Create your private DropBox or GoogleDrive with NO MONEY

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What better way to get your attention that by putting NO MONEY in the title, right? After all if you’re in a small independent school with a small tech budget, these words bring a sweet sound to the ear. Even if you’re in a big-budget situation, this is a great way to try it out before committing money to the idea.

Here’s how I have managed to create my own DropBox-like environment at my school. I must first clarify that using DropBox was not an option given the cost. Though we use GoogleDrive for our faculty/students, there are administrative needs that need way more storage and flexibility than GoogleDrive offers at this time. At the time I started using the service Google’s storage prices had yet to drop, so budgeting played a role in my decision to deploy this service to our administrators and administrative support staff.

We now enjoy nearly unlimited storage, automatic sync, and reliable service. I get the added benefit of being in control, and having ample backup and archiving capabilities. Win win!

Here’s my recipe if you’re looking to get started without paying a dime:

  1. Go to to setup your own trial account for free. As long as you keep your storage within the Arvixe hosting service under the 1Gb size, you’re free to go. I use to maintain my OwnCloud environment since I don’t want to install it on my own servers, nor do I want to take care of yet one more thing on our network. They are good at hosting, they know OwnCloud pretty well, so why not let them tend to it? OwnCloud then connects to S3 for data storage ….keep reading.
  2. Got to Amazon Web Service and create a free S3 account. You get 5Gbs of free storage. Not bad if you’re just getting started. Once you have created your account, create a bucket in the region you want to store your data. This is important if you’re in Europe or other heavily regulated regions. In my case I’ve created my bucket in Northern California such that it is fast to access from here. Frankly, though, anywhere you decide to create your bucket you will have good access speeds to your data. Where data is stored has more of an impact if you’re creating apps to access such data, or if you’re going to distribute video/audio content in a website or app.
  3. Once you’ve created these two free accounts, it’s time to get them talking to each other. Primarily you want to set up your OwnCloud service to talk to and store data to your S3 bucket. Here’s a good online help doc that goes through the process step-by-step.
  4. Create your users within OwnCloud, and manage their profiles. This is such that each user has appropriate rights to view/edit/create data within a given bucket/folder. Check out this doc to get a better idea of what that means.
  5. Deploy the OwnCloud client for Mac/Win, iOS/Android. Use each user’s credentials to get them connected and sharing.

Once you’ve done this, the user simply needs to keep their data within a folder that is used to sync with the cloud service and into the S3 bucket. All syncing is done behind-the-scenes, so the users don’t need to worry about a thing. Best of all, if their machines takes a dive or they drop their laptop in the toilet – trust me, it’s happened – then all you need to do is give them a new device and get them connected to their account and sync. Also, there is an option to get to your data via a website just like Box, DropBox and GoogleDrive.

OwnCloud is not a magic pill. There are some things that will need a bit of getting used to, like getting the file-sharing link, for instance. Overall, though, for the price and for what it does, it is a great example of open-source software applied to a real-world need.

Resource links for your sharing pleasure:

Happy sharing!


Turn on the faucet …all the way

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One of my highest priorities when planning for “next” year has always been to seek a way to increase Internet bandwidth on campus. This is how I’ve accomplished it up to this point.

More than a decade ago

When I came on board there was a single .5Mbs line leased from the local university. Crappy is not the word considering what was available at the time, and for a lower price none-the-less.

I set out and contracted two T1 lines from two different providers. Each line came on to campus via Ethernet. . A third, faster fiber line, was contracted via yet another provider. Lastly, a microwave link was contracted from the primary telco. The reason various lines were contracted is that in the country where I was located, it was not a common thing for a school to have more than one T1 line. Also, earthquakes and unexpected loss of power are an issue. Having various providers offered the best way to safeguard against losing connectivity all together.

Once they made it into our campus, aggregating the lines together was a challenge. Eventually someone recommended I try FatPipe Networks’ Warp. Though it was not the cheapest product out there we could afford to purchase it at the time. It cost more than $10,000 USD. It did an amazing job of serving as our aggregator and firewall since it also does port mapping/blocking. Great product if you have the budget.

