A Picture’s Worth…

We seem to have struck a chord with the unveiling of Project Blackbox last week. And given some of the early reactions, I thought I’d answer a few of the questions that have surfaced, then point everyone to a video Dave Douglas, the VP in charge of the program put together to talk about our motivations/priorities. First, the questions…

Q: Why’d you paint the prototype Blackbox black – won’t that absorb more radiant solar heat and worsen cooling challenges?

A: Sorry to disappoint, but we painted it black because it looked cool for the launch event, that’s all. Customers can paint them whatever color they want (or leave them unpainted).

Q: But someone could steal a container in a parking lot.

A: Of course they could. They could also steal the Mona Lisa if it was left in an unguarded parking lot. So don’t leave a million dollar datacenter in an unguarded parking lot. Put it in a guarded basement or warehouse, or bolt it to a concrete pad or rooftop, and you won’t have that problem – and although we expect most datacenters to be operated inside a building, the locking apparatus on a shipping container is more secure than most office parks.

Additionally, a Project Blackbox container does have multiple levels of security built in, from tamper, motion and GPS sensors, to a simple hookup for easy integration into existing building security systems. But nothing compares to basic perimeter security.

And for the most part, the customers who need offshore supercomputing or datacenters in remote locations aren’t worried about someone casually picking up an unmarked 20,000 lb. container and driving off with it.

Q: But containers get knocked around and ripped open, how will Blackbox handle that abuse?

A: The same way a container full of china or crystal would – by ensuring high service levels during transport. Not everything is transported in the same way as a container full of concrete rubble. Remember, we ship containers full of computing equipment already, that’s one way material gets from Asia to deployments around the world.

Q: But how would I service the components someplace like a roof?

A: Just as you service your power generator or cooling plants, today – by taking the elevator, and walking on to the roof. But our experience shows the next generation of network service deployments have come close to eliminating the need for on-site operators. If that’s not how your application infrastructure has evolved, you probably wouldn’t want this on your roof.

Q: My company only runs end of life HP PA-RISC and Tandem machines, can I use Blackbox anyways?

A: No – at least not yet. Blackbox isn’t for repackaging end of life datacenters, it’s to provide scalable infrastructure for next generation deployments.

Q: What OS’s will it run?

A: Anything that runs on Sun’s industry standard Niagara or x64 platforms – Solaris, Linux, BSD and Windows, to start. (And no, you don’t have to be a Java shop.)

Q: Will you run your competitor’s hardware?

A: In time, yes, but our competitors will need to adapt their product lines for high efficiency cooling. Most don’t take it as seriously as we did with this project.

Q: Who would need one of these in a disaster area?

A: We didn’t mean to fixate on this, but we saw the impact SunRay technology had on the relief efforts in New Orleans during hurricane Katrina. What the relief agencies needed were thousands of zero maintenance network clients to process victims and deliver aid services – with very rapid time to deployment in very poor power/environmental conditions. We solved the problem with centralized network infrastructure, not with laptops, and it worked beautifully.

And before you ask, if the relief workers or insurance agents needed to do video editing or 3-D CAD modeling, SunRay’s would’ve been a very poor fit – they would’ve been better off with high end PC’s. But that wasn’t what they were trying to do – SunRay’s don’t replace PC’s any more than your Blackberry does.

Q: What’s been the customer response?

A: Equal measures of a) nervous laughter, b) incredulity, c) profound curiosity and a recognition that we’re working on the right problems for the future of datacenters. And we have an enviably beefy pipeline of customers and integrators wanting to talk to us, which is the right starting point. Remember, we’re not planning on commercial/revenue shipment until 2007.

And finally,

Q: Does this replace every datacenter on earth – are they going to shut down now that Blackbox exists?

A: Absolutely not. Blackbox serves a segment of the marketplace, those customers focused on rapidly scaling out next generation infrastructure, or looking for alternatives to today’s deployment options. We don’t expect everyone to run out and shut down their datacenters – we do expect a great many of our customers and prospects to think seriously about how they’d rather spend $250,000,000 and two years. Again, not for everyone. Just like the internet when it began πŸ™‚

Over to you, Dave… (UPDATE: the embedded YouTube video doesn’t seem to show up in some newsreaders, so click here to view it on YouTube’s site.)


Filed under General

23 responses to “A Picture’s Worth…

  1. Gustavo Chaves

    As much as I’d like to have one of these in my garage I don’t think I’d be able to pay the monthly energy bill. πŸ™‚
    Moore’s law being what it is I wonder how much time we need to wait until we have that much power on our desktops. Doing some back of the envelope calculations I gather that current PCs are to a blackbox more or less what the first IBM PC (in 1981) was to our current PCs. That means we’ll have to wait another 25 years for that… oh well.

  2. Bob Rochford

    This is a great idea, and speaking of a disaster area I think this would be an awesome fit for on demand disaster recovery. Either that or imagine having to move your data center when your lease is up. Instead of having to hope the new room is perfectly ready with power, cabling, and racks, this could be your platform for a slower smoother cutover. When the new building is ready with hookups, powerdown, unplug, and start trucking. You could be up and running in the time it would take you to ship it. Great concept, hope to see it come real. Perhaps a pallet sized version for smaller needs?

  3. you never answered the question I had:
    are you going to do a Try ‘n Buy promotion with these, as you did with the sunfire’s earlier on in the year? maybe a container painting competition instead?

