The University of Glasgow has built its own commercial cloud infrastructure out of Lego bricks and several £20 Raspberry Pi computers.
Computer Scientists at the University made the working model by linking together 56 Raspberry Pi computer boards in racks made of Lego, to mimic the function and design of a multimillion pound cloud computing infrastructure.
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The University’s Raspberry Pi Cloud project was launched by Dimitrios Pezaros, Jeremy Singer, Posco Tso and David White of the University’s School of Computing Science, to broaden access and understanding of cloud computing research and education.
Jeremy Singer said: “The introduction of the Raspberry Pi last year offered us for the first time the opportunity to affordably build a small, portable and energy-efficient network of computers, which could act as a platform for cloud computing research and teaching.
Singer explained that, for an investment of less than £4,000, the students have been able to build a Linux-based system allowing teachers and student access to a cloud computing infrastructure at the fraction of the cost when compared to the commercial equivalent.
“Although we’ve been offering lectures for students on cloud computing for several years now, the Raspberry Pi Cloud gives us a major advantage over other universities because we can now offer students hands-on experience with cloud computing hardware and software and give them a unique skillset they can take into the job market,” he added.
David White said: “Before we built the Raspberry Pi Cloud, we relied on software models of how cloud datacentres worked for our research and teaching. Software simulations can be valuable but they are not wholly successful at replicating the practical difficulties of running a datacentre.
“What our Raspberry Pi system gives us now is a very clear correspondence between the hardware and the software, and a physical setup which is very similar to how racks of servers work in real datacentres. We’ve been really inspired by having a practical model to experiment with."
White said the ARM processors used in the Raspberry Pi are now more common in datacentres, due to the fact they require less energy to run compared to more traditional PC hardware.
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“At the moment, the Raspberry Pi Cloud is available for students to work on, but we’re keen to integrate the project more fully into our courses and make cloud computing a key part of our teaching programme,” he added.
One undergraduate student, from Hungary, has been developing a web-based interface to control the Raspberry Pi Cloud.
Richard Cziva explained that he has been using the Raspberry Pi as part of his final-year project.
Cziva said: “I think the Raspberry Pi Cloud is a very valuable tool for teaching and I’m really pleased I’ve been able to work on it. I’ve been able to build a very practical understanding of how cloud datacentres work and are controlled.
“I’ve recently secured a summer internship at Morgan Stanley to work on a cloud-computing project. At my interview for the position they were very interested in the Raspberry Pi Cloud and I’m certain the experience of developing my project went a long way to getting me the position.”