My post from last night on the TonidoPlug generated some great questions and interesting feedback. I wanted to write a short followup to give some missing technical details, a few new perspectives, and a sense of where this is all headed.
First, let's talk tech. I have a web server in my office that handles our school district site and is now beginning to host content for all of the schools in the district. I have other servers in there too and my boss always wonders why I can't hear him hollering down the hall. At least during the winter, I can just open a window to keep it cool in there instead of running the AC. And now I'm adding a second web server for redundancy and development since I was able to scavenge an older application server that is no longer being used. The point is that these things use a lot of power and generate a lot of heat.
Ultimately I'll want to consolidate and virtualize, but right now I'd rather devote the money to classroom tech instead of new servers. SMART Boards don't come cheap. TonidoPlugs, however, do come cheap, and they also come with very low power requirements. The plug itself only pulls 5-13W of power. Adding an external hard drive only brings this to about 25W at peak consumption and as little as the base 5W at idle, depending upon the drive.
Compare this to the consumption of a standard server (even a modern server designed for reduced power and cooling needs) and the savings, both in dollars and energy can be substantial. Even the Frankenstein web server in my basement running with some elderly desktop specs is pulling about 150W when it's just sitting there serving up pages.
Does the TonidoPlug give you RAID and provide the sorts of fault-tolerance needed for a mission critical server? Of course not. However, for the vast majority of media sharing and web serving needs, it's more than up to the task. Speaking of being up to the task, the other specs on the device lend themselves to the strengths of embedded Ubuntu:
- 1.2GHz ARM processor
- Half gig of RAM
- Gigabit Ethernet
- A single USB 2.0 port (that can drive a USB hub with multiple disks)
It's important to remember as well that the plug is, at its core, a Ubuntu box. Any Ubuntu software that you want to install that can be accessed by command line or a web interface (e.g., backup, clustering, load balancing, FTP, etc.) can be installed from an SSH session. As one reader pointed out,
"Good initial set of apps. Pretty much covers all the personal sharing needs without relying on public online services. But, could have more..."
The good news? You can install more free software to your heart's content. The bad news is that you need a good sense of the Linux command line.
Where this shines is not necessarily in the server room, but in smaller settings (or settings that don't require high-availability clusters of powerful redundant machines). Another reader noted,
It is amazing to see how much technology has evolved. I can see a future where every classroom has one inside a cabinet with a shared space for each and every student"
Exactly. Or every home has a device like the TonidoPlug to give remote access to all of our "stuff."
Again, a power strip filled with these little guys probably won't replace your head end room. They do have the potential to give your users (as well as home and small business users) far more control over their own digital content and make the idea of hosting sites and sharing media far more attainable at very low costs.
As I work more with the TonidoPlug, I'm going to push it to see just where the line needs to be drawn between a "real server" and an embedded device. Where can the plug meet our needs more efficiently and cheaply than server-based alternatives, and where do we need to suck it up and go mount something expensive in a rack? Or provision a server in the cloud? Or colocate a few servers? You get the idea. More to come soon.