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:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi John,

Its really a wonder pack innovated by Sun Microsystems.Thanks for the interesting description of project black box.Can you pls tell how much it will cost for a full fledged Sun black box?.