Fast-forward ten years

When I came on campus the school had contracted a home DSL service providing 20Mbs download and 1.5Mbs upload. Not a good thing since I was also deploying Google Apps for Education first thing after landing in the country. I quickly got to work on getting better bandwidth. Since I was the first Tech Dir they hired, ever, it was a good conversation to have with the CFO as to why we needed more bandwidth. Finally I contracted a 100Mbs up/down line for about 775Euros monthly. Yeah, I know, nothing compared to US prices. Since we kept the home DSL service as a backup I found myself needing an aggregator once again. This time, though, I did not have the budget for a Warp.

After much searching I found Zeroshell. Wow, what a product! It’s open-source, so it is not for the faint of heart. There’s a bit of a learning curve. But well worth the time for what it does.

I took an old (I’m talking more than 5yrs old) 486 machine and added three NIC’s to it to get it working with Zeroshell. That box would boot from a custom burnt CD and the OS is quick to load. This is great for when you loose power and the machine restarts on its own after power is re established. Any ways, highly recommended.

Zeroshell aggregates, does RADIUS, firewalls, routes, and NAT’s. All you need for your DMZ and outside connectivity.

What about now you ask?

When I walked onto campus in El Segundo there was a 20Mbs fiber line serving the community. Within the first month I got it upgraded to 100Mbs, though we are paying through the roof. Still, though, it is very reliable and holds near or at 100Mbs most of the time. No complaints on that end. I may need to bring it up to 200Mbs within the next two years, but it all depends if we hold our current course.

You see, we provide Terminal Service Sessions to our students in order for all of them to have access to network resources and the same version of MS Office all at the same time. Since many will go home and connect to our campus network, having the most bandwidth available to the Internet is quite important.

Here comes the sermon…

Bandwidth is the most important component of any campus platform as far as I’m concerned. So many schools have gone the way of the cloud that having crappy access really kills the point. If there is anything you are doing with your budget for next year, I hope it is adding bandwidth so that there are fewer limitations for classroom learning.


Waiting for a callback

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I had a great conversation yesterday (Podcast to be published Monday morning) with a Tech Director colleague who is currently at an American School in Alexandria, Egypt. Throughout the conversation he talked about how he has overcome challenges such as lack of consistent power, challenging Internet connectivity, near zero budget, lack of channel partners for tech gear, etc. Egypt being the birthplace of the Arab Spring I’m sure brings plenty more for him to deal with outside of work – him being Canadian and all.

That conversation has brought home how fortunate I am not to have to worry about those issues where I work. Because of high winds we’ve had one power outage – that I know of – during the academic year. Our Internet access is reliable, and though our budget is not infinite we are pretty well equipped and are able to pay all our bills on time.

While speaking with him I had a recollection of other friend-Tech-Dir’s who work in Eastern Europe who have access to the Internet only sporadically during the week, and of others who deal with security issues in Africa – both physically and electronically. Those are some of the scenarios I’ve heard of over the years at conferences and tech-get-togethers in various regions of the world. Still, it fascinates me that there are English/Canadians/Americans who take the post of Tech Dir.

Which brings me to the point of this rant. Like teachers, humanitarians, and other good-doers, Tech Dirs are up for a good challenge. Even when the challenge is not being posed by the likes of Microsoft and/or Apple, they are met with resourcefulness from these folks. I’d like to contribute by bringing these stories to your ears in way of podcasts. Already I am reaching out across the globe to get interview times with as many Tech Directors and other PreK-12 school personnel as possible.

I have a couple of interviews already lined up with colleagues from around the globe for next week. Still, I’d like to do more. I feel I have a knack for it, and I really like doing them. Check it out for yourself. If you are reading this and you yourself are involved in PreK-12 independent education in any capacity, or someone you know, contact me to setup a time for a conversation. I promise I will not use the opportunity to make you look bad. Instead I will take the time to pay attention and to learn from you – and then I will share it such that others learn, too.

Write me at



Podcast #2: John Umekubo, St. Matthew’s Parish School, California

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John Umekubo has been the Technology Director at St. Matthew’s Parish School for more than a decade. He is a leader in maker space universe as well as in the implementation of 1:1 programs in the greater Los Angeles area.
During our conversation we touch on many topics such as; what it takes to continue to innovate in a school where great things are already happening; his approach to technology integration in the classroom; reaching out to the parent community; how to prepare faculty for what’s ahead and his passion for making.
Resources shared during the conversation:
You can find him on twitter: @jumekubo