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Sun Builds Data Centers Inside Shipping Containers

An instant "data center in a box" can be packed with storage, networking gear, and as many as 250 servers.

No space for a data center? No problem, says Sun Microsystems. The server vendor on Tuesday showed off a "data center in a box," a new product line for the company that packs a conventional shipping container with storage, networking gear, and as many as 250 servers to provide instant computing power or create an alternative for data center expansion where space and power is limited.

Sun says it can offer highly-dense installations of servers or storage inside the 20-foot-by-8-foot-by-8-foot metal containers. Sun can create installations that are 20% more energy efficient than a traditional data center, in a third the space and at a fifth the cost, and have the equipment operating 10 times faster, says Anil Gadre, chief marketing officer.

"This is ready-to-go infrastructure," Gadre says. "What is pushing us in this direction is that space and cooling issues have suddenly become paramount."

Gadre says Sun can put about 250 of its x86-based Galaxy servers or UltraSparc T1-based servers inside a single container, or more than 1.4 petabytes of storage. Designed for maximum density, the equipment inside the container is surrounded by a water-chilled cooling system.

The data centers can be quickly deployed in business parking lots, or even dropped by helicopter on the top of high-rise building, Gadre says. The containers have shock absorption for easy transport, and have integrated networking and power distribution in addition to centralized cooling.

Sun believes the approach will appeal to companies in "hypergrowth" modes that will use the data center containers to gain additional capacity within weeks or days, and to companies that have little room for expansion or have a limited ability to increase power coming into a facility.

The effort known as Project Blackbox is aimed at Web-based companies and high-performance computing installations. Other applications could include military, oil exploration, and for deployments in developing regions.

"I heard a cute e-mail over the weekend that noted it takes longer to build a traditional data center from scratch than it took to create YouTube and sell it to Google for $1.6 billion," Gadre says. "Our end game is to provide preconfigured infrastructure."

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Sun says it will start taking orders this week, and that it would take several weeks or more to build and deliver the instant data center. It wouldn't discuss prices. In the mean time, Sun plans to spend the next six months talking to potential customers to see if it can build standardized offerings. If Sun can create standard installations that meet the requirements of a significant number of potential customers there will be improvements in both cost and in terms of how long it takes to create a deployable container.

The more custom the design, the longer it would take to get the container filled and shipped, Gadre says. Sun says it could place non-Sun gear inside the containers. The data center containers could eventually be sold by third parties, including businesses that traditional have sold modular office buildings, he says.

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