The UK colocation company PCextreme is a classic internet company offering a full portfolio of services from domain registration, shared web hosting and virtual servers to dedicated servers and collocation, i.e. housing for customer servers. In February 2013 she decided to offer UK colocation for Raspberry Pi for free. The customer must supply Raspberry Pi in a box, SD card and possibly a USB stick up to 4 cm in length. The provider provides a connection to the power supply and an Ethernet switch.
An alternative to sending your Pi to the Amsterdam data center is to order a complete kit directly from the provider. Two variants are available, differing in the type of SD card. The cheaper version with 8 GB class 6 card costs 52.5 dollars (including VAT, approximately 1400 crowns), the version with 16 GB class 10 card is 10 dollars more expensive. The principle of collocation is retained even in the case of such an intermediated purchase, the report is the property of the customer and is sent to him at the postage price at the end of the UK server colocation.
Although the offer page is completely in English, the custom ordering system is only partially localized into English, so if you don’t speak Dutch, you may need to help with Google Translate. After some time, a customer account is created in a control panel.
Even without translation, you’ll probably understand that this is an email with your login information.
If you order an intermediary purchase, a pro forma invoice is issued later. This can be paid either by direct transfer to an account with a Dutch bank or in the control panel using PayPal, Moneybookers / Skill, or ideal. However, using these payment methods, a transaction fee is charged in percent units. I made the payment without any problems using the SEPA payment; it was recorded as paid already on the third day after the order was placed, i.e. roughly the same rate as the Czech national interbank system.
I placed my order at the end of April. At that time, the information promised to be operational within 14 days (currently it is 90 days). However, immediately after the payment, an informational e-mail with the expected date of connection at the end of May, i.e. a month after ordering, arrived. In early May, another announcement promised to join in early June. I began to have doubts as to whether this was simply a well-thought-out fraud, and constant information e-mails were only trying to evoke a false sense of trust. Fortunately, the fears were not confirmed, and at the end of May another announcement promised to join next week, and finally on Friday, June 7, came an email with an IPv4 address and generated password for SSH access.
After logging in, a basic installation of Raspbian was available. The only setup that has been done by the provider is to fix the IPv4 address and enable the module ipv6that is on the blacklist in Raspbian for incomprehensible reasons. The complete graphical environment has been installed and the default value was 64 MB of GPU dedicated RAM. This is too much since no display is connected. Dedicated memory can be reduced to 16 MB either by manually editing the file /boot/config. Tutor using the TUI utility raspi-config. It is also possible to overclock the computer, but due to possible data corruption on the SD card, this is not recommended.
Also interesting is the view of the data center network infrastructure. Connection to the Internet is provided by two Brocade routers, so it should work even if one of them fails. For IPv4, the VRRP-E protocol is used, so if one of the routers fails, the other IPv4 address is immediately available. In the case of IPv6, the situation is simpler, with both routers announcing the same prefix, including enabled stateless auto-configuration, so the decision on which router to distribute traffic is left to the end device. The question remains to what extent this infrastructure is resistant to false IPv6 routers from misconfigured servers or even targeted attacks.
Immediately after the service was launched, a new Rackspace colocation service and a lot of information appeared in the control panel. Unfortunately, most of them are not very relevant, as they concern rather “real” 1u colocation pricing. However, it is very easy to edit a reverse DNS record to an assigned IPv4 address. To get a reverse record for an IPv6 address, you need to create a support ticket. The control panel will also help with this, although some parts again lack English translation.
Most control panel options do not apply to Raspberry Pi.
Configure with caution
One of the major drawbacks of using Raspberry Pi as a server is the absence of any out-of-band access to the console in case the device stops communicating or is unable to access it. In such cases, the provider offers either a power-off restart or a reinstallation. However, you will lose all your data and will also be charged $ 20. So you need to be very careful, and if you are unsure, use the following sequence of commands to schedule a restart in 10 minutes in case you accidentally cut a branch:
# sleep 600 && reboot &
In case of straying off the program, it is also possible to install a module for remote sending of SysRq commands. Unfortunately, the module is not part of Raspbian, so installing it will require a nontrivial effort.
Interview with PCextreme
Perhaps everyone, when reading the offer of free housing, thinks that somewhere must be a hook. Indeed, an entire sub-page menu is dedicated to answering the question “Why?” And since the original Raspberry Pi blog has been around for some time, we asked directly in PCextreme what the current status is (English version of the answer).
Separate Power Supplies for Raspberry Pi
How many Raspberry Pi is currently connected?
We’re approaching 600. We recently added a counter to the site that shows the number of connected devices in real-time.
How many requests do you have?
We have about 1,000 requests in the queue and this number is increasing daily. Every week we receive more orders than we can attach that week.
Do you manage to join all applications on time?
Sometimes yes sometimes no. We hope that we will be able to retract the slip when we launch our new power boards.
Power plate for Raspberry Pi
Did you expect so much response from the community and so many requests?
We did not expect such an interest. We thought it was a good idea and that maybe there would be a few people who would find it a good idea, too. But it quickly turned out that there were many, much more than just a few.
Were you able to optimize the rack placement of Raspberry Pi? How many can fit into one rack now?
We have recently completed our RPi power board and we are going to produce more. 48 RPI can be connected to one board and approximately 10 can be placed in one rack. The solution of this highly advanced mathematical equation is 480 RPi in one rack, which is much more than the current limit of 128.
Your capacity cannot be unlimited. Do you have an idea when you need to stop receiving more requests?
We do not consider stopping the offer at all until we have at least 2000 RPi online. We still have to decide what to do next. Perhaps we will only give IPv6 addresses because IPv4 addresses are less and less every day.
Which part of this free service is most valuable to you? Is it a rack space, a port on the switch, consumed electricity, or an IPv4 address?
An IPv4 address. Our stock of IPv4 addresses is getting smaller every day. We only have a few hundred left and we won’t get any more from RIPE NCC, so we’ll have to figure out what to do soon.
Has there been an increase in sales and other services you offer following the publication of the Raspberry Pi cheap colocation offer?
We have seen a slight increase in direct sales, but frankly nothing significant. But we have gained a lot of international awareness and also a lot of enthusiasts. Every week, one or two emails from Raspberry Pi enthusiasts come up with a question about how they can support us. Usually, it ends with chocolate sent to our address.
One might argue with the idea of?? How Raspberry Pi is suitable for use as a dedicated server. My personal opinion is that even a virtual server, which might need 600 on a single 1U server, is likely to deliver higher performance than Raspberry Pi. And with less total electricity consumption. On the other hand, there are many free VPS offers and no such response. The indisputable advantage of a dedicated server is zero sharing of resources with other users and the associated response speed and fluctuations.
The free UK server colocation contract is officially concluded for 12 months. The company promises on the web that after this time, it certainly does not plan to disconnect all devices, but parametric changes to the offer may occur. Given the interview, it is expected that IPv4 addresses will be limited first. Dedicated and virtual server providers are hardest hit by the depletion of IPv4 addresses.