Saturday, March 31, 2007

Sun BlackBox Tour

I attended the Sun BlackBox tour presentation yesterday and came out a changed man. Not about the BlackBox, but about Sun. As I mentioned a while back, I really felt like Sun had slipped in recent years. In 1997 I attended Netscape DevCon and heard Scott McNealy speak. He was inspiring and I really liked what Sun was doing and where they were going (back then). Jonathan Schwartz has seemed to make a difference at Sun and is turning the company around.

To start things off there was a presentation on what Sun is doing with virtualization. I am an avid reader of virtualization technologies, but haven't really had a lot of opportunities to play around with it other than VMWare player on my laptop. I really liked their vision and implementation ideas for effectively utilizing it. I'm not sure if this was obtained with permission, but I found the slides presented on at this site:

Ok...on to the BlackBox. It was pretty cool to finally see the container and I will say that it is well engineered (for a first shot at it). It crams a lot of compute power in a small footprint and the overall design makes sense. Here are some of my notes from what I was able to jot down:
  • 20' shipping container: 20'x8'x8.5' (LxWxH)
  • 20,000 lbs. fully configured
  • Up to a 60 ton chiller for full 200kW load
  • 7 racks of dual 60a 3phase power: 8th is a distribution cabinet
  • Release date: expected in July 2007
  • Without servers installed it is 'estimated' to cost $300k-$400k
  • Site requirements for deployment: 208 3phase AC, Chilled water, Bandwidth and a flat, level pad >= 30' x 15'
  • It was mentioned that someone like Caterpillar would potentially be interested in packaging a BlackBox with a generator and other items to complete the container.
Going in to the presentation the biggest question was simply what in the world would this thing be used for (or who would buy this)? Sun provided the following potential customer scenarios:
  1. Data Center expansion
  2. Data Center Consolidation
  3. Data Center Migration
  4. Disaster Recover
  5. Remote Infrastructure
  6. Temporary Data Center
  7. Hybrid Data Center
I won't counter each of those points because....well, just because it would take a while and in the end is probably not worth it. There was one customer scenario given that was intriguing and worth mentioning. They said an airline in Chicago needed additional servers and instead of paying a high price for the airport data center space, they dropped a blackbox in their own hanger and used it (rent-free) instead. It is an interesting use of the container and I imagine it was set up and running in a short time.

That seems to be one of the big selling points....quick turn around (versus building an actual facility). This and the ability to pre-configure and ship it where you want seem to be the real purpose in the product. Now, I still question having the power and pipe readily available in some of these places they suggest, but..... Not to mention if you are going to have a chiller, transformers, 208 3phase power and UPS -- just so you can drop a black box in, haven't you really already built a Data Center?

Finally, the one that simply blows me away: security. I don't think you will find too many scenarios where people will say that the data residing on servers inside the data center is not that critical or important. This is one of the top reasons that servers are kept in facilities that have multiple levels of security and measures to prevent tampering with any part of the data, server or data center infrastructure. The picture where a BlackBox is in a parking garage still makes me chuckle. Why would anyone park one there and then just leave the bandwidth and power dangling off the side for anyone to come sever.

Competition: recently, of course, there is Rackable. Check out this InternetNews article that mentioned investor site report rumors that Sun was in talks to BUY Rackable! And all of this is old hat to the APC Data Center on wheels that has been around a long while. Just for fun, take a look at the Google trend chart between Blackbox and Rackable's Concerto.

So to summarize.....I had a good time and was glad I got to see it. I don't doubt they will sell many of these in the future and think that they have engineered something pretty cool. I think there is a purpose for these that I just can not see yet (as evidenced by Rackable saying that they sold one to a leading Internet company (Yahoo perhaps?)). My only question is that by the time you provision everything needed to support a BlackBox, have you really saved anything over building an expandable data center to do the same thing?

I also wanted to provide some links to others that have blogged on the BlackBox tour and provided their reviews:

And finally, my pictures:

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Nicholas Carr - Showdown in the trailer park II

Just a quick link over to an Excellent article from Nicholas Carr's blog. He writes about two different views on commodity models and data center containers. Besides being a very nice article, it has links to Microsoft's James Hamilton's paper and slides vs. Sun's Greg Papadopoulos counter point.
Check out the blog post here.

Frankfurt Airport's Data Center

Eweek's Infrastructure column does a nice case study on the Frankfurt Airport Data Center. It has incredibly impressive features and is redundant from start to finish.

Nine meters below ground, 3 different power grids, redundant chillers offering 1.4 megawatts of cooling and even the building is built within another hardened structure.

Check out the rest of the story and case study here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Dell Data Center Solutions

Dell announced today that they have created a new division that will focus on designing customized data centers for companies. They will extend their build-to-order business to accommodate the large-scale server farms. Their target market is large web-based companies and hyperscale data centers of the business world.

I must be getting old, because this is yet another one I just don't get. It sounds like they are basically offering customization tools and guidance for those companies buying $2 gazillion in Dell product or more. If you are a large company making a mega-purchase of Dell servers, I would certainly hope you have an inkling of what/why you are buying and some sort of architecture to support it! The only other take on it is that Dell is just inching its way into consulting and business services, and what better place to start than where all of the money is.

Check out the ComputerWorld article here.

Data Center In a Box

Rackable Systems has joined the in-a-box party by announcing they will also have a Data Center in a box product. The new product, called Concentro, will be a 40 foot shipping container that can be deployed on short notice. Although Sun grabbed the press early on this, Rackable will end up beating them to the punch as they announce on Monday the first sale of a unit to "one of the world's leading Internet companies".

Check out the ComputerWorld article here.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Here is the blogroll I promised a while back. I tend to have 3 times as many blogs that I subscribe to than what I actually have time to read. Here is the short list of my favorites.

