Raspberry Pi 3’s in the Republic of Nauru

As a technologist promoting practical ICT in developing regions, I am still surprised that Raspberry Pi computers have failed to reach these regions of the world.  As an affordable, small, low power-usage computer that can help teach basic computer and programing skills, it seems a perfect fit to aid in STEM-related advancement in developing states.  In the West we know that over 8 million of these tiny computers have been sold and now there are +65 clone versions.  Including the clones, Banana Pi, Orange Pi, Beagle Bone, Pine64, Odroid, etc., the number must exceed 15 million devices to date.

Six Reasons Why Raspberry Pis are Perfect for Developing Regions:

  • Cost effective: all of the required hardware costs about $65 total.
  • Power efficient: Even with the WiFi running, total system power usage currently sits around 500mA: about the same as today’s smart phone, and it uses the same micro-usb charger as the phone.
  • Open source: Raspberry Pi runs a version of the Linux OS, it can use the free and extremely useful code already out there for LAMP stacks.
  • Robust Community Support: Raspberry Pi already has a large and amazing user and programing community supporting this hardware. They are always thinking of new ways to improve the hardware and software to better suit the needs of developing regions.
  • Improved Security: very low cost way to set up department and personal firewalls.
  • No Moving Parts: Fewer Parts and no spinning pieces means reduced chance of failure due to factors such as extreme weather and intermittent power.



Raspberry Pi 3 with clones and their different form factors. (SBC – Small Board Computer) These are SBC’s that I own and have tested.



Back to Nauru, I had the opportunity to hold a small Raspberry Pi introduction class to the government ICT office in April 2016.  The introduction included a short slide show and then hands-on setup of four RPi 3’s.  The hands-on portion focused on connecting and setting up the RPi first as a desktop then as a server.  The ICT office in Nauru often gets request for a small server to support the internal needs of another department.  The process creates a ton of paper work, from assessing user needs, to evaluating software skills/needs, and then making a formal request for quotes on a “data center class” server.  Many times the requesting department would just like to see an example of how a web server could be used to support their department, not go through a 6 month-long process and then wait 6 more months to get a server on island, set up, etc.

We were able to set up the Raspberry Pi 3 as a server with Apache in a LAMP stack, and add a sample web page, in 15 minutes. So, in a quarter of an hour it was possible to have a server set up, connected to the internal network, and show how a web site would look and work for a government department.  The two ICT department interns were amazed and were very excited to get a Raspberry Pi for their own use and experimentations.

The slides I used: An-introduction-to-the-Raspberry-Pi-1

Background Photos



Where is Nauru? Just about a five hour flight from Brisbane, AU






Photo from the plane, the small remote island of Nauru, you can walk around the island in about 4 hours on the ring road.




Calm ocean waters around Nauru.






The trifecta for micro-servers

Power, cost and space are the three main factors driving the design and operations from the smallest of server rooms to the giant football field sized data centers. Today’s modern server-centers continually hit power, space, and cost limitations and their ICT staff actively seek disruptive solutions at both the hardware and software levels to maximize computing throughput of systems within a given energy, monetary and/or volumetric budget. The explosive growth around the world of Raspberry Pi sized computers is starting to morph into the micro-server market. This has been in its embryonic stages the past 18 months, but with the recent 64-bit version of the Raspberry Pi coming to market at $35 USD, we are on the cusp of the micro-server revolution truly taking off. With the focus on optimized energy-to-solution, low cost, and space parameters, micro-servers will have a very rapid growth in the low end, entry level server marketplace. With a new generation of computer science students using Raspberry Pi for every type of computing project in and out of school, this will quickly bleed over into the commercial market when they hit the traditional IT job market. We are witnessing this now in a new hosting industry segment, which is based on Raspberry Pi’s.  Mininodes.com out of Arizona is a recent entry and shows how a few enterprising computer science students can really be on the leading edge of this minimum power, cost, and space revolution, by hosting only Raspberry Pi-type boards in a computer data center environment. When it comes to minimal power, space, and cost, these micro-servers are on the horizon and the 64-bit ARM processor based boards are leading the way.



The Broadcom 1.2GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU on the Raspberry Pi 3 board

Micro Data Centers

1n my ICT4D circles, everyone knows I am a fan of low power processors, the raspberry pi-style micro-computer movement, and solar PV-powered computing. My other major interest area is green data centers. More fascinating still, however, is the imminent convergence of all of these things.

I believe that in the near future, micro-computing will intersect with the data center industry. We will see the rapid emergence of micro-data centers (mDC & μDC) where system efficiency, very low power consumption, and edge computing are paramount. Microsoft Research distinguished scientist Victor Bahl predicts “As mDCs become popular, enterprise IT pros will most likely have to deploy them on premises as cloud accelerators for the services their users depend on.  As users come to expect and rely on the high performance and new applications enabled by mDCs, IT pros will be expected to monitor and manage these servers 24x7x365.” This is a very powerful statement, as it would see the data center market reversing years of the trend toward centralization and promoting the bigger-is-better ideal for data centers.

These new micro-data centers will take many shapes and forms, but I would argue that it is the Raspberry Pi style micro-computers that will shape and form what the micro-data center market will evolve into. This past summer, my organization, Inveneo, in conjunction with ARM, Ltd., ran a solar powered micro-data center design challenge, as a way to inspire computer hardware engineers to move into this micro-oriented space and direction.  Over 65 teams entered from across the globe with some very interesting designs.mserverThese micro-computers, or what I will now call micro-servers is a new segment for micro-computers, are the same Raspberry Pi sized boards with ever increasing memory, CPU cores, and yet very low power consumption—usually on par with the power usage of today’s smartphone. The next big leap, which is almost here, is the jump from 32-bit processors—the mainstay of today’s raspberry pi type boards—to 64-bit versions with 4 cores, 4gb of RAM, and dual port gigabit Ethernet. Now, does that not sound like the modern data center server? Once these 64-bit versions come online in mass production, they can be used just like today’s servers, and the server market will need to sit up and take notice—very quickly.

We are seeing ARM-licensed CPU semiconductor firms like Actions (CN), All-Winner (CN), Broadcom (US), Qualcomm (US), and Hisilicon (CN) racing to bring the new low power 64-bit CPU versions to market, competing for this market with the micro-server board design companies.  Interesting on a geo-political front is the design race here between China and the USA.  Recently at the 2015 Linaro Connect conference in San Francisco, I sat down HiKey_LeMakerwith Lemaker’s (CN) co-founder, Leo Liu, who shared their latest 64-bit reference board.  Their reference HiKey board was sporting an 8-core 64-bit ARM processor from Hisilicon, 2 GB ram, and 4GB eMMC Flash Storage.   I predict we will see many more of these 64-bit ARM based “micro-servers”, coming by year’s end.

The key difference with traditional servers vs. micro-servers will be the very low power footprint of the micro-server board.  We will be able to combine 10 of these boards in a single housing and still use less than 40 watts of electricity and be able to incorporate passive cooling.  Add a stack of SSDs and a switch and you have micro-data center.

Today, there are over 53 companies producing Raspberry Pi sized/style boards: http://linuxgizmos.com/raspberry-pi-stays-sky-high-in-2015-hacker-sbc-survey/.  I expect some very interesting movement toward the end of 2015, as a few key companies will move from being just another Raspberry Pi knock-off to focusing on this new micro-server market, moving away from being a general Linux machine to having a high performance 64-bit server board with a very small energy footprint. Convergence is coming in the server market: low power consumption, server miniaturization, and edge networking are leading the data center industry to a small-is-beautful!