When is it more appropriate to install on a PC server?

Rachel Pi & Plus are awesome but when is it more appropriate (or cost effective) to install Rachel, or its components, on a PC based server?

Many schools have old PCs available. When should we re-purpose these?
Either: (1) Install a server and add a router or (2) simply load the desired components on the computers.

i.e. How to justify & defend either choice when fundraising or proposing implementations?

Some thoughts:

Advantages of Re-Purposing:

  • Lower up front cost (depending on the cost of personnel time), so less fundraising & approvals.

  • Easily expand without waiting for international shipping.

  • Teaching the site to set up and maintain a server could be a worthwhile skills benefit.

  • Can potentially service more simultaneously connected devices? (Although multiple Rachel Plus units can be synchronized together.)

  • Can add software that’s not available on Rachel.

Disadvantages of Re-Purposing a server:

  • Time is probably not the issue. “Dropping in” Rachel Plus appears easy, but the real time-consuming work is working with the users, as Jeremy explains here, so taking a little longer to setup a server or add components to many PCs may not be significant.

  • Re-purposing a PC requires more tech skills, so a different person’s time.

  • If each server is different, then it is more difficult to support many installations. (Although a standard PC image that works on the commonly available hardware could reduce this. Same with choosing a standard router.)

  • The Rachel Pi & Plus have a “wow factor” that’s not present with simply adding software or content, which might generate more interest. (?)

Disadvantages of Installing Individual Components on Devices:

  • More time consuming to update.

  • Most old devices won’t have significant drive space (?).

  • No LMS features unless include a server.

Note: Technical discussion of how to install Rachel on a PC server should go in the “Other Hardware Forum” but I intended this post’s discussion to be about deployment decisions.

My Plan for Indonesia:

  1. Determine what Indonesian language content exists for the existing Rachel content modules.

  2. Determine what other freely distributable Indonesian language content exists & whether it can be easily added to Rachel.

  3. Determine the system requirements for each of the Rachel content modules to determine which can be stand-alone installed on what hardware.

  4. Determine which content best matches the National Curriculum. (Note: I plan to make all of the same content available through an online portal, with content linked to the National Curriculum, because my impression is that many people don’t know what is available or how to find relevant content. And I want to make this portal available offline. I initially assumed that a WikiMedia site could be “zimmed” but that appears no longer to be supported or as simple as I expected.)

  5. Without funding: Determine how to re purpose existing PCs.
    With funding: Also buy some Rachel Pi’s and Pluses.
    (Of course, in parallel talking with educational NGOs, teachers and others about the Indonesian educational situation.)




Johnny Long of Hackers For Charity explains some of the advantages & disadvantages of various hardware options in this video:

YouTube: I Hack .edu - eLearning Africa 2014

PC problems: Poor scalability, virus magnets, no “hardware reset”, more maintenance problems.

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Thanks for this writeup! Good thoughts here. I have installed RACHEL on PC’s a few times, and yeah, there’s a variety of trade-offs. Sometimes I’ve gone with running full Linux server software, and sometimes I’ve gone with just installing RACHEL-USB on one of the Windows machines already in the room and just using Windows file sharing (and creating shortcuts on the other desktops). That might be the easiest setup, but it limits the content. RACHEL-USB doesn’t have the software to run Kiwix or KA-Lite, so you get just a subset of Wikipedia and Khan Videos, but no exercises. Still, it’s been a useful resource.


We have installed the 64GB sd card version of RACHEL 4.0.onto a Raspberry Pi 3 with built-in WiFi. This makes the single PI-3 into a “headless” low-power / cost-effective local RACHEL & KA-Lite WiFi server for multiple tablets as well as re-purposed Windows laptops and PCs with cheap Wifi USB dongles installed.

FYI, we were pleased to discover that the 64GB sd card version of RACHEL 2.0 does have the KA-Lite exercises and the student / teacher tracking capability built in. You must login to KA-Lite as administrator (User/PW is rachel/rachel) to access these important features. As you pointwd out, this is unavailable on the RACHEL-USB version. which has Khan videos only


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@BrianW Thanks for your post. This is good food for thought, and right on the issue I am now involved with. We just started up a high school in a remote village in Kenya (Asilong Christian High School). There are two Windows laptops and one MacMini on a local network with wireless access points at the school, but no internet access.

