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Container-based server platform for Linux device management goes open source

Oct 30, 2018 — by Eric Brown 3,938 views changed its name to balena and released an open source version of its IoT fleet management platform for Linux devices called openBalena. Targets include the Intel NUC, Jetson TX2, Raspberry Pi, and a new RPi CM3 carrier called the balenaFin.

A lot has happened with since we covered its Docker container focused cloud IoT platform and open source ResinOS Linux distro two years ago. started out with a goal to create a “git push for devices” and develop lightweight Docker containers for Linux devices to enable easy security updates and IoT device management. It has since expanded beyond that to provide a comprehensive, scalable platform for IoT fleet management. Now the company has announced a name-change to balena in conjunction with the release of an open source openBalena version of its software.

New names for Balena technologies (left) and new balenaFin carrier for RPi CM3
(click images to enlarge) changed its name due “to trademark issues, to cannabis references, and to people mishearing it as ‘raisin.’” explained founder and CEO Alexandros Marinos in a blog announcement. (We interviewed Marinos in a Nov. 2016 feature on the use of container technologies in embedded devices.) The non-smokable new branding is based on the company’s balena container engine, now called balenaEngine, which derives its name from the engine’s underlying Moby Project container technology.

openBalena is an open source version of the server/cloud platform for managing fleets of Linux-based IoT devices, now referred to as balenaCloud. The open source ResinOS distro, meanwhile, is now called balenaOS.’s Etcher software for fast image writes to flash drives is now called balenaEtcher and the Project Fin carrier board for the Raspberry Pi Compute Module, which is now available starting at $129, is now called balenaFin (see farther below).


While balenaOS is an open source spinoff of the container-based device software that works with balenaCloud, the new openbalena is an open version of the balenaCloud server software. Customers can now choose between letting balena manage their fleet of devices or building their own openBalena based server platform that manages fleets of devices running balenaOS.

openBalena is a reduced feature version of the commercial product. However, the components shared by both commercial and open versions are closely aligned, which “will allow us to release updates for the project as we update our cloud product, while also allowing open source contributions to flow back into the cloud product,” writes Marinos. The new deployment workflows and tools to accomplish this coordination will be announced soon.

openBalena offers balenaCloud core features such as “the powerful API, the built-in device VPN, as well as our spectacular provisioning workflow,” writes Marinos. It can also similarly scale to large fleets of devices. However, openBalena is single-user rather than supporting multiple users. It’s controlled solely via the already open sourced balena CLI tool rather than balenaCloud’s web-based dashboard, and it lacks “updates with binary container deltas.”

On the device side, openBalena integrates the Yocto Project and Docker-based balenaOS. The client software been updated to let devices more easiy “join and leave a server” so you can set up your own openBalena server instead of being directed to balenaCloud.

openBalena’s CLI lets you provision and configure devices, push updates, check status, and view logs. Its backend services can securely store device information, allow remote management via a built-in VPN service, and distribute container images to devices.

On the server side, openBalena requires the following releases (or higher): Docker 18.05.0, Docker Compose 1.11, OpenSSL 1.0.0, and Python 2.7 or 3.4. The beta version of openBalena supports targets including Raspberry Pi boards, Intel NUC boards, the Nvidia Jetson TX2 module, and the new balenaFin. It appears it will eventually support the full list of devices supported by balenaCloud, most of which are detailed on LinuxGizmos in stories such as our catalog of 116 Linux hacker boards.These include Samsung’s Artik boards, Variscite’s DART-6UL, Aaeon’s UP board, the Banana Pi M1+, the BeagleBone and BeagleBone Green/Green Wireless, SolidRun’s HummingBoard i2, the Odroid-C1/C1+ and Odroid-XU4, the Orange Pi Plus2, Technologic’s TS-4900, and Siemens’ IOT2000 gateway.


The balenaFin, which was announced back in March, is a carrier board for the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 Lite (CM3 Lite). The Lite has the same 1.2GHz quad-core, Cortex-A53 Broadcom SoC as the standard version, but has an unpopulated eMMC socket with traces exposed via SODIMM-200.

balenaFin (left) and block diagram
(click images to enlarge)

The 91 x 90mm balenaFin is optimized for balena duty but can also be used as a general-purpose hacker board. The board, which has been available to selected customers in a pre-release version, is now publicly available in 8GB eMMC 5.1 ($129), 16GB eMMC ($139), or 32GB ($159) versions. There’s also a $179 dev kit version with 8GB that bundles the CM3 Lite, cables, standoffs, screws, and a 12V PSU. A DIN-rail case adds $25 to the price.

balenaFin detail views
(click images to enlarge)

In addition to running on the CM3, the board integrates a Samsung Artik 020 MCU module. The balenaFin is further equipped with HDMI and 10/100 Ethernet ports, 2x USB 2.0 host ports, and a 40-pin RPi GPIO connector. Wireless support includes a WiFi/Bluetooth module and mini-PCIe and Nano-SIM slots for cellular. You also get a 6-24V DC input, an RTC, and extended temperature support. For a full spec list, see our earlier Fin report.

Further information

The beta version of openBalena is now available for free download, and the unpriced balenaFin is available for pre-order. More information may be found in the openBalena announcement, openBalena product page, and openBalena GitHub page. More on the balenaFin, including link to shopping pages, may be found here.


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