We are constantly being invited to use cloud services such as Dropbox, Mozy and SugarSync to store our documents, music, photos and more. It's the future, we're told.

The obvious benefits of storing files online is that it releases space on our PCs, smartphones and tablets, and files can be accessed from any device with an internet connection. Another advantage of cloud storage is that the responsibility of looking after your files (including backing them up) and maintaining the hardware is someone else’s.

There are privacy and security concerns, though, and you might well wonder whether someone could access your files. Services also have worrying phrases in their terms and conditions, such as "You hereby grant Mozy a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive licence to use any such content."

Also, for anything more than a few gigabytes, which tend to be offered free to get you to try a service, you must pay for online storage with recurring monthly fees.

An option you may not have considered is to run your own cloud service. It's easier than you might think: all you need is a PC, internet access and some free software. A dedicated PC is best, but the desktop PC you use for everything is also fine. Just leave it running when you go out. Fibre optic internet, such as BT Infinity or Virgin Media, is best but any broadband will work.

An advantage of turning your PC into a cloud server is that storage is limited only by the size of its hard disk and not the size of your bank balance. You can store any type and any size of files, there are no monthly fees, and it is private.

Only you have access to your cloud server, but it's also possible to grant permission to others, such as family or friends. Imagine being at work and you want to listen to music. With just a web browser you can log on to your home PC cloud server and access your whole music library. If you are out and need a file from home or work, you can access it with a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

There are some disadvantages, too. Your computer is running when you are out, using electricity. Plus, you're responsible for maintaining the hardware, making backups, and that Windows is running smoothly.

Also, bear in mind that broadband upload speeds are slower than download speeds. This means it can be very slow to download big files from your cloud PC, but fast to upload them, which is opposite to normal internet usage.

There are several programs which you can use such as ownCloud (owncloud.org) and Oxygen (oxygencloud.com), but here we’ll show you how to set up the free Tonido (tonido.com).

How to make a personal cloud server with Tonido

1. Browse to www.tonido.com and click the Downloads link. The software you need to turn a PC into a cloud server is Tonido Desktop Software for Windows. There are two versions and if you choose the portable edition it doesn’t need installing.

Download Tonido

2. Open the zip file and drag the Tonido folder out and drop it on the desktop. When you want to start Tonido, just double click tonido.exe. The first time, a Windows Firewall alert appears. Click Allow access.


3. Another housekeeping task is to sign up for a free Tonido account. Enter the account name you want to use and a password. Your account name becomes part of the URL used to access your cloud server.

Create account

4. After clicking through welcome messages you’ll see this screen indicating that Tonido is active. It runs in the background and the browser can be closed and you can use the PC for other purposes, just don’t shut it down.

Main interface

5. Make your PC energy efficient by opening Power Options in the Control Panel. Select High performance and click Change plan settings, Change advanced power settings. Set the display and disk to sleep when the PC is idle.

Power settings

6. You can log in to your computer, which is now acting as a cloud server, from any computer or device with a web browser. Here we’re using a laptop in Starbucks. Just enter your personal URL, yourname.tonidoid.com.

Log in remotely

7. The same screen as in step 4 is displayed and you have full access to the PC’s internal disk drive and any other drives that are attached. There’s an Upload button, and the Actions column enables you to download files as well.

Access files remotely

8. Navigate to the Pictures folder on the disk and select the Gallery tab at the top. The images are shown as thumbnails. Click a photo to view a larger version or click the slideshow button and sit back and watch.

Browse and download photos

9. Use the panel on the left to find the Music folder on the PC and select a folder containing music, such as MP3 files. Switch to the Music tab at the top and music controls are displayed. Pick a track and play it.

Stream music over the internet

Next page: using Tonido with mobile devices