I have downloaded various RACHEL content packs as well as Kiwix and some Wikipedia distributions. I have made some minor modifications to deliver these up from webservers running on the the three computers.

I need to do some additional research to understand how to use the RACHEL platform from the PCs / Mac, as that may be more easily maintainable than the traditional server approach.

I did some customization of the web pages to help make it more personal to the school. This system will be deployed in the next two weeks, and I will collect some feedback and post here on the findings.

On my next trip to Kenya, I would like to take a RACHEL Plus to do a comparison on the speed of the system as the connections increase. We are likely to have 40+ simultaneous wireless connections from Android tablets and I am interested in seeing how each installation performs. The video content will put the heaviest load on the system, and if the performance for a large class is not good, it will discourage the teachers from using the video approach, or modify the access to limit the number of students that access video at one time.


@andydupont looking forward to hearing more! We do have RACHEL-Plus 2 coming out (very imminently) that should be a nice performance boost, but we still expect in some of heavier usage classrooms people will set up two RACHEL servers and use either device based locking or MACID filtering on RACHEL Plus to limit users to one RACHEL Plus


Just got back from a remote area in Kenya where we deployed a subset of RACHEL content on two computers/servers. A Windows 10 laptop and an old 2006 Mac Mini with a new SSD, both running Apache 2.4 webserver. The computers were connected by ethernet to a router with WiFi and an additional AP was also connect to the router by ethernet.

Students accessed the server using their choice of AP (they had different SSIDs) The idea is that if they are getting poor performance from one, they can try the other. In experience, we had 36 tablets connected and response time was not an issue. Browsing was a mixture of web pages, and videos.

I don’t have experience with either the RACHEL-Pi or RACHEL-Plus, but redeploying the Mac Mini and letting the laptop serve as both a Secretary laptop and webserver seems to be a good low-cost solution for this location. I will continue to monitor the operation and report more later.


@andydupont - welcome back and great to hear!

The performance issues are really only an issue while having simultaneous logged in users attempting KA-Lite exercises. I’d love to see that kind of testing done if you ever get the chance.

Maybe drop a note in our Kenya channel about where the unit is. We have some staff and friends in Kenya who can keep an eye on things if it’s nearby!

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@jeremy - Thanks for the comments and mention of the Kenya channel… I will follow up on that. I will be going back to this school in November, but will get a test done on KA videos to see how many simultaneous users can be supported without stuttering. I was checking out the network bandwidth needed for a KA video, and it is surprisingly small.

This remote village in Kenya is not likely to be close to the existing Kenya folks, but we are in weekly contact with the school and will get some testing done.

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I find the greatest risk to using a PC is that people will be temped to use the PC for other work in a crunch and then mess up RACHEL unintentionally. This is less of a risk if the PC is switched over to a Linux machine, but setting up a combined desktop/server in Linux can be tough without a checklist for what to included.

However, if using a PC gets people started and they find they get really use RACHEL, then buying a RACHEL-Plus is not that expensive as part of a system of 20 or more devices for student access.

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Jonathan: Has someone written a procedure for installing Rachel 64 or Rachel Plus on a PC? I have several candidates lying around which would be great to use. We have an international school in Rwanda and are currently using Rachel PI 64 in our classes.


It help in multiple processes and use computer device to make server. It has many function which is very helpful for client. I have tried on my laptop but I could not do that because Iis touch pas is not working and my laptop has become useless. Someone suggest me https://babasupport.org/hp/hp-laptop-touchpad-not-working/ They arraange me touchpad and I could do that

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I’ve got a local college refreshing their servers. They’re getting rid of their old HP servers running Window Server 2008 R2. I’ve been able to procure a couple of them & I want to use them in some of the countries we work in providing students access to RACHEL.

I’d like to install RACHEL on a Windows Server 2008 R2. Is there an install file or do you just install RACHEL USB & work from that?