Sun's Papadopoulos: Integrated Infrastructure Is the Future

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2006-10-17 Print this article Print

Q&A: Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos believes the company's Project Blackbox is the way the industry is moving as it tries to address customer concerns over power, cooling and data center real estate.

Sun Microsystems on Oct. 17 will unveil its Project Blackbox, an initiative designed to address such issues as power, cooling and infrastructure deployment for companies in such areas as Web 2.0 and high-performance computing.

The plan calls for delivering all the technology traditionally found in a 10,000-square-foot data center—from servers to storage to software—pre-integrated and ready to roll inside a standard shipping container.

Basically, a customer orders what they want, Sun builds it inside a container and within a few weeks the container is delivered to the customer's site. The user simply plugs in the power, networking and chilled water and it's ready to go. Greg Papadopoulos, Sun's executive vice president and chief technology officer, spoke with eWEEK Senior Editor Jeffrey Burt about the concept.

What was the inspiration behind the Blackbox Project?

Looking at the fact that everybody who is using computing today are actually sort of custom-building larger systems. And most of the computer business is giving people the piece parts. It's like we gave people power generators and said, "Go build a power plant." And we thought, "Maybe we should go look at what engineering it would do at this level."

So we sort of looked at the holistic problem, that computing is not just the server or storage or networking gear, but how those fit together. And then how they are powered, and how they're cooled and what's the facility for them. We wanted to engineer that.

So this is, how do you go after very high-scaled deployments that need to be exceptionally efficient, low-cost, ecologically responsible, and then basically challenging the assumption that you've had for so many years in computing that people and machines live together.

It goes back to the operator who used to hang tapes and change chad out. So we designed spaces that could handle both people and machines, and that was a happy thing to do for a long time until things like power and cooling and a whole bunch of other requirements became so excessive that it's actually massively inefficient and time consuming to go design data centers now.

So was the drive behind this because of power and cooling, was it because of space constraints, was it because of the need for data centers to be more flexible and more dynamic?

Yes, yes, yes. All of that. The reality of how the idea got started was I was visiting Danny [Hillis, co-chairman and CTO at Applied Minds] in Burbank [Calif.], and we used to work together designing supercomputers, and we were talking about the trend toward smaller, faster servers … and what's the smallest, densest thing you could make and in the typical contrarian style, with Danny it was, well, what's the biggest one you can make? And then you say, "Well, you know, if you make it any bigger than a shipping container, you can't move it around easily. If you make it exactly a shipping container, then you get this whole, interesting worldwide infrastructure. OK, so then let's use that as a design point. That's going to be the size."

Then we went through the capture of, so what really goes on and what's important as people are building out grids and things, we we've been building out our own grid, so we were taking a lot of that learning and incorporating that into the design.

Read the full story on eWEEK.com: Sun's Papadopoulos: Integrated Infrastructure Is the Future.


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