Your own Google Workspace

Published June 22, 2022, 10:54 AM

by Professor Rom Feria

In a few days, Google will turn-off their free Google App for Your Domain, now called Google Workspace, for most users.

Even though Google backed down and continues to offer a free personal tier for who knows how long, you may never know when they will turn it off. If you have not turned on this personal tier, you have a few days to do so. However, if you are fed up with the bait-and-switch ploy, then there are alternatives.

You can continue and pay for the Google service, of course, but why not transfer away from the privacy-invasive Big Tech? You can subscribe and pay for Fastmail and Protonmail - which comes with email, calendar and cloud-based storage OR you can self-host your own Google Workspace.

How, you ask? I have written about Nextcloud before, but I figured that now is a good time to talk about it again. Nextcloud is marketed as an enterprise-level productivity platform. Sounds expensive? Sounds like it is overkill for your (and your family) use? Well, think again. Nextcloud also provides an open-source edition that is completely FREE. Yes, free as in free beer.

No license to purchase to use all features of their software, unlike some other free open-source projects. Nextcloud is available on practically all modern and popular platforms out there. What is even better is that it runs on a ridiculously affordable Raspberry Pi! You can, of course, opt to subscribe to a Nextcloud service provider, if you’d rather not setup one yourself. First step is to decide whether you self-host or subscribe to a Nextcloud service provider.

Each option has advantages and disadvantages, of course. Subscribing removes the work needed to maintain the server and making sure that software is updated. Checking out this option revealed that the amount of storage becomes expensive when you go above 200GB. Personally, I decided to self-host instead. Self-hosting provides you will complete control of the entire software stack, includes maintaining it, of course.

Where to self-host is another decision point - on a virtual private server (VPS) on the cloud or on your own server on-premise? On a VPS, similar to subscribing to a Nextcloud service, storage is a bit limited - consider having at least 1TB of storage and your cost increases dramatically, but then again, you weigh it against powering your own server and if you want to access it outside of your local network, your internet expense, too. At the moment, I decided to run it at home, on a Raspberry Pi, since most access will be local anyway.

A Raspberry Pi 4b with 4GB of RAM connected to a 2TB portable USB 3.0 hard disk seem to be sufficient at the moment - at least for the entire family. Choosing how you install Nextcloud depends on you, as there are multiple ways of doing it, from having a Snap app package, Docker, a full customized Linux distribution image (NextcloudPi), an Ubuntu appliance, or the traditional way of downloading the installer. I chose the installer route and installed it on RaspberryPi OS.

A good guide can be found at <““>, which I used, except that I configured mine to use Certbot to retrieve a certificate so I can access my Nextcloud outside of my network. Considering that my entire family is on the Apple ecosystem, our Nextcloud instance only requires file server functionality, so I did not install the office productivity suite (which can replace Google Docs), the chat app called Talk, the Calendar app and Mail client app (no, Nextcloud does not come with a mail server). Nextcloud has other applications that you can install, both from the company and from third-party developers.

So, I added encryption, ransomware protection, different types of multi-factor authentication (TOTP, email and WebAuthn), and external storage support. Now we are ready. Self-hosting provides you with full and total control of your data. You are sure that there is no bait-and-switch that will happen, unless, of course, Nextcloud gets bought out by a greedy company, but then again, your open source software will continue to work (just that there may not be upgrades). So what are you waiting for? Take back control of your data!