Friday Jan 05, 2007

Into the New Year

I took a little break from blogging over the holidays, but am back in the saddle again.

The flurry of press and activity at the end of 2006 continued straight through the holidays. If the number of eco conferences in 2007 is a leading indicator, attention to datacenter power will continue to grow as a topic through the new year. Here's a few tidbits from over the holidays:

We're hitting the new year running. We made a dent in datacenter power in 2006, and we've think we can take it a lot farther in 2007. Quoting the motto of my home state: Forward!

Thursday Dec 21, 2006

US Government: First Steps

Yesterday the President signed the bill "H.R 5646":

H.R. 5646, which directs the Environmental Protection Agency to study the energy consumption of Federal and private computer data centers

Our Washington team worked hard, along with others in our industry, to get this through the House over the summer, and then through the Senate this fall. We were interested in this bill for a number of reasons:

  1. It helps to raise awareness to the growing issue of datacenter energy consumption
  2. The EPA has a strong history of facilitating the energy discussion between producers and consumers. If you've ever looked at an energy sticker on an appliance or the MPG sticker on a car, then you know what I mean.
  3. The federal government is the largest IT consumer in the world. Bringing energy into their procurement process would have a positive impact on their energy usage, would setoff a big ripple through the industry, and I believe the results would set a strong example for other large IT consumers.

The EPA report that is called for in the bill will be out in 180 days or so, and I'll report out on it then.

Friday Oct 20, 2006

Killer Bandwidth

Need to move 2 petabytes from LA to San Francisco? If your data was already stored in a Blackbox, you could get over 350Gb/sec!

Here's the calculation:

  • 12 hours to load, travel and unload, or 43,200 seconds
  • 2 petabytes (that's 2 million billion bytes)
  • ~46 GBytes/sec or 368Gb/sec
Maybe our disks better come with a MPG rating!

Tuesday Oct 17, 2006

Malcom McLean, Honorary Sun Fellow

By now I'm sure you've seen the news about Project Blackbox. I've been on the project for the last 6 months, and its one of the most exciting things I can remember. Rarely do you get to work on something that has the potential to change 50 years of standard practice. Ever since we started making computers we've had computer centers and then data centers, specialized rooms colocated with office employees. As others have now documented, this idea makes less and less sense as time has passed.blackbox_1.jpg

Do we have the perfect answer to this? Probably not yet, but the reason we decided to pre-announce this (it won't be in full production until next summer, though we will be working "hands-on" with customers soon) was to get the dialogue started so that when we ship the productized version (or, more likely, versions), we'll hit the mark for more real world situations.

While there's an incredible amount of innovation that's gone into the design, it's important to understand how critical the standard shipping container is to this concept. The shipping container we know and love today was invented in the 1950's by a man from N. Carolina named Malcom McLean. The first ship, namedIdeal-X, was a converted WWII transport vessel which sailed from the port of New Jersey to Houston.

There's two things which link this work to today's announcements. First is the economic discontinuity caused by the idea. Prior to the standard container it cost $5.86 per ton to load a ship. Afterwards the cost dropped to $0.16 per ton! This caused the head of the Longshoreman's union to say "I’d like to sink that s.o.b." at that launch of the Ideal-X.

I believe that over the next few years we'll see that the Blackbox concept will have as dramatic of an economic effect as Malcom's idea 50 years ago. People's way of thinking will dramatically shift - I've seen it in my customer visits so far - and they won't be able to think about datacenters the old way ever again.miliary-blackbox-240x171.jpg

The other bridge to the past wasn't about the container itself, but about what Malcom did next. In 1956, Malcom patented his container design. But instead of holding onto them and trying to sue anyone who copied the idea, he submitted the design to ISO and gave them a royalty free license. Today we'd call that englightened, back then it was just plain crazy, but it worked...today's there's over 18 million shipping containers in use worldwide. But Malcom must have known that challenges of having to compete in open market was well worth the trouble if the open standards made that market huge.

Malcom, for that I'm bestowing you with the posthumous title of Honorary Sun Fellow. Well done!

Wikipedia references:

Saturday Sep 02, 2006

Tough Question

On a family trip to Colorado this month, we made a short stop at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder. They run a nice lunchtime tour there, and it was interesting to hear what they're working on in the area of climate change and modeling. They bought a Connection Machine that I helped design way back in the Thinking Machines days, and I've always loved visiting there.

I couldn't resist asking one embarrassing question, though. When we were standing in front of their world-class supercomputing center talking about how it was helping analyze climate change, I had to raise my hand and ask how much CO2 that data center was responsible for? I know from our data center near Boulder that the electricity there is very "dirty" (over 2 pounds of CO2 per kWH, much higher than the national average which is around 1.3 pounds).

I got a graceful but data-free answer. I was hoping they were exploring alternate energy, but it sounded like they were mainly focused on lower power usage by the computers (which is tough with high end scientific computers).

For what its worth, my guess is that they're somewhere over 10,000 tons of CO2/yr (that'd equate to a 10MW facility), which is similar to driving a car 20 or 30 million miles.

Saturday Aug 26, 2006

Triple Threat

One of the things I hear consistently in my job is that data centers are running out of some combination of space, cooling and/or power. Gartner and others have published figures saying that over half are up against at least one of these limits. So a pretty obvious question is, where is Sun at?

One of our folks took the initiative and gathered up some data. Looking at 10 data centers around the world, here's the numbers:

  • Out of space: 1
  • Out of cooling: 2
  • Out of power: 3

In addition, four were over 75% capacity on space, and two at over 75% capacity on power. In total, 6 out of 10 were max'ed out on something, and 2 more were over 75% on at least one thing. Only 2 data centers were "green" on all three.

Now that we we've got a baseline, I'll be tracking this here as things progress.

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