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 or professional files, documents, images, music, and videos wherever they are, are resorting more and more to cloud storage. Services like Office 365 or Google Workspace provide an attractive and practical alternative to local storage and management 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.
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ownCloud vs. Nextcloud: a comparison of open source clouds
On June 2, 2016, Frank Karlitschek, founder of ownCloud, left the ownCloud project together with most of the developers. In the same year, the newly formed team released its own cloud solution, which was to focus more on collaboration, under the name NextCloud. To this end, the software has been continuously expanded over the past few years - today, the platform contains over 200 different apps that enable features such as real-time communication, task management, document editing and mail management directly in the Nextcloud environment. Apart from the precarious financial situation, disagreements on the subject of licensing in particular also played a decisive role in the separation. This point of contention becomes clear in the main distinguishing feature of both open source clouds: While ownCloud users can now use some features exclusively in the commercially licensed Enterprise Edition, all Nextcloud components are available under the free AGPLv3 license.
In what respects the two cloud applications differ and what features distinguish them in general is what we will look at below. First, we look at ownCloud and Nextcloud individually, then we highlight the respective pros and cons in a direct comparison of ownCloud vs Nextcloud.
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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|
|Database||MySQL 8+, MariaDB 10+, Oracle 11 and 12, PostgreSQL 9 and 10, SQLite (not for production!)|
|Web server||Apache 2.4 (with MPM Prefork module and mod_php)|
|Scripting language||PHP 7.1+|
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).|
|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 (requires separate installation, e.g. via Docker), 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||Standard||Enterprise|
|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: Pros||ownCloud: Cons|
|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|
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 Hub, 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. In general, however, Nextcloud performs about twice as well as its predecessor with the same hardware. 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 18.04, Debian 10, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 15, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8, CentOS 8, Open SUSE Leap 42.1+.|
|Database||MySQL 5.6+, MariaDB 10.1+, Oracle 11g, PostgreSQL 9.5+, SQLite (recommended for testing and minimalist instances only)|
|Web Server||Apache 2.4 (mod_php, php-fpm), NGINX (with PHP-FPM module)|
|Script Language||PHP 7.2+|
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 website; 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.
In the upper area of the file view, Nextcloud always presents a small selection of suggestions of files you might be looking for!
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 – about $2,300)), or €3400 (for 100 users – about $4000) per year includes email 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 – about $4000) or €6100 (for 100 users – about $7300) per year.
- Premium: Anyone choosing the Premium plan can expect to pay €4900 (for 50 users – about $5900) or €8900 (for 100 users – about $10,000) annually. For this price, they receive planning security for 10 years, 24/7 email 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. Automatic notifications in the chat (e.g. when uploading files) and a PDF conversion are also features.|
|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||Unlike ownCloud, Nextcloud Hub has natively integrated tools for real-time document management to enable collaborative editing of Office documents (LibreOffice/Microsoft Office). Collabora Online can also be installed as an option.|
|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 or Elasticsearch 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).|
|Collaboration||Workspaces give Nextcloud users the ability to populate folders with notes, to-do lists and so on. Other users can edit this information in real time or mark it as done, for example. The dashboard also provides information about the status of other users: Are they online or offline? Have they opened a file or are they replying to a comment?|
|Contacts and time management||Nextcloud offers various features for managing contacts and appointments as standard. Among other things, a calendar, a contact management tool, and an email client are integrated.|
Thanks to its modular structure, one of the cloud storage platform’s 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”. Nextcloud lists all officially supported extensions in its own App Store. There, users will not only find documentation and download links for the now over 200 available extensions, but also a guide for developers who want to program their own modules.
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: Pros||Nextcloud: Cons|
|Surface design can be easily changed at any time to suit the user||In the SME sector this is only recommended with external hosting service provider, as official support from Nextcloud is only available for 50 users or more and the community forum does not provide sufficient support for this|
|Brute force protection and various other security features enabled by default; lucrative bug bounty program (up to $10,000 reward for vulnerability disclosure)||Not all of the available add-on apps are as high-quality as the cloud solution itself; the potential for errors and attacks is thus slightly increased by the integrations (which are always optional)|
|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
In many respects, it has become clear that Nextcloud, while not entirely a new software, is much more ambitious than ownCloud when it comes to collaboration. Since the 2016 release, the former spin-off has evolved from a simple file syncing and sharing solution to a premium alternative to cloud suites like Office 365. The differences in terms of file storage and file sharing are only minor.
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. With features such as integrated real-time document management or audio and video calling, Nextcloud has outshone its predecessor in terms of functionality just as it has in terms of security. Automatically set-up brute force protection, easily implemented two-factor authentication, or server-side file encryption are just a few of the Nextcloud security features worth mentioning.
Overview: ownCloud vs. Nextcloud
Open source / proprietary
Basic, Standard, Premium
|From €3.000 ($3,600) per year, for 50 users||from €1900 ($2,300) 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
|Built-in collaboration features||Comment function, access permissions for shared files and folders, guest access||Commenting and real-time notifications, real-time document management, audio/video chat, guest access, custom workspaces.|
Nextcloud solutions from IONOS
Cloud collaboration software also plays a major role at IONOS – so much so that we’re an exclusive partner of Nextcloud. Self-employed people, small and medium-sized enterprises can receive a suitable solution via the Nextcloud App to install the application directly on the rented server and use it for their own purposes. As a user, you benefit not only from the appropriate hardware and software framework (a cloud server package from XS is required) and simplified installation and setup, but also always remain up to date thanks to IONOS.
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