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.
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 🙂
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.)