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So you want to run your own server, eh? Whether you want to free yourself from data mining, commercialising, monetising, greedy be-tied-and-suited media moguls or from the spiritual successors of J. Edgar Hoover and Yuri Andropov does not matter. You want your data to be just that, *your* data. While this might seem extreme to some the idea is actually not far fetched, nor is it impossible to realise. After all, the 'net and the web were conceived as a decentralised network of services. This model, while good in allowing diversity and freedom, is less than ideal from a profitability standpoint so you should not expect those who stand to profit from hoarding your data to lend a helping hand here You're on your own here.

Well, not really on your own of course as there is a metric ton of information on this subject to be found on the 'net. Everything from how to turn that old laptop into a server through using single-board computers as servers through re-purposing whatever you happened to find dumpster-diving. Suffice to say that you need hardware, software and a network connection. A separate router, preferably one under your own control, running known software (OpenWRT, DD-WRT, Tomato, etc) on stable and not to anemic hardware so it can be used to run a VPN to your phone. You'll want your own domain name as well, either one from the free services which are (still) around or something more 'personal'.

Network connection and domain
Here you often don't have that much choice. If possible, choose a wired connection over a wireless one, both for the higher reliability as well as the usually more acceptable use policies and the fact that wireless connections often change IP address. Choose a connection without a traffic cap over one which has one. Choose the connection with the highest upload rate, even if this means settling on a lower download rate - servers send traffic up the net after all.
There are many ways to get a domain name. You can buy one, of course. For a personal server this might be overkill, but the choice is yours. One advantage of having your own domain is that it enables you to keep your mail/jabber/web/whatever addresses no matter what happens (as long as you pay the registrar, of course). You're totally free here as you can simply point your domain elsewhere if you happen to move to another ISP (and/or country...). Cheaper - as in 'free' - is to use one of the many free dynamic DNS services. As long as you have an address to feed your phone and other devices which will make use of your server you're fine.

Best here is to use a router which is fully under your own control. While some ISP routers might be marginally usable, these devices are often at the whim of the ISP as they can be remotely controlled and configured. This is not what you want for your network, so just use the thing in bridge mode if possible, otherwise forward all traffic to your own router. With one of the free and open router firmwares on a reliable device you can do interesting things, ranging from port knocking on the router to VPN tunnels to your mobile devices.

Hardware, storage
Power consumption. heat- and noise production are of more importance than raw power here. There should be enough memory to keep the thing from paging (or 'swapping') on the intended work load on the chosen OS. The same goes for storage: If it fits in the box, fine. If it does not (external drives on laptops, Raspberries, etc) make sure the whole contraption is stable so you don't get any sudden 'disconnects'. For a personal server, power consumption, noise and heat production (which directly relates to reliability) are - again - more important than raw performance.

Any 'unix' of choice is fine here. Linux, *BSD, doesn't matter. Even MacOS would do. Windows, not so much. It is not impossible to use Windows but it is more of a hassle given that a lot of the software is tailored to a unix(y) environment. If you really insist on running Windows, at least make sure it is patched up to the hilt and that all - and that means all - unnecessary services have been switched off.

This is the interesting bit, and the reason why this message is here in the first place. On one of the forum threads here someone was surprised by the fact that I don't run any of the Google apps on my devices, wondering how I got by without Google Play, GMail, contacts and calendar sync etc. Part of the answer to that question involves running your own server, part is covered by using alternatives for the Google-provided apps and services. I would have put this all in a table but it seems this silly forum does not support those...

Commercial service: Alternative (Remarks)
  • Google Play: F-Droid (The F-Droid store only contains free software. It does not provide a full alternative to the Play Store. If you really want to run the Play Store but still have a notion of privacy on your device, consider enabling Google Services only when required, disabling them afterwards. You can also designate one device as the one which gets to run the Play Store and side-load apps from this device to all others. Theoretically this should be possible using an emulator on your server as well, automating the whole process and creating a 'playstore by proxy'. I have not tried this.)
  • GMail: IMAP to your own server, eg the Debian standard dovecot daemon. K9 or the standard Android email client on your device.
  • Contacts: CardDav to your own server (service is provided by ownCloud, amongst others), DAVdroid on your phone or tablet.
  • Calendar: CalDav to your own server (service is provided by ownCloud, amongst others), DAVdroid on your phone or tablet.
  • Cloud storage (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc): WebDav to your own server (service is provided by ownCloud, amongst others), one of the many webdav clients on your phone. There is a specific ownCloud app as well.
  • Photo sharing (Flickr, Smugmug, etc): Trovebox to your own server, Trovebox app on phone
  • Streaming service (Spotify, Google Music, etc): subsonic on your own server, dSub or Subsonic app on phone (there is a rudimentary streaming service in ownCloud as well, based on Ampache)
  • More will follow...

If you get in the game on time you might be able to join the Reset the Net initiative!
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