How to get away from Dropbox.
March 22, 2016 10:19 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to not use that terrible service. I dislike it's clunky interface, it's pricing structure, and it's lack of transparency. What I really want is a Samba server that requires authentication that I can just, like, rent monthly. We all use laptops, and often work off-site, so we need a central file repository that seamless integrates with Mac OS. Hence my thoughts on SMB. I'm also open to other solutions. Our needs are simply: off-site file rw access, Mac compatible. I'm also open to an on-site fileserver, but that might require some re-working of the (shitty comcast modem's) firewall.

Thank you!! I hope this is an easy answer where someone is like "what you haven't heard of"
posted by special agent conrad uno to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Box? They don't let you use SMB (at least as far as I know), and it's annoying in its own unique ways, but it is decidedly Not Dropbox.
posted by primethyme at 10:25 PM on March 22, 2016

You could get a dedicated Mac server and run OS X Server with Mac-compatible VPN-protected file services.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:50 PM on March 22, 2016

I wouldn't recommend the Google Drive native client, but the web client works well enough. My fiancée and I just used it to great effect for househunting, including a mortgage application, across a variety of platforms (OSX, Windows 10, Linux, Android, iOS).
posted by kdar at 11:05 PM on March 22, 2016

Seconding Google Drive having a terrible native client. Really sent me packing back to Dropbox.
posted by lumensimus at 11:10 PM on March 22, 2016

It would help if you clarified more what about the interface/pricing/transparency you don't like about Dropbox. It really has zero interface -- you're not using the web interface as a primary interface, are you?

If you really want SMB in the cloud, you could set up your own EC2 instance with this instance and do backups to S3.

You could be (just slightly) less roll-your-own and use OwnCloud.

Otherwise, Spideroak?
posted by suedehead at 11:26 PM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Would this Mac app called Deliver work for you?

"Supports FTP, SFTP, WebDAV, Google Storage, Amazon S3, AFP, SMB and local destinations"
posted by OCDan at 11:37 PM on March 22, 2016

nthing OwnCloud. Used it to make the switch from DropBox and am very happy.

Don't use SMB.
posted by destructive cactus at 11:56 PM on March 22, 2016

Pardon, I'll clarify a bit more about my desires.

We're currently using dropbox and Slack, and we need to host a database, and also to host a website.

If I add all of these services up - based on our current org size - it quickly becomes expensive. I have just enough server admin experience to be dangerous (used to be a linux sysadmin), so my thinking is: NFS/SMB/??? + IRC + SQL + Apache.

I'd like something semi-managed; I'm not trying to keep on top of bugfixes, although I understand that's always necessary. I'll need a shell, obviously. Right now, I really like that link for a dedicated mac sever.

Thanks again!
posted by special agent conrad uno at 12:11 AM on March 23, 2016

Don't discount the idea of getting a NAS - one like this can do a whole range of useful things including hosting a database, hosting a website, hosting virtual machines, mail server, VPN, etc. Everything stays with you rather than in the cloud - and you can arrange how you would like the NAS itself to be backed up.
posted by rongorongo at 1:22 AM on March 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Webfaction + Owncloud $10/month
posted by humboldt32 at 1:53 AM on March 23, 2016

We switched to Owncloud for similar reasons. Bit of a learning curve (mostly around file sharing) but we love it now.
posted by third word on a random page at 2:52 AM on March 23, 2016

posted by tilde at 3:53 AM on March 23, 2016

we need to host a database

this may be obvious, but if you want to share a database you should do so through the mechanisms that the database supports (ie remote connections) and not by using smb to give everyone a "local" copy.
posted by andrewcooke at 4:21 AM on March 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

+1 on the NAS idea

Synology has great web UI and all the needs you mentioned can be met with one of their "DiskStation" products, e.g. DS415+.
posted by theorique at 9:41 AM on March 23, 2016

We're currently using dropbox and Slack, and we need to host a database, and also to host a website.

What's your org size? Is this 5 people, or 5000 people? Do you need offline access, or just offsite access? What kind of database do you need? Why is Dropbox not working for you - is the sync taking too long? Is the web interface not ideal? Are you getting collisions in Dropbox often? Is the storage too little?

Sorry, but not enough details here. I will say that you definitely do not want a managed file server for a small business, unless you're okay with getting support requests two, three, five years down the line. IMO, NASes are not really that great from a maintenance point of view, unless it's you personally own and can manage it.