Data Center Knowledge (of course)
Data Center Design
Isabel Wang
Jeff Pulver
Nicholas Carr
Robert Cringely
Chuck Hollis
Renesys Blog
Seeking Alpha

Friday, March 16, 2007

Cool Technology!!

This is not data center related....but I am absolutely blown away by this. Check out this amazing demo of Jeff Han's human-machine interface.
and another one at

I have played it 3 times now and can't get enough. I'm not sure I have an 8 foot wall in my cubicle at work, but I'll make room. Very inspiring technology!

(thanks to my friend Ben for the link)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Q9 Networks Reports Growth

I thought I would counter the server consolidation post with a quick note about Managed Infrastructure provider Q9 reporting that they are under budget and have greater capacity than originally estimated in their new data center . They are finishing up a 1200 cabinet, $20million facility in Calgary Canada.

"Q9 Networks reports that revenue for the first quarter 2007 was CAD $12.8 million, a 17 percent increase over first quarter 2006 revenue of $11.0 million and an increase of 3 percent from fourth quarter 2006 revenue of $12.5 million."

Check out the WHIR News article here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Server Consolidation Blunder

A $35 million dollar Madison Wisconsin IT Project, delays, no time table for completion, and another $36 million over the next two kind of sounds like a lessons learned for what 'not' to do. The details are too many to describe here, but my favorite was this one:

The 57,000-square-foot data center, which the DOA leased and took over in April 2006 and which will cost $5.3 million a year to run at full capacity, was supposed to eventually hold 2,000 servers under the consolidation and is large enough to handle up to 4,900. So far the state has moved 120 servers there, Henderson said.

I would not want to see the project manager that managed this consolidation. :)
Check out the article here.

Improvements in 2007 for AT&T

"AT&T Inc. will invest more than $750 million in 2007 to advance the delivery of IP services to businesses worldwide, the company said Tuesday"

Part of this initiative will be expanding current data centers, as well as opening new ones in New York and Canada. By the end of the year they will have 38 Internet Data Centers. As if it wasn't already evident enough, they are making themselves the dominant player in DSL, Wi-FI, ethernet and satellite technologies. Other services like VPN, VoIP and security are also set to benefit from the $750m.

Check out the article here.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Commodity Data Center Design

I love going to conferences. I know many people get tired of them and can find them boring, but I am both an information junkie and a geek, so I like them. The Web 2.0 Expo, coming this April has a particular session that caught my eye. Commodity Data Center Design, with James Hamilton has an interesting summary.

"This talk describes a commoditized data center design using standard shipping containers as the core building block."

I still haven't changed my mind on the Sun Black Box product, but it was certainly interesting that this Microsoft Architect was pushing a shipping container design. For the sake of seeing it for myself I have signed up to see the Sun Black Box on their nationwide tour. I'll (of course) write about it here afterwards. Check out the full Web 2.0 session summary and conference information here. Although I can not go to this conference I would sure love to hear from anyone that is going to it!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Data Center Vision

Laurianne McLaughlin at CIO Magazine has a blog entry recently titled "Will the Phone Company Run Your Data Center?". Laurianne interviewed Bill Coleman from BEA Software, whose vision is that companies will trust the phone companies to run their data centers in 10-15 years.

I don't necessarily agree with the idea, but I would venture to guess their are some similar visions out there. I do like his reference to utility computing though. I know there are those who think we won't go to a lights out data center any time soon, but I believe it will happen sooner than you think.

Colocation companies, phone companies, power companies, Google, or perhaps the KOA campgrounds (for the Sun Black Box farms) -- some entity is going to house massive amounts of computing power and will offer it up on a utility basis to enterprises. Also playing into my belief of a utility computing realization is a fascination with grid technologies. I think instead of building your own data center or outsourcing it to one or two other companies/locations, your computing infrastructure will be spread out over dozens of different data centers that are a part of a grid that you buy processing power on. All of your applications have been virtualized to the grid and there is no need to worry about individual servers or infrastructure going down or needing maintenance. It also buys automatic Disaster Recovery and BCP.

Ok....enough for one night. The above are just my random ramblings, so please don't take them for anything more. :)

Here is the CIO blog post Will the Phone Company Run Your Data Center?

Monday, March 05, 2007

What's After Yottabyte?

What comes after a Yottabyte? According to a recent IDC study we'll have 601 exabytes (available) in the year 2010. Closing in on 1 zetabyte generated in 2010, the yottabye is all that is left! The study, sponsored by EMC, claims that the world stores 161 exabytes as of last year, with each file replicated 3 times. The Business week article quotes EMC Vice President of Technology Alliances Chuck Hollis, who happens to be on my favorites list for blogs I read.

Check out the details of the IDC study discussed here at Business Week.

Scale Out or Scale Up

ServerWatch has an interesting article that discusses several organizations and their stories of facing the scale out or scale up decision. The article discusses scalability headaches experienced by companies facing rapidly increasing capacity and processing power. All of this while becoming more and more dense.

I would submit that these stories and problems experienced are the ultimate sell for going with a colo provider instead of facing the changes alone. A company can attempt to run their infrastructure AND a facility, or leave the facility to someone whose sole purpose is to deal with cooling and power headaches.

Check out the Server Watch article here.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

New Look, Saving Energy and Blogrolls

After reading a post over at EcoIron I decided to do my (very small) part and make my blog a darker color. For those of you reading this in your favorite RSS reader - click over to see what I mean. Also read the ecoIron post for some interesting energy saving results on using a white Google home page vs. a black Google page.

I am also working on posting my blogroll on the side bar. Since I am an information junkie I have a TON of blogs I read in my Bloglines reader. I'll sift through them and post them as soon as possible.