How we use the Raspberry PI

Last year, the ubiquitous and cheap Raspberry PI seemed to jump from fun hobby computer into useful appliance for us in a number of different use-cases. Today we have 3 (soon to be 4) PI’s doing useful tasks from monitoring, syncing, and even contemporary video art. This is how we’re using the Raspberry PI for our hosting company Serversaurus, our coworking space Electron Workshop, and for personal office <-> home secure file syncing.

Serversaurus

We had a problem here at Serversaurus when it came to overall visibility of our network and infrastructure. We needed a quick and easy way to see what was going on, from network throughput, server load, mail queues, disk IO and even the number of tickets we had in our support queue.

Using a selection of tools including Heka, statsd, and graphite (I’ll do another post on that another time – that whole process is interesting unto itself!), we began writing a web interface to render the data we wanted to visualise. For a number of reasons, commonly known dashboard software wasn’t hugely useful to us – we had a lot of custom data we needed to have plotted, and the work involved in creating something more custom, was about equal to successfully writing exports for our data into SaaS dashboards.

Due to the complexity of the graphs and some other technical reasons, no web-based open source solutions worked for us, so we decided to render our data straight into X windows on the Raspberry PI for speed. Today, we have an LCD monitor permanently connected to a Raspberry PI which turns on and off daily via a cronjob, showing us our most important metrics – below is what we see:

Soon we’ll be adding more monitors to graph even more data out of our platform. This could include critical alerts from our hardware monitoring daemons, suspicious activity, or other deep monitoring we need to have visibility over for rapid response.

Home <-> Office syncing

At Serversaurus headquarters in Electron Workshop, I often had data on a fileserver which I needed at home, but for whatever reason either forgot to make copies before leaving, or became frustrated with having to maintain multiple copies of files across a fileserver & my laptop. So to solve this problem, I setup a Raspberry PI at home, using the Bitorrent sync application btsync. This allowed me to store data locally at work, and have it readily accessible at home, without ever having to think about it. As soon as a file hit the fileserver, it would begin syncing securely directly home to my Raspberry PI, and vice-versa.

The Raspberry PI at home, quietly runs in a corner with a small laptop hard drive attached, and nothing else (monitors, keyboards, etc). It runs network file protocols for easy sharing on the Mac, but otherwise is ubiquitous, silent, and uses only a few dollars of electricity a year.

Electron Workshop – Artbox.io

A couple of years ago, Alex Gibson of Artbox came into Electron Workshop to shoot the breeze with ideas. One of these ideas was a video art player powered by the Raspberry PI, with custom web-based video management software. Alex went onto fund a prototype with Pozible, and continues to work on developing Artbox today. Each Artbox comes with a custom 3D printed case, Raspberry PI, WIFI, the custom Artbox video art player software, and, depending on the configuration, a selection of pre-curated video art from around the world.

A few weeks ago, Alex installed the Artbox Pixel (a complete package including screen), at Electron Workshop, which now plays a reel of contemporary video art in the walkway. Yes!