If you do go with a normal fileserver without revisions (which Dropbox has), then I'd consider what your team's protocol is for file collisions:
"A: The changes I made to the doc today disappeared!
B: Uh oh, I had that file open from yesterday, and just saved-and-quit.
A: All of my edits are gone now?"

In any case. Some other tools: Rocket.Chat, as a Slack alternative. Expandrive - use servers as if they were network drives.
posted by suedehead at 10:48 AM on March 23, 2016

Org size is 10 people, and growing. Currently spending around $200 per month just for file management and chatting (in Slack), which is why I'm wanting to roll-my-own. We don't need offline access, just offsite access, and 99% of access will happen onsite. So I'm first looking for a clean onsite solution, and if offsite is kludgy sFTP that is almost ok. We are a design firm, and entirely Mac OS, and the designers just want an "elegant" solution.

If the solution is "stick with dropbox and slack", so be it. But that just seems expensive, and not-inline with my DIY ethic.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 11:21 AM on March 23, 2016

The NAS solution, with hardware and access controlled by you, is idea for a LAN situation skewed heavily toward onsite access. It is also easily accessible via VPN (mount network drive on Mac OS / Windows) or via web browser. I use mine all the time for accessing my home network from the office.
posted by theorique at 11:26 AM on March 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Get a (possibly managed, per your update) VPS with OwnCloud, an IRC/Jabber server, and MySQL/similar (these also, added per your update). Pay something more like $20-40/mo, depending upon traffic. Essentially, if you want to save money, then there'll be more responsibility, but this is how I'd do it, given those requests.
posted by destructive cactus at 2:05 PM on March 23, 2016

So I'm first looking for a clean onsite solution, and if offsite is kludgy sFTP that is almost ok.

Set up a Mac mini with OS X Server and a drive array with a strong backup strategy. Set up the OS X Server to run its VPN, file and directory services.

The directory service offered in OS X Server is Apple's LDAP-based Open Directory, and so it will integrate well with your Mac clients. File services can be AFP (Apple File Protocol), WebDAV, SMB, SFTP — whatever you like. Connect the clients to the VPN and file services via the directory service. If you don't want to host your own hardware, you can pay a third-party to do it. The company I linked in my previous answer is one example. There are other companies that host or colocate Apple hardware.

If you use a NAS, you'll be limited to the SMB protocol, which is still pretty slow. Make sure you get a SMB2-capable device if you go this route. You'll have few directory service integration options so you'll have to do more manual configuration of clients. You'll likely still need to set up a separate VPN to protect your data, and you'll still need a backup plan for the data on the NAS box.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 2:08 PM on March 23, 2016

The turnkey nature of Dropbox and Slack is why people love them. Honest to goodness, if you're a small shop with no dedicated IT headcount, I really, really, really wouldn't advise trying to roll your own on this even if you have prior experience with it. That way lies pain and tears. Trust me, for I have those scars.

I know it SOUNDS attractive, but if you go that route, you (or someone in your organization, or an expensive contractor) has to be in charge updates, security, backups, maintenance, and all the other hassle of having your own tools. To me, that's pretty unattractive.

N.B. also that you're getting some features with Dropbox that you might miss, like versioning and the ability to easily share with people outside your organization.

What do you find clunky about Dropbox? For me, one of its best features is the Just Works aspect of it -- I really never have to think about out. I get that milage varies, but when I hear someone having a very different experience I wonder what the variable is, you know?
posted by uberchet at 4:21 PM on March 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'd go with a NAS (Synology makes good ones, and it has support for apps for file sync and share, as well as smb) and an online backup service like crashplan in case something goes wrong on the NAS.
posted by motdiem2 at 10:31 AM on March 24, 2016

My two cents; I think your easiest and best-integrated local SMB-accessible file repository for a Mac-dominant small business is going to be connecting USB storage directly to an airport router. You can manage access inside/outside the LAN with Airport Utility and it's a nice balance of what it seems like you want; gives you direct control (to scratch that itch, I have it too), but keeps your hands clean of complex sysadmin stuff. If you need more granular control or other services, you can bump up to managing the same services and more on a dedicated OS X Server (I use an old Mac Mini quite happily for this) but from your original question I don't think that's even necessary at this stage.
posted by churl at 4:27 PM on March 25, 2016

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