Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Drooling Over Hardware

It's been awhile since I've seen a piece of kit that's had me jiggling about repeating "I want I want I want!". I've now got this thing for single board computers. Starting with the Raspberry Pi with it's extremely modest specs but holy crapballs on toast, I can't believe it's that cheap. Going to the thing I found tonight - Paraellella.

Parallella is a single board computer designed to make parallel computing easy. It's a hardware platform that, at it's very heart, has opensource ideals. But wait: there's more! It has a very specific education focus - to teach parallel programming. It's specs are brilliant and it all comes in at a great price - $100US (for the 16 core model. There's also a 64 core model that's going to be offered...

I'd love to be able to make a half decent render farm for 3d modelling. Kind of a fun addition for kids movies. Hopefully someone's working on a raytracer for ARM processors...

But what's really got me excited about single board computers... scalable servers. For the most part, servers are under utilized and so the trend has been to virtualise servers so that those servers are utilized better. The problem with this is that you then have to buy more infrastructure to add redundancy (i.e. if one bare-metal - computer - fails, you can migrate your virtual machines to another server).

In terms of education, servers are a bit of a playground. Most I.T. types working in schools would be hard pressed to come up with reasonable uses for servers within schools - or rather, to justify the specs they've got to the services they're providing. With the ability to offload a lot of those services to "the cloud" and appliances such as NAS boxes and the like, there's actually very few services that a server caters to and yet, everyone knows, you shouldn't use commodity hardware for this sort of thing. Nor should you have only one because it if fails.... well it's a single point of failure...

So what if you could build a server up as you need it? Need DNS? Chuck in a Raspberry Pi and configure it. Need a file server? Unfortunately there isn't a single board computer that will suit this purpose at the moment (it would need gigabit Ethernet and a couple of SATA ports) - although a NAS could probably fill the niche (you'd be limited in terms of configurability having to rely on what's been provided on the NAS' software). LDAP? Well that's only really sending across little bits of data - so that could be a Raspberry Pi.

It would run on low power being all ARM chips and given that they all tend to use around 5 Volts, the power supply could be a couple (for redundancy) of desktop power supplies. Need some redundancy? For a couple of hundred dollars you could have everything you could possibly need in terms of redundancy - a raspberry pi or two, a spare power supply, a couple of SD Cards etc.

Have another need? Chuck in yet another single board computer, configure it as it needs to be and go for it! All of the craploads of money on a server that is completely overspec'ed for your needs (and the accompanying cost for redundancy) significantly reduces as you grow your server to your needs.

We're a little ways off this at the moment but I don't think it'll be that long until we're essentially playing Lego with our infrastructure.

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