Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sun Blackbox Tour 2008

Earlier today I attended a meeting / event for Sun Microsystems. The Blackbox (S20) was back in Des Moines and although I saw it last year, I was curious to see it again. I'll get to the blackbox in a minute. The guest speaker for this year's event was Brian Wilson, Sun's Director and CTO - Market Development. He was an awesome speaker and I came out of his presentation inspired, with 3 pages of notes.

Brian started by briefly explaining how Sun has transformed over the past few years. Scott McNealy was a good CEO, but Jonathan Schwartz defintely shook things up when he took the healm. Jonathan promotes a new "transparency" for Sun and their interactions with customers and the industry. Sun has also become very 'agnostic' in its hardware and software platforms. Brian noted that Sun is actually more of a software company now than hardware. The challenge that Jonathan and Brian are presented with is... "how can Sun stay in business when customers can do more with less". Rather than give a typical marketing answer to this question, he went into the Sun answer with an overhead projector drawing. For those younger folks reading this -- here is the Wiki article on what an overhead projector is. :) I won't try to replicate Brian's drawing, but the thrust of it is that the focus is moving away from the enterprise where "IT=cost", and over to the service providers where "IT=weapon". The three drivers for this change in focus are the Internet, High Performance Computing, and the SaaS providers.

Some other notes or quotes I had from his talk:

  • AT&T (who has a large Sun footprint), spends over $1 Billion per year for power.
  • Sun opened their Santa Clara data center and Brian took a tour. He was very impressed, talked with his tour guide and ended up finding out that those involved with the design and build of the data center ended up reporting to the Sun CFO. This was particularly interesting to Brian -- let the person in charge of paying the bills for the data center drive the build (and efficiency) of it!
  • Blackbox: 25kW per rack, in 1/8 the space
  • "Some" business do actually want to move their data centers -- examples being the U.S. Military and media companies covering Olympic events for periods in other countries.
  • Sun entered the data center switch business. Internal code name Magnum. This is the big dog. It is an Infiniband core switch, with capacity for 3,456 server nodes and does a lot for switch consolidation and thus reduction/elimination of space and cabling.
  • Brian noted a database shift (in parallel with earlier statements about IT=cost vs. IT=weapon. 90% of enterprise databases are Oracle, while 90% of web 2.0 databases are mySQL
  • Sun does NOT use raised floor in their data centers.
  • They feel it is their corporate responsibility to share data center design knowledge and lessons learned with the industry.
  • 3 take-aways: 1) Sun hardware runs on other vendors chips (Intel/AMD). 2) They push extreme efficiency. 3) Build a digital service delivery platform (i.e.: LAMP , SAMP , or MARS (mySQL, Apache, Ruby, Solaris) )

Ok -- now on to the Blackbox: Unfortunately, Sun did not send the latest version of the S20 to Des Moines. The container was essentially what I saw last year. The two notable differences in the product were that they have added a fire suppression system to it, and this time they had a Sun branded Chiller unit sitting on the truck in front of the Blackbox. Other changes include better cable management and the ability to move an entire cabinet (easily) in and out of the container. They state that you can place anyone's hardware inside the container and there are configuration alternatives you can take; for instance, adding fewer, but deeper cabinets to accommodate special equipment that needs the depth. It was overheard that there are 8 Blackboxes in production today, but the pipeline of interested parties is pretty large. The United Airline story about putting containers in their hangers in Chicago was mentioned a few times.

Overall I am glad I attended the event and I think the whole container story is starting to really sink in with me. I by no means think it is "the" answer, but there are some very plausible scenarios where it can be used and I think Sun entered the game pretty early and as such has a good chance at succeeding. Here are some pictures I took of the Blackbox.

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