Sun Rebrands 'Blackbox'

By Andy Patrizio (Send Email)
Posted Jan 30, 2008


Sun Microsystems introduced the Blackbox, a portable data center in a 20-foot shipping container, with much fanfare in late-2006 and then ... nothing.

Sun's portable data center is repositioned and rechristened as Sun Modular Datacenter S20. The company also announced customer wins and service offerings.

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Things got rather quiet, aside from a promotional tour in 2007.

But it seems the data-center-to-go is starting to gain traction. There were individual wins, like a data center in Japan that will use 50 of the portable data centers lowered deep into an abandoned mine in central Japan. A constant temperature in the 40s and 50s, makes cooling was less of an issue.

On Tuesday, Sun announced four more wins, a rebranding of the unit and some utilities to assist in their deployment Henceforth, the Blackbox will be called the Sun Modular Datacenter S20, or Sun MD.

While still fitting into its 20-foot container, the Sun MD has been bumped up a bit. It now boasts 18 teraflops of computing power—rather than the mere 15 tflops it offered when first announced, and three petabytes of storage instead of 1.4 petabytes.

When it was first announced, former CEO Scott McNealy argued that it was easier to move data than electricity.

Jim Burton, senior analyst for servers at Ideas International, said he's absolutely right. "You have companies like Google trying to find locations for their data centers right next to hydroelectric power plants," he said. "It really doesn't matter where in the world this work is done as long as it can be done efficiently and safely."

The four customers announced Tuesday were Hansen Transmissions, a Belgium-based wind turbine and industrial gearbox designer, manufacturer and supplier; Mobile TeleSystems OJSC (MTS), the largest mobile phone operator in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS); Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre (UMCN), a teaching hospital in the Netherlands; and Stanford University, which already bought one Sun MD for its Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) project.

Hansen will deploy its data center in India to get a power plant up and running quickly. MTS was facing a similar situation in expanding its services in Russia and the nearby republics. UMNC and Sun added the Sun MD to augment existing and maxed out data centers.

That's the two-pronged message of the unit, expansion and rapid deployment, according to Darlene Yaplee, vice president of integrated platforms in the systems marketing unit at Sun. The bulk of Sun MD deployments either sit outside an existing data center or at a remote location that needs one but the customer didn't have time to build.

"Customers are either out of data center space or they like being able to provision data center space quickly and like tremendous flexibility to locate it where they want it, whether it's next to an existing data center or at a subsidiary," she told InternetNews.com. "They don't need to go through building a brick-and-mortar building because it comes in a unit and is not constrained by time because it's ready to ship now."

As part of the rebranding, Sun is offering simplified services behind Sun MD deployment and management. The first is an assessment and architecture service to examine the customer's existing network and design an ideal configuration within the Sun MD to meet the customer's needs.

The next piece is Sun MD Customer Ready System Factory Configure and Build, which will install, prepare and configure the customer's deployment on the Sun MD before it is deployed -- a literal plug and deploy. Finally, Sun Lights-out Management and Support allows for remote management and monitoring of the systems.

Burton said Sun has a good idea in the MD but might be "a little ahead of the curve on this."

"Data centers are rapidly running out of power and need to move to areas of cheap power and cheap cooling, and you're going to see a lot of data centers moving out to these areas," he said. "But they aren't ready to make that move just yet. When Sun has 50 wins, then that will be validation of the idea."

This article was originally published on InternetNews.

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