Sun's petabyte datacentre in a box makes its Aussie debut

By Liz Tay on Dec 19, 2007 9:34 AM
Filed under Hardware

In a bid to tackle the array of data storage issues facing today's IT industry, Sun Microsystems has unveiled a prototype of an eco-friendly, mobile virtualised datacentre in Sydney Harbour this week.

Dubbed "Project Blackbox", each datacentre packs more than three petabytes of storage in a 20-foot shipping container. Sun's new offering is expected to allow customers to quickly and easily add datacentre capacity that can be moved as their circumstances change.

"Everybody's either out of space, power, or capacity; one of the three," declared Cheryl Martin, Sun's senior director of business development for Project Blackbox.

Boasting a processing speed of 4.5 teraflops, Project Blackbox is designed to house computational, storage and network infrastructure. Each datacentre can handle up to 700 CPUs, and supports a range of operating systems and third-party equipment.

All storage equipment is contained within a standard-sized 20 x 8 foot shipping container to add to the datacentres' mobility. For safety, the shipping containers are also fitted with GPS devices and reinforced with steel bars, and all equipment is mounted on earthquake-worthy shock absorption springs.

The datacentre can be deployed anywhere there is AC power, water and a network connection. When connected to a portable power supply, such as a generator, Project Blackbox can even operate on the move; a capability that is expected to benefit mobile operations in the military, oil and energy industries.

Instead of requiring air-conditioning, which can require large amounts of power, Project Blackbox uses a water-cooled heat exchanger and a series of fans to keep the temperature low within the shipping container. Sun estimates its cooling technique to be 40 percent more efficient than a traditional datacentre.

Project Blackbox was said to have been inspired by customer feedback that indicated a demand for convenience, flexibility, and eco-friendliness when increasing datacentre capacity.

Martin highlighted four target markets for the datacentre: companies looking to augment their current storage capacity; companies in need of temporary storage solutions; specialised industries such as the military, oil or gas; and large scale network services that are undergoing rapid expansion.

Since the U.S. launch of its first prototype in October 2006, Project Blackbox has been deployed by select customers, including the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in the U.S., and Russian telecommunications provider, Mobile Telesystems.

One datacentre has also been deployed in Sun's High Performance Computing grid in Menlo Park, U.S. Martin said Sun expects to use more of its new datacentres in-house as soon as there are more available.

Contrary to its name, Project Blackbox is usually shipped in a white shipping container, but Martin said the container can also take on custom paint jobs. She noted a particularly strong demand for datacentres with a camouflage veneer.

The datacentre will be available to Australian customers in March 2008, costing upwards of $700,000.
 
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