Rackable Systems offers data center in a box

Server maker Rackable Systems Inc. is introducing a data center-in-a-box product that bears a resemblance to the Project Blackbox portable data center coming from Sun Microsystems Inc.

Rackable says it will assemble any combination of its server and storage hardware that a customer chooses inside a 40-foot shipping container that can be deployed on short notice to add computing capacity to a business customer.

Both Sun's Blackbox and Rackable's new product, called Concentro, address a need among IT customers for a portable data center that can be shipped to a location and quickly deployed. Often, companies need to add server or storage capacity to meet an immediate need but don't have the time for a multi-year planning project or the space to build an addition to their existing data centers.

Sun announced Project Blackbox in October 2006 and said Friday that it expects to identify in the next six to eight weeks "early access customers" who will be the first to try out the product.

"[One of them] is a brand name you'd recognize," said Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's CEO, to reporters gathered at an event the company hosted in East Palo Alto, California. "We've got a lead list and it's not shrinking."

But Rackable Systems is beating Sun to market, announcing the first sale of Concentro Monday to "one of the world's leading Internet companies" that did not want its identity disclosed.

A Concentro box can contain up to 1,200 servers and up to 9,600 computing cores if the customer chooses quad-core processors in dual socket servers. Alternatively, the box could contain a storage array with as much as 3.5 petabytes (PB) of capacity. A petabyte equals 1 billion megabytes (MB). The customer can also order a combination of servers and storage.

"It's modular design makes it easier to deploy and redeploy," said Conor Malone, Rackable Systems' director of data center solutions.

A customer could deploy a Concentro box in a region where electricity costs are lower than elsewhere, such as in the northwestern U.S. where hydroelectric power is available, Malone said. It could be used for disaster recovery or to add data center capacity without the expense of a new building.

"What we're looking at here is solving a variety of problems," Malone said.

Sun says Blackbox could accommodate up to 1.5PB of disk storage or 2PB of tape storage. It could also house up to 250 of its SunFire T1000 servers with 2,000 cores. Sun claims that a Blackbox loaded with SunFire servers featuring its "CoolThreads" processor design for energy efficiency could save a customer US$1,000 a year per server in energy costs.

Asked about Rackable Systems coming out with a similar product ahead of Sun, Greg Papadopoulos, Sun's chief technology officer, said: "Competition in our business is what keeps it healthy. I don't think anyone has a monopoly on an idea, but that's what makes this business great."


Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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