sometimes ago we told you about MANDEE, an open source Linux distro by Luca Peresson. Today, thanks to Mr Peresson, we’re publicly releasing it. We hope the community will appreciate the effort of the author to push forward the vision of a digital education accessible to everyone. Scope of this distro is to allow a classroom to get one computer for each student with the minimal cost in terms of hardware, software and energy consumption.
We really love his work, and we thought it could be really world-changing. Well, maybe world-changing is too much, but it is for sure education-changing.
MANDEE is based on an LTSP architecture. It aims at revolutionizing the education by leveraging Open Source tools like UDOO and Linux, and cutting this way noise pollution, energy consumption and, thus, tons of useless expense.
Shown below there is an email-interview we made with Professor Peresson, that will give you an overview of what MANDEE is and what it can become.
UDOO: Dear Professor Peresson, here it is Andrea Rovai, blogger of the UDOO Team.
Anyway, I’m writing to you because I’d like to do an article about the LTSP Linux distro you made, Mandee, and I do like to ask you some questions about.
Luca Peresson: Its name is MANDEE (MAlignani New Digital Educational Environment)
UDOO: Here it is the list of questions. The first one is: at what stage of development you are with MANDEE?
Luca Peresson: Currently MANDEE is in beta. We have built several working versions before this one, but they had problems of instability related to the display manager. This is the first version that doesn’t present problems like sudden crashes. Some functions still miss – by the way they are not essential for educational purpose – but the product is mature for extensive test-
I blocked any previous distribution because, according to my experience, publishing a premature experimentation often causes frustration and a negative attitude towards the product.
UDOO: Would you mind to share the distro on the UDOO website and start this way a public test? This way a beta test with more users, thus a more valid one, would be possible.
Luca Peresson: As you see I passed you the link. I started the experimentation on UDOO abandoning the initial project, based on Raspberry Pi, exactly because I believe the UDOO vision is better from an educational point of view. I don’t get the meaning of the question (of course you can… that’s why I passed you the link…) so, if there’s something I’m not understanding, just let me know.
UDOO: Could you tell me something more specific about this distro? How did you manage to develop this distro? And finally, what was your purpose in building MANDEE?
UDOO: The scope is to obtain a “general purpose” computer lab (thus I don’t want to substitute the “specialized ones” like, for example, the ones oriented to graphic design, multimedia, etc.) with these features:
From a certain point of view they may seem ambitious aims (and obviously my idea was not to reach necessarily anyone of them). We are considering to “cross” various rising technologies (single board machines, low-consumption monitor, switch with at least one 1 GB port) and technologies that are stable since long time (LTSP, Epoptes, kvm…).
The first version of the distribution was based on BerryTerminal, but we dropped it out very soon for a completely new distro. We have to thank IGLU, the LUG of Udine, for the collaboration that led to this final version.
UDOO: Have you been able to esteem the energy conservation that you reach by applying this solution? With trusted data we could start a test with other schools.
Luca Peresson: If we just consider the workstation, the energy consumption for 8 clients is between 210 and 220 Watt; a power consumption of about 800/850 Watts for just one lab. We have to consider two extremely important facts: the first one is that UDOO has a power consumption definitely lower than the monitor; the second one is that our monitors are not particularly oriented to energy conservation. Thus, the energy conservation data may be improved a lot. Anyway our objective – building a lab with 25 workstations with a power consumption smaller than 1 KW – has ended up with the result of 31 workstations (30 + the workstation of the teacher, with two monitors) with a power consumption smaller than 1 KW.
We have never included, however, the server and the projector while measuring the power consumption of the lab.
An average lab has an energy consumption of 100/200 Watts for each workstation. The only one version that may comes near to the concept of “low consumption” it would be a mini-ITX computer with a solid-state hard disk, among 50 and 60 Watts for each workstation – but obviously this way we cannot talk anymore of “low cost”.
UDOO: Did you manage to esteem the saving from an economic point of view, considering also the energy conservation and the cost of each UDOO compared to the cost of an average computer?
Luca Peresson: There’s no meaning in calculating the cost of “buying the lab”, because there are some “fixed costs” that you cannot avoid: monitor, keyboard, mouse. The saving should be calculated in about 5, if not 10 years.
While purchasing the lab you save about 50% but every 5 years the reduction is about 80-90% because in traditional labs the cost consists in purchasing new central units for each workstation – assuming that you are going to maintain monitor, keyboard and mouse – while in our case a classroom needs to buy just one machine: the server.
UDOO: In the article on Startup Italia you talk about a substantial reduction in noise pollution. Can you give me a clarification?
Luca Peresson: The mistery is quickly solved: there are 4 rotors for each workstation (power source, chassis, CPU and GPU). This means that 31 workstations, a server and a projector “turn on” about 130 rotors contemporary: it is practically a “wind tunnel” that, time after time, will get more and more loud. A teacher knows exactly what I’m talking about. In our case the rotors are 5 (4 of the server, and one of the projector)
UDOO: Thanks for the time spent in this interview. We believe yours is a great project, with many meaningful consequences in terms of digital literacy and accessibility to tech for everybody. Your work will be helpful for sure, an ispiration for many developers worldwide.
Luca Peresson: Thanks for your words. Let’s start believing, at least us.
UDOO: One last question. Do you believe a similar achievement, if not a better one, could be reached with UDOO Neo, considering that it should consume less than UDOO? Not to mention it would provide more tools to start learning how to code and to start making – I’m talking about accelerometer, magnetometer, digital gyro, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4.0, tools that you don’t get with UDOO Quad. And finally, thanks to heterogeneous architecture of i.MX 6SoloX, Arduino too would access Wi-Fi, motion sensors etc. and would be able to toggle the Cortex-A9. If I don’t get it wrong, the power of the board is not so important, isn’t it?
Luca Peresson: Basically yes, but we have to try before.
UDOO: The source code that is available on the website regards the client. What about the server?
Luca Peresson: Any standard LTSP server works fine. Tomorrow we’ll put online a new version of the server with the installation directly on QEMU, so any QEMU-compatible machine may work. For what regards performance, if we use QEMU2 the speed is very high. The previous version takes a few minutes for the boot, but after the boot performs good. The server is configured as a virtual machine. Our first concern has been, you know, we are in a school where no one knows how to manage this sort of issues. So, back to the main topic, Edubuntu is installed as a physical machine. After that, you install the server as a virtual machine and that’s okay. We don’t use Edubuntu actually, but Fedora, as it offers greater performances. On Ubuntu 14.04 the virtual machine configures by itself. Before UDOO has no graphic client, now it has, for any version of LTSP.
UDOO: How did the test with the classroom go? How did the students react?
Luca Peresson: The experience has been like TNT. Amazing. The Malignani Istitute of Technology, Udine, is a high school with lots of labs, you know, and generally, when you talk about high-school labs, students figure some old-fashioned computers, not UDOO. So they were very curious. And it’s been also a fantastic opportunity to introduce Linux and open-source languages to students and make them responsible, involving them in a project driven to drastically reduce energy consumption. And the wear of the materials of the lab has been really low – maybe some broken keyboards, while average labs usually show more wear. More than 600 students have worked on UDOO as a device. A wonderful experimentation. Now we aim to experiment on Android and Arduino as educational tools.
Here it is the download of the Mandee image for UDOO.
This image has to be flashed inside the Micro-SD, and activates the graphic workstation in “fat client” mode for the LTSP server. The image weighs 560 MB.