Friday Mar 02, 2007

Some Reflection and more Cable Pictures

At the moment, I'm sitting in the San Francisco airport awaiting my late flight back to Colorado.

Just like Darth Vader and the Emperor, we too have more than one (not so secret) "container" that is circling a local Sun (Microsystems location). We had the opportunity to visit the one near San Francisco as they did testing on electronic emissions from the container.

What really struck me most about the container was not the ingenious technology inside, or the blend of disciplines that goes into building this data center in a shipping container, or the raw compute power represented in this shipping container.

More than those thoughts, what sticks with me is how natural it is to see a data center in a parking lot. Computers shouldn't really be built to be pretty, they are a tool for work. Even folks that are proud of their tools rarely hang them on the wall in the living room for everyone to view when they walk through to the dining room.

So, again, I have to encourage you if you are in the New York area to be sure to go to the event registration page and take an opportunity to see the container at Grand Central Station on March 5th, 6th and 7th.

That said, the last cable pictures I posted this morning were for a partially populated unit. Here is the overhead cabling for a more fully populated container.

And here is the articulated cable tray (don't you love saying that?) with a blue relief.

No, the blue relief was not photo-shopped in or something. The container in the San Francisco area has blue lighting along the container walls with the main aisle having the white light. It is quite tranquil overall, here is a look at it in the early evening.

Alright, see you in SFO or DIA!

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Fun with Cable Management and Next Week

If you're following along on the tour, you will know that it's those macro pictures and pictures that are just a little different that get first class treatment on the blog! Today's interesting shots...cable management!

There are always questions from folks about where all of the cables get stuffed, how the cables move through the container, how a network should be cabled, etc...

The way things are now, many of the networking decisions are really part of how you, the customer, configures your particular container. In many cases, your normal data center practices may be sufficient. There are basically 8 racks of equipment with 40 rack units, add in batteries and account for some equipment and you have around 36 to 38 usable rack units. You'll probably have two network cables per system. Some configurations you may have a network switch on each rack, other configurations perhaps you cable everything back to a massive enterprise switch in the control rack.

When you tour the container, you will want to look up, where you'll see this:

The cabling between racks or back to the control rack with networking gear goes up to the ceiling and down the length of the container. The rack itself has an articulated cable tray (just learned that term myself) that allows the rack to be pulled in and out without the cables being crimped or pinched.

Basically, its like a big chain with a tray in the middle that you bundle the cables to. When you roll the rack out, the tray extends and the cables roll out nicely. When you roll the rack back, the cables remain in place so that they don't get crimped or pinched!

The GPS is telling me (and you) that we are well on the way to New York's Grand Central Station! I know the streets of San Francisco were a tight pinch, I'm curious where they are planning to park an 80 foot semi in New York!

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Tuesday Feb 27, 2007

Washington D.C. and more road snapshots and commentary!

We are at various sites around Washington DC. Attendance remains high, often exceeding 100 people per tour stop!

The rack removal tool is a big hit on the tour, the prototype is shown below. The rack removal tool slides underneath a rack. Once underneath, you move the lever over and the tool then lifts up the entire rack, very smoothly. Once the rack is lifted up, you slide the rack out (while the rack remains powered and connected). The tool can also help take a rack out of the container (at which point it does have to be unplugged from the network within the container).

Keep in mind that there are also "shock absorbers" on the racks. Rack shock absorbers are not something new to Project Blackbox and are in fact well traveled in data centers that get jostled around, use your imagination there.

Its important to remember that the Project Blackbox container is not an "entirely" self-contained data center, though you could certainly think of it as one of the modules for a data center. External to the container you still require a power source (generator) and potentially a chiller (these come in various sizes but one chiller and one generator may be able to service multiple containers) and a water source. As you look at the length of the truck bed and semi in this photo, you can see a chiller in front of the container and there is a generator further up.

Coming up on the Project Blackbox tour blog...I have put a 'hit' out (in Sopranos terminology) to get a picture of a tour guide pulling a rack out with the rack tool in live action as well as a picture of the shock absorber. When the tour stops in Broomfield I'm considering having them pull the rack out so I can have my son jump on the rack and see if the shock absorbers are as good as his trampoline. We'll see if I can get away with that...

