Computer scientists at the University of Glasgow claim to have built a working model of a ‘multi-million pound cloud’ infrastructure with a budget of £4,000, using just Lego bricks and a handful of Raspberry Pi computer boards.

Researchers have linked together 56 cut-price Raspberry Pi computer boards in racks made from Lego, which mimic the function and modular design of commercial cloud computing infrastructure.

The aim is to allow computer science researchers and students to develop a practical understanding of cloud infrastructure, which Glasgow University claims is difficult when working with commercial providers.

It said that cloud computing service providers ‘maintain a great deal of secrecy over how their systems work beyond the software available to end-users’.

Dr. Dimitrios Pezaros, Dr. Jeremy Singer, Dr. Posco Tso and Dr. David White of the University’s School of Computing Science have developed the Raspberry Pi Cloud project to overcome this challenge of access to cloud research and education.

“For an initial investment of less than £4,000 we’ve been able to build a Linux-based system which allows researchers and students complete access to a working cloud computing infrastructure at a tiny fraction of the cost of its commercial equivalent,” said Dr. Singer.

“We’ve used 56 Raspberry Pis in this first project by the numbers involved could easily be scaled up or down as required.”

He added: “Although we’ve been offering lectures for students on cloud computing for several years now, the Raspberry Pi Cloud gives us a major advantage over other universities because we can now offer students hands-on experience with cloud computing hardware and software and give them a unique skillset they can take into the job market.”

Dr. White said that before the University built the Raspberry Pi Cloud the University relied on software models on how cloud data centres works for research and teaching. He said that software simulations can be valuable but they are not ‘wholly successful at replicating the practical difficulties of running a data centre’.

He added: “What our Raspberry Pi system gives us now is a very clear correspondence between the hardware and the software, and a physical setup which is very similar to how racks of servers work in real data centres.

“The ARM processors which are used in the Raspberry Pi are also becoming more common in cloud data centres because they require less energy to run than more traditional PC hardware, which gives our students another advantage for their future careers.”