SheevaPlug: a Tiny Computer for $99

This computer introduced by Marvell is very tiny, and very interesting.  Despite the fact that Marvell’s wireless chipset has been closed to open source developers, it appears that the Sheeva Plug computer is being released as an open product: running Linux on an ARM processor, it is now available for $99 as a pre-release developer’s edition. There is already a place for developers to congregate and for documentation and so forth.

LinuxDevices had a delightful article on the technical aspects of the SheevaPlug, and it is very enlightening.

What would I use such a computer for?  I would quite possibly make it into a NAS solution with OpenFiler or FreeNAS; make it serve IP addresses via DHCP; make it into a web cache like squid; or make it serve music with subsonic.

This is one beautiful box.  One drawback I see is that with the way it is configured, there is no way to get it off the wall and out of the way.  Too many boxes plug right into the wall, which means there is no place for another box to plug in.

Another deficiency, which is silently ignored in a lot of applications shown: there is only one network connection. For the system to be a router of any type, it needs to have multiple network connections. If a SheevaPlug is to be a wireless router – or a cellular router – or other similar configurations, it needs to have more than one network connection. With the USB connection available, this is possible – but only if the USB isn’t taken with something else.

One nuisance to note, like others of its ilk: it requires added peripherals, so the “tiny” box could expand to include an external hard drive, and external USB hub with its own AC plug, a bluetooth USB plug, a USB cellular modem, a USB network port, and two network cables. This is the curse of tiny electronics today: one day, all of these extras will be included in a box the same size, and the cabling will be history.

One disadvantage that no one seems to have mentioned yet: the box is not grounded.  That’s right: only two prongs – no grounding plug.  This is totally baffling to me: no ground?

Still, these are really minor disadvantages: I want one – or even two!

It would be interesting to consider the use of these in the enterprise (although they are specifically designed for the home). The biggest places I could see these used in the enterprise would be for testing purposes, and for disaster recovery. If you had one of these ready as a DHCP server and DNS server, one as a NIS server – perhaps a medium-sized enterprise could run off of these until the real servers are built and ready to go.

They could also be used to support people in the field: preconfigured, ready to run: demonstration systems, VPN end points, presentation systems, security test launching points… What else can you think of?

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5 thoughts on “SheevaPlug: a Tiny Computer for $99”

  1. I think the sheevaplug is an interesting idea with questionable execution. On the one hand I applaud the innovation and will champion the low-cost/low-power micro-PC, but on the other hand, which seems to convey it’s misgivings with greater volume, I have issues with this being a non-grounded device. I also suspect that this product’s more-feature rich cousin already exists in devices like the Mac Mini which is superior in terms of hardware, and deficient when it comes to price. Companies like FriendlyARM manufacture ARM-based systems that are similar to the sheevaplug, hardware-wise. Does this mean I don’t want a few sheevaplugs doing packet inspection or running Nagios/MRTG? No, I think these are great. I just wish they offered a second NIC or additional USB ports.

  2. I have been looking at the sheeva for about a year now. I am mainly waiting for the price to drop. I think this would make a great proxy server. I have kids, and this seems like a perfect device that can be setup and hidden away from them. Another plus is that it doesn’t take up a large amount of space. I can definitely see this as being sold as an appliance in the future.

  3. “For the system to be a router of any type, it needs to have multiple network connections.”

    This is not true. You can easily make “one-armed router” with one network interface only. I have done this with both ipfilter and netfilter.

  4. Peter is correct, this can act as a router-on-a-stick, you just need to configure subinterfaces associated with VLANs, connect the sheevaplug to a 802.1q trunk interface on a switch, assign ports of the switch to the appropriate VLANs, and viola! Will it be the most efficient router? No, as traffic will have to transit the trunk link twice for both ingress and egress. Not a big deal unless you’re connecting upstream to a stupid-fast ISP (DSL and Cable should be safe).

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