You don't have to go far in the technology industry to hear people talking about the Raspberry Pi. Since it was first launched in 2012, this single board computer measuring about the same size as a credit card has become one of the world's most popular embedded systems platforms. In fact, open up any number of IT and technology trade publications and you'll find dozens of ideas for projects you can do leveraging this single-board computer.
While the Raspberry Pi was originally developed as an educational platform for teaching computer programming to students, its low cost of around $35 per unit is enticing developers, programmers, and IT pros to find a ways to adapt this solution for the enterprise. From replacing desktop computers and servers, to hosting networking, security, and even Internet-of-Things (IoT) applications, there are a whole host of use-cases popping up around us.
Ever since the Raspberry Pi was introduced, people have talked about using the device as a thin client. Back in May at Citrix Synergy 2016 in Las Vegas, for example, Citrix announced that it is endorsing the platform, while ViewSonic introduced its own Raspberry Pi-based end-user computing solutions for virtual desktops and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).
However, the fact remains that the Raspberry Pi was never intended for use as an enterprise-grade solution by its developers. And, although many want to believe that it is possible to have a Raspberry Pi-based thin client that offers the power and resources required to support the demands of the enterprise, while holding true to its promise of lower costs, there are a number of important reasons why the platform has never been used to a large extent in commercial-grade thin-client deployments:
- Add-on costs and certifications: With the Raspberry Pi, the board, chassis or housing, power supply, and enterprise-grade memory card must be purchased separately. Furthermore, there is no certification available for a solution comprised of the sum of these parts, which puts the responsibility back on the developer to certify and productize the solution. Beyond that, the enterprise will also need to purchase separate licensing for the operating system, applications, and management tools. Additionally, they will also need to purchase support services to help maintain their Raspberry Pi units. All of these things combined can quickly add to the cost of the solution; in some cases, the final cost is more than doubling or tripling what was spent on the single-board computer in the first place.
- Restricted control and manageability: Raspberry-Pi-based thin client solutions currently hitting the market leverage third-party OS and management software. And, as is often the case with these third-party solutions, any changes to the feature-set must be made through the software developer, thereby leaving the enterprise with little control or flexibility when it comes to managing the software. Additionally, because the Raspberry Pi is built on an ARM processor, users are limited by the middleware that is available to support peripherals and other devices. This limitation makes it more difficult to add new features and functionality than would be the case with 32-bit and 64-bit x86-based solutions.
- Consumer-grade features: Currently, the Raspberry Pi provides only a single HDMI output with a maximum resolution of 1900×1200, and is typically used in consumer electronics devices including televisions and gaming consoles. Growing demand for multi-display support within the enterprise means that end-user computing solutions should provide support for DisplayPort or DVI. Additionally, the Raspberry Pi only supports standard Ethernet speeds; it doesn't offer a migration path to Gigabit Ethernet, which is the standard demanded by today's enterprises.
- Limited warranty: The Raspberry Pi comes with a one-year limited warranty. This does not come close to covering the complete lifecycle of a thin client, which currently averages five years.
- Thin margins: Pre-packaged Raspberry Pi solutions currently hitting the market have a price point of $99 per unit. This means that the solution has incredibly thin margins, which makes it difficult for manufacturers and their channel partners to turn a profit on the Raspberry Pi. Something will have to give, and that something will most assuredly be the development of new features and commercial support required by the enterprise.
- Product roadmap: With its educational mission being central to its existence, there is limited evidence that the Raspberry Pi community will develop an enterprise-grade solution in the near future. The ARM-based processor cannot easily be upgraded, which can leave users with no choice other than to purchase new hardware when they need to add new features or applications not supported by the current platform.
Despite the promise of lowering end-user computing costs for enterprise organizations, there are still many limitations when it comes to the Raspberry Pi platform, and IT organizations looking to effectively standardize all of their endpoints for ease of management will find themselves better served by a solution that is versatile enough to cover all of their requirements, both now and as they evolve in the future. As it stands right now, the Raspberry Pi simply isn't there, and it may be years before we see this platform as a widely-used thin client solution within the enterprise.
Jeff Kalberg is a Technology Evangelist at IGEL Technology with over 30 years of industry experience covering more technology than he cares to remember. As an IT consultant for most of his career, Jeff has advised organizations of all sizes on a variety of technologies. Over the years, he has counseled some of the world's largest and most respected companies. Working within all levels of an organization — from marketing and sales, to operations and finance, to information technology — Jeff has developed a unique perspective that he leverages to the benefit of his client customers today. Jeff holds a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio.