I'm seeing more questions to do with RaspberryPi boards. This latest one set me off: Why can't I stream more than 1 file using nginx?

Is there a belief that RaspberryPis can be used in a professional capacity that would justify their inclusion on ServerFault? How should we handle questions that include Raspberry-Pis as a foundational element in the scenario?

My Opinion

I'll put my opinion here rather than adding an answer of my own below. I believe that the limited nature of RaspberryPis, the hobbyist culture, and the self evident lack of enterprise anything with the board makes it totally outside of ServerFault's scope. Any service that is built using RaspberryPis and is having problems is tainted by the experimental and developmental nature of the Raspberry-Pi. I think questions that include Raspberry-Pis as a main player in the scenario should either be edited to remove the reference (bad) or simply closed as Off Topic (good, since editing out the Raspberry-Pi reference will obfuscate the potential root cause).

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    For once I agree about the no-edit-out part. Rpi's have no place doing production work. – Mark Henderson Jun 22 '13 at 21:45
  • @MarkHenderson I tried to edit out the Pi in the question I referenced, but then stopped and thought "Wait, the problem could actually be the Pi itself!" – Wesley Jun 22 '13 at 21:46
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    Agreed. RPI's are neat, but they are hobbyist's toys. They don't meet the criteria of "professional systems and/or network administration." – Ryan Ries Jun 22 '13 at 22:09
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    You guys do realize we have a dedicated raspberrypi.stackexchange.com website where you can send all this questions of to... – Lucas Kauffman Jun 26 '13 at 18:28
  • @LucasKauffman I did, yes. I just don't think they have the skill to work on some of the problems that are asked concerning R-Pis on ServerFault, but then again -- it's not our problem! =) – Wesley Jun 26 '13 at 18:59


To expand:

  • We're already leery of questions about home routers... they could conceivably be on-topic if it's a sysadmin trying to make remote access work, but few (if any) of the home router questions we get make the cut.
  • Many of us (e.g. a certain cat-head-avatar person) are dubious about things like DD-WRT: repurposed home hardware used professionally. I think DD-WRT and its ilk are also borderline: they can be used professionally (I use it at work), but the hobbyist nature shows up in lack of support, iffy documentation, and so on.
  • So by the time you're talking about general-purpose, hobbyist systems like the Pi, I think you're way over the line into tinkering for fun, not professional. Again, the lack of support, documentation, examples of realistic professional "server" use are the distinguishing features.
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    Okay fine I'll buy a bike -- STOP RUSHING ME!!! – Wesley Jun 23 '13 at 0:54
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    Not to mention they can always ask these questions on SU or RPI.SE. – Journeyman Geek Jun 24 '13 at 2:51
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    Indeed - as we've got a RPI.SE questions should be asked there. – tombull89 Jun 24 '13 at 7:39
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    Agreed. There are limited cases where you might use a Raspberry Pi in a production environment, but frankly if you're doing so you need to have the skills to accomplish your goal without needing to ask the internet for help, or you're just setting yourself up for failure. (and if you do need help, Raspberry Pi is a very healthy beta site and the appropriate place to ask.) – voretaq7 Jun 24 '13 at 16:32
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    I know someone who used the Pi as a PXE server – Jacob Jun 24 '13 at 18:12
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    @Jacob But we all know what sort of crowd you hang out with... – Ward - Reinstate Monica Jun 24 '13 at 18:26
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    @Ward No this was a professional. :) – Jacob Jun 24 '13 at 18:28
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    @Jacob I'd put that in the "You might use it in production, but you should have the necessary skills" category. I know a few sites that use them as interfaces to SCADA systems (they make wonderful SNMP gateways), but the cracked-out EEs wiring them together would never dream of asking for help -- just another Pi to blow up in prototyping please :-) – voretaq7 Jun 24 '13 at 21:21
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    @Jacob: 'was' presumably being the operative word. – user9517 Jun 25 '13 at 6:11
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    I have actually considered a Raspberry Pis being used for several settings in the data-center: a PXE server, a Terminal server, SSH gateway, on the crash cart, etc. However, most questions for the Pi will be in the hobbyist-sense. – Stefan Lasiewski Jun 26 '13 at 23:43
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    Agree with @Stefan -- it's not a toy unless you're using it as a toy. Personally I'd rather answer a question about an RPi than an old beige box. Directing folks to RPI.SE is reasonable, but keep in mind just because you're a "professional" doesn't mean you have a "budget" :) – nedm Jul 1 '13 at 23:12
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    An SE site already exists. Is there really any other reason? – Nathan C Jul 3 '13 at 19:32
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    It's kind of funny. By these standards, Google are using "hobbyist" servers as their main (and only ASAIK) server setup. – Alex Jul 5 '13 at 18:12
  • Google doesn't use Raspberry Pis. They use HPC & cluster-style hardware, which is on topic here. – Stefan Lasiewski Jul 5 '13 at 23:02
  • I know they are not using Raspberry Pis, but they are using non-server grade equipment in clusters. And that would be tagged "hobbyist". – Alex Jul 8 '13 at 13:30

The Raspeberry Pi hardware isn't server hardware, and questions about the hardware are off-topic for Server Fault, full stop.

Questions about server software running on the "Pi" would seem to be on-topic, assuming that the "Pi" provides a deterministic compute substrate. A question about a given piece of server software seems to be on-topic to me, irrespective of the underlying compute platform.

Very rarely is the underlying hardware platform (especially in this age of virtualization) a factor at all in the correct operation of a piece of server software. The performance of a "Pi" may suck and the reliability may be questionable but software executing on a "Pi" is going to execute the same as on any other platform applicable to that software.


I can get behind the idea that the "Pi" is such an unstable piece of computing hardware as to make it not a reliable compute substrate, though, too. This one is getting harder the more I think about it. I'd like to say that there is value in answering questions that end up with a root cause in performance analysis or assessing the underlying reliability of a platform. On the other hand if a large portion of "Pi"-related questions come down to resolutions like "Put the same code onto a more reliable platform and it worked fine, the 'Pi' is the culprit" then the "Pi", as a platform, isn't suitable for Server Fault.

I'm vacillating here. That's not good!

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    Even "server applications" running on desktops or laptops are off topic here though. The idea is "professional capacity, professional environment" - anecdotes about people running a MNE's production databases on a laptop aside. So an Nginx problem running on a pi... off topic regardless of if the problem seems to purely be nginx. A Equallogic SAN and 10Gbit HBA issue is OT if it's hosted in a guy's bedroom or closet. If someone can ask a question like that without tipping their bedroom-hosting-hand, well... we're not Kreskin, so fine. – Wesley Jul 3 '13 at 22:07
  • @WesleyDavid, I think the problem with this strict definition of "professional" is that you cut out people who would want to expand their skills outside their strict work hours. It's quite frequent (possibly not always healthy) for people interested in IT in general to explore technologies they don't know outside the strict remit of their employment, with the hardware they can get hold of at home. I'd say you can learn a lot of reasonably advanced sysadmin skills (which could lead to questions relevant on SF) by using Linux VMs (for example) on a desktop at home. – Bruno Jul 9 '13 at 13:37
  • Such users could be valuable contributors to SF (both asking and also sometimes answering questions). After all, SF (and the SE sites in general) are places to exchange knowledge. If the topic can be relevant, I'm not sure where or why the problem arises really matters. – Bruno Jul 9 '13 at 13:40
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    @Bruno SuperUser is the place for "starting" sysadmins. SF is better designed for the established admins working in a production environment. – Nathan C Jul 9 '13 at 14:44
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    @Bruno Before you continue with this discussion please take a few minutes to read the following meta posts: meta.serverfault.com/questions/4111/… ; meta.serverfault.com/questions/5475/why-professional-capacity ; meta.serverfault.com/questions/5463/… – voretaq7 Jul 9 '13 at 14:48

The whole thing for me about the topicality of a question is where will it get the best answer?

I think questions about anything concerning the RPi will tend to get better answers on RPi.SE than they will here, because regulars there will be wise to the ways of the device, just as there are people here who will tend to know which HP/Dell/Whatever server is especially sensitive to memory being loaded in a certain order, etc.

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    That's not a bad point of view, but there's still a good chance that SF users are likely to give better Nginx configuration answers than RPi.SE users. – Bruno Jul 3 '13 at 20:21
  • @Bruno yes but equally, RPi.SE users will be in a better place to say "that's a limit of the platform" where appropriate. – Rob Moir Jul 9 '13 at 7:39
  • I realise most people here disagree with my point of view, fair enough. I just think it makes more sense to treat an Nginx question as a server software configuration question (on topic on SF), giving people the opportunity to answer. If it works on the RPi, everyone's a winner (including people who would have the same problem on a proper server); if the traditional suggestions don't work, then it's worth moving the question to the RPi site. – Bruno Jul 9 '13 at 13:16


Your question is simple and thus it deserves a simple answer.

Are RaspberryPi's ever on topic for ServerFault?

Simply, RaspberryPi is a hardware platform. There are all kind of business applications of RaspberryPi. I've used it in business to establish a VPN bridge to Amazon. I've also used it to do all kinds of things.

Serverfault is a pretty bad idea, but the second you enter the world of business-applications it becomes a business platform and it is therefore on topic. Any attempt to exclude it is more because ServerFault wants to cut an a niche that is more exclusive than the inclusiveness found in a $35 platform.

Is it a totally bad idea that merely having a low-cost platform in a different place can make the question on topic? Yes -- it's a horrible idea. But, ServerFault's admin team doesn't seem to have the intellectual prowess to tackle that.

Let's keep in mind we're talking about a site that is plagued with questions about petty user-software like vim. I'd contend if VIM was ontopic merely because it was on a server than the hardware platform running my ltsp should be on topic.

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    Using something for business doesn't make it a business platform any more than putting on a doctors coat makes you a doctor. – Wesley Jul 9 '13 at 3:18
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    I... can't believe I'm saying this, but... oh god help me... I actually think you have a valid point about how we entertain software like vim, etc. I also agree that there are some places where an rpi might make sense. But I also think that these questions are going to be better served elsewhere. As you said, we don't have any intellectual prowess, so we're surely not qualified to actually answer anything – Mark Henderson Jul 9 '13 at 3:21
  • @WesleyDavid Enjoy an upvote! That's totally true if you are a logical and sane person. Unfortunately the junta at ServerFault is outside of that desirable category. While I agree with you whole heatedly, they've settled this on the wrong side of the issue. I've played an active role in the core question here which is exactly that -- what is a business use, and time and time again those dingleberries have come down on location of use. – Evan Carroll Jul 9 '13 at 3:46
  • A great example would be RDP. RDP is just a user-application that just so happens to be ever so slightly more essential to server administration than Notepad. Yet both are explicitly on topic on ServerFault, and SuperUser. – Evan Carroll Jul 9 '13 at 3:50
  • This largely stems from an even more core issue with this horrible network of sites, and that is the desire to have an explicit community without an explicit mission. All you need is a big circle of friends and a bribe for @JeffAtwood and you can get a SE. Then they try to make sense of it in the FAQ after the matter when they have conflicting interests with established communities. To exacerbate matters, the rule of thumb is self-preservation and not community disambiguation so 95% of this crap is confusingly on topic on multiple StackExchange sites. – Evan Carroll Jul 9 '13 at 3:52
  • Is the question Ubuntu, ask it on SuperUser, Unix.SE, or Ubuntu.SE, if it has any relation to server software, ask it on ServerFault, unless it has a specific relation to security -- then on Security.SE. Etc. The flow chart is a diagram of who has the most users and the most active community. – Evan Carroll Jul 9 '13 at 3:55
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    it probably can be on topic, but I expect that'd be rare in practice. – Jeff Atwood Jul 9 '13 at 4:24
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    @EvanCarroll I... I... I'm agreeing with you now. Mostly concerning your first comment, and also the "horrible network of sites" quote. Things have gotten out of hand regarding site sprawl. I'm going to edit your question so I can take back my downvote. I see where you're coming from - making a Devil's Advocate answer. – Wesley Jul 9 '13 at 5:42
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    What kind of crap is this, my answer goes gray after three downvotes now? I think @JeffAtwood is out to make this site totally devoid of my useful contributions. Who could read this even if they wanted to? It's like white on white -- this is a UI disaster and a clear case of ableism. The visually impaired must miss a lot when they browse a StackExchange. – Evan Carroll Jul 9 '13 at 13:58
  • There are definitely "business"/"server" applications of low-cost hardware like the Raspberry Pi. The one that pops immediately to my mind is network monitoring & measurement. In such an application you do not need super robust hardware; you need lots of measurement points at a reasonable cost, and things like the RPi fit the bill nicely. I agree however with @JeffAtwood that it is likely that most RPi questions will be off-topic. – Dan Pritts Jul 9 '13 at 16:28

I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with asking a question about a Raspberry Pi any more than any other server (whatever its size).

Rather, judging whether the question is on or off topic should be based on what it's actually asking: could this problem apply to a more traditional server, and could this apply to a professional context?

I can't say this particular question was great, but if you re-read and skip the second sentence (the only one that mentions the Raspberry Pi), it certainly becomes a more generic Nginx or Django configuration question:

I've written a basic file server using Django.

When I try to download files from it (multiple large files at once, ~500 Mb each), I can literally download only one or two at once. [...]

Removing the Raspberry Pi reference is indeed one of your suggestions, and this would probably work in this case. Do you then care on which hardware Nginx is running? (It matters to a degree for performance, but the general configuration is the same.)

To some extent, this question could also be a software development question, because it's related to software this user had developed, but it's clearly on the sysadmin angle (being about configuring Nginx properly). I think it would be a shame for the ServerFault community to take too strict a view on what's development and what's system administration in most cases. In today's world, many aspects of IT belong to both dev and sysadmin. Having one side pushing the problem onto the other side instead of having a more positive attitude regarding collaboration rarely yields positive results as far as the overall project is concerned.

If the mere mention of "Raspberry Pi" sets you off, this sounds like snobbery to me, sorry.

What's really missing from that question is which OS the system is running. It would be fair to assume that this was running a Debian Wheezy, since that's what recommended by default on the Raspberry Pi, but that should have been in the question.

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  • It shouldn't be on-topic because an SE site already exists. – Nathan C Jul 3 '13 at 19:32
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    @NathanC, my point is exactly that this question is actually not specific to the Raspberry Pi (and thus doesn't really belong on that SE site), but it's rather Debian admin question related to Nginx and Django. – Bruno Jul 3 '13 at 19:32
  • That's one question out of the literal hundreds of thousands on SF. You can't base assumptions off a single question. – Nathan C Jul 3 '13 at 19:33
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    Again, this meta question is about whether such questions are ever on topic, and whether to ban them purely on the mention of the RPi. – Bruno Jul 3 '13 at 19:37
  • "I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with asking a question about a Raspberry Pi any more than any other server (whatever its size)." The Pi is not a server, is not made to quality or specifications of a server. The device itself can have squirrely behavior based on power sources and SD card choices. The software / OS stacks made for it are not server quality and are themselves squirrely and a shifting sand. Pi questions are no different than someone trying to make a "server" out of an old laptop and hosting it in their closet. Put a Pi in a DC, it's still not a server. – Wesley Jul 3 '13 at 19:38
  • Comparing a non-server-grade-device with any other server is not a good way to start. I think this is a conflict where you see "a server" as in "a device running a service. E.g. a DOS based XT running a webserver", where most Server Fault people think of a well tested 19" device with redundant power supplies and remote access cards. (etc etc). -- As to ever on topic, they could be, but 99% of them will not be. – Hennes Jul 3 '13 at 19:38
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    "Rather, judging whether the question is on or off topic should be based on what it's actually asking." Any question asking about a solution that is based on experimental and developmental technology, especially such things that are not even intended for production / server usage, are always off topic here. – Wesley Jul 3 '13 at 19:39
  • "Removing the Raspberry Pi reference is indeed one of your suggestions, and this would probably work in this case. Do you then care on which hardware Nginx is running? (It matters to a degree for performance, but the general configuration is the same.)" The problem could have very well been as a result of unpredictable behavior of the applications and OS involved because the Pi and it's software are not often as stable or well maintained as server OSs and packages. It's too much of a dice game to answer Pi questions no matter the software involved. – Wesley Jul 3 '13 at 19:40
  • @WesleyDavid, most software is ultimately intended for production usage. It's quite useful to have the advice of sysadmins who're going to handle that software, as a developer in general. Again, pushing away those questions doesn't help. In fact, sysadmins are often the ones who have to deal with that software once it's written, so advice on the admin aspects should be on-topic. – Bruno Jul 3 '13 at 19:42
  • It could have had an unpredictable behaviour, but it turns out that the question had a acceptable and accepted answer which seemed to provide a much more "predictable" explanation. – Bruno Jul 3 '13 at 19:43
  • It might be useful to have the advice of sysadmins, but not when the topic is based on unpredictable, non-professional foundations. That might be a bit of a subjective topic, that of "what is professional", but a rule by consensus is used. I'm sure there are anecdotes about some profesional service using Pi's, but anecdotes aside, the unreliability and experimental nature of the Pi counts any and all questions surrounding it as being off topic. – Wesley Jul 3 '13 at 19:49
  • While, yes, the answer was fortunately easy and not related to the Pi, the fact that the Pi could have been the culprit as a result of it's experimental nature and unreliability compared to something manufactured to withstand 24/7 and always-on usage (both hardware and software standards) makes it too much of a roulette game to guess. THe same view is taken on solutions using consumer hardware (PCs, laptops, etc.) in a business environment and asking for help. The problem could be transient and ethereal because of the poor foundations. Those questions have always been OT; Pis no exception. – Wesley Jul 3 '13 at 19:51
  • I'm not talking about anecdotes, I'm talking about the fact it's running Nginx on a Debian Wheezy (slightly customised perhaps). Are there no professional servers out there running Nginx on a Debian Wheezy? – Bruno Jul 3 '13 at 19:51
  • What you're saying is that because there might be some uncertainty in the conditions where the system is running, a question cannot be given the chance to be answered, even if there is an actual more straightforward answer than one of the other SF users may know. – Bruno Jul 3 '13 at 19:55
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    @Bruno And yes, that DHCP question would be either 1) Closed immediately, or 2) Have the Pi edited out by a kinder soul. The same happens for home-use questions. Even an enterprise SAN, routers, and 10Gb HBA question would be shot down if the person admitted it was hosted in his bedroom. (And many of us really do have enterprise things like that in our bedrooms, basements, or closets...) We're only here for business problems, in a business environment. If a question doesn't fit that, it's possible for the OP to conveniently leave that out, though it's not ideal. – Wesley Jul 3 '13 at 22:03

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