Running A Business On A Raspberry Pi

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 people work faster and smarter.

Since August 2011 when 50 small integrated circuit boards were produced, hype has built up around 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.

Last week, I got my hands on a new Raspberry Pi Model B. The ‘inner-geek’ was itching to push this tiny computer to its physical limitations and I was curious to see whether it would be possible to manage a business with it. The little PC came with the following spec; power: 3.5W, storage: MMC/SD/SDHC Card Slot, network: 10/100 Ethernet, Memory: 256MB SDRAM and graphics: Broadcom VideoCore IV.

The credit-card sized computer is capable of running its approved Linux operating systems with various applications for different purposes but I wanted to review what came out of the box without any modifications. My company’s project manager gave his son the task of building a case for it, and produced a stylish piece out of Lego.

After plugging in the HDMI monitor, wireless keyboard, mouse, ethernet cable and micro-USB power lead, the Raspberry Pi instantly began to boot up. Within seconds, the login prompt appeared, enabling it to identify itself whilst the graphical user interface started. There was an image on screen of the Raspberry Pi logo and a toolbar at the bottom, similar to the taskbar found on Windows 95 and Windows 7.

After clicking the button resembling a blue starfish in the bottom-left corner, I navigated all the pre-installed applications and there three web browsers to play around with; Dillo, Midori and NetSurf.

At first, I tried Dillo and tried to browse the Web. A Web page loaded, but the rendering was very primitive, making the web site look like a long list. Consequently, I abandoned any attempts to log in to my company’s NetSuite account.

Second on the list was NetSurf. The NetSuite page rendered similarly to how I have seen it in more popular Web browsers. However, when logging in, a message informed me that I needed to enable JavaScript to continue using NetSuite. After failing to find any support of JavaScript, I went back to the drawing board.

Last of all was Midori. This browser uses the WebKit engine, utilised by Web browsers such as Safari and Google Chrome. This time I was taken to my account’s dashboard in very little 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. When they navigated to other pages in the account there was little extra lag and although the “Go” button next to the global search feature was slightly off, it was still a fully functioning feature.

After carrying out research, I 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.

This experiment has shown that it is possible to take cloud computing further and even manage a business with the small, minimal hardware of a Raspberry Pi. In conjunction with the right software, this is a versatile platform that has a world of possibilities.

Stephen Boot is a Web developer at First Hosted, a consultancy providing operational and software systems advice, professional services, training and support. Stephen, who joined the Web development and marketing team in December 2010, deals with general NetSuite integration and setup tasks for businesses, using SuiteScript for bespoke solutions and the creation and maintenance of NetSuite-based eCommerce Web sites. Stephen has Web-based and IT experience across the board from technical support, design, development and performance analysis right through to project management.