry Pi 3 support, which will enable wireless connectivity.

Why does this box matter?

Cloud has become an integral part of our digital lives; we need it. Nowadays most of us use multiple devices, including desktop and laptop PCs, Chromebooks, tablets and phones. We often use commercial (often proprietary) cloud services to keep data synced across these devices. But the moment we put our data on cloud, service providers also take control of our data. It’s scanned for copyright infringement, it subjected to many laws that it was immune to otherwise. Service providers can revoke access to our own data for any reason.

The best solution is to take control of your cloud.

Not everyone is capable of setting up and running their own cloud. Even with open source solutions like Nextcloud, it can be very expensive, and time consuming, to build your own cloud. Nextcloud Box takes that complexity out of it and offers a solution that you can start using immediately. You still need to get a Raspberry Pi and connect it, but it’s much easier than putting together an IKEA shelf.

Some caveats

Nextcloud Box is a product that’s targeted at enthusiasts and early adopters. If you are planning to buy Nextcloud, beware of its current limitations.

Access: You can access your Nextcloud Box only from within the local network; you can’t yet access it over the internet. However Poortvliet told us that there are ways to access it over the internet, “Currently there is no tool installed to open ports in the firewall. We have a tool in development for that but we decided that a half-finished tool is not something we should ship. Once it works we will add it in an update.”

But nothing stops you from doing it yourself.

Security: While Nextcloud and Ubuntu are extremely secure, https is not enabled by default. Poortvliet explained to me, “No https out of the box (as there is no reliable way to do that) but there's a script which can either create and enable a self-signed certificate or get one from Let’s Encrypt (that last thing only works once you've opened a port in the firewall). We will add a 'network configuration' app which will kick off this script automatically. Aside from this, the box is configured out of the box to be pretty secure.”

The greatest feature of Nextcloud box is Ubuntu Core. Ubuntu Core offers Chrome OS-like transactional updates, so it remains updated automatically without any user intervention. That makes Nextcloud Box an extremely secure device.

Why you should buy it?

WD already sells a consumer grade device called My Cloud, which reportedly runs on Linux. It doesn’t support Linux, though you can always make it work on Linux. Nextcloud Box could very well be the successor of My Cloud. If the device receives positive feedback from users, WD might switch to Ubuntu Core + Nextcloud for their My Cloud devices. The NextCloud Box is available for $79 from the WD Store and shipping starts in October.

Speak with your wallet.

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