Just like Microsoft with Windows 8, Canonical is pushing forward with ensuring ARM-compatibility for future versions of Ubuntu. In order to do that it needs a proper build environment and hardware to allow contributors to submit and build the 20,000+ packages that make up the Linux distribution.
As with anything to do with Ubuntu, it’s up to the enthusiastic individual to come up with and implement the solution to a problem. David Mandalla of Canonical was tasked with creating an automated Ubuntu ARM build machine, and the resulting solution definitely registered on our geek radar.
The required machine had to be capable of supporting package builds from multiple users in a clean build environment. On top of that, it needed to be relatively cheap to create in the first place. Mandalla therefore decided on a custom build using PandaBoards.
PandaBoards are a low-cost development board that uses the Texas Instruments OMAP4430 processor. That means you get an ARM Cortex-A9 dual-core processor, 1GB RAM, HDMI and DVI-D out, 10/100 Ethernet, USB 2.0 ports, and 802.11n wireless as well as a host of other expected features not important to this particular system. The cost of each board is just $174.
Mandalla ordered a custom rack in which to house 21 of these PandaBoards. 20 of them would be used for package building, with the 21st used as a master board for monitoring and controlling access for each user. Each board is also connected to a 300GB SATAII USB hard drive, giving a total of 6TB of storage in the server.
The system works by allocating time on the server when a request is received from a user. The master board checks for a free PandaBoard, reboots that free board, and presents the user with a clean build environment in which to work. Once a build has been completed the board is flagged as free and the process is repeated.
As you can see from the images above, the case design allows for ample airflow while offering up a serious amount of processing power on demand. We can only guess at the exact cost of this server, but the PandaBoards would be the most expensive part and only cost $3,654 total. If we say each hard drive cost $60 that takes the total build cost up to $4,854.
This project looks to be ongoing and you can follow its progress over at the dmtechtalk website where Mandella is regularly posting information and images.