Running Your Business on a Raspberry Pi

Unless you work for Apple, it takes a lot for a piece of hardware to make the headlines these days. We take it for granted that smaller and faster computers will continue to be developed for the mass market with the promise to help you work faster and smarter – there’s nothing new there.

Since August 2011 when fifty small integrated circuit boards were produced, hype has been built up around these tiny PCs that aim to inspire children in an educational IT revolution not seen since the days of Acorn’s BBC Micro back in 1981.

This week, First Hosted got their hands on a new Raspberry Pi Model B. Initially, the ‘inner-geek’ was itching to push this tiny computer to its physical limitations, but more importantly we were curious to see whether it would be possible to manage a business with it.
Our very own project manager gave his son the task of building a case for it, and produced a stylish piece out of Lego (as shown).

Out of the box, our Raspberry Pi came with the following spec:

OS: Debian Linux
Power: 3.5W
CPU: ARM1176JZF-S (amrv6k) 700MHz
Storage: MMC/SD/SDHC Card Slot
Memory: 256MB SDRAM (shared with GPU)
Graphics: Broadcom VideoCore IV
Network: 10/100 Ethernet
Connectors: HDMI, RCA, DSI, 3.5mm Audio Jack, RJ45, 2x USB2.0

The Raspberry Pi is capable of running any of its approved Linux operating systems with various applications for different purposes. However, we wanted to review what comes out of the box, without any modifications.

After plugging in our HDMI monitor, ethernet cable, wireless keyboard & mouse and micro-USB power lead, the Raspberry Pi instantly begins to boot up. Within seconds, the login prompt appears, enabling us to identify ourselves (using the ‘root’ user for now) and get the graphical user interface started. On-screen we have a nice image of the Raspberry Pi logo and a toolbar at the bottom similar to the taskbar found in Windows 95 – Windows 7.

After clicking the button resembling a blue starfish in the bottom-left corner, we can navigate all the pre-installed applications. Surprisingly, there are 3 web browsers to play with – Dillo, Midori and NetSurf.

We initially tried Dillo and went to http://netsuite.com. The web page loaded, however, the rendering was very primitive, making the web site look like a big, long list. Needless to say, we quickly abandoned any attempts to log in to our NetSuite account.

Second on the list was NetSurf. This time on netsuite.com there was a glimmer of hope, as the page rendered very similarly to how we have seen it in more popular web browsers. We were able to get to the login page this time, but upon logging in, a message told us that we needed to enable JavaScript to continue using NetSuite. After failing to find any support of JavaScript, we went back to the drawing board.

We couldn’t find a way to produce a screenshot out-of-the-box, so we took this photo

Last of all was Midori. This browser uses the WebKit engine, utilised by web browsers such as Safari and Google Chrome.
Visiting netsuite.com, all seems well. The page was rendered as expected and we could get to the login page. This time, we were “cooking on JavaScript” and were taken to our account’s dashboard in no time. The portlets loaded a little slower than on other machines, but they did render correctly. As this was the first time NetSuite had loaded, there was obviously some caching to do. That said, when we navigated to other pages in our account there was little extra lag, and with no nasty surprises or warnings. The only thing that was slightly off was the “Go” button next to the global search feature, but this is just a tiny blemish and was still a fully functioning feature.

After a little research, we found that Chromium (the open source version of Google Chrome) can be installed on Raspberry Pi by issuing the following command via the root terminal:

sudo apt-get install chromium-browser

Chromium may be more familiar to some people, however may run slower than Midori due to having more advanced features.

In conclusion, we think it is possible to take Cloud Computing further and manage your business using NetSuite and the very small, minimal hardware of a Raspberry Pi. In conjunction with all the SuiteApps available for NetSuite users, this is a very versatile platform that has a world of possibilities.

 

Apple is a trademark of Apple Inc.
Chrome is a trademark of Google Inc.
Debian is a trademark of Software in the Public Interest, Inc.
NetSuite is a trademark of NetSuite Inc.
Raspberry Pi is a trademark of the Raspberry Pi Foundation
Safari is a trademark of Apple Inc.
Windows is a trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and other countries

4 thoughts on “Running Your Business on a Raspberry Pi

  1. The biggest thing I would worry about doing this is the limited lifespan of the SD card. Since it all the caching is going to it, as well as the OS and everything else, that poor little SD card will get hammered. Failure would not be to far off in its future. Now if you attached a secondary drive of some sort to take all that traffic you could still remain very inexpensive, very close to original config, but lengthen the lifespan and stability.

    1. Thanks for your comment Michael.
      The benefit of running Cloud-based applications on the RPi is that all your data is stored encrypted, off-site. This means that if your SD card failed, you’d simply get another SD card with your chosen operating system, log in and continue where you left off.
      As a Cloud integration consultancy, we are always looking for simpler and better ways to help our clients save time and money with minimal hardware. Although I agree that almost any web client with an internet connection can run Cloud-based applications, we found that the Raspberry Pi had impressive performance when rendering the page and running JavaScript with NetSuite, despite its size. Its small pricetag is also a big advantage to businesses.

  2. Where the Pi really excels is at being a thin client. Run a decent-sized Linux server in your 2-5 person organization and put a Pi (or two, even!) on the back of each user’s monitor. From the Pi, SSH into the server and run all your apps (chromium, etc) on the server. This works beautifully and is considerably more secure than having a PC on everyone’s desktop.

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