  4. Peter Firmstone

    Sun is definitely on a roll with innovation, however I’m not sure of the message your conveying about SunRay technology.
    Do you mean that Sun has concluded 3D on SunRay is not viable in the current timeframe or in future also?
    SunRay’s don’t replace PC’s any more than your Blackberry does?
    Aren’t PC’s approaching obsolesence, expensive to maintain, unenvironmentally friendly and unreliable? Computer Viruses? With convergence and integration of many current technologies, we need an innovative human interface device to interoperate with and take advantage of the applications these technologies can provide.
    The MAJC processor that featured as the graphics processor on the XVR-4000 inspired the Niagara line of servers, as we see more and more functionality integrated into server chips why do we need to cling to the notion of PC’s?
    Or are you just trying to avoid frightening PC people?
    I guess there would be a significant amount of effort required to get a SunRay to misbehave on a regular basis like a PC.
    No disrespect intended.

  5. Torbjorn Kristoffersen

    Personally I think this is a really neat idea. You gotta have guts to launch an idea like this! And as we all know that Sun is never afraid of introducing innovative ideas.
    By the way, I was reading the Blackbox brochure and I came over one little thing I found amusing.
    Skip to “page” 6 containing the photo of the skyscrapers. Note how the text goes:
    “Project Blackbox delivers the flexibility to move data and applications closer to theaters of operation or away from areas of possible terrorist activity or natural disasters.”
    I’m just saying, if you were afraid of terrorist threats, would you put your servers on top of a skyscraper? πŸ˜‰

  6. I’ve been looking quite a bit towards building the equivalent of a blackbox or two for a current project. Looking at the pricing indications for a blackbox compared to building on our own high up in an existing building and the time it takes to do the build, the blackbox would be a winner if it was available now. My only worry is how I’d manage to get a 20′ container through a 3rd floor window πŸ˜‰ Kidding aside, the cooling and rack systems are very impressive and I’d very much love to see BlackBox without the box.

  7. SunRay’s don’t replace PC’s any more than your Blackberry does?
    Aren’t PC’s approaching obsolesence, expensive to maintain, unenvironmentally friendly and unreliable? Computer Viruses? With convergence and integration of many current technologies, we need an innovative human interface device to interoperate with and take advantage of the applications these technologies can provide.

  8. I was reading the Blackbox brochure and I mean that Black box idea is brilliant.

  9. Sabri

    I was driving home from work and saw this…
    Its basically a mobile simulated eco-system thats used by the Children’s Museum for school visits, charity fucntions, etc. It made me think, if they could sustain real plants and animals in a shipping container, imagine what we can do with hardware πŸ™‚
    We’re looking forward to getting our hands on one of these out in the Virginia offices.

  10. I really really really want one of those boxes. Not that I’d know what to do with it though.

  11. John P. Johnson

    Just imagine, not just the servers, but the interface ( SunRays ), power generation, fuel and housing all in containers. A dozen or two boxes and the only thing missing is a location. Disaster recovery would take on a whole new model. Drive/fly/float in, setup, link up via satallite(sp?) and your check is ready. Fraud would be difficult w/ links to undamaged databases in other data centers, response would be quick as to needs as databases would be updated real time. Housing & food could be dispatched immediately w/ routing updated via uplink as convoys head down the road. Response time would be measured in hours, not days, weeks or months. FEMA should put their order in NOW!
    How about polling stations in a box, no more excuses.

  12. akaneda

    You and the company are doing excellent work.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Hey Jonathan, I’d love if you guys could smack some sense into Larry and the boys over at Oracle. First, linux is unbreakable, then Oracle is adopting Solaris as the premier dev platform, and now their back to loving linux. Wouldn’t OpenSolaris provide a much more compelling business model for Oracle? I don’t get it.
    In any case, SUNW seems to be doing better each day. Seems the ISV part is the final piece of the puzzle.

  14. dave

    I have a suggestion about Solaris. It’s all about creating a partner program for Solaris OS.
    Regarding Solaris on client side it seems sun has a hard time to show it’s as good as Linux.
    Currently there is not a big reason for small companies to create Solaris distributions. I think sun can change it by creating a partner program. It will cost some money which I think worth it. Simply said I think it’s better to: each year select the most popular (or active) Solaris distributions (open source or closed source) and give a prize for top three distributions. Some thing like few million dollars (i.e. 6 million in total each year) is not a big money for sun but I think it can result in small companies who are investing in Solaris and are really distributing it.
    My 2 cents.

  15. I guess your idea is amazing and pretty soon will see how brilliant it is!!!

  16. Tedman O'Hara

    This is an incredibly cool concept! I want to work for SUN!

  17. Gumbo

    Why isnt it closed captioned? I cant hear what that guy in front of the black box is saying. I am clueless…

  18. I can already see envision a great new thriller movie about a group of thieves attempting to steal a data center from a roof.

  19. Lee Long

    Many of us have always been suspicious of computer salespeople just selling ‘boxes’ – there will be no debate now!

  20. Pankaj

    great innovation…Sun has my money and confidence….it is going to be better than 2000
    Sometimes to think out side the box, you have got to think in it πŸ˜‰

  21. Sandeep Bhimavarapu

    really cool and innovative idea

  22. Jarrett

    This is a very good concept. I actually seen a shipping container behind a Dunkin’ Doughnuts the day after I viewed the videos on the black box and I thought, wow, this a great idea. The shipping containers are only 20ft. and you can have a lot in a small area. It would be cool, if you could stack them like you see in a shipping yard, that would save even more space, but with the black box, not practical. One, thing I got fron the videos on the black box was, of course,you have to shutdown to move from place-to-place so if you are mission crictial, you better have a secondary system if you attend to move the black box. Besides that, this is an awesome idea and would like to see Sun make a comeback. Sun needs more ideas like this and opening Java will bring the programming community back from .Net.

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