Government // Enterprise Architecture
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2/25/2009
10:49 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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Marvell's PC In A Plug

It's $49, fits in a space the size of a "wall-wart" power converter, uses a meager five watts of power, and could easily replace any number of standalone machines in a small office or home environment. And I want one.

It's $49, fits in a space the size of a "wall-wart" power converter, uses a meager five watts of power, and could easily replace any number of standalone machines in a small office or home environment. And I want one.

I speak of Marvell's "plug computing" device, an incredibly small system-on-a-chip with Ethernet and USB connectivity -- and, as you might guess, it runs Linux as its OS of choice. The possibilities for such a device are pretty striking: a super-miniature print or file server, a Web gateway, and so on.

What's doubly striking is that this is not the endpoint, but a starting point. Marvell also is going to be marketing a development kit version of the product, which means it could easily become the basis for any number of hobby-kit or professional-grade products that use it as the core. It's a hacker's delight, although I'd also love to see folks put together kits that make its most hackable properties into things that even mere mortals can command.

Here's my vision for how this works for, say, a wired or even wireless print server. Plug it into a wall outlet, connect your printer via USB and the Ethernet cable, then run a small program that locates the device on the network and lets you do the printer setup and configuration through a Web browser. (Pet peeve: If possible, give us the option to have the printer seen by all devices as a generic PostScript printer, so that we don't have to fuss with drivers on the client side.)

Another possibility would be a development kit that allows you to emulate a version of the device on a PC, making it that much easier to develop and deploy customizations for it. This wouldn't just include software, but the whole Linux layer itself -- perhaps with the possibility for generating custom builds of the OS, too.

If you've got some ideas for what could be done with a device like this, share them; I'd love to hear.


Each year, InformationWeek honors the nation's 500 most innovative users of business technology. Companies with $250 million or more in revenue are invited to apply for the 2009 InformationWeek 500.


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