[Beowulf] Sun Project "blackbox"

David Mathog mathog at caltech.edu
Wed Oct 18 11:15:40 PDT 2006

Sun's project "blackbox" is pretty interesting.  Basically it's a 
prepackaged cluster in a shipping container.  Water cooled.  There's
currently a link to it from www.sun.com.  Overall I like the concept -
it could change data center design from constructing one off
buildings to essentially setting up something like a trailer
park, albeit one with a huge amount of chilled water and electrical

On the down side, working inside that shipping container doesn't look
like a whole lot of fun.  There's very little clearance in the hall
part, so pulling a node would have to be done from the side. 
Awkward.    Maybe they'll put in an overhead lift system on a rail down
the center.  So pull the node out part way, hook it to the
overhead trolley, and then lift it out with a pulley and
carry it to the door and out.  Certainly there isn't room
in there for opening a node for any real service work. 
Heaven help you if you drop something behind one of those

I'm not sure the prototype configuration would even be legal
in some locales, as there is only one door into it, at least
it appears that way from the photos. It would be bad news to be
at the distal end when the rack at the proximal end shorts out
and goes up in flames.  There are
building code standards that address those sorts of issues, and
I suspect the far end of the box may be too far from the door.
Plus, again, if a whole rack does need to be pulled out it's
going to be hard to do that for one person from the side, but
if two people do it one gets walled into the container.  Sun
could address this by cutting a second door at the far end.  It
could be bolted shut (and flush on the outside) during shipping.

Moving larger items around within the box seems like a nonstarter.  The
racks and other largish equipment would have to be pulled out through
the double doors, rearranged, and then placed back into the box.  It
would probably be possible to swap nodes around, but even that wouldn't
be fun given the tight central hall.  Probably best to think of this
as a defined computing unit, with any major change requiring replacement
of the entire thing.

Overall though, I think it's a very good concept, even if there are
details left to be worked out.


David Mathog
mathog at caltech.edu
Manager, Sequence Analysis Facility, Biology Division, Caltech

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