Cringley labels Blackbox Sun's implementation of his Google data center in a container theory

Being an avid follower of all Google watcher theories and theorists, I immediately recalled Cringely's year old article when Sun announced Project Blackbox on Tuesday. I had been checking Cringely's site to get his reaction and it appeared today: "Sun announces the Google shipping container data center, but will it fly?".

For what it is worth, Cringely likes Sun's approach and he feels confident that Google will be a customer of it although he offers scant evidence. The other very encouraging spin he had was that this product would likely sell into completely new customer bases. Given that Blackbox can be outfitted with Solaris, Linux or Windows (since our Opteron kit is Microsoft Windows certified) the field is absolutely wide open to any type of shop out there.

For those who haven't read the technical details for the Blackbox, it requires 3 connections: data link, electricity and chilled water (to the tune of 60 tons). Since I grew up around the chillers used to cool data centers, I had to poke around and see what options our customers are going to have when they procure water chillers to compliment the Blackboxes.

Here is a Carrier water chiller rated at 600 tons in rental packaging (Enough capacity to provide the cooling for 10 Blackboxes)

It's no coincidence that Carrier chose the very same TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit) Container to package their portable chillers that Sun chose for the portable data center. Its the standard around which the transportation industry revolves.

During my childhood, my father would take me with him on emergency repair calls for the cooling systems for some of Silicon Valley's biggest names in computing. The highlight for me was the day we had to work on the cooling for the Cray at Apple. It was one of the models that cooled the chips by immersion in a non-conductive liquid. I specifically recall that my dad was not fond of that system.

I can only hope the Blackbox captures the imagination of a generation the way the Cray captured mine, and that it proves to be more profitable. I can already assure you it will be more popular with the on-call HVAC guys - their entire interface with the Blackbox will be no harder than a water heater, cold water in, hot water out. You ready to come out of retirement Dad?


I think that your Cray cooling is mixed up. Apple never had one of the Cray models that used liquid immersion cooling. Apple had two XMP's, a YMP and an EL. All of these used super-structure cooling. Only the Cray-2, Cray-3 and Cray-4 used liquid immersion cooling, and the 3 and 4 never were sold to any customers.

Posted by Brian Utterback on October 22, 2006 at 11:55 PM PDT #

I specifically recall my father dicsussing the incredibly expensive non-conductive fluid which bore some relation to human blood plasma. Doing a quick Google search, I found this page containing the quote: "The coolant, called Fluorinert liquid was sometimes used as a human blood substitute during surgery." This would imply that Apple had purchased a Cray-2, as you noted it was the first model to use immersion cooling.

Is your information firsthand, or from web searches? The building which housed the Cray I saw was very unassuming from the outside tucked away off the DeAnza Drag. It could have been Lazaneo or one of the Valley Green buildings, but the interior was amazing. There were no drop ceilings, so all the mechanicals were exposed in the ceiling and everything had been painted black and then splattered with small flecks of other colors. Since this experience represents a few hours of my life 20 years ago, my memory is not perfect. I would love to hear confirmation from anyone who had experience with that building or the Cray to write in. I seem to recall that we had to sign ourselves in with a Mac which printed out our guest labels. I see that the Cray-2 was introduced in 1985 which correlates with the introduction of the Mac in 1984. I also recall in a different building where Apple literally burned in their new models. There was a smallish room packed with Macs that were run hard until they failed and then a guy would tear them down to find the component that failed.

Cheers, John

Posted by John Hoffmann on October 23, 2006 at 02:13 AM PDT #

Thanks for the link to the 600 ton cooling unit!

Posted by Nico on October 23, 2006 at 02:40 AM PDT #

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