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:

Comments:

You mentioned that you'd been on the project for 6 months.
Is that the time frame within which "Project Blackbox" was conceived, designed, developed, tested and delivered?

If not, and if its OK to reveal, how long did it take to deliver "Project Blackbox"?

Posted by Mayuresh Kathe on February 01, 2007 at 10:08 AM EST #

Dave, I thought you might get a kick out of this latest Blackbox coverage. All kidding aside, I think it does start to answer a question I asked a few months ago.

Posted by Matt Stansberry on February 01, 2007 at 10:08 AM EST #

[Trackback] La noticia geek del día es la presentación de Sun Blackbox, un gadget más que interesante. Los chicos de Sun han empezado a pensar inside the box. Mientras todos los fabricantes intentan miniaturizar los componentes, ellos se pr...

Posted by think in blog on February 01, 2007 at 10:08 AM EST #

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