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Friday Feb 23, 2007

Registrations for next week and a few snaps!

As you can see, we are out of the Atlanta area and onto the East Coast. Specifically, we are in the Washington D.C. 'burbs and city and driving up through New Jersey over the course of the next week (February 26th to March 2nd). As I mentioned before, not all sites are open for registration and some sites are not even on the locations page. But for the next week, you can register for:


  • February 28th - Washington D.C. - Marriott Wardman Park Hotel
  • March 2nd - Bedminster, NJ

I'm not going to bring politics into this blog ;-) But, hypothetically, a political party could have a distinct competitive advantage by getting a container fully loaded with Sun Fire servers and StorageTek arrays and X4500s (Thumpers) for storing all of that Web 2.0 content and streaming video. You can then bring all of that compute power to conventions and large town hall meetings. By having a rapidly deployable data center, a political party could turn up their Web 2.0 blogging force in a hurry. Further, if you suddenly needed compute power to defray or create a scandal...oops, ummm, get policy communicated in a hurry, you could get your data center deployed quickly, and regionally if necessary. So, Mr. President, Senators Obama, Clinton and Edwards...just go to our registration page and click the link (or have an intern take care of it). We've brought the power to you, now you just have to use it!

If you look at the following week (March 5th to March 9th), all of the New Yorkers have a great opportunity at Grand Central Station to visit the container and see an excellent set of presenters including Hal Stern, David Douglas and David Teszler. Grand Central Station is March 5th to the 7th and there is a registration button at the locations and registration page. So, this gives you ample warning to get your subway tokens now.

At any rate, I'm a big fan of slightly different perspectives on pictures. I mentioned off hand a few blog posts ago that you shouldn't wear your heels to tour (this is a message for you Senator Clinton ... or Prez Bush if you are so inclined) the container. As you can see in this image, the stairs up are not "solid" and it does get slick. The smaller surface area on your heels will give you ample opportunity to slip and lead to an embarrassing photo-op for the D.C. press.

Next, this picture gives an interesting perspective of folks outside of the container as well as inside.

Finally, for the week, remember to take a look at the Sun SPOT blog post from yesterday. It's a great technology.

See you next week!

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Wednesday Feb 21, 2007

Project Blackbox goes to Space Camp!

On February 16th, the Project Blackbox tour stopped in Huntsville, Alabama, home of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

The tarp is remaining on the container as we can keep the inside a bit warmer for the tours. Huntsville was a chilly 32 degrees on the 16th (the average is 55), so the bright blue sky in the pictures is a bit deceiving. As you look at the pictures with the tarp on, remember that the container itself is only about half the length of the truck bed (20 feet).

Here is the coolest picture from the tour so far (even cooler than the ground cable and rod that I posted earlier). We have the back end of the Project Blackbox tour semi with the container parked in front of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

In the picture, you see the rocket park located at the museum. The tallest of the rockets is a model of a Saturn V, "live" pieces of a Saturn V are also on display at the museum. There is the space shuttle "Pathfinder" (not a real shuttle, but the original mock-up used for all sorts of tests and simulations) mounted on a external fuel tank. Also in the picture is a Saturn I (actually, a Saturn Ib Modified).

Here is another slightly artsy shot of the semi, note the very nice outline of the truck in the reflection on the pavement.

Finally, here is a little Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon moment for you.

Space Camp, the movie, was filmed in Huntsville, Alabama at...well...Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

In the movie, filmed in 1986 (the year I graduated from John Marshall High School (JM) in Rochester, MN), one of the stars was Lea Thompson.

Queue the creepy music...Lea Thompson was born in Rochester, MN. Project Blackbox will be there on March 29th at the Mayo Clinic. I went to High School there, AND, I just ripped my vinyl Some Kind of Wonderful soundtrack (in which Lea Thompson also starred) to MP3. Ok, thank goodness I'm a blog author and not author for the official Sun Tour Event web site!

Ok, the immediate future looks like this. We are finishing up the Atlanta area today then moving into the Washington D.C. area. There are 2 tours that have registration buttons for on the event web site so make sure you sign up. The tours are definitely filling up fast!

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Tuesday Feb 20, 2007

InfoWorld Article on "Crackpot" Ideas

Just a quick, amusing, note while I work on the Sun SPOT blog. InfoWorld just posted a set of slides on 12 crackpot tech ideas that might just work. First, I'm happy to announce that "crackpot" is a synonym for "innovative" :-) Second, be sure to look at the schedule of locations that this crackpot Project Blackbox idea is en route to.

Finally, with Project Blackbox, you won't have to read How To Survive a Robot Uprising: Tips on Defending Yourself Against the Coming Rebellion as you will if the Crackpot Idea #6 takes root, Artificial Intelligence ;-)

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Friday Feb 16, 2007

Phew, end of the week...the summary

The tour made it successfully to Alabama today! By next week we'll be in Georgia and moving East at a quick pace. We just received a tour summary for the week and the numbers are, quite frankly, astounding. Out of the 5 primary stops this week, about 580 people toured the container. Keep in mind, we're talking about a data center! The interest in this innovative, paradigm-breaking way to deploy data centers is evident.

There are 3 main stops next week, it will be interesting to see if we can break the 1,000 individual tour mark. That is pretty good "person throughput" for a shipping container ;-)

Rather than post new pictures today, I figured I'd link out to some interesting blogs and pictures that have appeared as the result of the tour. These are well worth taking a look at and have some great pictures or thoughts.

This first one, Touring the Sun "Project Blackbox", documents a tour of the container in Austin, TX. There is an excellent picture of the inner hatch with the tool attached that you turn to get into the central corridor. There is also a picture of what we've been informally calling the "control rack". This rack contains the dehumidifier, some network switches and other essentials. Overall, some excellent pictures and perspectives. As you look at the rack configurations, keep in mind the "standard" equipment is not fully locked down ;-)

Gene Saunders from Sun wrote The Blackbox has left the building.... It has a very nice perspective of how you would expect to be grouped and standing and, of course, listening attentively as you are on the tour. There is also a picture of the "swag" that some of the tour stops are giving out. And, yes, it goes fast. There is also a bit of information from the SunSPOTs that are affixed to the container.

And, finally for this week, here is a link to Sun's Blackbox Brings Flexibility to Today's Datacenters a picture-free summary of Project Blackbox at the Sun Analyst Summit in San Francisco.

Finally, to anyone blogging, try to tag your blog entry with "project blackbox" if you have tagging support. That will help the search engines.

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Thursday Feb 15, 2007

Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee

We are moving right along on the Project Blackbox Tour. This week alone the container has traveled through Austin, Dallas, Arkansas and the container is now sitting on the truck just outside of Memphis! If everything goes as planned, you should be seeing the tour moving into Alabama this evening.

The turnout in Arkansas was wonderful, as the turnout has been everywhere else that the truck has turned up. We had over 100 people tour the container in Arkansas, and this was during 20 degree weather. I thought we had ordered some warmer weather in the South!

We have a few pictures to show off as well! Here we are on location with the tarp over the container. There is a space heater under the tarp to keep everyone warm down South. The heater will have to be discarded when we get up towards Minnesota. Looking on my Wii Weather Channel, it looks like it may get positively balmy there (well over the 20 degrees we saw in Arkansas, maybe even 24 degrees...and that's hot for a Minnesotan).

We also have pictures still coming in from previous locations. Here is Keith Hargrove from Sun Labs on top of the container. The shipping container is rated to have around 25,000 pounds on top of it (though we are not recommending that at the moment on our early access and prototype containers). Keith is well under that weight. He is up top affixing SunSPOTs to the container (and taking a moment to try to communicate with the mother ship).

And I received this image of a Project Blackbox fold-up from Mike Thibodeau! Well-folded Mike! And bonus points for having it on top of your Sun Fire T2000! There is nothing better for a Sun employee than to see our servers out there in the field...gives you a cool feeling (cooler than a Dell box at least!).

Thanks for the pictures!

See you in AL!

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