It's part of your datacenter...just in a container

Project Blackbox evokes images of a shipping container full of compute power or storage capacity sitting in far out places. We, of course, occasionally encourage those images. Hopefully you've seen the Mars Rover Mission with the container on the planet surface. The shipping container we use has no external modifications so you can transport it with all of the standard shipping container transport tools, thus making these remote sites for the datacenter a reality.

Still, Project Blackbox is meant to be a standard datacenter implementation as much as its meant to be a datacenter that you can place in exotic locations. You really have to take the opportunity to see Project Blackbox to understand that it is a complete, 8 rack datacenter or datacenter module with over 280 rack units. There are a variety of traditional as well as cutting edge scenarios that Project Blackbox can help facilitate. Here are a few scenarios that come up when talking with folks touring the datacenter (ooops...container):


  • Rapid datacenter buildout - Project Blackbox gives you 8 racks with all of the environmental controls typically in a datacenter. The container can be rolled up and deployed rather than having a construction team come in and build a datacenter.
  • Some level of mobility - While Project Blackbox is not a "compute while moving" solution, it is relatively easy to move. Some of the "parking lot discussions" occurring are centered on the ability to bring the container to a location to provision and configure, then move it out to a more remote location where disaster recovery requirements can be met or a lower power cost can be achieved to meet target datacenter costs.
  • Modular datacenter buildout - Today, when you construct a datacenter, you predict how much floor space, power, cooling and other capabilities you will need...for the life of the datacenter. When you need more, you call up an architect and you start the process of building out, once again with a computation of the maximum size your datacenter will have to be. At the beginning of the datacenter life, you have overkill in terms of environmental controls and equipment. Right before you build out some more, your datacenter is overtaxed. With Project Blackbox, you add capacity and environmentals 8 racks at a time. It is more of a Lego model than a fixed-size model. The fixed-size model incurs significant pain points when you need to grow and it is really never a perfect fit for what you need.
  • Move "stable" equipment into the container - Datacenters always have a significant portion of their compute and storage power that is essentially never touched. There could be a few reasons for this; it may be legacy servers that just keep running but few people use, it may be hyper-stable systems that are required to remain on but are rarely serviced, or it may be a CPU or storage grid that jobs are submitted to and is highly fault tolerant. Whatever the case, there is a compelling argument to be made that you can move these servers out of the way and into a container to leave space in your primary datacenter for systems that need more foot traffic.

I'm not going to dwell on these types of scenarios too much. The scenarios that Project Blackbox can be fit into (traditional or non-traditional) come from you not from some blogging dude. You are the one feeling the datacenter pinch, whether its power, space, complexity, speed to deployment, cost, etc...

Feel free to post your concepts and ideas here, especially if you are from outside of Sun. The comments here are consumed by Sun employees, especially those on the Project Blackbox team.

Finally, here are some pictures that haven't been posted to the primary event site, along with my MST 3k commentary :-)

Is that Pete's coffee? What is it about coffee that makes people want to drink it around computers? Its an accident waiting to happen, it makes you jittery, its hot, and you put it next to your mouth. And, no, Project Blackbox does not have cup-holders built into the racks. Sorry.

Here is a shot of the container getting set up for tours in San Francisco. Note the curiosity it evokes in a casual bystander. When we get to Seattle we'll probably have bystanders trying to order espresso from the container, but in San Francisco, they probably think its a mobile Ghirardelli chocolate lab.

And finally, here is a picture of entry / exit to the container. We typically have 5-6 people on each 15 minute (or so) tour. You can also see the hatch door as well as the inner doors in this picture. Many of the locations we're at are suffering from odd weather for this time of year. There is a tarp that goes over the back of the truck to give shelter during the tour and while the engineers are talking to you.

If the project is coming to your area, make sure you register for a tour. Of course, we won't refuse you entry (unless you have coffee and don't make the proper coffee-offering to Dave the Truck Driver), but registering helps us space people out and get our expectations set for how many people and at what times you'll be showing up.

Take care, send your pictures my way if you are at one of the sites!

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Comments:

I saw the blackbox on a side street in San Fran last week. Very cool - cool being the word (the cooling system is amazing!) What a great way to build out a data center...

Posted by AmyO on February 14, 2007 at 03:57 AM MST #

Better to see it in San Francisco than on Mars. I've heard the chiller is very neat, I will try to get a picture of it.

btw, for anyone traveling to Mars, the photo of the container on Mars is not real, it is a photoshop rendering.

I didn't mention in today's blog, but the container is in Arkansas at a customer site. We really are back to back stops and tours.

Posted by Paul Monday on February 14, 2007 at 04:33 AM MST #

Who is that handsome guy in the red coat walking down the back steps ?????

Posted by a certain Blackbox engineering manager on February 14, 2007 at 11:34 AM MST #

That is Russ Rinfret of Sun coming down the back stairs in San Francisco.

Posted by Paul Monday on February 14, 2007 at 02:32 PM MST #

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