Local Cloud



Nathan Thompson

While trying to configure a Fire device for Google Family Link{1}, somehow another device on the same Family Link account became locked in a state of limbo. You could still see the device, you could see its location, enable apps, etc. However, the device was incapable of downloading apps from the Google Play store, not even updates of apps already on said device. Increasingly odd, not even the Play Store itself nor Google Play services were able to update.

Which reminded me how much "The Cloud" is still a black box to most people. When online services work, great! When they fail, boy howdy! We tried everything to fix the problem:

    1. Rebooting.
    2. Wiping cache and data of the Play Store.
    3. Removing and adding back the Family Link account.
    4. Configuring the account on a different device (yes, same problem propagated to new device).
    5. Deleting the problematic account and then recovering the account.
    6. Yes, a test account created solely to test the problem worked fine on the same device.
    7. Even contacted Google to see if they could flip some kind of "account reset" switch. Unfortunately, they were not very helpful.

Eventually, everything synced or reset, as the digital blockage inexplicably abated and the account started working again. Yes, after not working for weeks in total, and even a couple more days after the troubleshooting began, something gave the kick in the pants needed to get everything back to normal. Honestly, I am altogether unsure which step brought the device back online properly.

{1} Pro tip: Does not work, even if you sideload the necessary APKs to enable the Google Play Store, as the configuration necessary to allow Family Link to manage a Fire OS device never finishes. Yes, this is all unsupported anyway, so not a huge surprise to me.

Unleash the Curmudgeon

I know "The Cloud", and especially the "Internet of Things" portion of the cloud, has been all the rage in recent years, but I remain a rather basic technology user. Despite my almost two decade delve into tech (three decades if you count my love of video games), granted, I am a self taught enthusiast; nevertheless, this cranky old man has not hopped on the every item automated, always connected to the cloud, bandwagon. By the same token, for a "tech guy", I am likewise shockingly basic in my desires for general home and transportation levels of technology. Not only do I eschew "smart" appliances and super fancy in car entertainment/assistant gewgaws, I do not even use power tools, nor even powered lawn care devices! Simplicity as in ease of configuration, use, and maintenance is much appreciated.

Even within my wheelhouse, video games, personal electronics, and computers, I tend to make do with budget options and/or older models. My current primary personal computer, a Dell Latitude 7240, is over two years into my ownership, but as an off lease refurb from Dell, has already seen 5 years of use! Yet, I am far from a luddite with Roku devices connected to every TV, every member of my household an owner of a smart phone, and each also having a computer and/or tablet device. While there are no particularly modern gaming systems in the home, the PS3, 3DS, and retro gaming station all see good use. Make use of what we have and update only when it fits our own needs, not a marketing team at a large, faceless, multinational conglomerate,{2} that is the theory anyway.

{2} Witness the new Reminders app for iOS 13, requiring all devices, including Macs to be on the newest OS or you cannot sync your content, which is ridiculous of course, but perfect example of problem. When launched, Mac OS 10.15 was not even available yet, which means if you used the new Reminders app on iOS 13, your Mac had no way of syncing said reminders.

Local Cloud

What are my goals?

Whoa now! Holy "old man yelling at clouds" detour aside, where does that leave us with having more data stored on your local network. Good question! Working hand in hand with my desire not to be overly reliant on the usual technical upgrade treadmill, I have never really glommed onto any particular cloud service for media/backup. Sure, I dabble with the former, flitting in and out of different streaming content services as different deals come and go, but I am not wed to any particular ecosystem of cloud content. I use a bit of everything as my personal needs dictate. When it comes to online backup, unless you consider IMAP email storage backup (I do not keep local copies of email, I know, I should), pretty much the only thing stored in "The Cloud" are my contacts, maybe some cloud saves for some games, and a small subset of photos.

I say, "We will take control!" Wait, take control? How wonderfully vague. Is this a commandment? Perhaps, but instead, let us consider a suggestion. Let us put more content on our home network. What content exactly will depend on your use case, my needs are simple enough:

  • Backup. One of the two main goals of setting up a Local Cloud in the home is for network backups. The truth of the matter is my attempts to ask normal users to backup their computers{3} has been a rather hopeless endeavour. I have tried external drives, but the users are:
    1. Not always connected to an external drive (lot of laptops these days)
    2. Reluctant to ever connect their external drive when sitting at a desk or similar stable location.
    3. Not always clear on the method to initiate their backups when connected to an external drive.
    4. Perhaps completely oblivious to the need to backup their devices regularly.
  • Media. Not just for external storage, this is actually being streamed to clients.
    1. I have a lot of photos and some home movies.
    2. Decent amount of rips from physical media too. DVDs, Blu-rays.
    3. Even some surprisingly, legitimately, licensed DRM free, copyright video. Unlike the unicorn, It actually exists!
    4. Then we have music downloads and CD rips, again.
    5. Ebooks. PDFs, ePubs, etc. Humble Bundle spoils me for content, but also stuff from Take Control, DriveThruRPG, Project Gutenberg, etc.

All fair use content.{4}

{3} I need to get Android devices in on this action too.

{4} Depending on local laws of course and yes I know format shifting for movies remains controversial.

Using a Home Server?

Sure, many of these tasks can be accomplished by the built in capabilities of the average, mid to higher end, home router, but I have tended to stick with an actual, honest to goodness, small desktop PC, in lieu of the variety of home routers I have used for networking over the last decade,

There are a lot of options for operating systems, but given my predilections for open source solutions, I have leaned towards Linux solutions these last few years. However, I have also used Mac OS X in the past. Windows and BSD based solutions could be suitable as well, but I have hands on experience with neither.

Using a Router?

Remember when I mentioned the possibility of using a router for these tasks? While I prefer an actual computer over a router as server setup, I have found sticking an external drive off either a router or PC based server is an excellent work around for said problem. Yes, I have used both for different users at different locations. Whatever works really. In my own case, there are usually three or four drives total required (backup and media sharing), so I went server, for people with one or two drives, a router will prove very useful.

As far as brand, I have used many. Asus is my current choice, but the key, again owing to my preference for open source solutions, is to pick up a router which can be flashed with open software.

Find out more:

Home Server:


    • Backup
    • Media Sharing

Where do we go from here?

"Local Cloud, configured to share/backup my stuff , that sounds good, but…?"

Yep, I get it. General statement proclaiming magic bullet to solve problem, "Do this thing. It will be wonderful," followed by hand waving, and then wrapped up with a self congratulatory bow. Sure seems like a pretty typical Internet proclamation. "If you listen to me, your life will be better in three easy steps!"

"Yeah, yeah, okay Mr Smarty Pants, enough sarcasm, how do we get started?"

Right. we hinted at solutions, but never covered the nitty gritty. Never fear, each successive article to follow will elucidate upon each and every foundational topic germane to the Local Cloud project. As each article is finished a link will be added to this article as well. For convenience sake.

Happy computing!