Sun's Datacenter in a Shipping Container

Image Courtesy Sun Microsystems

Containerized datacenters.   Take a standard shipping container, outfit it as a datacenter and sell it to the customer as a turn-key, instant-on solution to the problem of providing physical space, power and cooling for equipment.  Microsoft proposed this and demonstrated it at a trade show in 2007.  HP and Sun have also built commercial products for sale.

I spent this afternoon looking at Sun’s Project Blackbox which Sun is heavily marketing using the Internet Archive for one of their customer testimonials.

Here’s Sun’s solution:

Sun took a 20′ storage container and turned it into a modular datacenter, based on the Solaris OS, provided you’re integrating Sun equipment.

Here are the basics of the Sun solution:

    • 20′ Shipping Container
    • Footprint: 160 sq. ft.
    • Rack Mounts
      • 8 racks (19″ wide, 30.75″ deep)
      • 240 Rack Units.
    • Insulated, steel alloy shell
    • Shock Isolation floor mounts for racks
    • NEMA 3R and IP44 weather/particulate resistance compliance
    • Rubberized seals, rain gutter system
    • External -20 to 130 Farenheit
    • Smoke Alarms
    • Gaseous (dry) Fire Suppression System
    • External connectors
      • Power
      • Network
      • Electrical
    • Total of 200 kW (Low/High power options)
    • 25-kW-capable (per rack)
    • Redundant within racks
    • 60 Ton capacity
    • Self Contained
    • liquid/water cooled
    • 40% lower costs
    • Variable, choose your ‘Sun solution’
    • (Up to 50 Teraflops processing power)
    • Variable, choose your ‘Sun solution’
    • (Up to 3 Petabytes disk storage)
  • Support, Purchase and Lease options available

Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, the Internet Archive and others have installed one of these.  The Internet Archive is an organization that has been archiving the entire Internet for over a decade. Their data set expands by over 100 Terabytes every month, and this system can contain all the data they have cached, so it truly can store the entire Internet–and the Internet Archive adds a new copy about every two months.  The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) which houses a particle accelerator and works on the “dynamics of matter and the properties of energy, space and time”.  Both organizations generate huge quantities of data they need to hold onto.

That’s a LOT of computing power in a small, self-contained, transportable and leasable package.  Need more capacity? Buy or lease another container.  Need to upgrade? Lease a newer pod. Sun even promises to recycle the containerized datacenter when you’re through with it, for those who are environmentally conscious.

However, I noted some drawbacks.

The Sun solution is cramped. The servers are mounted at 90 degree angles to the center isle, so you can’t access the equipment, or a console unless you slide the rack out, which incidentally blocks the isle and pulls the entire rack out of the cooling loop.  Sun’s cooling solution places each rack immediately behind the other in front-to-back configuration with a liquid cooled heat sink in between. Once pulled out, the rack has no cooling except the ambient air.

Another problem: the external network connections appear to be exposed without any conduit to shield the cable or protect your center from malicious activity such as a cable cut. You’ll have to build your own cage or protector around the connectors.  You will also have to build an atrium outside the human entrance to the container to protect it from bad weather when you open the door to enter, but that’s a problem with any of the containerized solutions.

Finally, Sun is selling this as a ‘Virtualized Datacenter’, which only occurs if you’re using the Sun server Virtualization solution and intend to run Sun’s OS. If you’re primarily a Linux or Microsoft house, you’re out of luck and have to do a lot of work yourself, cutting the efficiencies gained from having Sun integrate all the components in advance. Unfortunately for Sun, it’s mostly a Microsoft world out here.

See Sun’s Website for more information: