January 5, 2007 5:16 PM PST

Sun Blackbox, meet APC's whitebox

Sun Microsystems made a splash recently with Project Blackbox, a data center in a portable storage container. But American Power Conversion may have beaten it to the punch.

Call it Project Whitebox. Or if you want to be official, the InfraStruXure Express On-demand Mobile Data Center. It's a computing facility built into a white 18-wheeler truck, and it's been around since 2005. APC has put together only one, and it's for sale at $1.5 million.

The technology predates Sun's Project Blackbox, which fits a data center into a standard shipping container. Blackbox, unveiled in 2006, is still in the development stage; Sun plans to sell it later this year.

APC Whitebox

Whitebox was intended to spotlight APC's belief that data centers need not be complex facilities with raised floors to distribute cool air, said Russell Senesac, director of infrastructure systems at the West Kingston, R.I.-based company. That idea dovetails with APC's business, selling power and cooling equipment that fits into standard computing racks.

"The trailer is a complete data center system. It has an onboard generator, uninterruptible power supply, cooling, network operation center, and its own satellite feed," Senesac said. "You could park it in a cornfield in Kansas and operate a data center autonomously, as long as you had fuel in the fuel tank."

The company still likes the idea, but doesn't have plans to build more. Instead, it's leaning toward partnerships with specialists in sophisticated trailer designs. That includes Featherlite, which builds trailers to haul NASCAR race cars and Kentucky Derby horses.

APC's design has caught the attention of big-box retailers that like the idea of a system that can run not only a major retail outlet's computers but also supply a store's electrical power. Government and military customers also have expressed interest, Senesac added.

"Making trailers is not something we specialize in. Right now we're relying on integration partners. We don't feel at this time that the market is really ready for a product like this yet," he said.

Senesac was encouraged that Sun's Blackbox "validated" APC's thinking, but estimated that more widespread readiness for such systems is "probably about two years out."

APC's system houses 12 racks of computing gear and can supply enough power and cooling to support 12 kilowatts per rack. The generator itself produces 175 kilowatts and can use its own fuel tank, the truck's tank or an external supply.

In showing the system off, APC heard that customers would like a smaller system with three or four racks that can fit into a truck that an ordinary person can drive. And military customers are interested in models that are more transportable or better protected.

See more CNET content tagged:
American Power Conversion Corp., data center, rack, Sun Microsystems Inc., truck

9 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Black box has some patents pending
I understand that Sun's Black Box has some patents pending, including one for its cooling via water pipes. The Sun concept box appears to be a more complete and compact solution than the truck trailer idea. Also Sun is planning to really put these into production.
Posted by hutchike (157 comments )
Reply Link Flag
both probably have uses
I can see the trucks being good for continental use. You can simply drive the truck to where you want and if need be, run the engine for a while to supliment the generators.

Though very similar, Sun's aproach offers the freedom of (if properly weather sealed) fitting any standar shipping container platform from truck bed to plane or freighter ship. It's more versatile but you have to provide your own truck for land travel.

I bet the military already has a bunch of similar things. It's not a huge leap of imagination to take a freighter, hid all your tech sensors then house your staff and equipment in "offices" built into shipping containers.
Posted by jabbotts (492 comments )
Link Flag
Whitebox May Not Be Road Ready
I saw APC's Whitebox about a year ago. It's sooo fabulously shiny! But (at least at the time) it was over most states' highway weight limits and so not readily transportable.

Also, I'm not sure it make sense to couple your data center with a truck. What if your engine breaks down or you have a flat tire? With a Sun Blackbox, you could switch vehicles. The Whitebox offers much less flexibility.
Posted by isabelwang (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
you have a freight crane handy?
The truck breaking down sucks but I think the generator is seporate from the engine so it's just the rollers you have to fix basically.

Switching trucks with your shipping container means you have to get a crane (one truck) plus the backup transport truck (now two trucks) along with the tow truck for the broken truck (four trucks involved now).

There are definately mobility benifits to the seporate container and truck aproach but the risk of a truck breakdown is inherent in either one.
Posted by jabbotts (492 comments )
Link Flag
Done way long ago
This was done over twenty years ago. One example is the DAS-3 system.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.army.mil/CMH/books/DAHSUM/1982/ch07.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.army.mil/CMH/books/DAHSUM/1982/ch07.htm</a>

Excerpts:

Another important materiel information system is the Decentralized Automated Service Support System (DAS3). This is a tactical transportable computer system intended to automate manual operations or upgrade currently automated operations of active and reserve component units within the Combat Service Support (CSS) community. Each DAS3 will reflect the personality of its particular resident software. A large variety of software applications will address CSS functions of supply, maintenance, personnel, financial, ammunition, medical, transportation, and port operation management.

The first contract for the DAS3 was let on 28 April 1979 to the Management and Technical Services Company (MATSCO)
a subsidiary of General Electric Corporation. Initially fourteen prototypes were built, followed by the first production deliveries in December 1980. There are two DAS3 configurations currently planned: an A model and a B model. Both include Honeywell Level 6 Model 47 computers and peripherals mounted in a single 35-foot-long semitrailer van. The two configurations differ in the mix of peripherals, the amount of computer memory, and the inherent communications capability. The A model, currently in production at a rate of six per month, is intended for non divisional use by direct support and general support units as well as by ammunition and medical units. Current plans call for the production of 211 A models (including the 14 prototypes). The B model, scheduled to start deliveries in October 1983 at a rate of four per month, is intended for divisions, separate brigades, personnel units, and Military Traffic Management Command ports. Four test sets and 260 production sets are to be acquired.
Posted by Chimera301 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Please
First off, they built one. That's not saying much. Second, I did this in 1994 as part of my Marine Corps mechanized unit by putting their entire supply and requisitioning system inside one of these containers.

Sun or APC aren't the first ones to think of a fully mobile system by a long shot.
Posted by ElMartino1 (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
US Army needs this
US Army and Intel maybe even Iraq gov needs a truck like this for tracking data with in Iraq gateway and cell phones they go along way in finding and tracking bad guys.instead of streaming it all somewhere else give the tools in field they need
Posted by cohaver (189 comments )
Reply Link Flag
they already have it
Iraq needs a government before they need one of these puppies. In any event, they already have access to it as long as the country remains US Mil occupied land. The previous few comments confirm (with documentation) that the Military had these things years ago. I'm sure there's at least one in the country already if not many smaller Hummer or Half Tone truck mounted versions.

Streaming processing to a remote location probably makes more sence than each unit having a super-computer rig with them. If your unit get's hit, all the data remains on the remote systems only loosing the terminal gear issued to the unit.
Posted by jabbotts (492 comments )
Link Flag
Google?
Common guys, research.

Google did this with a shipping container (the kind that can be hauled by 18-wheelers) two years ago.

They both got beaten to the punch.

But, I'll put money on SUN's being the highest quality of all three.

Peace. ^_^
Posted by Nemurikami (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.