Sun’s Blackbox: Game-Changer or Niche Product?

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Yesterday’s launch of Sun’s Project Blackbox has prompted a wide range of opinions from industry watchers, with some calling it revolutionary while others found it only mildly evolutionary, noting that mobile data centers are not a Sun invention.

At the enthusiastic end of the spectrum is Carl Howe of Blackfriars’ Marketing, who calls it “the future of commoditized computing.” To wit:

Blackbox changes the fundamental economics of data centers. If you own a data center today, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start looking around for someone to buy it from you. As of next year, that data center is going to become a rapidly depreciating investment.

The Techdirt blog was more skeptical about its prospects:

The sweet spot of companies for whom this will be ideal seems small. It’s impact on Sun’s business won’t be as significant as what it represents, the continuing commoditization of corporate infrastructure.

A similar sentiment was voiced by Data Center Journal

A mobile data center is nothing new. We have seen APC deliver a mobile data center on wheels. We have seen manufacturers such as iFortress or Rittal’s Lampertz product line which both provide heavy duty and easily constructed mobile data center facilities. … The Sun “Data Center in a Box” provides the industry with another choice that can meet the need of the consumer, but is it needed and will the industry embrace it or will it become a small niche market product? Time will tell.

A number of commentaries mentioned APC’s Data Center on Demand, which puts the turnkey data center on the back of an 18-wheeler. Isabel Wang was among those who has seen APC’s prototype. “It packed 10 racks of servers onto the back of an 18-wheeler, Isabel writes. “Unfortunately, once loaded with gear, its weight would have exceeded most states’ highway limits.”


Om Malik at GigaOm wonders whether the Blackbox will be given serious weight by IT managers:

Despite Sun’s optimism, we wonder how many will buy into this version of computing on demand. Connecting data centers to the internet is not a trivial task, and our friends who are savvy in the ways of routers and switches often share their woes over a pint.

Robert Mitchell from Computerworld believes the Blackbox represents progress, not perfection:

Sun has long stated that the network is the computer. Now with Project Blackbox, the container is the computer. In this thinking vendors are several steps ahead of data center managers, who are trying to make these systems work in existing racks in data centers using cooling and power delivery systems that may have been designed 5, 10 or 15 years ago.

Scott Yang from HostingFu hopes Sun’s effort prompts more thought and innovation in the data center:

While the idea behind Project Blackbox is ingenious, it is no more than a strategy for Sun to sell more boxes. If people are thinking about ecology impact, reducing energy bills, better power utilisation, etc, they need to start thinking about building better and more efficient software applications and taking advantage of virtualization and clustering to increase CPU utilisation.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor-in-chief of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.