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!

64 comments

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HOW DID I MISS THIS!!! Awesome

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Well technically you didn’t miss anything yet, as we are still hungry for Pi’s!

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But where do we source a static IP?

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I am wondering: How serious a problem is SD Card corruption/errors (and associated manual handling issues) in a large scale setup. I’ve had a few of these with my two Pis.

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Any chance you could explain what colocation is?
Sounds great just not 100% sure what it is…
:-)

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It says in this article what it does, by why would you want to do this? I am not asking because I want to pick fault or suggest it’s a stupid idea (from other people’s repsonses it obviously isn’t), I just don’t know and am interested.

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Thor – PCextreme,

This sounds great, just a couple of questions if i may.

Is there any limit to how long PCextreme will host these?

Is there any assistance available should something happen to cause the Pi to not boot or become inaccessible?

If hosting is no longer required is the Pi retained by yourself, or is it possible to have it sent to the owner?

Cheers!

PS
For any Aussies – its approx $79 AUD for the 16gig solution.

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I just ordered one!

I am not sure, did I do everything right, because everything was in Dutch. But Chrome has a build-in translator..

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A quick google search will find explanations.

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Colocation = your server , their premises (network, power..)

You still own the server.

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Colocation is basically placing your own hardware, such as a server computer, in a data center. The benefit of this is that you still own the hardware but you can take advantage of the optimal conditions that a data center offers, such as cooling, high speed internet and power.

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I’m considering similar solution for my special purpose.
It looks simply great and I love this post!

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It’s not that it really is THAT beneficial to put a Raspberry Pi in a data center, but it’s more a fun thing to do.

Some of the benefits are that you don’t have to pay for power (hey, every bit helps right?), you get a high speed internet connection so it won’t hog your network at home and you get bragging rights for owning a piece of hardware in a data center in the Netherlands!

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Hey there,

1. We do not have a limit as to how long we will keep hosting them, it will at least be a year minimum though. I don’t think we can find it in our hearts so just send all of them back one day.

2. We offer reboots and reinstalls on a best effort basis within a 8×5 time window. For a reinstall we’re also forced to charge € 20,- to cover our time

3. We don’t own any Pi’s that people buy from us or send to us. Should you want to have your Raspberry Pi sent back to then that’s no problem at all.

By the way, the 16gig solution should be about $65 AUD as you don’t have to pay for VAT. This is including a case and a fully configured SD card which actually takes quite a bit of time :-)

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Great!

Some of our pages are unfortunately not yet supported in English. Should there be any problems with your order then I’ll let you know. No need to worry though, the translator is pretty good.

By the way, should anyone have any difficulties ordering then feel free to contact us and we’ll help you out!

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@Thor

is there an email address to contact if people have problems?
I’ve ordered, I’ve been sent login details, I can login, I have not yet been asked to pay, and I don’t see anywhere that I can.

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I’m not of PCExtreme, but i have a Raspberry PI hosted there so i think i can give you some answers.

1) The limit in time, there is none, it is forever.

2) You can do a call for remote hands in there control panel

3) If you want your Pi back because you don’t need it anymore in the datacentre, they will return it to you (and yes this also counts for the ones you buy with them.

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@Derp

Feel free to contact our support team, our contact details are found at https://www.pcextreme.nl/en/contact/

The invoice should come your way soon, this is not yet fully automated by our system so there is a small delay. Don’t worry, we’ll be sure to collect the dough!

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This is a great service to provide to the community, and there is also an Austrian company doing similar (http://edis.at) however the last time I approached a UK company with this concept, even on a paid basis, their response was along the lines of, “Why on earth would we do that?”

If only UK hosting companies would offer the same/similar.

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Thanks for the answers. On a mobile device so didn’t google.Plus prob not the only one wondering.
Can see it would be very useful for some applications.

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Just ordered!

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Already paid.
Still waiting.

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Fascinating. It would be good to have the AUP available in (clear) english, though.

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Are you offering IP addresses from a public range or are you using NAT for connecting the RPis to the Internet?

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@XTL

I can imagine! Should you have any specific questions or are unsuring on certain subjects then feel free to contact us. Our contact details can be found on: https://www.pcextreme.nl/en/contact/

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@bastian.

We give IP addresses from a public range.

