Raspberry Pi: What Can a $25 Computer Do?

By | Feb 10, 2012

The Raspberry Pi Foundation is set to offer its $25 open board Linux-based computer in a late February release. The bare-bones computer was originally conceived by the foundation as a tool for children worldwide to learn how to program, but the device is quickly becoming a coveted curiosity among technologists, including the IT professional who may find novel use for the small computer in the workplace.

According to an article in PC World, the device is about the size of a credit card and surprisingly capable. The $25 Model A computer has a single USB port, can play high-definition video, and comes with 128 megabytes of RAM. The Model B, which will cost $35, has 256 megabytes of RAM and a 10/100 Ethernet port. It is expected that the device will be useful in a variety of applications, including network management, robotics, media streaming, and more.

Although the most likely users of the inexpensive computer will be students and hobbyists, the device and its low price does open the door for businesses to look at a host of possibilities. For midsize businesses, a $25 computer may be useful in the practice lab as a cryptography analysis tool to examine and test algorithms, key size, and configuration solutions. Another possible use might be as an inexpensive packet analyzer. For businesses that build robotic solutions, the Raspberry Pi could be used as a "throw away" robot that is sent to perform a task but not expected to survive and be sent out again. Certainly, it carries some appeal when thought of as a bread board for a miniature unmanned air vehicle or something similar.

Of course, for $25, there are limitations. According to the company's FAQs, the device does not have a hard-disk. Instead, it boots from an SD card. RAM can't be added and the board isn't qualified for extreme temperatures. Broadcom, the chip manufacturer for the device, will not release full documentation for the chip without a signed non-disclosure agreement plus a business plan.

It is difficult but not impossible to imagine a $25 computer in day-to-day use at most midsize companies. With the movement to thin-client desktop computers that are less and less capable, the appearance of the Raspberry Pi should at least start the conversation about how much computer capability is needed in the workplace and who needs that capability. Further, as IT analysts embrace comprehensive software solutions to manage the workplace, what hardware tools are needed to best support the IT shop as a whole? Where it was once commonplace to have bench devices and test beds in the shop, budgets sometimes overlook the need to have a variety of dedicated hardware for IT's test and development needs. In this light, the $25 computer may serve a larger need than ever imagined.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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