Sun Microsystems introduced the Blackbox, a portable datacenter in a 20-foot shipping container, amid some hullabaloo in late 2006 and then… nothing.
Things got rather quiet, aside from a promotional tour in 2007.
But it seems the datacenter-to-go is starting to gain traction. There were individual wins, like the datacenter in Japan that will use 50 of the portable datacenters lowered deep into an abandoned mine in central Japan. Thanks to a constant temperature in the 40s and 50s, cooling was less of a problem.
On Tuesday, Sun announced four more wins, a rebranding of the unit and some utilities to assist in the deployment of one of these systems. Henceforth, the Blackbox is now 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 datacenters 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 include 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 datacenter 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 datacenters.
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 datacenter or at a remote location that needs one but the customer didn’t have time to build.
“Customers are either out of datacenter space or they like being able to provision datacenter space quickly and like tremendous flexibility to locate it where they want it, whether it’s next to an existing datacenter 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, so you literally have plug and go deployment. 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.”
“Datacenters 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 datacenters 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.”