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Liking the arduino with ethernet shield on the prototype power board! :-)

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Is there an English order page? I don’t understand Dutch. :(

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Google Translate is your friend here!

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Just so that everyone has the correct expectation, you will not have any access to the GPU graphics output from a colocated Pi because it is not accessible via an X Window remote connection (e.g., Virtual Network Connection (VNC), Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), etc.). The only way to access GPU-accelerated 3-D graphics output is via the HDMI port on the Pi.

I find it puzzling why people are ignoring the incredible capability of the GPU, as it can produce 40 million shaded 3-D polygons per second, and 24 billion floating-point operations per second – that was supercomputer territory only about 15 years ago and the Pi would have been classified as a munition because you could design nuclear weapons on it (don’t look for a MagPi article on this anytime soon ;) ). The relatively anemic ARM CPU in the Pi (roughly equivalent to an early 1990s 300 MHz Pentium II) is really meant to be a traffic cop for getting data to and from the GPU via the Ethernet and USB ports. I’m not casting aspersions on the CPU, ARM, or RISC, just pointing out that some people are trying to do way too much with way too little. The poor little guy is like a character in a comedy sketch where they’re working on a factory conveyor with far too many widgets coming along to be packaged, and they wind up stuffing widgets in their pockets, in their shirt/blouse, down their pants … :D

If this sells more Pii, that’s a good thing, but otherwise I can’t imagine why someone would want to do this as there are far more efficient electric power and computing performance options (e.g., virtualized high-performance servers, which this and every other collocation site uses). 100 Mb/s network access is nice, but if the system can’t keep up with that data rate, it’s not of much use. However, another potentially-positive outcome is that it could point the way for how to set up the infrastructure for Pii in classrooms. As a STEM educator, I hope those hosting these systems make public all of the technical details of how they are squeezing up to 500 Pii into a single rack so that educators can benefit from this knowledge. We would also like to know where to get lots of the longest HDMI cables available on the cheap to snake out of such a 3-D graphics den of iniquity! ;)

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Reading Jim Manley’s post made me wonder if it is possible to program the Pi to run calculations on the GPU and read back the answers without using the HDMI? if it could be done then a rack of these could be quite powerful doing something like calculating folding proteins, SETI or something similar. As these are going to be always on would it make much of a power usage difference if there was a low priority little program running on the Arm passing data for intensive calculation to the GPU every now and again. PCextreme might gain even more kudos if such a virtual supercomputer could be created and it found ET or the cure for cancer as a side effect of their initial generosity. Just a thought as i have seen mentioned elsewhere people adapting multiple GPU’s for pure calculation but am unaware if this can be done purely as a software hack or if it needs hardware alterations.?

If it could be done i would vote for the the folding protein option we have enough nukes and ET can phone us with the answer to the Fermi paradox as far as i am concerned ;-)

hope this get thru the canned meat filter seems to get rid of my post every time i tried the last few days

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I was just thinking the same thing. My initial thought was for hosting a website on the LAMP stack from the Netherlands. But in that case, it would likely be more efficient (though not as cool) to simply use a single rack server that could probably emulate thousands of RPi’s.

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Of course it would – but this isn’t really about practicality. ;)

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This seems pointless.

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Likewise, Facebook, Twitter, going to the moon, climbing Everest…..

And yet, people still do all these things. Pointlessness is in the eye of the beholder.

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Not the best-fitting analogies perhaps, but I get your point.

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Does that mean that everything that’s pointless is beautiful? ;-)

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IMHO the _zero_ monthly cost (and having full root access) is by far the most interesting feature – but I’m not going to sign up to a service where the T&Cs (and AUP) are only available in Dutch PDFs :-(

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Just an FYI in case people are interested in this; the Austrian company appear to no longer accept Pi’s, and the Netherlands based company sent an email on the day of registration, despite registering with-in minutes of the article being published, claiming a delay due to demand. A week later, no further communications.

Equally as disappointing as no UK locations willing to co-locate Pi’s.

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I’ve spoken to Thor since this post went live, and they were absolutely floored by the demand on the day. Hold tight; they should get back to you soon, but they have a lot of orders to process!

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Many thanks for taking the time to do that Liz. :)

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Hi! This is probaly the best idea to do with a pi, buz i want to know whats happenning if my bandwidth is used up?
thanks

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Hey guys,

Within three days after the article went live the amount of sign-ups more than doubled. We can only prepare so many Pi’s a day, if all goes well at the DC that is.

