3. Data-center replacement (with a power strip full of plug-in computers):
In order to keep up with the demands of computer users, data center administrators often must link together large numbers of computers. These clusters are used for large computing tasks like simulating the weather or serving up the billions of Web pages visited daily. These "server farms" collectively draw a large amount of power. (A 2007 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that power used by data centers in the U.S. had doubled between 2000 and 2006 and is set to double again by 2014.) "If these things would replace the cores of a virtualized farm of servers I'd be interested," says Eric Schwartz, a CSAIL system administrator. "If these things can compare with [server farms']…computational throughput at a fraction of the power consumption, that's intoxicating."
This trend toward low-power computing is on the rise. Microsoft recently announced that it is testing servers powered by Intel's tiny Atom processor, the chief competitor to the ARM processor that powers the SheevaPlug. The hope is that, although these servers may require more processors to do the same job as more powerful computers, they will, on the whole, draw less electricity.
4. Data availability:
San Francisco-based Cloud Engines Inc., the first company to license Marvell's SheevaPlug, sells a device called the Pogoplug based on the technology that computer users can connect to their hard drive (via a USB port) to make the entire contents of that drive available via the Internet. With a Pogoplug attached to the hard drive storing your information at home, you could access that information even if you are sitting in a Starbucks a thousand miles away, says Daniel Putterman, CEO of Cloud Engines.
5. Data mining:
Once servers are cheap and ubiquitous enough, they allow for interesting monitoring tasks of all sorts of devices, like vending machines. "Back in the day, some hackers hooked it up to the network, and anyone could connect to it and check the selection and supply levels of the sodas," says Jason Biddle, a first-year master's student in the M.I.T. Computation for Design and Optimization program. The soda machine is no longer connected to the net but, Biddle says, "we tossed around the idea of finding a small Web server [like the SheevaPlug] to bring the soda machine back to its former glory. I'm sure someone out there could use the data to find an unknown trend among soda drinkers." With low-cost and low-power servers, it is no longer prohibitive to start connecting devices to the Net, he adds. "Information from those devices could then be aggregated and mashed up with other streams to lend new insight."
6. Life filter:
SheevaPlug could be used to monitor incoming e-mail and other information, presorting it before you open your in-box. "I think it's important to view this as not only an always-on storage resource but an always-on processing resource," says Luke Hutchison, a fourth-year PhD candidate in CSAIL. "The device has enough power to run a decent machine-learning algorithm. It could sit there logged into my e-mail account and be learning from my reading and categorizing habits and would try to tag or star messages before I get to them based on what it thinks I would be most likely to want to read immediately or classify a certain way."
Video security could also be a SheevaPlug strength. "We're in discussions with service providers about remote service capability," Mukhopadhyay says. "A lot of people have cheap USB [digital] cameras in their home. With SheevaPlug you can plug in a camera, and with the right software, you can get a surveillance camera. These retail for $700 to $800, so you can imagine service providers trying to sell this as remote surveillance."
8. You name it:
Because SheevaPlug uses the Linux operating system and open-source software (both of which can be downloaded for free), it could be a cheap Web server, a source-code repository, a backup server or countless other things. "In general," M.I.T.'s Hutchinson says, "it would be possible to host a lot of different types of services on such a box."