Sun Seeking Patents on Blackbox Technology

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Sun Microsystems (JAVA) has filed three patent applications for technologies used in its data center in a shipping container, the Sun MD S20 (formerly Project Blackbox). Inventors named in the patents include W. Daniel Hillis and Bran Ferren, the co-chairmen of Applied Minds. Hillis, a pioneer in supercomputing, is a member of Sun’s Technical Advisory Board who developed the Blackbox concept with Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos.

The patent applications cover three technologies: a balanced chilled fluid cooling system, cooling air flow loop and server rack service utilities. The Sun MD S20 is a data center housed in a 20-foot long shipping container that can support hundreds of servers. Sun announced the project in Oct. 2006, and the first unit was shipped to a Stanford University laboratory in July 2007.


The applications were filed in Sept. 2006, but have just been published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) following the standard 18 month waiting period. Google was awarded a patent on a data center in a shipping container last fall, which has spurred interest in patent claims by companies that are actively marketing container-based data centers – a group that now includes Sun, Rackable Systems (RACK), APC-MGE and Verari Systems.

Microsoft (MSFT) is developing container-based data centers and Intel (INTC) has said it is considering them. The only company in the bunch that has never publicly discussed its plans for portable data centers is Google. One of the Google engineers awarded the patent, Will Whitted, has said that the project has been shelved since the patent application was filed in 2003.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large 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.