Thursday Feb 15, 2007

Project Blackbox - Fold-up Version and Note from Vezon

Vezon, shown here, knows that as a Bionicle, he needs a lot of compute power and storage. He also needs to rapidly deploy his data center. You see, Vezon is often on the move getting chased here or there. He likes the proposition of a data center that you can install in about 1/10th of the time vs. a traditional data center.

The standard shipping container (20' x 8' x 8.5' LxWxH) is handy because he doesn't need special Bionicle attachments to carry his shipping container around. You will note in the picture that Vezon was careful to keep the container level when he installed it.

Ok, son's Vezon is actually attached to a fold-up Project Blackbox origami model that Mark Stanton made here at Sun.

To get your own fold-up version of the container, click on the image below and a full PDF will open up (so you might want to open it in a new tab). Cut it out, fold it up, add a little glue, add a little tape, have fun! The image is actually a mini-image, so don't print the image, click through to the PDF.

Have fun, and be like Vezon...install your container on a flat surface.

Road updates and information on SunSPOTs coming soon!

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Wednesday Feb 14, 2007

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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Wednesday Feb 07, 2007

Project Blackbox at the Palace and Moving on...

MaryMaryQuiteContrary is posting information about the tour, and some of the architects that are on the project.

As you look at Project Blackbox on the tour, you have to start thinking about the little things on the container that Sun is investing in and has thought of. I'll talk about a few of those things over the coming weeks, but here is an awesome picture :-)

The complexities of implementing a data center in a container are quite intriguing, you don't just bolt a bunch of racks to the floor and send it off on the truck. Fortunately, at Sun, we get to make it look easy.

We've had great attendance at The Palace Hotel, busier than the planners expected. Perhaps the most interesting comment was that the roadshow is helping clear up the concept that people had heard about, but didn't really grasp fully.

I especially enjoyed the list of personalities that Joe sent out that had toured the container while at The Palace Hotel:

No pictures of Elvis or Jimi touring, unfortunately. The pictures turned out fuzzy and, yes, they toured together. Perhaps a mega-band ala 80's Power Station or Honeydrippers is in the works.

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Tuesday Feb 06, 2007

Tour Schedule and Official Web Site is Available

Just got word that the "official" Project Blackbox tour web site ( is now available. The tour schedule (dates and locations) is available from the page along with instructions on how to register for the tour. There will be photos posted on the official web site as well. Enjoy!

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Monday Feb 05, 2007

On tour with Project Blackbox

Other than pure coolness, you had to wonder why there is a Google Map above that is tracking one of our boxes from Project Blackbox. Simply put, the container tracked above is going on tour. There will be some 30 cities represented on the tour, not including all of those Flying J's along the way to gas up and get a hot dog. Even Rochester, MN is represented on the tour. My son was born there at the Mayo Clinic. I can honestly say, there is no better town than Rochester, MN to be sick in.

There will be a live, "official" web site with tour information coming soon. This will be an "unofficial" blog site for the tour where we post bits and baubles from the tour, including this picture of a guy violating union rules and trying to push the box just a little further (its a joke, really...):

The Project Blackbox tour is pretty full, but who are we to turn down a potential customer? You can contact us at if you would like an opportunity to visit the BlackBox enroute.

With Project Blackbox, we get to bring you the data center.

And, finally, an open invitation to all of you Sun Bloggers and potential customers that are planning on seeing the tour. Feel free to send me a link to your post and I'll link out to you. Or, if you don't have your own blog, send me your thoughts and pictures and I will do what I can to get them posted!

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Wednesday Jan 31, 2007

Blackbox GPS Data, Live

It could very well be that I have the "Geek of the Day" award for January 31st. Today I finished getting live data from a Project Blackbox GPS and put it up on the Google Map (above). It took a couple of days to get it right, but here's how it works (in text form).

Each container has a GPS on it. The data from the GPS flows to a fleet management company, Safefreight. The company has a variety of tools for managing fleets of vehicles. Perhaps you didn't realize it, but managing a fleet of trucks and their movements around the country is extremely complex. Every bit of information can help create a more efficient shipping fleet, help manage the costs involved with transportation (one of the largest components of a product's cost), and even create a safer environment for the fleet of trucks through ensuring drivers aren't on the road too much.

Your container with 8 racks of equipment is in good hands.

I use cURL to interact with Safe Freight's secure Web Service. cURL returns a SOAP document to me with the latest logs that were collected. The information includes the temperature, latitude, longitude, speed, and more. I traverse the data using Java's XML capabilities and convert the data to a JavaScript file. I use cURL again to FTP the JavaScript up to my ISP's free web space.

When you hit this blog page, I import the JavaScript containing the container GPS information. I then use the Google Maps API to build a map and put the current Blackbox location and information onto the map.

Some days, I just love my job.

Stay tuned, not only does the GPS data update regularly (typically every 40 minutes unless I have to change machines or shut this or that down), but I'm pretty sure we'll have more posts coming along.

- Paul Monday -

UPDATE: Since I first posted this, I have decided to remove some of the accuracy on the coordinates of the container. So, if you are at one of the roadshows and look at the map and go "Hey, d00d, somethings wrong with the GPS", its actually not a problem with the GPS. You all know how bad traffic can be and all of the gridlock in Menlo Park today, I'm pretty sure, was caused as people tried to get a view of our container based on the map the name of the California traffic, I've removed accuracy to help your traffic situation. And be careful, if you start using this as, I'll be forced to tweak the temperature too. Thankfully, I put that in Celsius so most of us American's will be like "I didn't think it was THAT cold out".

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