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.