@Edward
In the e-mail sent there should’ve been an expected delivery date on the Pi. Was this not the case?

@Golo
I wouldn’t worry too much about that one, we’re not monitoring THAT strict ;-)

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Hi Thor,

Thanks for taking the time to follow up; I just found this, sadly in my Spam folder, I’ve since moved it out and whitelisted you…

“Dear sir or madam,

This e-mail is sent to you because you signed for PCextreme’s free Raspberry Pi colocation service.

Because of the many applications we have received, there’s currently a small queue concerning the preparation of our colocation spaces. We expect to provide you with all the necessary information regarding the configuration of your Raspberry Pi by April 29th. We apologize for the delay and thank you for your understanding.

Kind regards,

PCextreme”

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I’m on the order form but not seeing US in the country options?

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Dutch is much like German; look among the Vs for something like “Verenigan Staten” (whose spelling I am sure I mangled). You can verify you have the right one with Google Translate.

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@Edward O’Regan.
Lucky you, mine says may 20th, but I’m not in a hurry.
That also means I can order another spare pi in the meantime.

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thanks ;)

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I just ordered mine. Can’t wait to be able to say “You can get that off my server in the Netherlands” like I’m some big multinational corporation.

It sounds like demand has been intense. There was a line during registration that was something like “Due to insane demand of over 800 requests, it may take 60 days to get yours online.”

I am a little concerned, though, because a pi I have on my home network gets into a mode where it won’t boot unless I connect via the serial port or a keyboard/display and tell the little monitor program to boot. I hope that doesn’t happen on the pi I can’t touch. Having the high quality power in a server room may help.

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I was told they would contact me by May the 7th, heard nothing

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Wait a little longer… I should have heard before the end of April and only got the details I needed to ship it to them yesterday.

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I recieved an E-Mail with account login details a while ago.

I later chased up an ETA on the Rpi and was told about 20th May.

No word in the last few weeks, i went back to the old E-Mail with the account details and logged in to find an invoice there, and a message saying it was the 3rd attempt at invoicing me.
Pity i never recieved E-Mail notification (checked spam too).

I have paid the invoice now, lets hope the Rpi is up and running soon.
Will post back with results!

Idea is awesome, but the language barrier + miscommunication is a bit of a bummer. This sounds like a learning experience for PCextreme, they havent dealt with this nature of hosting before so i give them the benefit of the doubt.
I reckon good on them for having a go!

Just a side thought, is there any kind of Linux utility / drive that adds wear leveling to the file system?

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TIP

Their site works better in Dutch mode with google translate than it does in English mode.

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I’m curious of use cases. I already got mine but it was mostly due to the enthusiasm :)
I would really like to know for what other people are using theirs…

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Did you buy a Pi from them? I posted mine off to them around the 13th, patiently waiting for it to be connected.

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yes, I ordered from them, sorry I missed your question.

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Yay, mine just came online. Uptime 30 min. It’s got a proper IPv6 address as well.

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Is you Pi one of there’s or did you post one to them?

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I purchased one from them, I think overall that was the cheaper/faster solution for me. If they made a euro or two in the process would be an added bonus, though I doubt they did.

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Not sure if anyone would read and/or could help, I’m looking for the community space for the PCExtreme Raspberry Pi users – I would like to either establish or connect to local repositories of whatever & local cloud (experimental computing cloud, as storage is limited – 1 SD)
If anyone would be able to use VideoCore computing capacity with ie MPI we would have a few hundred nodes on LAN here already…
If you think you could help or interested drop a mail to rpi40823 at gmail – THANKS!!

rpi40823
node online since 25th June 14:37 UTC

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I ordered a colocated Pi on May 2. They’ve kept me informed of delays due to overwhelming demand. Today I got the email, It’s on line!

So they are working thru that backlog of 1000+ and anybody else waiting will probably hear from them soon.

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Took a look at http://raspberrycolocation.com, and they got over 2000 orders! I’ve got to give these guys credit for meeting a demand far in excess of what they probably expected.

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is there any other free services available for colocation?

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Hi,

Do you fabricate custom Raspberry Pi rack? my organization requires that our Pi’s should be locally installed because there are hardware connected to it, but i’m struggling on how to rack our Pi’s, do you have option for this?

Thanks.

Plugger

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