OwnCloud is an open-source software package that allows companies to setup a dropbox-like environment for employee use.   It comes with clients for windows, mac, linux, android, and very soon, iOS – as well as a server component that works on either Linux or Windows.  It sounded extremely useful to our clients, so we immediately began our evaluation process.  We began by installing OwnCloud on a Linux VPS (Virtual Private Server) in our datacenter, and evaluating the windows and android clients.

The file sharing is the best feature.  OwnCloud allows you to replicate folders from your local hard drive (or perhaps a server drive) to cloud storage hosted at SpireTech (or another hosting provider).  You can share individual files or folders with coworkers, and create groups with permissions similar to what you would do in a conventional file server type environment.   It supports LDAP, so we think we’ll be able to integrate it with local user databases on linux or windows-based file servers, although we haven’t tested that out yet.  Files can be shared through a web link with external users.

The web interface allows you to access any of your files.  It includes PDF and image viewing capabilities, and these files are presented in the browser without a separate download step.  Our testing has included chrome and safari on the iPad, and the web interface is quite nice and seems to work well so far.  We’ll be testing it with other browsers in the coming weeks.

In addition to sharing files, OwnCloud also includes calendar and contact sharing abilities.  We hope to get these features working with outlook in some useful fashion.  We were able to get calendars loaded into OwnCloud using thunderbird.  The calendars are also shareable with the same users and groups, similar to the way files are.  We think this may be a very useful feature, particularly if we can get it syncing in the same bi-directional manner that files are.  Further testing is needed in this area.

OwnCloud hasn’t been without some problems, though.  We’ve been throwing a lot of data at it, and we’ve encountered some bugs with the software with certain types of folder names that it doesn’t like.  We have been able to work around the problems by renaming the file or folder so far.

We’ve also done some initial testing with WebDAV access through a mapped drive from Windows 7 64-bit to the cloud server.  This means it is possible to access the cloud files through a drive letter, without having the files stored or replicated to your machine.  Windows didn’t seem to update the timestamps on a file we edited, so a better WebDAV client may be needed.  There are some inexpensive commercial products available that might work around this issue – WebDAV access through built-in windows has been notoriously problematic.

At SpireTech, we eat our own dog food – this means we use the software internally before offering it to customers.  If you are interested in being one of our beta test customers for OwnCloud, let us know.  We hope to open it for testing in July, and we’ll be looking for feedback, problem reports, and suggestions as to how you might use it.  We think it’ll be very useful to businesses of all sizes, including companies that need to collaborate with mobile employees, external partners, etc.  Let us know if you are interested at dev.portlandcloud.com, and how OwnCloud might help you.  If it works well, we hope to roll out a commercial offering soon.