Software Development

Raspberry Pi: Five ways business can use it

The $40 Linux computer is a tempting replacement for expensive, high-end machines in a number of business tasks.
The first Raspberry Pi boards will ship from next week. Photo: Raspberry Pi

Think the Raspberry Pi is only good for teaching kids to code? Think again. Photo: Raspberry Pi

The $40 Raspberry Pi packs a lot of computer into a small and low-priced package - so it makes sense for businesses to try and exploit its potential.

The Pi computer may have been designed as a programming platform for kids but modders are thinking up a growing number of ways that enterprises could use the device.

Here are five business uses for the Pi inspired by suggestions from TechRepublic readers.

1. Simple server

The Pi is worth considering by anyone looking to set up a low-cost server to handle light internal or web traffic.

TechRepublic user DesertJim is hoping to string together 14 boards to make a cheap server cluster.

"At $40 a piece, a 14-way Beowulf cluster is $560 using my spare 16-way Gigabit switch and an old network-attached HDD," he wrote.

There's plenty of debate about whether the Pi is powerful enough to act as a useful server, with its 256MB of RAM, 700MHz ARM CPU and 10/100 Ethernet - but the consensus on the Raspberry Pi developer forums is that it could handle light traffic.

"I'd have thought it'll easy run Apache, PHP & MySQL," wrote one forum poster, who described running a test server using an old system with similar specs to those of the Pi - a Celeron 533MHz system, with about 256MB using i386 Debian. The writer added, "Obviously it's not going to stand up to a lot of load but I'm sure it'll work."

Anyone thinking of turning their Pi into a web server should check out the PHP and MySQL guide on the Pi forums.

2. Computer troubleshooting tool

Testing whether computer components are working or resolving connectivity problems should be within the Pi's capabilities, according to TechRepublic readers.

"With some custom code and a basic LCD touchscreen and battery, [it's] a great tool for checking IP connectivity or using other USB attachments to check and test computer components," said TechRepublic user Fredden in a comment.

The Pi could even be a perfect pocket-sized tool for testing information security, according to one poster on the Raspberry Pi developer forums, who suggests pairing it with network-penetration software and using it to find weaknesses in corporate systems.

3. Business intelligence dashboard

Many companies use computer dashboards to allow staff to compare their performance against departmental targets or to monitor behaviour of key computer systems.

However, dedicating an entire PC to running the simple graphical front-end on these dashboards is overkill, and TechRepublic commenter rickyhobson (sic) thinks the Pi provides an affordable alternative.

"We are going to place them behind big screens and use them for department dashboards without the need for a Windows/Office PC," he wrote.

4. Development platform

The Raspberry Pi is also a candidate as a low-cost development platform, both for software developers and network engineers.

"As a network engineer, [I think] it should make a good test base for a firewall design we are working on," said TechRepublic commenter mickey.

On the software development side there are already several integrated development environments (IDEs) available that will work with the Pi. The Pi's Linux Debian Squeeze distro includes the Python IDE IDLE and the simple IDE Geany, which supports a wide range of programming and scripting languages.

However there's debate about whether the Pi compiles code sufficiently quickly to be a development platform - though plenty of people think it can - and whether more demanding IDEs such as Eclipse and NetBeans would run well on the machine.

5. Digital signage

Running a digital sign using a PC or similarly expensive piece of kit is another example of wasting money on overpowered equipment.

TechRepublic commenter brian sees the Pi as a cost-effective alternative: "I intend to use the Pi to replace some very expensive digital signage boxes we have purchased in the past," he wrote.

That commenter is not alone. A poster from the Raspberry Pi forums describes a similar plan to use the Pi to run digital signs around a university campus.

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

11 comments
NZJester
NZJester

Plug in some USB hard drives and a printer using a USB hub to give it more ports and set up a SABA server and print server and you can have a cheap NAS/Print server box with more control over who can access what. The current cheap little NAS box I have that has 2 USB and 1 LAN port gives me very limited control over the printer authorization and only a limited number of usernames and passwords for Hard drive access. Plug on a cheap USB modem modem that is voice capable and it could also double as an answering machine and fax! For a couple of years after I swapped to Windows XP I used my old Windows 98 machine as an answering/fax machine.

cwarner7_11
cwarner7_11

I am considering (and have read of others of the same mind) using the Raspberry Pi to control my 3D printer. Most likely will still do the graphics prep and g-code generation on a more capable system, but then send the control code off to the Pi for actually driving the printer...

SmartyParts
SmartyParts

I think it'd be awesome to bundle a camera feed with some live stats pulled from race cars, like steering-wheel angle, gforces, throttle/brake settings, etc.

SmartyParts
SmartyParts

I could totally see little Raspberry Pi's behind the scenes on some of those monster Christmas light displays or even to run a wearable lighting display like a light up LED hat or shirt.

a.portman
a.portman

It seems mundane, but I am planing on using mine as a thin client. Although, we used big screen TVs as projector/screen replacements in classrooms now. Raspberry may end up there as well.

NZJester
NZJester

They are starting to come out with flexible plastic video display screens. Imagine instead of it running LEDs on a shirt or hat, it showing a slideshow of pictures or a video instead on the shirt or hat with the flexible screen attached! Plug in a USB camera & microphone and a USB WiFi unit with a keyboard and screen built into a sleeve and you have a wearable skype and internet unit!

nwallette
nwallette

The Lilypad and such are made to be wearable. There are DMX and MP3 shields for the bigger Arduinos that would do all of that. It's not necessarily cheaper, but an ARM might be overkill for something like that. (Not that it wouldn't work, of course!)

rahn
rahn

I want to try this too on our Citrix cluster but I wish it supported dual monitors.

mark.amos
mark.amos

I was just thinking about posting this same thought - so, great idea!

NZJester
NZJester

I wonder if one of those USB adapters that allow you to add extra monitors on to laptops and desktop would work with it? I'm not sure if you can get drivers for other OS's besides Windows and Apple.

nwallette
nwallette

Graphics performance kinda sucks. Video decoding is accelerated (for AVC and VC1, but not MPEG2), but the X.org 2D graphics driver is a brute-force implementation. Remember, the ARM CPU and GPU is a SoC designed for media devices, not a general purpose Linux or Windows desktop.