Raspberry Pi colocation

Liz: Thor de Regt, from Amsterdam, emailed me back at the start of the month to tell me about the success his company has been having offering free Raspberry Pi colocation. There are a few companies around the world offering this service for free for Raspberry Pi users, and we were interested to find out how and why this was going on. Here’s what Thor had to say.

Free Raspberry Pi colocation – How it all began, our success and our findings

In late February we began giving people the opportunity to colocate their Raspberry Pi in our data center – for free. Now, almost two months later, we have over 400 people making use of the initiative with new signups still coming in daily. Of course this makes for a good story which we’re happy to share with you and the rest of the Raspberry Pi community!

The beginning

So, how did all this start? Well, it wasn’t a warm summer evening in ancient Greece (in fact it was a cold morning last winter in the Netherlands), when we thought it would be pretty cool to host a couple of Raspberry Pi’s in our data center. We were pretty confident that there would be at least some people interested. I remember getting excited by the thought of reaching enough people so we could end up hosting around 50 Raspberry Pi’s. Two days after the website went live that goal was quickly achieved though, but more on that later.

Raspberrycolocation.com

Before we could share the initiative with anyone we needed a platform, and thus raspberrycolocation.com was created. To keep our tone of voice in line with the Foundation we made the website as transparent as possible and people really seem to appreciate that. When people visit the website they can see for themselves that we have nothing to hide and that there is no hidden agenda. We believe this definitely contributed, in one way or another, to the popularity of the initiative so far. People just dig generous offers and our service is no different. I mean, where else can you get a 100 Mbit uplink, 500 GB bandwidth, power and the ability to boast about it to your friends for free?

One of the illustrations made for the website to give some pizazz to our applications page. In this illustration you can “clearly” see two raspberries chatting in fruit language.

Success

Just a few minutes after the website went live we knew we were in for something good. After having sent out a Facebook post and a tweet, we received close to 60 signups within two days. That amount more than tripled when we included the project in our not so monthly newsletter, and has been steadily increasing since. Every now and then the website gets shared on a popular forum or blog (like raspberrypi.org), usually resulting in a few thousand visitors for a day or two. At this moment we have received close to 450 signups, about 150 of which are currently operational. If we get all of them up and running we’re probably looking at three racks filled with Pi’s. Yum!

Our first rack, fully filled with Raspberry Pis. Quite a delicious sight!

Setbacks

The fact that the initiative has been so well received is great news of course, but also presented a few drawbacks. Because we had so many more signups than we first anticipated, our initial stock of Raspberry Pis and their necessary accessories were gone by the end of the first day. Thankfully, ModMyPi ships pretty fast (and their 5% profit donation is definitely a win), so getting new Raspberry Pis wasn’t that much of a problem. No: the real problem for us was the power adapters. For safety reasons, we wanted to supply the power adapters ourselves, but we quickly found out that the ones we had were no good and it took us quite a while to actually get a model we could trust. Ultimately, we went with the ones recommended by RS Components. Higher in price than we first set our sights on, but at least you can count on them!

Our setup

Currently we’re able to place 150 Raspberry Pi’s in a single rack. However, the method we use isn’t exactly the most efficient solution, as can be seen on the picture. For now it does get the job done though.

In order to make better use of the space we have, we are working on a few custom designed boards that should make it possible to place close to 500 Raspberry Pi’s in a rack; this setup will also give us the opportunity to reboot them from a distance, but unfortunately is quite expensive to fabricate in its current state.

Prototype

The prototype consists of 32 outlets connected to a power supply of 45 amps. We’re currently working on getting the cost per outlet down and maybe increase the outlets per board to 48. With the increase, we could house close to 500 Raspberry Pis in a single rack.

Our findings

When we first started, we thought only a few people would actually buy a Raspberry Pi through us. To our surprise this was not the case, as 62% of all signups bought Raspberry Pi’s (80% 16 GB version, 20% 8GB version). This amount is much higher than we originally thought it would be, but actually makes sense when you think about it. If I was colocating a Pi, I know I would buy a new one because there is just no way I’d want to send my current one away. The people that did send their own Pi probably had it as an extra just lying around the house.

Another interesting thing is how they’re performing so far. Since we always monitor the power and bandwidth usage of our racks, monitoring the Raspberry Pi rack was pretty easy and gave us some great insights.

As of 9 April 2013, a total of 150 Raspberry Pis steadily used 4.5 Amps on average and about 1 TB of bandwidth last month. Now, most of them were only placed a few days or weeks before, so this may not be the most accurate picture ever; however, it does give a general idea on how they perform. Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to follow up on this post in the future!

Click to enlarge. As you can see, only 1 TB of bandwidth has been used by 150 Raspberry Pis. This number is quite conservative in our opinion.

The guys facilitating all this

That’s pretty much the journey we have had so far regarding the project. For anyone interested in who we are and what we do (I’ll keep it short): we’re PCextreme, a webhosting company from the Netherlands offering a wide range of online services at competitive prices, such as domain name registration, colocation services, web- and soon cloudhosting.

Should you want to help us out with the initiative, then feel free to share this post or the raspberrycolocation.com website with your friends so everyone can get in on the action. If you have any questions about us, the initiative or anything in general then feel free to ask them in the comments section. Thanks for reading!