My Questions About Project Blackbox

by Bob Plankers on March 26, 2007 · 5 comments

in Product Review

I got to see Sun’s Project Blackbox today, over at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.

First impression: interesting idea, obvious that it’s the first attempt at implementation.

Now, my questions:

1. What would the money spent on a Blackbox get you in offsite hosting?

2. If you have the space to store a 20 foot shipping container and a chiller could you not just build a new data center in that space?

3. What keeps vandals and competitors from hijacking or severing the power, cooling, and external network connections? Is a whole new industry going to sprout up for data center trailer parks, with armed guards? It’s just a colocation facility writ large.

4. When Sun says that these things are stackable, does that mean system administrators need to sprout wings to get to the servers? Won’t that be a total pain in the duff? Space efficiency and ease of administration are mutually exclusive, in my experience (and marketers and engineers don’t have to deal with these products on a daily basis).

5. Why doesn’t this come in a 40 foot container?

6. Why doesn’t it have an integrated cooling option (perhaps in a 40 foot container)? You have to provide your own chiller, which makes the unit decidedly not standalone (beyond power requirements, obviously). Your chiller isn’t going to have the same level of imperviousness to the environment, so I see that as an Achilles heel.

7. Why don’t the racks have a better way to slide out, instead of that clumsy dolly thing? It was tough for the demoer to slide the rack out because the container wasn’t quite level. Will I have that same problem? The demoer mentioned the shipping product will have a dolly that moves in two dimensions. That sounds even worse, since I’ll have to manhandle a heavy rack in four directions, with running servers in it. I worry about the cable management.

8. Why does this thing need GPS? Does that mean it’s so easy to move that someone is going to steal it? Do we now need LoJack for our data centers?

9. Can I buy these things preconfigured, so my staff doesn’t have to spend time building and cabling them? A Blackbox preconfigured with and for VMware would be awesome. Ditto for Solaris zones. Plug it in and go.

10. Why are the power and cooling connections on the side, sticking out? Does this mean I can’t park two of them side by side? Ditto for the network connections, which are on the other side, so I couldn’t even park two side by side in opposite directions. To me it seems like these should be on the short ends, and all the connections in one place.

In doing some searching now I see Rackable has come out with their version of Blackbox, called Concentro. Now I have one more, big question:

11. Why didn’t Sun go all the way with the power savings thing and offer certain configurations where they do what Rackable does with DC power?

I do call shenanigans on Rackable’s 1200U of space since they do half-rack servers, but that is neat because it allows for convenient cooling up the center of the rack column with servers back to back. Those are proprietary systems, though, so they aren’t as flexible as the Blackbox for loading the container with whatever you need, but it also means they can address certain problems, like power & cooling, more easily. Concentro is a 40 foot container, so it’s comparable to Blackbox in 20 feet (300U vs. 266U). Like Sun they also don’t supply any sort of integrated cooling, though.

Overall, I think Sun could volley back at Rackable pretty easily with some custom, pre-loaded configurations based on DC power and integrated KVM & systems management. Hopefully they were planning to do that anyhow, and the information is scarce. But at the same time the demo left me with more questions than answers, which isn’t cool. To be fair I didn’t think of a lot of these until afterwards, though.

My conclusion: containerized data centers are the new blades. They’re proprietary, solve some customers’ problems, and introduce their own set of security and operational problems. It’ll be interesting to see who is buying them, what problems they are solving with them, and how these units are getting deployed.

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